Part 2 out of 4
The Man in the Passage
TWO men appeared simultaneously at the two ends of a sort of passage
running along the side of the Apollo Theatre in the Adelphi.
The evening daylight in the streets was large and luminous,
opalescent and empty. The passage was comparatively long and dark,
so each man could see the other as a mere black silhouette at the other end.
Nevertheless, each man knew the other, even in that inky outline;
for they were both men of striking appearance and they hated each other.
The covered passage opened at one end on one of the steep streets
of the Adelphi, and at the other on a terrace overlooking
the sunset-coloured river. One side of the passage was a blank wall,
for the building it supported was an old unsuccessful theatre restaurant,
now shut up. The other side of the passage contained two doors,
one at each end. Neither was what was commonly called the stage door;
they were a sort of special and private stage doors used by
very special performers, and in this case by the star actor
and actress in the Shakespearean performance of the day.
Persons of that eminence often like to have such private exits
and entrances, for meeting friends or avoiding them.
The two men in question were certainly two such friends,
men who evidently knew the doors and counted on their opening,
for each approached the door at the upper end with equal coolness
and confidence. Not, however, with equal speed; but the man
who walked fast was the man from the other end of the tunnel,
so they both arrived before the secret stage door almost at
the same instant. They saluted each other with civility,
and waited a moment before one of them, the sharper walker
who seemed to have the shorter patience, knocked at the door.
In this and everything else each man was opposite and neither
could be called inferior. As private persons both were handsome,
capable and popular. As public persons, both were in the first public rank.
But everything about them, from their glory to their good looks,
was of a diverse and incomparable kind. Sir Wilson Seymour was
the kind of man whose importance is known to everybody who knows.
The more you mixed with the innermost ring in every polity or profession,
the more often you met Sir Wilson Seymour. He was the one intelligent man
on twenty unintelligent committees--on every sort of subject,
from the reform of the Royal Academy to the project of bimetallism
for Greater Britain. In the Arts especially he was omnipotent.
He was so unique that nobody could quite decide whether he was
a great aristocrat who had taken up Art, or a great artist whom
the aristocrats had taken up. But you could not meet him for five minutes
without realizing that you had really been ruled by him all your life.
His appearance was "distinguished" in exactly the same sense;
it was at once conventional and unique. Fashion could have found no fault
with his high silk hat--, yet it was unlike anyone else's hat--
a little higher, perhaps, and adding something to his natural height.
His tall, slender figure had a slight stoop yet it looked
the reverse of feeble. His hair was silver-grey, but he did not look old;
it was worn longer than the common yet he did not look effeminate;
it was curly but it did not look curled. His carefully pointed beard
made him look more manly and militant than otherwise, as it does in those
old admirals of Velazquez with whose dark portraits his house was hung.
His grey gloves were a shade bluer, his silver-knobbed cane a shade longer
than scores of such gloves and canes flapped and flourished about
the theatres and the restaurants.
The other man was not so tall, yet would have struck nobody as short,
but merely as strong and handsome. His hair also was curly,
but fair and cropped close to a strong, massive head--the sort of head
you break a door with, as Chaucer said of the Miller's.
His military moustache and the carriage of his shoulders
showed him a soldier, but he had a pair of those peculiar frank
and piercing blue eyes which are more common in sailors.
His face was somewhat square, his jaw was square, his shoulders
were square, even his jacket was square. Indeed, in the wild school
of caricature then current, Mr Max Beerbohm had represented him as
a proposition in the fourth book of Euclid.
For he also was a public man, though with quite another
sort of success. You did not have to be in the best society
to have heard of Captain Cutler, of the siege of Hong-Kong,
and the great march across China. You could not get away from
hearing of him wherever you were; his portrait was on every other postcard;
his maps and battles in every other illustrated paper; songs in his honour
in every other music-hall turn or on every other barrel-organ.
His fame, though probably more temporary, was ten times more wide,
popular and spontaneous than the other man's. In thousands of
English homes he appeared enormous above England, like Nelson.
Yet he had infinitely less power in England than Sir Wilson Seymour.
The door was opened to them by an aged servant or "dresser",
whose broken-down face and figure and black shabby coat and trousers
contrasted queerly with the glittering interior of the great actress's
dressing-room. It was fitted and filled with looking-glasses
at every angle of refraction, so that they looked like the hundred facets
of one huge diamond--if one could get inside a diamond.
The other features of luxury, a few flowers, a few coloured cushions,
a few scraps of stage costume, were multiplied by all the mirrors into
the madness of the Arabian Nights, and danced and changed places
perpetually as the shuffling attendant shifted a mirror outwards
or shot one back against the wall.
They both spoke to the dingy dresser by name, calling him Parkinson,
and asking for the lady as Miss Aurora Rome. Parkinson said she was
in the other room, but he would go and tell her. A shade crossed the brow
of both visitors; for the other room was the private room of
the great actor with whom Miss Aurora was performing, and she was
of the kind that does not inflame admiration without inflaming jealousy.
In about half a minute, however, the inner door opened, and she entered
as she always did, even in private life, so that the very silence
seemed to be a roar of applause, and one well-deserved.
She was clad in a somewhat strange garb of peacock green and
peacock blue satins, that gleamed like blue and green metals,
such as delight children and aesthetes, and her heavy, hot brown hair
framed one of those magic faces which are dangerous to all men,
but especially to boys and to men growing grey. In company with
her male colleague, the great American actor, Isidore Bruno,
she was producing a particularly poetical and fantastic interpretation
of Midsummer Night's Dream: in which the artistic prominence was given
to Oberon and Titania, or in other words to Bruno and herself.
Set in dreamy and exquisite scenery, and moving in mystical dances,
the green costume, like burnished beetle-wings, expressed all the
elusive individuality of an elfin queen. But when personally confronted
in what was still broad daylight, a man looked only at the woman's face.
She greeted both men with the beaming and baffling smile
which kept so many males at the same just dangerous distance from her.
She accepted some flowers from Cutler, which were as tropical and expensive
as his victories; and another sort of present from Sir Wilson Seymour,
offered later on and more nonchalantly by that gentleman.
For it was against his breeding to show eagerness, and against his
conventional unconventionality to give anything so obvious as flowers.
He had picked up a trifle, he said, which was rather a curiosity,
it was an ancient Greek dagger of the Mycenaean Epoch, and might well
have been worn in the time of Theseus and Hippolyta. It was made of brass
like all the Heroic weapons, but, oddly enough, sharp enough
to prick anyone still. He had really been attracted to it by
the leaf-like shape; it was as perfect as a Greek vase.
If it was of any interest to Miss Rome or could come in anywhere
in the play, he hoped she would--
The inner door burst open and a big figure appeared, who was
more of a contrast to the explanatory Seymour than even Captain Cutler.
Nearly six-foot-six, and of more than theatrical thews and muscles,
Isidore Bruno, in the gorgeous leopard skin and golden-brown garments
of Oberon, looked like a barbaric god. He leaned on a sort of
hunting-spear, which across a theatre looked a slight, silvery wand,
but which in the small and comparatively crowded room looked as plain as
a pike-staff--and as menacing. His vivid black eyes rolled volcanically,
his bronzed face, handsome as it was, showed at that moment
a combination of high cheekbones with set white teeth, which recalled
certain American conjectures about his origin in the Southern plantations.
"Aurora," he began, in that deep voice like a drum of passion
that had moved so many audiences, "will you--"
He stopped indecisively because a sixth figure had suddenly
presented itself just inside the doorway--a figure so incongruous
in the scene as to be almost comic. It was a very short man in
the black uniform of the Roman secular clergy, and looking
(especially in such a presence as Bruno's and Aurora's) rather like
the wooden Noah out of an ark. He did not, however, seem conscious
of any contrast, but said with dull civility: "I believe Miss Rome
sent for me."
A shrewd observer might have remarked that the emotional temperature
rather rose at so unemotional an interruption. The detachment of
a professional celibate seemed to reveal to the others that they
stood round the woman as a ring of amorous rivals; just as a stranger
coming in with frost on his coat will reveal that a room is like a furnace.
The presence of the one man who did not care about her
increased Miss Rome's sense that everybody else was in love with her,
and each in a somewhat dangerous way: the actor with all the appetite
of a savage and a spoilt child; the soldier with all the simple selfishness
of a man of will rather than mind; Sir Wilson with that daily hardening
concentration with which old Hedonists take to a hobby; nay,
even the abject Parkinson, who had known her before her triumphs,
and who followed her about the room with eyes or feet,
with the dumb fascination of a dog.
A shrewd person might also have noted a yet odder thing.
The man like a black wooden Noah (who was not wholly without shrewdness)
noted it with a considerable but contained amusement. It was evident
that the great Aurora, though by no means indifferent to the admiration
of the other sex, wanted at this moment to get rid of all the men
who admired her and be left alone with the man who did not--
did not admire her in that sense at least; for the little priest
did admire and even enjoy the firm feminine diplomacy with which
she set about her task. There was, perhaps, only one thing
that Aurora Rome was clever about, and that was one half of humanity--
the other half. The little priest watched, like a Napoleonic campaign,
the swift precision of her policy for expelling all while banishing none.
Bruno, the big actor, was so babyish that it was easy to send him off
in brute sulks, banging the door. Cutler, the British officer,
was pachydermatous to ideas, but punctilious about behaviour.
He would ignore all hints, but he would die rather than
ignore a definite commission from a lady. As to old Seymour,
he had to be treated differently; he had to be left to the last.
The only way to move him was to appeal to him in confidence as an old
friend, to let him into the secret of the clearance. The priest did
really admire Miss Rome as she achieved all these three objects
in one selected action.
She went across to Captain Cutler and said in her sweetest manner:
"I shall value all these flowers, because they must be your
favourite flowers. But they won't be complete, you know,
without my favourite flower. Do go over to that shop round the corner
and get me some lilies-of-the-valley, and then it will be quite lovely."
The first object of her diplomacy, the exit of the enraged Bruno,
was at once achieved. He had already handed his spear in a lordly style,
like a sceptre, to the piteous Parkinson, and was about to assume
one of the cushioned seats like a throne. But at this open appeal to
his rival there glowed in his opal eyeballs all the sensitive insolence
of the slave; he knotted his enormous brown fists for an instant,
and then, dashing open the door, disappeared into his own apartments beyond.
But meanwhile Miss Rome's experiment in mobilizing the British Army
had not succeeded so simply as seemed probable. Cutler had indeed
risen stiffly and suddenly, and walked towards the door, hatless,
as if at a word of command. But perhaps there was something
ostentatiously elegant about the languid figure of Seymour leaning against
one of the looking-glasses that brought him up short at the entrance,
turning his head this way and that like a bewildered bulldog.
"I must show this stupid man where to go," said Aurora
in a whisper to Seymour, and ran out to the threshold to speed
the parting guest.
Seymour seemed to be listening, elegant and unconscious
as was his posture, and he seemed relieved when he heard the lady call out
some last instructions to the Captain, and then turn sharply
and run laughing down the passage towards the other end,
the end on the terrace above the Thames. Yet a second or two after
Seymour's brow darkened again. A man in his position has so many rivals,
and he remembered that at the other end of the passage was
the corresponding entrance to Bruno's private room. He did not
lose his dignity; he said some civil words to Father Brown
about the revival of Byzantine architecture in the Westminster Cathedral,
and then, quite naturally, strolled out himself into the upper end
of the passage. Father Brown and Parkinson were left alone,
and they were neither of them men with a taste for superfluous conversation.
The dresser went round the room, pulling out looking-glasses
and pushing them in again, his dingy dark coat and trousers looking
all the more dismal since he was still holding the festive fairy spear
of King Oberon. Every time he pulled out the frame of a new glass,
a new black figure of Father Brown appeared; the absurd glass chamber
was full of Father Browns, upside down in the air like angels,
turning somersaults like acrobats, turning their backs to everybody
like very rude persons.
Father Brown seemed quite unconscious of this cloud of witnesses,
but followed Parkinson with an idly attentive eye till he took himself
and his absurd spear into the farther room of Bruno. Then he abandoned
himself to such abstract meditations as always amused him--
calculating the angles of the mirrors, the angles of each refraction,
the angle at which each must fit into the wall...when he heard
a strong but strangled cry.
He sprang to his feet and stood rigidly listening.
At the same instant Sir Wilson Seymour burst back into the room,
white as ivory. "Who's that man in the passage?" he cried.
"Where's that dagger of mine?"
Before Father Brown could turn in his heavy boots Seymour was
plunging about the room looking for the weapon. And before he could
possibly find that weapon or any other, a brisk running of feet
broke upon the pavement outside, and the square face of Cutler
was thrust into the same doorway. He was still grotesquely grasping
a bunch of lilies-of-the-valley. "What's this?" he cried.
"What's that creature down the passage? Is this some of your tricks?"
"My tricks!" hissed his pale rival, and made a stride towards him.
In the instant of time in which all this happened Father Brown
stepped out into the top of the passage, looked down it,
and at once walked briskly towards what he saw.
At this the other two men dropped their quarrel and darted after him,
Cutler calling out: "What are you doing? Who are you?"
"My name is Brown," said the priest sadly, as he bent over something
and straightened himself again. "Miss Rome sent for me,
and I came as quickly as I could. I have come too late."
The three men looked down, and in one of them at least
the life died in that late light of afternoon. It ran along
the passage like a path of gold, and in the midst of it Aurora Rome lay
lustrous in her robes of green and gold, with her dead face
turned upwards. Her dress was torn away as in a struggle,
leaving the right shoulder bare, but the wound from which
the blood was welling was on the other side. The brass dagger
lay flat and gleaming a yard or so away.
There was a blank stillness for a measurable time, so that
they could hear far off a flower-girl's laugh outside Charing Cross,
and someone whistling furiously for a taxicab in one of the streets
off the Strand. Then the Captain, with a movement so sudden that it
might have been passion or play-acting, took Sir Wilson Seymour by the
Seymour looked at him steadily without either fight or fear.
"You need not kill me," he said in a voice quite cold; "I shall do
that on my own account."
The Captain's hand hesitated and dropped; and the other added
with the same icy candour: "If I find I haven't the nerve
to do it with that dagger I can do it in a month with drink."
"Drink isn't good enough for me," replied Cutler, "but I'll have
blood for this before I die. Not yours--but I think I know whose."
And before the others could appreciate his intention
he snatched up the dagger, sprang at the other door at the lower end
of the passage, burst it open, bolt and all, and confronted Bruno
in his dressing-room. As he did so, old Parkinson tottered
in his wavering way out of the door and caught sight of the corpse
lying in the passage. He moved shakily towards it; looked at it weakly
with a working face; then moved shakily back into the dressing-room again,
and sat down suddenly on one of the richly cushioned chairs.
Father Brown instantly ran across to him, taking no notice of Cutler
and the colossal actor, though the room already rang with their blows
and they began to struggle for the dagger. Seymour, who retained some
practical sense, was whistling for the police at the end of the passage.
When the police arrived it was to tear the two men
from an almost ape-like grapple; and, after a few formal inquiries,
to arrest Isidore Bruno upon a charge of murder, brought against him
by his furious opponent. The idea that the great national hero of the hour
had arrested a wrongdoer with his own hand doubtless had its weight
with the police, who are not without elements of the journalist.
They treated Cutler with a certain solemn attention, and pointed out
that he had got a slight slash on the hand. Even as Cutler
bore him back across tilted chair and table, Bruno had twisted
the dagger out of his grasp and disabled him just below the wrist.
The injury was really slight, but till he was removed from the room
the half-savage prisoner stared at the running blood with a steady smile.
"Looks a cannibal sort of chap, don't he?" said the constable
confidentially to Cutler.
Cutler made no answer, but said sharply a moment after:
"We must attend to the...the death..." and his voice escaped
"The two deaths," came in the voice of the priest from
the farther side of the room. "This poor fellow was gone
when I got across to him." And he stood looking down at old Parkinson,
who sat in a black huddle on the gorgeous chair. He also had
paid his tribute, not without eloquence, to the woman who had died.
The silence was first broken by Cutler, who seemed not untouched
by a rough tenderness. "I wish I was him," he said huskily.
"I remember he used to watch her wherever she walked more than--anybody.
She was his air, and he's dried up. He's just dead."
"We are all dead," said Seymour in a strange voice,
looking down the road.
They took leave of Father Brown at the corner of the road,
with some random apologies for any rudeness they might have shown.
Both their faces were tragic, but also cryptic.
The mind of the little priest was always a rabbit-warren
of wild thoughts that jumped too quickly for him to catch them.
Like the white tail of a rabbit he had the vanishing thought that
he was certain of their grief, but not so certain of their innocence.
"We had better all be going," said Seymour heavily; "we have done
all we can to help."
"Will you understand my motives," asked Father Brown quietly,
"if I say you have done all you can to hurt?"
They both started as if guiltily, and Cutler said sharply:
"To hurt whom?"
"To hurt yourselves," answered the priest. "I would not
add to your troubles if it weren't common justice to warn you.
You've done nearly everything you could do to hang yourselves,
if this actor should be acquitted. They'll be sure to subpoena me;
I shall be bound to say that after the cry was heard each of you
rushed into the room in a wild state and began quarrelling about a dagger.
As far as my words on oath can go, you might either of you have done it.
You hurt yourselves with that; and then Captain Cutler must have
hurt himself with the dagger."
"Hurt myself!" exclaimed the Captain, with contempt.
"A silly little scratch."
"Which drew blood," replied the priest, nodding. "We know there's
blood on the brass now. And so we shall never know whether there was
blood on it before."
There was a silence; and then Seymour said, with an emphasis
quite alien to his daily accent: "But I saw a man in the passage."
"I know you did," answered the cleric Brown with a face of wood,
"so did Captain Cutler. That's what seems so improbable."
Before either could make sufficient sense of it even to answer,
Father Brown had politely excused himself and gone stumping
up the road with his stumpy old umbrella.
As modern newspapers are conducted, the most honest
and most important news is the police news. If it be true that
in the twentieth century more space is given to murder than to politics,
it is for the excellent reason that murder is a more serious subject.
But even this would hardly explain the enormous omnipresence and
widely distributed detail of "The Bruno Case," or "The Passage Mystery,"
in the Press of London and the provinces. So vast was the excitement
that for some weeks the Press really told the truth; and the reports
of examination and cross-examination, if interminable,
even if intolerable are at least reliable. The true reason,
of course, was the coincidence of persons. The victim was
a popular actress; the accused was a popular actor; and the accused
had been caught red-handed, as it were, by the most popular soldier
of the patriotic season. In those extraordinary circumstances
the Press was paralysed into probity and accuracy; and the rest of this
somewhat singular business can practically be recorded from reports
of Bruno's trial.
The trial was presided over by Mr Justice Monkhouse,
one of those who are jeered at as humorous judges, but who are generally
much more serious than the serious judges, for their levity comes from
a living impatience of professional solemnity; while the serious judge
is really filled with frivolity, because he is filled with vanity.
All the chief actors being of a worldly importance, the barristers
were well balanced; the prosecutor for the Crown was Sir Walter Cowdray,
a heavy, but weighty advocate of the sort that knows how to seem
English and trustworthy, and how to be rhetorical with reluctance.
The prisoner was defended by Mr Patrick Butler, K.C., who was mistaken
for a mere flaneur by those who misunderstood the Irish character--
and those who had not been examined by him. The medical evidence
involved no contradictions, the doctor, whom Seymour had summoned
on the spot, agreeing with the eminent surgeon who had later
examined the body. Aurora Rome had been stabbed with some sharp instrument
such as a knife or dagger; some instrument, at least, of which
the blade was short. The wound was just over the heart, and she had
died instantly. When the doctor first saw her she could hardly
have been dead for twenty minutes. Therefore when Father Brown
found her she could hardly have been dead for three.
Some official detective evidence followed, chiefly concerned with
the presence or absence of any proof of a struggle; the only suggestion
of this was the tearing of the dress at the shoulder, and this did not seem
to fit in particularly well with the direction and finality of the blow.
When these details had been supplied, though not explained,
the first of the important witnesses was called.
Sir Wilson Seymour gave evidence as he did everything else
that he did at all--not only well, but perfectly. Though himself
much more of a public man than the judge, he conveyed exactly
the fine shade of self-effacement before the King's justice;
and though everyone looked at him as they would at the Prime Minister
or the Archbishop of Canterbury, they could have said nothing
of his part in it but that it was that of a private gentleman,
with an accent on the noun. He was also refreshingly lucid,
as he was on the committees. He had been calling on Miss Rome
at the theatre; he had met Captain Cutler there; they had been joined
for a short time by the accused, who had then returned to his
own dressing-room; they had then been joined by a Roman Catholic priest,
who asked for the deceased lady and said his name was Brown.
Miss Rome had then gone just outside the theatre to the entrance
of the passage, in order to point out to Captain Cutler a flower-shop
at which he was to buy her some more flowers; and the witness
had remained in the room, exchanging a few words with the priest.
He had then distinctly heard the deceased, having sent the Captain
on his errand, turn round laughing and run down the passage
towards its other end, where was the prisoner's dressing-room.
In idle curiosity as to the rapid movement of his friends,
he had strolled out to the head of the passage himself and looked down it
towards the prisoner's door. Did he see anything in the passage?
Yes; he saw something in the passage.
Sir Walter Cowdray allowed an impressive interval,
during which the witness looked down, and for all his usual composure
seemed to have more than his usual pallor. Then the barrister said
in a lower voice, which seemed at once sympathetic and creepy:
"Did you see it distinctly?"
Sir Wilson Seymour, however moved, had his excellent brains
in full working-order. "Very distinctly as regards its outline,
but quite indistinctly, indeed not at all, as regards the details
inside the outline. The passage is of such length that anyone in
the middle of it appears quite black against the light at the other end."
The witness lowered his steady eyes once more and added:
"I had noticed the fact before, when Captain Cutler first entered it."
There was another silence, and the judge leaned forward and made a note.
"Well," said Sir Walter patiently, "what was the outline like?
Was it, for instance, like the figure of the murdered woman?"
"Not in the least," answered Seymour quietly.
"What did it look like to you?"
"It looked to me," replied the witness, "like a tall man."
Everyone in court kept his eyes riveted on his pen,
or his umbrella-handle, or his book, or his boots or whatever
he happened to be looking at. They seemed to be holding their eyes
away from the prisoner by main force; but they felt his figure in the dock,
and they felt it as gigantic. Tall as Bruno was to the eye,
he seemed to swell taller and taller when an eyes had been
torn away from him.
Cowdray was resuming his seat with his solemn face,
smoothing his black silk robes, and white silk whiskers.
Sir Wilson was leaving the witness-box, after a few final particulars
to which there were many other witnesses, when the counsel for the defence
sprang up and stopped him.
"I shall only detain you a moment," said Mr Butler,
who was a rustic-looking person with red eyebrows and an expression
of partial slumber. "Will you tell his lordship how you knew
it was a man?"
A faint, refined smile seemed to pass over Seymour's features.
"I'm afraid it is the vulgar test of trousers," he said.
"When I saw daylight between the long legs I was sure it was a man,
Butler's sleepy eyes opened as suddenly as some silent explosion.
"After all!" he repeated slowly. "So you did think at first
it was a woman?"
Seymour looked troubled for the first time. "It is hardly
a point of fact," he said, "but if his lordship would like me
to answer for my impression, of course I shall do so. There was something
about the thing that was not exactly a woman and yet was not quite a man;
somehow the curves were different. And it had something that looked like
"Thank you," said Mr Butler, K.C., and sat down suddenly,
as if he had got what he wanted.
Captain Cutler was a far less plausible and composed witness
than Sir Wilson, but his account of the opening incidents was
solidly the same. He described the return of Bruno to his dressing-room,
the dispatching of himself to buy a bunch of lilies-of-the-valley,
his return to the upper end of the passage, the thing he saw
in the passage, his suspicion of Seymour, and his struggle with Bruno.
But he could give little artistic assistance about the black figure
that he and Seymour had seen. Asked about its outline, he said he
was no art critic--with a somewhat too obvious sneer at Seymour.
Asked if it was a man or a woman, he said it looked more like a beast--
with a too obvious snarl at the prisoner. But the man was plainly shaken
with sorrow and sincere anger, and Cowdray quickly excused him
from confirming facts that were already fairly clear.
The defending counsel also was again brief in his cross-examination;
although (as was his custom) even in being brief, he seemed to take
a long time about it. "You used a rather remarkable expression," he said,
looking at Cutler sleepily. "What do you mean by saying that
it looked more like a beast than a man or a woman?"
Cutler seemed seriously agitated. "Perhaps I oughtn't to have
said that," he said; "but when the brute has huge humped shoulders
like a chimpanzee, and bristles sticking out of its head like a pig--"
Mr Butler cut short his curious impatience in the middle.
"Never mind whether its hair was like a pig's," he said,
"was it like a woman's?"
"A woman's!" cried the soldier. "Great Scott, no!"
"The last witness said it was," commented the counsel,
with unscrupulous swiftness. "And did the figure have any of those
serpentine and semi-feminine curves to which eloquent allusion
has been made? No? No feminine curves? The figure, if I understand you,
was rather heavy and square than otherwise?"
"He may have been bending forward," said Cutler, in a hoarse
and rather faint voice.
"Or again, he may not," said Mr Butler, and sat down suddenly
for the second time.
The third, witness called by Sir Walter Cowdray was
the little Catholic clergyman, so little, compared with the others,
that his head seemed hardly to come above the box, so that it was like
cross-examining a child. But unfortunately Sir Walter had somehow
got it into his head (mostly by some ramifications of his family's religion)
that Father Brown was on the side of the prisoner, because the prisoner
was wicked and foreign and even partly black. Therefore he
took Father Brown up sharply whenever that proud pontiff tried
to explain anything; and told him to answer yes or no, and tell
the plain facts without any jesuitry. When Father Brown began,
in his simplicity, to say who he thought the man in the passage was,
the barrister told him that he did not want his theories.
"A black shape was seen in the passage. And you say you saw
the black shape. Well, what shape was it?"
Father Brown blinked as under rebuke; but he had long known
the literal nature of obedience. "The shape," he said, "was short
and thick, but had two sharp, black projections curved upwards
on each side of the head or top, rather like horns, and--"
"Oh! the devil with horns, no doubt," ejaculated Cowdray,
sitting down in triumphant jocularity. "It was the devil come
to eat Protestants."
"No," said the priest dispassionately; "I know who it was."
Those in court had been wrought up to an irrational,
but real sense of some monstrosity. They had forgotten the figure
in the dock and thought only of the figure in the passage.
And the figure in the passage, described by three capable
and respectable men who had all seen it, was a shifting nightmare:
one called it a woman, and the other a beast, and the other a devil....
The judge was looking at Father Brown with level and piercing eyes.
"You are a most extraordinary witness," he said; "but there is something
about you that makes me think you are trying to tell the truth.
Well, who was the man you saw in the passage?"
"He was myself," said Father Brown.
Butler, K.C., sprang to his feet in an extraordinary stillness,
and said quite calmly: "Your lordship will allow me to cross-examine?"
And then, without stopping, he shot at Brown the apparently
disconnected question: "You have heard about this dagger;
you know the experts say the crime was committed with a short blade?"
"A short blade," assented Brown, nodding solemnly like an owl,
"but a very long hilt."
Before the audience could quite dismiss the idea that the priest
had really seen himself doing murder with a short dagger with a long hilt
(which seemed somehow to make it more horrible), he had himself
hurried on to explain.
"I mean daggers aren't the only things with short blades.
Spears have short blades. And spears catch at the end of the steel
just like daggers, if they're that sort of fancy spear they had
in theatres; like the spear poor old Parkinson killed his wife with,
just when she'd sent for me to settle their family troubles--
and I came just too late, God forgive me! But he died penitent--
he just died of being penitent. He couldn't bear what he'd done."
The general impression in court was that the little priest,
who was gobbling away, had literally gone mad in the box.
But the judge still looked at him with bright and steady eyes of interest;
and the counsel for the defence went on with his questions unperturbed.
"If Parkinson did it with that pantomime spear," said Butler,
"he must have thrust from four yards away. How do you account for
signs of struggle, like the dress dragged off the shoulder?" He had
slipped into treating his mere witness as an expert; but no one
noticed it now.
"The poor lady's dress was torn," said the witness,
"because it was caught in a panel that slid to just behind her.
She struggled to free herself, and as she did so Parkinson came out
of the prisoner's room and lunged with the spear."
"A panel?" repeated the barrister in a curious voice.
"It was a looking-glass on the other side," explained Father Brown.
"When I was in the dressing-room I noticed that some of them
could probably be slid out into the passage."
There was another vast and unnatural silence, and this time
it was the judge who spoke. "So you really mean that when you
looked down that passage, the man you saw was yourself--in a mirror?"
"Yes, my lord; that was what I was trying to say," said Brown,
"but they asked me for the shape; and our hats have corners
just like horns, and so I--"
The judge leaned forward, his old eyes yet more brilliant,
and said in specially distinct tones: "Do you really mean to say that
when Sir Wilson Seymour saw that wild what-you-call-him with curves
and a woman's hair and a man's trousers, what he saw was
Sir Wilson Seymour?"
"Yes, my lord," said Father Brown.
"And you mean to say that when Captain Cutler saw that chimpanzee
with humped shoulders and hog's bristles, he simply saw himself?"
"Yes, my lord."
The judge leaned back in his chair with a luxuriance in which
it was hard to separate the cynicism and the admiration.
"And can you tell us why," he asked, "you should know your own figure
in a looking-glass, when two such distinguished men don't?"
Father Brown blinked even more painfully than before;
then he stammered: "Really, my lord, I don't know unless it's because
I don't look at it so often."
The Mistake of the Machine
FLAMBEAU and his friend the priest were sitting in the Temple Gardens
about sunset; and their neighbourhood or some such accidental influence
had turned their talk to matters of legal process. From the problem
of the licence in cross-examination, their talk strayed to Roman and
mediaeval torture, to the examining magistrate in France and
the Third Degree in America.
"I've been reading," said Flambeau, "of this new psychometric method
they talk about so much, especially in America. You know what I mean;
they put a pulsometer on a man's wrist and judge by how his heart goes
at the pronunciation of certain words. What do you think of it?"
"I think it very interesting," replied Father Brown;
"it reminds me of that interesting idea in the Dark Ages that blood
would flow from a corpse if the murderer touched it."
"Do you really mean," demanded his friend, "that you think
the two methods equally valuable?"
"I think them equally valueless," replied Brown. "Blood flows,
fast or slow, in dead folk or living, for so many more million reasons
than we can ever know. Blood will have to flow very funnily;
blood will have to flow up the Matterhorn, before I will take it
as a sign that I am to shed it."
"The method," remarked the other, "has been guaranteed
by some of the greatest American men of science."
"What sentimentalists men of science are!" exclaimed Father Brown,
"and how much more sentimental must American men of science be!
Who but a Yankee would think of proving anything from heart-throbs?
Why, they must be as sentimental as a man who thinks a woman
is in love with him if she blushes. That's a test from
the circulation of the blood, discovered by the immortal Harvey;
and a jolly rotten test, too."
"But surely," insisted Flambeau, "it might point pretty straight
at something or other."
"There's a disadvantage in a stick pointing straight,"
answered the other. "What is it? Why, the other end of the stick
always points the opposite way. It depends whether you
get hold of the stick by the right end. I saw the thing done once
and I've never believed in it since." And he proceeded to tell
the story of his disillusionment.
It happened nearly twenty years before, when he was chaplain
to his co-religionists in a prison in Chicago--where the Irish population
displayed a capacity both for crime and penitence which kept him
tolerably busy. The official second-in-command under the Governor
was an ex-detective named Greywood Usher, a cadaverous, careful-spoken
Yankee philosopher, occasionally varying a very rigid visage
with an odd apologetic grimace. He liked Father Brown in
a slightly patronizing way; and Father Brown liked him,
though he heartily disliked his theories. His theories were
extremely complicated and were held with extreme simplicity.
One evening he had sent for the priest, who, according to his custom,
took a seat in silence at a table piled and littered with papers,
and waited. The official selected from the papers a scrap of
newspaper cutting, which he handed across to the cleric,
who read it gravely. It appeared to be an extract from one of
the pinkest of American Society papers, and ran as follows:
"Society's brightest widower is once more on the Freak Dinner stunt.
All our exclusive citizens will recall the Perambulator Parade Dinner,
in which Last-Trick Todd, at his palatial home at Pilgrim's Pond,
caused so many of our prominent debutantes to look even younger
than their years. Equally elegant and more miscellaneous and
large-hearted in social outlook was Last-Trick's show the year previous,
the popular Cannibal Crush Lunch, at which the confections handed round
were sarcastically moulded in the forms of human arms and legs,
and during which more than one of our gayest mental gymnasts was heard
offering to eat his partner. The witticism which will inspire
this evening is as yet in Mr Todd's pretty reticent intellect,
or locked in the jewelled bosoms of our city's gayest leaders;
but there is talk of a pretty parody of the simple manners and customs
at the other end of Society's scale. This would be all the more telling,
as hospitable Todd is entertaining in Lord Falconroy, the famous traveller,
a true-blooded aristocrat fresh from England's oak-groves.
Lord Falconroy's travels began before his ancient feudal title
was resurrected, he was in the Republic in his youth, and fashion murmurs
a sly reason for his return. Miss Etta Todd is one of our
deep-souled New Yorkers, and comes into an income of nearly
twelve hundred million dollars."
"Well," asked Usher, "does that interest you?"
"Why, words rather fail me," answered Father Brown.
"I cannot think at this moment of anything in this world that would
interest me less. And, unless the just anger of the Republic is
at last going to electrocute journalists for writing like that,
I don't quite see why it should interest you either."
"Ah!" said Mr Usher dryly, and handing across another
scrap of newspaper. "Well, does that interest you?"
The paragraph was headed "Savage Murder of a Warder.
Convict Escapes," and ran: "Just before dawn this morning
a shout for help was heard in the Convict Settlement at Sequah
in this State. The authorities, hurrying in the direction of the cry,
found the corpse of the warder who patrols the top of the north wall
of the prison, the steepest and most difficult exit, for which one man
has always been found sufficient. The unfortunate officer had,
however, been hurled from the high wall, his brains beaten out
as with a club, and his gun was missing. Further inquiries showed that
one of the cells was empty; it had been occupied by a rather sullen ruffian
giving his name as Oscar Rian. He was only temporarily detained
for some comparatively trivial assault; but he gave everyone the impression
of a man with a black past and a dangerous future. Finally,
when daylight had fully revealed the scene of murder, it was found
that he had written on the wall above the body a fragmentary sentence,
apparently with a finger dipped in blood: `This was self-defence and
he had the gun. I meant no harm to him or any man but one.
I am keeping the bullet for Pilgrim's Pond--O.R.' A man must have used
most fiendish treachery or most savage and amazing bodily daring
to have stormed such a wall in spite of an armed man."
"Well, the literary style is somewhat improved," admitted the priest
cheerfully, "but still I don't see what I can do for you.
I should cut a poor figure, with my short legs, running about this State
after an athletic assassin of that sort. I doubt whether
anybody could find him. The convict settlement at Sequah
is thirty miles from here; the country between is wild and tangled enough,
and the country beyond, where he will surely have the sense to go,
is a perfect no-man's land tumbling away to the prairies.
He may be in any hole or up any tree."
"He isn't in any hole," said the governor; "he isn't up any tree."
"Why, how do you know?" asked Father Brown, blinking.
"Would you like to speak to him?" inquired Usher.
Father Brown opened his innocent eyes wide. "He is here?"
he exclaimed. "Why, how did your men get hold of him?"
"I got hold of him myself," drawled the American, rising and
lazily stretching his lanky legs before the fire. "I got hold of him
with the crooked end of a walking-stick. Don't look so surprised.
I really did. You know I sometimes take a turn in the country lanes
outside this dismal place; well, I was walking early this evening
up a steep lane with dark hedges and grey-looking ploughed fields
on both sides; and a young moon was up and silvering the road.
By the light of it I saw a man running across the field towards the road;
running with his body bent and at a good mile-race trot.
He appeared to be much exhausted; but when he came to the thick black hedge
he went through it as if it were made of spiders' webs; --or rather
(for I heard the strong branches breaking and snapping like bayonets)
as if he himself were made of stone. In the instant in which
he appeared up against the moon, crossing the road, I slung my hooked cane
at his legs, tripping him and bringing him down. Then I blew my whistle
long and loud, and our fellows came running up to secure him."
"It would have been rather awkward," remarked Brown,
"if you had found he was a popular athlete practising a mile race."
"He was not," said Usher grimly. "We soon found out who he was;
but I had guessed it with the first glint of the moon on him."
"You thought it was the runaway convict," observed the priest simply,
"because you had read in the newspaper cutting that morning that
a convict had run away."
"I had somewhat better grounds," replied the governor coolly.
"I pass over the first as too simple to be emphasized--
I mean that fashionable athletes do not run across ploughed fields
or scratch their eyes out in bramble hedges. Nor do they run
all doubled up like a crouching dog. There were more decisive details
to a fairly well-trained eye. The man was clad in coarse
and ragged clothes, but they were something more than merely
coarse and ragged. They were so ill-fitting as to be quite grotesque;
even as he appeared in black outline against the moonrise,
the coat-collar in which his head was buried made him look
like a hunchback, and the long loose sleeves looked as if he had no hands.
It at once occurred to me that he had somehow managed to change
his convict clothes for some confederate's clothes which did not fit him.
Second, there was a pretty stiff wind against which he was running;
so that I must have seen the streaky look of blowing hair, if the hair
had not been very short. Then I remembered that beyond these
ploughed fields he was crossing lay Pilgrim's Pond, for which
(you will remember) the convict was keeping his bullet;
and I sent my walking-stick flying."
"A brilliant piece of rapid deduction," said Father Brown;
"but had he got a gun?"
As Usher stopped abruptly in his walk the priest added apologetically:
"I've been told a bullet is not half so useful without it."
"He had no gun," said the other gravely; "but that was doubtless
due to some very natural mischance or change of plans. Probably the
same policy that made him change the clothes made him drop the gun;
he began to repent the coat he had left behind him in the blood
of his victim."
"Well, that is possible enough," answered the priest.
"And it's hardly worth speculating on," said Usher,
turning to some other papers, "for we know it's the man by this time."
His clerical friend asked faintly: "But how?" And Greywood Usher
threw down the newspapers and took up the two press-cuttings again.
"Well, since you are so obstinate," he said, "let's begin
at the beginning. You will notice that these two cuttings have only
one thing in common, which is the mention of Pilgrim's Pond,
the estate, as you know, of the millionaire Ireton Todd.
You also know that he is a remarkable character; one of those
that rose on stepping-stones--"
"Of our dead selves to higher things," assented his companion.
"Yes; I know that. Petroleum, I think."
"Anyhow," said Usher, "Last-Trick Todd counts for a great deal
in this rum affair."
He stretched himself once more before the fire and continued talking
in his expansive, radiantly explanatory style.
"To begin with, on the face of it, there is no mystery here at all.
It is not mysterious, it is not even odd, that a jailbird should
take his gun to Pilgrim's Pond. Our people aren't like the English,
who will forgive a man for being rich if he throws away money
on hospitals or horses. Last-Trick Todd has made himself big
by his own considerable abilities; and there's no doubt that
many of those on whom he has shown his abilities would like to
show theirs on him with a shot-gun. Todd might easily get dropped
by some man he'd never even heard of; some labourer he'd locked out,
or some clerk in a business he'd busted. Last-Trick is a man
of mental endowments and a high public character; but in this country
the relations of employers and employed are considerably strained.
"That's how the whole thing looks supposing this Rian
made for Pilgrim's Pond to kill Todd. So it looked to me,
till another little discovery woke up what I have of the detective in me.
When I had my prisoner safe, I picked up my cane again and strolled down
the two or three turns of country road that brought me to one of
the side entrances of Todd's grounds, the one nearest to the pool
or lake after which the place is named. It was some two hours ago,
about seven by this time; the moonlight was more luminous,
and I could see the long white streaks of it lying on the mysterious mere
with its grey, greasy, half-liquid shores in which they say
our fathers used to make witches walk until they sank.
I'd forgotten the exact tale; but you know the place I mean;
it lies north of Todd's house towards the wilderness, and has two queer
wrinkled trees, so dismal that they look more like huge fungoids
than decent foliage. As I stood peering at this misty pool,
I fancied I saw the faint figure of a man moving from the house towards it,
but it was all too dim and distant for one to be certain of the fact,
and still less of the details. Besides, my attention was very sharply
arrested by something much closer. I crouched behind the fence
which ran not more than two hundred yards from one wing of
the great mansion, and which was fortunately split in places,
as if specially for the application of a cautious eye. A door had opened
in the dark bulk of the left wing, and a figure appeared black against
the illuminated interior--a muffled figure bending forward,
evidently peering out into the night. It closed the door behind it,
and I saw it was carrying a lantern, which threw a patch of imperfect light
on the dress and figure of the wearer. It seemed to be
the figure of a woman, wrapped up in a ragged cloak and
evidently disguised to avoid notice; there was something very strange
both about the rags and the furtiveness in a person coming out of
those rooms lined with gold. She took cautiously the curved garden path
which brought her within half a hundred yards of me--, then she stood up
for an instant on the terrace of turf that looks towards the slimy lake,
and holding her flaming lantern above her head she deliberately swung it
three times to and fro as for a signal. As she swung it the second time
a flicker of its light fell for a moment on her own face,
a face that I knew. She was unnaturally pale, and her head was bundled
in her borrowed plebeian shawl; but I am certain it was Etta Todd,
the millionaire's daughter.
"She retraced her steps in equal secrecy and the door
closed behind her again. I was about to climb the fence and follow,
when I realized that the detective fever that had lured me
into the adventure was rather undignified; and that in a more
authoritative capacity I already held all the cards in my hand.
I was just turning away when a new noise broke on the night.
A window was thrown up in one of the upper floors, but just round
the corner of the house so that I could not see it; and a voice
of terrible distinctness was heard shouting across the dark garden
to know where Lord Falconroy was, for he was missing from every room
in the house. There was no mistaking that voice. I have
heard it on many a political platform or meeting of directors;
it was Ireton Todd himself. Some of the others seemed to have gone
to the lower windows or on to the steps, and were calling up to him
that Falconroy had gone for a stroll down to the Pilgrim's Pond
an hour before, and could not be traced since. Then Todd cried
`Mighty Murder!' and shut down the window violently; and I could hear him
plunging down the stairs inside. Repossessing myself of my former
and wiser purpose, I whipped out of the way of the general search
that must follow; and returned here not later than eight o'clock.
"I now ask you to recall that little Society paragraph
which seemed to you so painfully lacking in interest. If the convict
was not keeping the shot for Todd, as he evidently wasn't,
it is most likely that he was keeping it for Lord Falconroy;
and it looks as if he had delivered the goods. No more handy place
to shoot a man than in the curious geological surroundings of that pool,
where a body thrown down would sink through thick slime to a depth
practically unknown. Let us suppose, then, that our friend
with the cropped hair came to kill Falconroy and not Todd.
But, as I have pointed out, there are many reasons why people in America
might want to kill Todd. There is no reason why anybody in America
should want to kill an English lord newly landed, except for the one reason
mentioned in the pink paper--that the lord is paying his attentions
to the millionaire's daughter. Our crop-haired friend,
despite his ill-fitting clothes, must be an aspiring lover.
"I know the notion will seem to you jarring and even comic;
but that's because you are English. It sounds to you like saying
the Archbishop of Canterbury's daughter will be married in
St George's, Hanover Square, to a crossing-sweeper on ticket-of-leave.
You don't do justice to the climbing and aspiring power of our
more remarkable citizens. You see a good-looking grey-haired man
in evening-dress with a sort of authority about him, you know he is
a pillar of the State, and you fancy he had a father. You are in error.
You do not realize that a comparatively few years ago he may have been
in a tenement or (quite likely) in a jail. You don't allow for our
national buoyancy and uplift. Many of our most influential citizens
have not only risen recently, but risen comparatively late in life.
Todd's daughter was fully eighteen when her father first made his pile;
so there isn't really anything impossible in her having a hanger-on
in low life; or even in her hanging on to him, as I think
she must be doing, to judge by the lantern business. If so,
the hand that held the lantern may not be unconnected with the hand
that held the gun. This case, sir, will make a noise."
"Well," said the priest patiently, "and what did you do next?"
"I reckon you'll be shocked," replied Greywood Usher,
"as I know you don't cotton to the march of science in these matters.
I am given a good deal of discretion here, and perhaps take a little more
than I'm given; and I thought it was an excellent opportunity to test
that Psychometric Machine I told you about. Now, in my opinion,
that machine can't lie."
"No machine can lie," said Father Brown; "nor can it tell the truth."
"It did in this case, as I'll show you," went on Usher positively.
"I sat the man in the ill-fitting clothes in a comfortable chair,
and simply wrote words on a blackboard; and the machine simply
recorded the variations of his pulse; and I simply observed his manner.
The trick is to introduce some word connected with the supposed crime
in a list of words connected with something quite different,
yet a list in which it occurs quite naturally. Thus I wrote `heron' and
`eagle' and `owl', and when I wrote `falcon' he was tremendously agitated;
and when I began to make an `r' at the end of the word,
that machine just bounded. Who else in this republic has any reason
to jump at the name of a newly-arrived Englishman like Falconroy
except the man who's shot him? Isn't that better evidence than
a lot of gabble from witnesses--if the evidence of a reliable machine?"
"You always forget," observed his companion, "that the reliable machine
always has to be worked by an unreliable machine."
"Why, what do you mean?" asked the detective.
"I mean Man," said Father Brown, "the most unreliable machine
I know of. I don't want to be rude; and I don't think you will consider
Man to be an offensive or inaccurate description of yourself.
You say you observed his manner; but how do you know you observed it right?
You say the words have to come in a natural way; but how do you know
that you did it naturally? How do you know, if you come to that,
that he did not observe your manner? Who is to prove that you were not
tremendously agitated? There was no machine tied on to your pulse."
"I tell you," cried the American in the utmost excitement,
"I was as cool as a cucumber."
"Criminals also can be as cool as cucumbers," said Brown
with a smile. "And almost as cool as you."
"Well, this one wasn't," said Usher, throwing the papers about.
"Oh, you make me tired!"
"I'm sorry," said the other. "I only point out what seems
a reasonable possibility. If you could tell by his manner when
the word that might hang him had come, why shouldn't he tell
from your manner that the word that might hang him was coming?
I should ask for more than words myself before I hanged anybody."
Usher smote the table and rose in a sort of angry triumph.
"And that," he cried, "is just what I'm going to give you.
I tried the machine first just in order to test the thing in other ways
afterwards and the machine, sir, is right."
He paused a moment and resumed with less excitement.
"I rather want to insist, if it comes to that, that so far
I had very little to go on except the scientific experiment.
There was really nothing against the man at all. His clothes were
ill-fitting, as I've said, but they were rather better, if anything,
than those of the submerged class to which he evidently belonged.
Moreover, under all the stains of his plunging through ploughed fields
or bursting through dusty hedges, the man was comparatively clean.
This might mean, of course, that he had only just broken prison;
but it reminded me more of the desperate decency of the comparatively
respectable poor. His demeanour was, I am bound to confess,
quite in accordance with theirs. He was silent and dignified as they are;
he seemed to have a big, but buried, grievance, as they do.
He professed total ignorance of the crime and the whole question;
and showed nothing but a sullen impatience for something sensible
that might come to take him out of his meaningless scrape.
He asked me more than once if he could telephone for a lawyer
who had helped him a long time ago in a trade dispute, and in every sense
acted as you would expect an innocent man to act. There was nothing
against him in the world except that little finger on the dial
that pointed to the change of his pulse.
"Then, sir, the machine was on its trial; and the machine was right.
By the time I came with him out of the private room into the vestibule
where all sorts of other people were awaiting examination,
I think he had already more or less made up his mind to clear things up
by something like a confession. He turned to me and began to say
in a low voice: `Oh, I can't stick this any more. If you must know
all about me--'
"At the same instant one of the poor women sitting on the long bench
stood up, screaming aloud and pointing at him with her finger.
I have never in my life heard anything more demoniacally distinct.
Her lean finger seemed to pick him out as if it were a pea-shooter.
Though the word was a mere howl, every syllable was as clear
as a separate stroke on the clock.
"`Drugger Davis!' she shouted. `They've got Drugger Davis!'
"Among the wretched women, mostly thieves and streetwalkers,
twenty faces were turned, gaping with glee and hate. If I had never
heard the words, I should have known by the very shock upon his features
that the so-called Oscar Rian had heard his real name. But I'm not quite
so ignorant, you may be surprised to hear. Drugger Davis was
one of the most terrible and depraved criminals that ever
baffled our police. It is certain he had done murder more than once
long before his last exploit with the warder. But he was never entirely
fixed for it, curiously enough because he did it in the same manner
as those milder--or meaner--crimes for which he was fixed pretty often.
He was a handsome, well-bred-looking brute, as he still is, to some extent;
and he used mostly to go about with barmaids or shop-girls and do them
out of their money. Very often, though, he went a good deal farther;
and they were found drugged with cigarettes or chocolates and
their whole property missing. Then came one case where the girl
was found dead; but deliberation could not quite be proved, and,
what was more practical still, the criminal could not be found.
I heard a rumour of his having reappeared somewhere in the opposite
character this time, lending money instead of borrowing it;
but still to such poor widows as he might personally fascinate,
but still with the same bad result for them. Well, there is
your innocent man, and there is his innocent record. Even, since then,
four criminals and three warders have identified him and confirmed the story.
Now what have you got to say to my poor little machine after that?
Hasn't the machine done for him? Or do you prefer to say that the woman
and I have done for him?"
"As to what you've done for him," replied Father Brown,
rising and shaking himself in a floppy way, "you've saved him from
the electrical chair. I don't think they can kill Drugger Davis
on that old vague story of the poison; and as for the convict
who killed the warder, I suppose it's obvious that you haven't got him.
Mr Davis is innocent of that crime, at any rate."
"What do you mean?" demanded the other. "Why should he be
innocent of that crime?"
"Why, bless us all!" cried the small man in one of his rare
moments of animation, "why, because he's guilty of the other crimes!
I don't know what you people are made of. You seem to think that
all sins are kept together in a bag. You talk as if a miser on Monday
were always a spendthrift on Tuesday. You tell me this man you have here
spent weeks and months wheedling needy women out of small sums of money;
that he used a drug at the best, and a poison at the worst;
that he turned up afterwards as the lowest kind of moneylender,
and cheated most poor people in the same patient and pacific style.
Let it be granted--let us admit, for the sake of argument,
that he did all this. If that is so, I will tell you what he didn't do.
He didn't storm a spiked wall against a man with a loaded gun.
He didn't write on the wall with his own hand, to say he had done it.
He didn't stop to state that his justification was self-defence.
He didn't explain that he had no quarrel with the poor warder.
He didn't name the house of the rich man to which he was going with the gun.
He didn't write his own, initials in a man's blood. Saints alive!
Can't you see the whole character is different, in good and evil?
Why, you don't seem to be like I am a bit. One would think
you'd never had any vices of your own."
The amazed American had already parted his lips in protest
when the door of his private and official room was hammered
and rattled in an unceremonious way to which he was totally unaccustomed.
The door flew open. The moment before Greywood Usher had been
coming to the conclusion that Father Brown might possibly be mad.
The moment after he began to think he was mad himself.
There burst and fell into his private room a man in the filthiest rags,
with a greasy squash hat still askew on his head, and a shabby green shade
shoved up from one of his eyes, both of which were glaring like a tiger's.
The rest of his face was almost undiscoverable, being masked with
a matted beard and whiskers through which the nose could barely
thrust itself, and further buried in a squalid red scarf or handkerchief.
Mr Usher prided himself on having seen most of the roughest specimens
in the State, but he thought he had never seen such a baboon dressed
as a scarecrow as this. But, above all, he had never in all his
placid scientific existence heard a man like that speak to him first.
"See here, old man Usher," shouted the being in the red handkerchief,
"I'm getting tired. Don't you try any of your hide-and-seek on me;
I don't get fooled any. Leave go of my guests, and I'll let up
on the fancy clockwork. Keep him here for a split instant and you'll
feel pretty mean. I reckon I'm not a man with no pull."
The eminent Usher was regarding the bellowing monster
with an amazement which had dried up all other sentiments.
The mere shock to his eyes had rendered his ears, almost useless.
At last he rang a bell with a hand of violence. While the bell was
still strong and pealing, the voice of Father Brown fell soft but distinct.
"I have a suggestion to make," he said, "but it seems
a little confusing. I don't know this gentleman--but--
but I think I know him. Now, you know him--you know him quite well--
but you don't know him--naturally. Sounds paradoxical, I know."
"I reckon the Cosmos is cracked," said Usher, and fell asprawl
in his round office chair.
"Now, see here," vociferated the stranger, striking the table,
but speaking in a voice that was all the more mysterious
because it was comparatively mild and rational though still resounding.
"I won't let you in. I want--"
"Who in hell are you?" yelled Usher, suddenly sitting up straight.
"I think the gentleman's name is Todd," said the priest.
Then he picked up the pink slip of newspaper.
"I fear you don't read the Society papers properly," he said,
and began to read out in a monotonous voice, "`Or locked in
the jewelled bosoms of our city's gayest leaders; but there is talk
of a pretty parody of the manners and customs of the other end
of Society's scale.' There's been a big Slum Dinner up at
Pilgrim's Pond tonight; and a man, one of the guests, disappeared.
Mr Ireton Todd is a good host, and has tracked him here,
without even waiting to take off his fancy-dress."
"What man do you mean?"
"I mean the man with comically ill-fitting clothes you saw
running across the ploughed field. Hadn't you better go and
investigate him? He will be rather impatient to get back to his champagne,
from which he ran away in such a hurry, when the convict with the gun
hove in sight."
"Do you seriously mean--" began the official.
"Why, look here, Mr Usher," said Father Brown quietly,
"you said the machine couldn't make a mistake; and in one sense it didn't.
But the other machine did; the machine that worked it.
You assumed that the man in rags jumped at the name of Lord Falconroy,
because he was Lord Falconroy's murderer. He jumped at the name
of Lord Falconroy because he is Lord Falconroy."
"Then why the blazes didn't he say so?" demanded the staring Usher.
"He felt his plight and recent panic were hardly patrician,"
replied the priest, "so he tried to keep the name back at first.
But he was just going to tell it you, when"--and Father Brown looked
down at his boots--"when a woman found another name for him."
"But you can't be so mad as to say," said Greywood Usher,
very white, "that Lord Falconroy was Drugger Davis."
The priest looked at him very earnestly, but with a baffling
and undecipherable face.
"I am not saying anything about it," he said. "I leave
all the rest to you. Your pink paper says that the title
was recently revived for him; but those papers are very unreliable.
It says he was in the States in youth; but the whole story seems
very strange. Davis and Falconroy are both pretty considerable cowards,
but so are lots of other men. I would not hang a dog on my own opinion
about this. But I think," he went on softly and reflectively,
"I think you Americans are too modest. I think you idealize
the English aristocracy--even in assuming it to be so aristocratic.
You see a good-looking Englishman in evening-dress; you know
he's in the House of Lords; and you fancy he has a father.
You don't allow for our national buoyancy and uplift. Many of our
most influential noblemen have not only risen recently, but--"
"Oh, stop it!" cried Greywood Usher, wringing one lean hand
in impatience against a shade of irony in the other's face.
"Don't stay talking to this lunatic!" cried Todd brutally.
"Take me to my friend."
Next morning Father Brown appeared with the same demure expression,
carrying yet another piece of pink newspaper.
"I'm afraid you neglect the fashionable press rather," he said,
"but this cutting may interest you."
Usher read the headlines, "Last-Trick's Strayed Revellers:
Mirthful Incident near Pilgrim's Pond." The paragraph went on:
"A laughable occurrence took place outside Wilkinson's Motor Garage
last night. A policeman on duty had his attention drawn by larrikins
to a man in prison dress who was stepping with considerable coolness
into the steering-seat of a pretty high-toned Panhard; he was accompanied
by a girl wrapped in a ragged shawl. On the police interfering,
the young woman threw back the shawl, and all recognized
Millionaire Todd's daughter, who had just come from the Slum Freak Dinner
at the Pond, where all the choicest guests were in a similar deshabille.
She and the gentleman who had donned prison uniform were going for
the customary joy-ride."
Under the pink slip Mr Usher found a strip of a later paper,
headed, "Astounding Escape of Millionaire's Daughter with Convict.
She had Arranged Freak Dinner. Now Safe in--"
Mr Greenwood Usher lifted his eyes, but Father Brown was gone.
The Head of Caesar
THERE is somewhere in Brompton or Kensington an interminable avenue
of tall houses, rich but largely empty, that looks like a terrace of tombs.
The very steps up to the dark front doors seem as steep as
the side of pyramids; one would hesitate to knock at the door,
lest it should be opened by a mummy. But a yet more depressing feature
in the grey facade is its telescopic length and changeless continuity.
The pilgrim walking down it begins to think he will never come to
a break or a corner; but there is one exception--a very small one,
but hailed by the pilgrim almost with a shout. There is a sort of mews
between two of the tall mansions, a mere slit like the crack of a door
by comparison with the street, but just large enough to permit
a pigmy ale-house or eating-house, still allowed by the rich to their
stable-servants, to stand in the angle. There is something cheery in its
very dinginess, and something free and elfin in its very insignificance.
At the feet of those grey stone giants it looks like a lighted house
Anyone passing the place during a certain autumn evening,
itself almost fairylike, might have seen a hand pull aside
the red half-blind which (along with some large white lettering)
half hid the interior from the street, and a face peer out not unlike
a rather innocent goblin's. It was, in fact, the face of one with
the harmless human name of Brown, formerly priest of Cobhole in Essex,
and now working in London. His friend, Flambeau, a semi-official
investigator, was sitting opposite him, making his last notes of a case
he had cleared up in the neighbourhood. They were sitting at a small table,
close up to the window, when the priest pulled the curtain back
and looked out. He waited till a stranger in the street had
passed the window, to let the curtain fall into its place again.
Then his round eyes rolled to the large white lettering on the window
above his head, and then strayed to the next table, at which sat only
a navvy with beer and cheese, and a young girl with red hair and
a glass of milk. Then (seeing his friend put away the pocket-book),
he said softly:
"If you've got ten minutes, I wish you'd follow that man with
the false nose."
Flambeau looked up in surprise; but the girl with the red hair
also looked up, and with something that was stronger than astonishment.
She was simply and even loosely dressed in light brown sacking stuff;
but she was a lady, and even, on a second glance, a rather needlessly
haughty one. "The man with the false nose!" repeated Flambeau.
"I haven't a notion," answered Father Brown. "I want you
to find out; I ask it as a favour. He went down there"--and he jerked
his thumb over his shoulder in one of his undistinguished gestures--
"and can't have passed three lamp-posts yet. I only want to know
Flambeau gazed at his friend for some time, with an expression
between perplexity and amusement; and then, rising from the table;
squeezed his huge form out of the little door of the dwarf tavern,
and melted into the twilight.
Father Brown took a small book out of his pocket and began
to read steadily; he betrayed no consciousness of the fact that
the red-haired lady had left her own table and sat down opposite him.
At last she leaned over and said in a low, strong voice:
"Why do you say that? How do you know it's false?"
He lifted his rather heavy eyelids, which fluttered in
considerable embarrassment. Then his dubious eye roamed again to
the white lettering on the glass front of the public-house.
The young woman's eyes followed his, and rested there also,
but in pure puzzledom.
"No," said Father Brown, answering her thoughts. "It doesn't say
`Sela', like the thing in the Psalms; I read it like that myself when
I was wool-gathering just now; it says `Ales.'"
"Well?" inquired the staring young lady. "What does it matter
what it says?"
His ruminating eye roved to the girl's light canvas sleeve,
round the wrist of which ran a very slight thread of artistic pattern,
just enough to distinguish it from a working-dress of a common woman
and make it more like the working-dress of a lady art-student.
He seemed to find much food for thought in this; but his reply was
very slow and hesitant. "You see, madam," he said, "from outside
the place looks--well, it is a perfectly decent place--but ladies
like you don't--don't generally think so. They never go into such places
from choice, except--"
"Well?" she repeated.
"Except an unfortunate few who don't go in to drink milk."
"You are a most singular person," said the young lady.
"What is your object in all this?"
"Not to trouble you about it," he replied, very gently.
"Only to arm myself with knowledge enough to help you, if ever
you freely ask my help."
"But why should I need help?"
He continued his dreamy monologue. "You couldn't have come in
to see protegees, humble friends, that sort of thing, or you'd have
gone through into the parlour...and you couldn't have come in because
you were ill, or you'd have spoken to the woman of the place,
who's obviously respectable...besides, you don't look ill in that way,
but only unhappy.... This street is the only original long lane
that has no turning; and the houses on both sides are shut up....
I could only suppose that you'd seen somebody coming whom you didn't want
to meet; and found the public-house was the only shelter in this
wilderness of stone.... I don't think I went beyond the licence of
a stranger in glancing at the only man who passed immediately after....
And as I thought he looked like the wrong sort...and you looked like
the right sort.... I held myself ready to help if he annoyed you;
that is all. As for my friend, he'll be back soon; and he certainly
can't find out anything by stumping down a road like this....
I didn't think he could."
"Then why did you send him out?" she cried, leaning forward with
yet warmer curiosity. She had the proud, impetuous face that goes
with reddish colouring, and a Roman nose, as it did in Marie Antoinette.
He looked at her steadily for the first time, and said:
"Because I hoped you would speak to me."
She looked back at him for some time with a heated face,
in which there hung a red shadow of anger; then, despite her anxieties,
humour broke out of her eyes and the corners of her mouth,
and she answered almost grimly: "Well, if you're so keen on
my conversation, perhaps you'll answer my question." After a pause
she added: "I had the honour to ask you why you thought the man's nose
"The wax always spots like that just a little in this weather,"
answered Father Brown with entire simplicity,
"But it's such a crooked nose," remonstrated the red-haired girl.
The priest smiled in his turn. "I don't say it's the sort of nose
one would wear out of mere foppery," he admitted. "This man, I think,
wears it because his real nose is so much nicer."
"But why?" she insisted.
"What is the nursery-rhyme?" observed Brown absent-mindedly.
"There was a crooked man and he went a crooked mile.... That man,
I fancy, has gone a very crooked road--by following his nose."
"Why, what's he done?" she demanded, rather shakily.
"I don't want to force your confidence by a hair," said Father Brown,
very quietly. "But I think you could tell me more about that than
I can tell you."
The girl sprang to her feet and stood quite quietly, but with
clenched hands, like one about to stride away; then her hands
loosened slowly, and she sat down again. "You are more of a mystery
than all the others," she said desperately, "but I feel there might be
a heart in your mystery."
"What we all dread most," said the priest in a low voice,
"is a maze with no centre. That is why atheism is only a nightmare."
"I will tell you everything," said the red-haired girl doggedly,
"except why I am telling you; and that I don't know."
She picked at the darned table-cloth and went on: "You look as if
you knew what isn't snobbery as well as what is; and when I say that
ours is a good old family, you'll understand it is a necessary part of
the story; indeed, my chief danger is in my brother's high-and-dry notions,
noblesse oblige and all that. Well, my name is Christabel Carstairs;
and my father was that Colonel Carstairs you've probably heard of,
who made the famous Carstairs Collection of Roman coins.
I could never describe my father to you; the nearest I can say is
that he was very like a Roman coin himself. He was as handsome and
as genuine and as valuable and as metallic and as out-of-date.
He was prouder of his Collection than of his coat-of-arms--
nobody could say more than that. His extraordinary character
came out most in his will. He had two sons and one daughter.
He quarrelled with one son, my brother Giles, and sent him
to Australia on a small allowance. He then made a will leaving
the Carstairs Collection, actually with a yet smaller allowance,
to my brother Arthur. He meant it as a reward, as the highest honour
he could offer, in acknowledgement of Arthur's loyalty and rectitude
and the distinctions he had already gained in mathematics and economics
at Cambridge. He left me practically all his pretty large fortune;
and I am sure he meant it in contempt.
"Arthur, you may say, might well complain of this; but Arthur
is my father over again. Though he had some differences with my
father in early youth, no sooner had he taken over the Collection
than he became like a pagan priest dedicated to a temple.
He mixed up these Roman halfpence with the honour of the Carstairs
family in the same stiff, idolatrous way as his father before him.
He acted as if Roman money must be guarded by all the Roman virtues.
He took no pleasures; he spent nothing on himself; he lived for
the Collection. Often he would not trouble to dress for his simple meals;
but pattered about among the corded brown-paper parcels (which no one else
was allowed to touch) in an old brown dressing-gown. With its rope
and tassel and his pale, thin, refined face, it made him look like
an old ascetic monk. Every now and then, though, he would appear
dressed like a decidedly fashionable gentleman; but that was only when
he went up to the London sales or shops to make an addition to
the Carstairs Collection.
"Now, if you've known any young people, you won't be shocked
if I say that I got into rather a low frame of mind with all this;
the frame of mind in which one begins to say that the Ancient Romans
were all very well in their way. I'm not like my brother Arthur;
I can't help enjoying enjoyment. I got a lot of romance and rubbish
where I got my red hair, from the other side of the family.
Poor Giles was the same; and I think the atmosphere of coins
might count in excuse for him; though he really did wrong and nearly
went to prison. But he didn't behave any worse than I did;
as you shall hear.
"I come now to the silly part of the story. I think a man
as clever as you can guess the sort of thing that would begin
to relieve the monotony for an unruly girl of seventeen placed in such
a position. But I am so rattled with more dreadful things that I can
hardly read my own feeling; and don't know whether I despise it now
as a flirtation or bear it as a broken heart. We lived then at
a little seaside watering-place in South Wales, and a retired sea-captain
living a few doors off had a son about five years older than myself,
who had been a friend of Giles before he went to the Colonies.
His name does not affect my tale; but I tell you it was Philip Hawker,
because I am telling you everything. We used to go shrimping together,
and said and thought we were in love with each other; at least
he certainly said he was, and I certainly thought I was.
If I tell you he had bronzed curly hair and a falconish sort of face,
bronzed by the sea also, it's not for his sake, I assure you,
but for the story; for it was the cause of a very curious coincidence.
"One summer afternoon, when I had promised to go shrimping
along the sands with Philip, I was waiting rather impatiently
in the front drawing-room, watching Arthur handle some packets of coins
he had just purchased and slowly shunt them, one or two at a time,
into his own dark study and museum which was at the back of the house.
As soon as I heard the heavy door close on him finally, I made a bolt
for my shrimping-net and tam-o'-shanter and was just going to slip out,
when I saw that my brother had left behind him one coin that lay
gleaming on the long bench by the window. It was a bronze coin,
and the colour, combined with the exact curve of the Roman nose
and something in the very lift of the long, wiry neck, made the head
of Caesar on it the almost precise portrait of Philip Hawker.
Then I suddenly remembered Giles telling Philip of a coin that was
like him, and Philip wishing he had it. Perhaps you can fancy the wild,
foolish thoughts with which my head went round; I felt as if I had
had a gift from the fairies. It seemed to me that if I could only
run away with this, and give it to Philip like a wild sort of wedding-ring,
it would be a bond between us for ever; I felt a thousand such things
at once. Then there yawned under me, like the pit, the enormous,
awful notion of what I was doing; above all, the unbearable thought,
which was like touching hot iron, of what Arthur would think of it.
A Carstairs a thief; and a thief of the Carstairs treasure!
I believe my brother could see me burned like a witch for such a thing,
But then, the very thought of such fanatical cruelty heightened
my old hatred of his dingy old antiquarian fussiness and my longing
for the youth and liberty that called to me from the sea.
Outside was strong sunlight with a wind; and a yellow head of some
broom or gorse in the garden rapped against the glass of the window.
I thought of that living and growing gold calling to me from all
the heaths of the world--and then of that dead, dull gold and bronze
and brass of my brother's growing dustier and dustier as life went by.
Nature and the Carstairs Collection had come to grips at last.
"Nature is older than the Carstairs Collection. As I ran
down the streets to the sea, the coin clenched tight in my fist,
I felt all the Roman Empire on my back as well as the Carstairs pedigree.
It was not only the old lion argent that was roaring in my ear,
but all the eagles of the Caesars seemed flapping and screaming
in pursuit of me. And yet my heart rose higher and higher like
a child's kite, until I came over the loose, dry sand-hills and to
the flat, wet sands, where Philip stood already up to his ankles
in the shallow shining water, some hundred yards out to sea.
There was a great red sunset; and the long stretch of low water,
hardly rising over the ankle for half a mile, was like a lake
of ruby flame. It was not till I had torn off my shoes and stockings
and waded to where he stood, which was well away from the dry land,
that I turned and looked round. We were quite alone in a circle
of sea-water and wet sand, and I gave him the head of Caesar.
"At the very instant I had a shock of fancy: that a man far away
on the sand-hills was looking at me intently. I must have felt
immediately after that it was a mere leap of unreasonable nerves;
for the man was only a dark dot in the distance, and I could only just see
that he was standing quite still and gazing, with his head a little
on one side. There was no earthly logical evidence that he was
looking at me; he might have been looking at a ship, or the sunset,
or the sea-gulls, or at any of the people who still strayed here and there
on the shore between us. Nevertheless, whatever my start sprang from
was prophetic; for, as I gazed, he started walking briskly in a bee-line
towards us across the wide wet sands. As he drew nearer and nearer
I saw that he was dark and bearded, and that his eyes were marked with
dark spectacles. He was dressed poorly but respectably in black,
from the old black top hat on his head to the solid black boots
on his feet. In spite of these he walked straight into the sea
without a flash of hesitation, and came on at me with the steadiness
of a travelling bullet.
"I can't tell you the sense of monstrosity and miracle I had
when he thus silently burst the barrier between land and water.
It was as if he had walked straight off a cliff and still marched
steadily in mid-air. It was as if a house had flown up into the sky
or a man's head had fallen off. He was only wetting his boots;
but he seemed to be a demon disregarding a law of Nature. If he had
hesitated an instant at the water's edge it would have been nothing.
As it was, he seemed to look so much at me alone as not to notice the ocean.
Philip was some yards away with his back to me, bending over his net.
The stranger came on till he stood within two yards of me, the water
washing half-way up to his knees. Then he said, with a clearly modulated
and rather mincing articulation: `Would it discommode you to contribute
elsewhere a coin with a somewhat different superscription?'
"With one exception there was nothing definably abnormal about him.
His tinted glasses were not really opaque, but of a blue kind common enough,
nor were the eyes behind them shifty, but regarded me steadily.
His dark beard was not really long or wild--, but he looked rather hairy,
because the beard began very high up in his face, just under
the cheek-bones. His complexion was neither sallow nor livid,
but on the contrary rather clear and youthful; yet this gave
a pink-and-white wax look which somehow (I don't know why) rather
increased the horror. The only oddity one could fix was that his nose,
which was otherwise of a good shape, was just slightly turned sideways
at the tip; as if, when it was soft, it had been tapped on one side
with a toy hammer. The thing was hardly a deformity; yet I cannot
tell you what a living nightmare it was to me. As he stood there
in the sunset-stained water he affected me as some hellish sea-monster
just risen roaring out of a sea like blood. I don't know why
a touch on the nose should affect my imagination so much.
I think it seemed as if he could move his nose like a finger.
And as if he had just that moment moved it.
"`Any little assistance,' he continued with the same queer,
priggish accent, `that may obviate the necessity of my communicating
with the family.'
"Then it rushed over me that I was being blackmailed for
the theft of the bronze piece; and all my merely superstitious fears
and doubts were swallowed up in one overpowering, practical question.
How could he have found out? I had stolen the thing suddenly and on impulse;
I was certainly alone; for I always made sure of being unobserved
when I slipped out to see Philip in this way. I had not,
to all appearance, been followed in the street; and if I had,
they could not `X-ray' the coin in my closed hand. The man standing
on the sand-hills could no more have seen what I gave Philip than
shoot a fly in one eye, like the man in the fairy-tale.
"`Philip,' I cried helplessly, `ask this man what he wants.'
"When Philip lifted his head at last from mending his net
he looked rather red, as if sulky or ashamed; but it may have been
only the exertion of stooping and the red evening light; I may have
only had another of the morbid fancies that seemed to be dancing about me.
He merely said gruffly to the man: `You clear out of this.'
And, motioning me to follow, set off wading shoreward without paying
further attention to him. He stepped on to a stone breakwater that
ran out from among the roots of the sand-hills, and so struck homeward,
perhaps thinking our incubus would find it less easy to walk on such
rough stones, green and slippery with seaweed, than we, who were young
and used to it. But my persecutor walked as daintily as he talked;
and he still followed me, picking his way and picking his phrases.
I heard his delicate, detestable voice appealing to me over my shoulder,
until at last, when we had crested the sand-hills, Philip's patience
(which was by no means so conspicuous on most occasions) seemed to snap.
He turned suddenly, saying, `Go back. I can't talk to you now.'
And as the man hovered and opened his mouth, Philip struck him a buffet
on it that sent him flying from the top of the tallest sand-hill
to the bottom. I saw him crawling out below, covered with sand.
"This stroke comforted me somehow, though it might well increase
my peril; but Philip showed none of his usual elation at his own prowess.
Though as affectionate as ever, he still seemed cast down; and before
I could ask him anything fully, he parted with me at his own gate,
with two remarks that struck me as strange. He said that,
all things considered, I ought to put the coin back in the Collection;
but that he himself would keep it `for the present'. And then he added
quite suddenly and irrelevantly: `You know Giles is back from Australia?'"
The door of the tavern opened and the gigantic shadow of
the investigator Flambeau fell across the table. Father Brown
presented him to the lady in his own slight, persuasive style of speech,
mentioning his knowledge and sympathy in such cases; and almost
without knowing, the girl was soon reiterating her story to two listeners.
But Flambeau, as he bowed and sat down, handed the priest a small slip
of paper. Brown accepted it with some surprise and read on it:
"Cab to Wagga Wagga, 379, Mafeking Avenue, Putney." The girl was going
on with her story.
"I went up the steep street to my own house with my head in a whirl;
it had not begun to clear when I came to the doorstep, on which
I found a milk-can--and the man with the twisted nose. The milk-can
told me the servants were all out; for, of course, Arthur,
browsing about in his brown dressing-gown in a brown study,
would not hear or answer a bell. Thus there was no one to help me
in the house, except my brother, whose help must be my ruin.
In desperation I thrust two shillings into the horrid thing's hand,
and told him to call again in a few days, when I had thought it out.
He went off sulking, but more sheepishly than I had expected--
perhaps he had been shaken by his fall--and I watched the star of sand
splashed on his back receding down the road with a horrid vindictive
pleasure. He turned a corner some six houses down.
"Then I let myself in, made myself some tea, and tried to
think it out. I sat at the drawing-room window looking on to the garden,
which still glowed with the last full evening light. But I was too
distracted and dreamy to look at the lawns and flower-pots and flower-beds
with any concentration. So I took the shock the more sharply because
I'd seen it so slowly.
"The man or monster I'd sent away was standing quite still
in the middle of the garden. Oh, we've all read a lot about
pale-faced phantoms in the dark; but this was more dreadful
than anything of that kind could ever be. Because, though he cast
a long evening shadow, he still stood in warm sunlight. And because
his face was not pale, but had that waxen bloom still upon it
that belongs to a barber's dummy. He stood quite still, with his face
towards me; and I can't tell you how horrid he looked among the tulips
and all those tall, gaudy, almost hothouse-looking flowers.
It looked as if we'd stuck up a waxwork instead of a statue in
the centre of our garden.
"Yet almost the instant he saw me move in the window he turned
and ran out of the garden by the back gate, which stood open and
by which he had undoubtedly entered. This renewed timidity on his part
was so different from the impudence with which he had walked into the sea,
that I felt vaguely comforted. I fancied, perhaps, that he feared
confronting Arthur more than I knew. Anyhow, I settled down at last,
and had a quiet dinner alone (for it was against the rules to
disturb Arthur when he was rearranging the museum), and, my thoughts,
a little released, fled to Philip and lost themselves, I suppose.
Anyhow, I was looking blankly, but rather pleasantly than otherwise,
at another window, uncurtained, but by this time black as a slate
with the final night-fall. It seemed to me that something like a snail
was on the outside of the window-pane. But when I stared harder,
it was more like a man's thumb pressed on the pane; it had that curled look
that a thumb has. With my fear and courage re-awakened together,
I rushed at the window and then recoiled with a strangled scream
that any man but Arthur must have heard.
"For it was not a thumb, any more than it was a snail.
It was the tip of a crooked nose, crushed against the glass;
it looked white with the pressure; and the staring face and eyes
behind it were at first invisible and afterwards grey like a ghost.
I slammed the shutters together somehow, rushed up to my room and
locked myself in. But, even as I passed, I could swear I saw
a second black window with something on it that was like a snail.
"It might be best to go to Arthur after all. If the thing
was crawling close all around the house like a cat, it might have
purposes worse even than blackmail. My brother might cast me out
and curse me for ever, but he was a gentleman, and would defend me
on the spot. After ten minutes' curious thinking, I went down,
knocked on the door and then went in: to see the last and worst sight.
"My brother's chair was empty, and he was obviously out.
But the man with the crooked nose was sitting waiting for his return,
with his hat still insolently on his head, and actually reading
one of my brother's books under my brother's lamp. His face was composed
and occupied, but his nose-tip still had the air of being the most mobile
part of his face, as if it had just turned from left to right like
an elephant's proboscis. I had thought him poisonous enough while
he was pursuing and watching me; but I think his unconsciousness
of my presence was more frightful still.
"I think I screamed loud and long; but that doesn't matter.
What I did next does matter: I gave him all the money I had,
including a good deal in paper which, though it was mine, I dare say
I had no right to touch. He went off at last, with hateful,
tactful regrets all in long words; and I sat down, feeling ruined
in every sense. And yet I was saved that very night by a pure accident.
Arthur had gone off suddenly to London, as he so often did, for bargains;
and returned, late but radiant, having nearly secured a treasure
that was an added splendour even to the family Collection.
He was so resplendent that I was almost emboldened to confess
the abstraction of the lesser gem--, but he bore down all other topics
with his over-powering projects. Because the bargain might still
misfire any moment, he insisted on my packing at once and going up
with him to lodgings he had already taken in Fulham, to be near
the curio-shop in question. Thus in spite of myself, I fled from my foe
almost in the dead of night--but from Philip also.... My brother
was often at the South Kensington Museum, and, in order to make
some sort of secondary life for myself, I paid for a few lessons
at the Art Schools. I was coming back from them this evening,
when I saw the abomination of desolation walking alive down
the long straight street and the rest is as this gentleman has said.
"I've got only one thing to say. I don't deserve to be helped;
and I don't question or complain of my punishment; it is just,
it ought to have happened. But I still question, with bursting brains,
how it can have happened. Am I punished by miracle? or how can anyone but
Philip and myself know I gave him a tiny coin in the middle of the sea?"
"It is an extraordinary problem," admitted Flambeau.
"Not so extraordinary as the answer," remarked Father Brown
rather gloomily. "Miss Carstairs, will you be at home if we call
at your Fulham place in an hour and a half hence?"
The girl looked at him, and then rose and put her gloves on.
"Yes," she said, "I'll be there"; and almost instantly left the place.
That night the detective and the priest were still talking
of the matter as they drew near the Fulham house, a tenement
strangely mean even for a temporary residence of the Carstairs family.
"Of course the superficial, on reflection," said Flambeau,
"would think first of this Australian brother who's been
in trouble before, who's come back so suddenly and who's just the man
to have shabby confederates. But I can't see how he can
come into the thing by any process of thought, unless..."
"Well?" asked his companion patiently.
Flambeau lowered his voice. "Unless the girl's lover comes in,
too, and he would be the blacker villain. The Australian chap
did know that Hawker wanted the coin. But I can't see how on earth
he could know that Hawker had got it, unless Hawker signalled to him
or his representative across the shore."
"That is true," assented the priest, with respect.
"Have you noted another thing?" went on Flambeau eagerly.
"this Hawker hears his love insulted, but doesn't strike till he's got
to the soft sand-hills, where he can be victor in a mere sham-fight.
If he'd struck amid rocks and sea, he might have hurt his ally."
"That is true again," said Father Brown, nodding.
"And now, take it from the start. It lies between few people,
but at least three. You want one person for suicide; two people
for murder; but at least three people for blackmail"
"Why?" asked the priest softly.
"Well, obviously," cried his friend, "there must be one to be exposed;
one to threaten exposure; and one at least whom exposure would horrify."
After a long ruminant pause, the priest said: "You miss a logical step.
Three persons are needed as ideas. Only two are needed as agents."
"What can you mean?" asked the other.
"Why shouldn't a blackmailer," asked Brown, in a low voice,
"threaten his victim with himself? Suppose a wife became
a rigid teetotaller in order to frighten her husband into concealing
his pub-frequenting, and then wrote him blackmailing letters
in another hand, threatening to tell his wife! Why shouldn't it work?
Suppose a father forbade a son to gamble and then, following him
in a good disguise, threatened the boy with his own sham
paternal strictness! Suppose--but, here we are, my friend."
"My God!" cried Flambeau; "you don't mean--"
An active figure ran down the steps of the house and showed
under the golden lamplight the unmistakable head that resembled
the Roman coin. "Miss Carstairs," said Hawker without ceremony,
"wouldn't go in till you came."
"Well," observed Brown confidently, "don't you think it's
the best thing she can do to stop outside--with you to look after her?
You see, I rather guess you have guessed it all yourself."
"Yes," said the young man, in an undertone, "I guessed
on the sands and now I know; that was why I let him fall soft."
Taking a latchkey from the girl and the coin from Hawker,
Flambeau let himself and his friend into the empty house and passed
into the outer parlour. It was empty of all occupants but one.
The man whom Father Brown had seen pass the tavern was standing
against the wall as if at bay; unchanged, save that he had taken off
his black coat and was wearing a brown dressing-gown.
"We have come," said Father Brown politely, "to give back
this coin to its owner." And he handed it to the man with the nose.
Flambeau's eyes rolled. "Is this man a coin-collector?" he asked.
"This man is Mr Arthur Carstairs," said the priest positively,
"and he is a coin-collector of a somewhat singular kind."
The man changed colour so horribly that the crooked nose
stood out on his face like a separate and comic thing. He spoke,
nevertheless, with a sort of despairing dignity. "You shall see,
then," he said, "that I have not lost all the family qualities."
And he turned suddenly and strode into an inner room, slamming the door.
"Stop him!" shouted Father Brown, bounding and half falling
over a chair; and, after a wrench or two, Flambeau had the door open.
But it was too late. In dead silence Flambeau strode across
and telephoned for doctor and police.
An empty medicine bottle lay on the floor. Across the table
the body of the man in the brown dressing-gown lay amid his burst
and gaping brown-paper parcels; out of which poured and rolled,
not Roman, but very modern English coins.
The priest held up the bronze head of Caesar. "This," he said,
"was all that was left of the Carstairs Collection."
After a silence he went on, with more than common gentleness:
"It was a cruel will his wicked father made, and you see he did
resent it a little. He hated the Roman money he had, and grew fonder
of the real money denied him. He not only sold the Collection
bit by bit, but sank bit by bit to the basest ways of making money--
even to blackmailing his own family in a disguise. He blackmailed
his brother from Australia for his little forgotten crime (that is why
he took the cab to Wagga Wagga in Putney), he blackmailed his sister
for the theft he alone could have noticed. And that, by the way,
is why she had that supernatural guess when he was away on the sand-dunes.
Mere figure and gait, however distant, are more likely to remind us
of somebody than a well-made-up face quite close."
There was another silence. "Well," growled the detective,
"and so this great numismatist and coin-collector was nothing but
a vulgar miser."
"Is there so great a difference?" asked Father Brown, in the same
strange, indulgent tone. "What is there wrong about a miser that is
not often as wrong about a collector? What is wrong, except...
thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image; thou shalt not
bow down to them nor serve them, for I...but we must go and see how
the poor young people are getting on."
"I think," said Flambeau, "that in spite of everything,
they are probably getting on very well."
The Purple Wig
MR EDWARD NUTT, the industrious editor of the Daily Reformer,
sat at his desk, opening letters and marking proofs to the merry tune
of a typewriter, worked by a vigorous young lady.
He was a stoutish, fair man, in his shirt-sleeves; his movements
were resolute, his mouth firm and his tones final; but his round,
rather babyish blue eyes had a bewildered and even wistful look
that rather contradicted all this. Nor indeed was the expression
altogether misleading. It might truly be said of him, as for many
journalists in authority, that his most familiar emotion was one of
continuous fear; fear of libel actions, fear of lost advertisements,
fear of misprints, fear of the sack.
His life was a series of distracted compromises between
the proprietor of the paper (and of him), who was a senile soap-boiler
with three ineradicable mistakes in his mind, and the very able staff
he had collected to run the paper; some of whom were brilliant
and experienced men and (what was even worse) sincere enthusiasts
for the political policy of the paper.
A letter from one of these lay immediately before him,
and rapid and resolute as he was, he seemed almost to hesitate
before opening it. He took up a strip of proof instead, ran down it
with a blue eye, and a blue pencil, altered the word "adultery"
to the word "impropriety," and the word "Jew" to the word "Alien,"
rang a bell and sent it flying upstairs.
Then, with a more thoughtful eye, he ripped open the letter from his
more distinguished contributor, which bore a postmark of Devonshire,
and read as follows:
DEAR NUTT,--As I see you're working Spooks and Dooks at the same time,
what about an article on that rum business of the Eyres of Exmoor;
or as the old women call it down here, the Devil's Ear of Eyre?
The head of the family, you know, is the Duke of Exmoor; he is one of