Part 3 out of 4
the few really stiff old Tory aristocrats left, a sound old crusted tyrant
it is quite in our line to make trouble about. And I think I'm
on the track of a story that will make trouble.
Of course I don't believe in the old legend about James I;
and as for you, you don't believe in anything, not even in journalism.
The legend, you'll probably remember, was about the blackest business
in English history--the poisoning of Overbury by that witch's cat
Frances Howard, and the quite mysterious terror which forced the King
to pardon the murderers. There was a lot of alleged witchcraft
mixed up with it; and the story goes that a man-servant listening
at the keyhole heard the truth in a talk between the King and Carr;
and the bodily ear with which he heard grew large and monstrous
as by magic, so awful was the secret. And though he had to be loaded
with lands and gold and made an ancestor of dukes, the elf-shaped ear
is still recurrent in the family. Well, you don't believe in black magic;
and if you did, you couldn't use it for copy. If a miracle happened
in your office, you'd have to hush it up, now so many bishops
are agnostics. But that is not the point The point is that
there really is something queer about Exmoor and his family;
something quite natural, I dare say, but quite abnormal.
And the Ear is in it somehow, I fancy; either a symbol or a delusion
or disease or something. Another tradition says that Cavaliers
just after James I began to wear their hair long only to cover
the ear of the first Lord Exmoor. This also is no doubt fanciful.
The reason I point it out to you is this: It seems to me that
we make a mistake in attacking aristocracy entirely for its champagne
and diamonds. Most men rather admire the nobs for having a good time,
but I think we surrender too much when we admit that aristocracy
has made even the aristocrats happy. I suggest a series of articles
pointing out how dreary, how inhuman, how downright diabolist,
is the very smell and atmosphere of some of these great houses.
There are plenty of instances; but you couldn't begin with a better one
than the Ear of the Eyres. By the end of the week I think I can
get you the truth about it.--Yours ever, FRANCIS FINN.
Mr Nutt reflected a moment, staring at his left boot;
then he called out in a strong, loud and entirely lifeless voice,
in which every syllable sounded alike: "Miss Barlow, take down
a letter to Mr Finn, please."
DEAR FINN,--I think it would do; copy should reach us second post
Saturday.--Yours, E. NUTT.
This elaborate epistle he articulated as if it were all one word;
and Miss Barlow rattled it down as if it were all one word.
Then he took up another strip of proof and a blue pencil,
and altered the word "supernatural" to the word "marvellous",
and the expression "shoot down" to the expression "repress".
In such happy, healthful activities did Mr Nutt disport himself,
until the ensuing Saturday found him at the same desk, dictating to
the same typist, and using the same blue pencil on the first instalment
of Mr Finn's revelations. The opening was a sound piece of slashing
invective about the evil secrets of princes, and despair in the high places
of the earth. Though written violently, it was in excellent English;
but the editor, as usual, had given to somebody else the task
of breaking it up into sub-headings, which were of a spicier sort,
as "Peeress and Poisons", and "The Eerie Ear", "The Eyres in their Eyrie",
and so on through a hundred happy changes. Then followed the legend
of the Ear, amplified from Finn's first letter, and then the substance
of his later discoveries, as follows:
I know it is the practice of journalists to put the end of the story
at the beginning and call it a headline. I know that journalism
largely consists in saying "Lord Jones Dead" to people who never knew
that Lord Jones was alive. Your present correspondent thinks that this,
like many other journalistic customs, is bad journalism; and that
the Daily Reformer has to set a better example in such things.
He proposes to tell his story as it occurred, step by step.
He will use the real names of the parties, who in most cases are ready
to confirm his testimony. As for the headlines, the sensational
proclamations--they will come at the end.
I was walking along a public path that threads through
a private Devonshire orchard and seems to point towards Devonshire cider,
when I came suddenly upon just such a place as the path suggested.
It was a long, low inn, consisting really of a cottage and two barns;
thatched all over with the thatch that looks like brown and grey hair
grown before history. But outside the door was a sign which
called it the Blue Dragon; and under the sign was one of those long
rustic tables that used to stand outside most of the free English inns,
before teetotallers and brewers between them destroyed freedom.
And at this table sat three gentlemen, who might have lived
a hundred years ago.
Now that I know them all better, there is no difficulty
about disentangling the impressions; but just then they looked like
three very solid ghosts. The dominant figure, both because he was
bigger in all three dimensions, and because he sat centrally
in the length of the table, facing me, was a tall, fat man dressed
completely in black, with a rubicund, even apoplectic visage,
but a rather bald and rather bothered brow. Looking at him again,
more strictly, I could not exactly say what it was that gave me
the sense of antiquity, except the antique cut of his white
clerical necktie and the barred wrinkles across his brow.
It was even less easy to fix the impression in the case of
the man at the right end of the table, who, to say truth,
was as commonplace a person as could be seen anywhere, with a round,
brown-haired head and a round snub nose, but also clad in clerical black,
of a stricter cut. It was only when I saw his broad curved hat lying
on the table beside him that I realized why I connected him with
anything ancient. He was a Roman Catholic priest.
Perhaps the third man, at the other end of the table,
had really more to do with it than the rest, though he was both
slighter in physical presence and more inconsiderate in his dress.
His lank limbs were clad, I might also say clutched, in very tight
grey sleeves and pantaloons; he had a long, sallow, aquiline face
which seemed somehow all the more saturnine because his lantern jaws
were imprisoned in his collar and neck-cloth more in the style of
the old stock; and his hair (which ought to have been dark brown)
was of an odd dim, russet colour which, in conjunction with
his yellow face, looked rather purple than red. The unobtrusive
yet unusual colour was all the more notable because his hair was
almost unnaturally healthy and curling, and he wore it full.
But, after all analysis, I incline to think that what gave me
my first old-fashioned impression was simply a set of tall,
old-fashioned wine-glasses, one or two lemons and two churchwarden pipes.
And also, perhaps, the old-world errand on which I had come.
Being a hardened reporter, and it being apparently a public inn,
I did not need to summon much of my impudence to sit down at
the long table and order some cider. The big man in black seemed
very learned, especially about local antiquities; the small man in black,
though he talked much less, surprised me with a yet wider culture.
So we got on very well together; but the third man, the old gentleman
in the tight pantaloons, seemed rather distant and haughty,
until I slid into the subject of the Duke of Exmoor and his ancestry.
I thought the subject seemed to embarrass the other two a little;
but it broke the spell of the third man's silence most successfully.
Speaking with restraint and with the accent of a highly educated gentleman,
and puffing at intervals at his long churchwarden pipe, he proceeded
to tell me some of the most horrible stories I have ever heard in my life:
how one of the Eyres in the former ages had hanged his own father;
and another had his wife scourged at the cart tail through the village;
and another had set fire to a church full of children, and so on.
Some of the tales, indeed, are not fit for public print--,
such as the story of the Scarlet Nuns, the abominable story of
the Spotted Dog, or the thing that was done in the quarry.
And all this red roll of impieties came from his thin, genteel lips
rather primly than otherwise, as he sat sipping the wine out of
his tall, thin glass.
I could see that the big man opposite me was trying,
if anything, to stop him; but he evidently held the old gentleman
in considerable respect, and could not venture to do so at all abruptly.
And the little priest at the other end of the-table, though free from
any such air of embarrassment, looked steadily at the table,
and seemed to listen to the recital with great pain--as well as he might.
"You don't seem," I said to the narrator, "to be very fond of
the Exmoor pedigree."
He looked at me a moment, his lips still prim, but whitening
and tightening; then he deliberately broke his long pipe and glass
on the table and stood up, the very picture of a perfect gentleman
with the framing temper of a fiend.
"These gentlemen," he said, "will tell you whether I have cause
to like it. The curse of the Eyres of old has lain heavy on this country,
and many have suffered from it. They know there are none who have
suffered from it as I have." And with that he crushed a piece of
the fallen glass under his heel, and strode away among the green twilight
of the twinkling apple-trees.
"That is an extraordinary old gentleman," I said to the other two;
"do you happen to know what the Exmoor family has done to him? Who is he?"
The big man in black was staring at me with the wild air of
a baffled bull; he did not at first seem to take it in. Then he said
at last, "Don't you know who he is?"
I reaffirmed my ignorance, and there was another silence;
then the little priest said, still looking at the table, "That is
the Duke of Exmoor."
Then, before I could collect my scattered senses, he added
equally quietly, but with an air of regularizing things:
"My friend here is Doctor Mull, the Duke's librarian. My name is Brown."
"But," I stammered, "if that is the Duke, why does he damn all
the old dukes like that?"
"He seems really to believe," answered the priest called Brown,
"that they have left a curse on him." Then he added, with some irrelevance,
"That's why he wears a wig."
It was a few moments before his meaning dawned on me.
"You don't mean that fable about the fantastic ear?" I demanded.
"I've heard of it, of course, but surely it must be a superstitious yarn
spun out of something much simpler. I've sometimes thought it was
a wild version of one of those mutilation stories. They used to crop
criminals' ears in the sixteenth century."
"I hardly think it was that," answered the little man thoughtfully,
"but it is not outside ordinary science or natural law for a family
to have some deformity frequently reappearing--such as one ear bigger
than the other."
The big librarian had buried his big bald brow in his big red hands,
like a man trying to think out his duty. "No," he groaned.
"You do the man a wrong after all. Understand, I've no reason
to defend him, or even keep faith with him. He has been a tyrant to me
as to everybody else. Don't fancy because you see him sitting here
that he isn't a great lord in the worst sense of the word.
He would fetch a man a mile to ring a bell a yard off--if it would
summon another man three miles to fetch a matchbox three yards off.
He must have a footman to carry his walking-stick; a body servant
to hold up his opera-glasses--"
"But not a valet to brush his clothes," cut in the priest,
with a curious dryness, "for the valet would want to brush his wig, too."
The librarian turned to him and seemed to forget my presence;
he was strongly moved and, I think, a little heated with wine.
"I don't know how you know it, Father Brown," he said, "but you are right.
He lets the whole world do everything for him--except dress him.
And that he insists on doing in a literal solitude like a desert.
Anybody is kicked out of the house without a character who is
so much as found near his dressing-room door.
"He seems a pleasant old party," I remarked.
"No," replied Dr Mull quite simply; "and yet that is just what
I mean by saying you are unjust to him after all. Gentlemen, the Duke
does really feel the bitterness about the curse that he uttered just now.
He does, with sincere shame and terror, hide under that purple wig
something he thinks it would blast the sons of man to see.
I know it is so; and I know it is not a mere natural disfigurement,
like a criminal mutilation, or a hereditary disproportion in the features.
I know it is worse than that; because a man told me who was present
at a scene that no man could invent, where a stronger man than
any of us tried to defy the secret, and was scared away from it."
I opened my mouth to speak, but Mull went on in oblivion of me,
speaking out of the cavern of his hands. "I don't mind telling you,
Father, because it's really more defending the poor Duke than
giving him away. Didn't you ever hear of the time when he
very nearly lost all the estates?"
The priest shook his head; and the librarian proceeded to
tell the tale as he had heard it from his predecessor in the same post,
who had been his patron and instructor, and whom he seemed to trust
implicitly. Up to a certain point it was a common enough tale
of the decline of a great family's fortunes--the tale of a family lawyer.
His lawyer, however, had the sense to cheat honestly, if the expression
explains itself. Instead of using funds he held in trust,
he took advantage of the Duke's carelessness to put the family in
a financial hole, in which it might be necessary for the Duke to
let him hold them in reality.
The lawyer's name was Isaac Green, but the Duke always called him
Elisha; presumably in reference to the fact that he was quite bald,
though certainly not more than thirty. He had risen very rapidly,
but from very dirty beginnings; being first a "nark" or informer,
and then a money-lender: but as solicitor to the Eyres he had the sense,
as I say, to keep technically straight until he was ready to deal
the final blow. The blow fell at dinner; and the old librarian said
he should never forget the very look of the lampshades and the decanters,
as the little lawyer, with a steady smile, proposed to the great landlord
that they should halve the estates between them. The sequel certainly
could not be overlooked; for the Duke, in dead silence, smashed
a decanter on the man's bald head as suddenly as I had seen him smash
the glass that day in the orchard. It left a red triangular scar
on the scalp, and the lawyer's eyes altered, but not his smile.
He rose tottering to his feet, and struck back as such men do strike.
"I am glad of that," he said, "for now I can take the whole estate.
The law will give it to me."
Exmoor, it seems, was white as ashes, but his eyes still blazed.
"The law will give it you," he said; "but you will not take it....
Why not? Why? because it would mean the crack of doom for me,
and if you take it I shall take off my wig.... Why, you pitiful
plucked fowl, anyone can see your bare head. But no man shall
see mine and live."
Well, you may say what you like and make it mean what you like.
But Mull swears it is the solemn fact that the lawyer, after shaking
his knotted fists in the air for an instant, simply ran from the room
and never reappeared in the countryside; and since then Exmoor has been
feared more for a warlock than even for a landlord and a magistrate.
Now Dr Mull told his story with rather wild theatrical gestures,
and with a passion I think at least partisan. I was quite conscious
of the possibility that the whole was the extravagance of
an old braggart and gossip. But before I end this half of my discoveries,
I think it due to Dr Mull to record that my two first inquiries
have confirmed his story. I learned from an old apothecary in the village
that there was a bald man in evening dress, giving the name of Green,
who came to him one night to have a three-cornered cut on his forehead
plastered. And I learnt from the legal records and old newspapers
that there was a lawsuit threatened, and at least begun, by one Green
against the Duke of Exmoor.
Mr Nutt, of the Daily Reformer, wrote some highly incongruous
words across the top of the copy, made some highly mysterious marks
down the side of it, and called to Miss Barlow in the same loud,
monotonous voice: "Take down a letter to Mr Finn."
DEAR FINN,--Your copy will do, but I have had to headline it a bit;
and our public would never stand a Romanist priest in the story--
you must keep your eye on the suburbs. I've altered him to Mr Brown,
A day or two afterward found the active and judicious editor
examining, with blue eyes that seemed to grow rounder and rounder,
the second instalment of Mr Finn's tale of mysteries in high life.
It began with the words:
I have made an astounding discovery. I freely confess it is
quite different from anything I expected to discover, and will give
a much more practical shock to the public. I venture to say,
without any vanity, that the words I now write will be read all over Europe,
and certainly all over America and the Colonies. And yet I heard
all I have to tell before I left this same little wooden table in this
same little wood of apple-trees.
I owe it all to the small priest Brown; he is an extraordinary man.
The big librarian had left the table, perhaps ashamed of his long tongue,
perhaps anxious about the storm in which his mysterious master
had vanished: anyway, he betook himself heavily in the Duke's tracks
through the trees. Father Brown had picked up one of the lemons and
was eyeing it with an odd pleasure.
"What a lovely colour a lemon is!" he said. "There's one thing
I don't like about the Duke's wig--the colour."
"I don't think I understand," I answered.
"I dare say he's got good reason to cover his ears, like King Midas,"
went on the priest, with a cheerful simplicity which somehow seemed
rather flippant under the circumstances. "I can quite understand
that it's nicer to cover them with hair than with brass plates or
leather flaps. But if he wants to use hair, why doesn't he make it
look like hair? There never was hair of that colour in this world.
It looks more like a sunset-cloud coming through the wood.
Why doesn't he conceal the family curse better, if he's really
so ashamed of it? Shall I tell you? It's because he isn't ashamed of it.
He's proud of it"
"It's an ugly wig to be proud of--and an ugly story," I said.
"Consider," replied this curious little man, "how you yourself
really feel about such things. I don't suggest you're either
more snobbish or more morbid than the rest of us: but don't you feel
in a vague way that a genuine old family curse is rather a fine thing
to have? Would you be ashamed, wouldn't you be a little proud,
if the heir of the Glamis horror called you his friend? or if Byron's
family had confided, to you only, the evil adventures of their race?
Don't be too hard on the aristocrats themselves if their heads are
as weak as ours would be, and they are snobs about their own sorrows."
"By Jove!" I cried; "and that's true enough. My own mother's family
had a banshee; and, now I come to think of it, it has comforted me
in many a cold hour."
"And think," he went on, "of that stream of blood and poison
that spurted from his thin lips the instant you so much as mentioned
his ancestors. Why should he show every stranger over such
a Chamber of Horrors unless he is proud of it? He doesn't conceal his wig,
he doesn't conceal his blood, he doesn't conceal his family curse,
he doesn't conceal the family crimes--but--"
The little man's voice changed so suddenly, he shut his hand
so sharply, and his eyes so rapidly grew rounder and brighter
like a waking owl's, that it had all the abruptness of a small explosion
on the table.
"But," he ended, "he does really conceal his toilet."
It somehow completed the thrill of my fanciful nerves that
at that instant the Duke appeared again silently among the glimmering trees,
with his soft foot and sunset-hued hair, coming round the corner of
the house in company with his librarian. Before he came within earshot,
Father Brown had added quite composedly, "Why does he really hide
the secret of what he does with the purple wig? Because it isn't
the sort of secret we suppose."
The Duke came round the corner and resumed his seat at the head
of the table with all his native dignity. The embarrassment of
the librarian left him hovering on his hind legs, like a huge bear.
The Duke addressed the priest with great seriousness. "Father Brown,"
he said, "Doctor Mull informs me that you have come here to make a request.
I no longer profess an observance of the religion of my fathers;
but for their sakes, and for the sake of the days when we met before,
I am very willing to hear you. But I presume you would rather
be heard in private."
Whatever I retain of the gentleman made me stand up.
Whatever I have attained of the journalist made me stand still.
Before this paralysis could pass, the priest had made a momentarily
detaining motion. "If," he said, "your Grace will permit me
my real petition, or if I retain any right to advise you, I would urge
that as many people as possible should be present. All over this country
I have found hundreds, even of my own faith and flock, whose imaginations
are poisoned by the spell which I implore you to break. I wish we could
have all Devonshire here to see you do it."
"To see me do what?" asked the Duke, arching his eyebrows.
"To see you take off your wig," said Father Brown.
The Duke's face did not move; but he looked at his petitioner
with a glassy stare which was the most awful expression I have ever seen
on a human face. I could see the librarian's great legs wavering
under him like the shadows of stems in a pool; and I could not banish
from my own brain the fancy that the trees all around us were
filling softly in the silence with devils instead of birds.
"I spare you," said the Duke in a voice of inhuman pity.
"I refuse. If I gave you the faintest hint of the load of horror
I have to bear alone, you would lie shrieking at these feet of mine
and begging to know no more. I will spare you the hint.
You shall not spell the first letter of what is written on
the altar of the Unknown God."
"I know the Unknown God," said the little priest, with an
unconscious grandeur of certitude that stood up like a granite tower.
"I know his name; it is Satan. The true God was made flesh
and dwelt among us. And I say to you, wherever you find men ruled
merely by mystery, it is the mystery of iniquity. If the devil
tells you something is too fearful to look at, look at it.
If he says something is too terrible to hear, hear it. If you think
some truth unbearable, bear it. I entreat your Grace to end
this nightmare now and here at this table."
"If I did," said the Duke in a low voice, "you and all you believe,
and all by which alone you live, would be the first to shrivel and perish.
You would have an instant to know the great Nothing before you died."
"The Cross of Christ be between me and harm," said Father Brown.
"Take off your wig."
I was leaning over the table in ungovernable excitement;
in listening to this extraordinary duel half a thought had
come into my head. "Your Grace," I cried, "I call your bluff.
Take off that wig or I will knock it off."
I suppose I can be prosecuted for assault, but I am very glad
I did it. When he said, in the same voice of stone, "I refuse,"
I simply sprang on him. For three long instants he strained against me
as if he had all hell to help him; but I forced his head until
the hairy cap fell off it. I admit that, whilst wrestling,
I shut my eyes as it fell.
I was awakened by a cry from Mull, who was also by this time
at the Duke's side. His head and mine were both bending over
the bald head of the wigless Duke. Then the silence was snapped
by the librarian exclaiming: "What can it mean? Why, the man had
nothing to hide. His ears are just like everybody else's."
"Yes," said Father Brown, "that is what he had to hide."
The priest walked straight up to him, but strangely enough
did not even glance at his ears. He stared with an almost comical
seriousness at his bald forehead, and pointed to a three-cornered
cicatrice, long healed, but still discernible. "Mr Green, I think."
he said politely, "and he did get the whole estate after all."
And now let me tell the readers of the Daily Reformer
what I think the most remarkable thing in the whole affair.
This transformation scene, which will seem to you as wild and purple
as a Persian fairy-tale, has been (except for my technical assault)
strictly legal and constitutional from its first beginnings.
This man with the odd scar and the ordinary ears is not an impostor.
Though (in one sense) he wears another man's wig and claims
another man's ear, he has not stolen another man's coronet.
He really is the one and only Duke of Exmoor. What happened was this.
The old Duke really had a slight malformation of the ear, which really
was more or less hereditary. He really was morbid about it;
and it is likely enough that he did invoke it as a kind of curse
in the violent scene (which undoubtedly happened) in which he struck
Green with the decanter. But the contest ended very differently.
Green pressed his claim and got the estates; the dispossessed nobleman
shot himself and died without issue. After a decent interval
the beautiful English Government revived the "extinct" peerage of Exmoor,
and bestowed it, as is usual, on the most important person,
the person who had got the property.
This man used the old feudal fables--properly, in his snobbish soul,
really envied and admired them. So that thousands of poor English people
trembled before a mysterious chieftain with an ancient destiny and
a diadem of evil stars--when they are really trembling before
a guttersnipe who was a pettifogger and a pawnbroker not twelve years ago.
I think it very typical of the real case against our aristocracy as it is,
and as it will be till God sends us braver men.
Mr Nutt put down the manuscript and called out with unusual
sharpness: "Miss Barlow, please take down a letter to Mr Finn."
DEAR FINN,--You must be mad; we can't touch this. I wanted vampires
and the bad old days and aristocracy hand-in-hand with superstition.
They like that But you must know the Exmoors would never forgive this.
And what would our people say then, I should like to know! Why, Sir Simon
is one of Exmoor's greatest pals; and it would ruin that cousin of
the Eyres that's standing for us at Bradford. Besides, old Soap-Suds
was sick enough at not getting his peerage last year; he'd sack me by wire
if I lost him it with such lunacy as this. And what about Duffey?
He's doing us some rattling articles on "The Heel of the Norman."
And how can he write about Normans if the man's only a solicitor?
Do be reasonable.--Yours, E. NUTT.
As Miss Barlow rattled away cheerfully, he crumpled up the copy
and tossed it into the waste-paper basket; but not before he had,
automatically and by force of habit, altered the word "God"
to the word "circumstances."
The Perishing of the Pendragons
FATHER BROWN was in no mood for adventures. He had lately fallen ill
with over-work, and when he began to recover, his friend Flambeau
had taken him on a cruise in a small yacht with Sir Cecil Fanshaw,
a young Cornish squire and an enthusiast for Cornish coast scenery.
But Brown was still rather weak; he was no very happy sailor;
and though he was never of the sort that either grumbles or breaks down,
his spirits did not rise above patience and civility. When the other
two men praised the ragged violet sunset or the ragged volcanic crags,
he agreed with them. When Flambeau pointed out a rock shaped
like a dragon, he looked at it and thought it very like a dragon.
When Fanshaw more excitedly indicated a rock that was like Merlin,
he looked at it, and signified assent. When Flambeau asked whether
this rocky gate of the twisted river was not the gate of Fairyland,
he said "Yes." He heard the most important things and the most trivial
with the same tasteless absorption. He heard that the coast was death
to all but careful seamen; he also heard that the ship's cat was asleep.
He heard that Fanshaw couldn't find his cigar-holder anywhere;
he also heard the pilot deliver the oracle "Both eyes bright,
she's all right; one eye winks, down she sinks." He heard Flambeau
say to Fanshaw that no doubt this meant the pilot must keep both eyes
open and be spry. And he heard Fanshaw say to Flambeau that,
oddly enough, it didn't mean this: it meant that while they
saw two of the coast lights, one near and the other distant,
exactly side by side, they were in the right river-channel;
but that if one light was hidden behind the other, they were going
on the rocks. He heard Fanshaw add that his country was full of
such quaint fables and idioms; it was the very home of romance;
he even pitted this part of Cornwall against Devonshire, as a claimant
to the laurels of Elizabethan seamanship. According to him
there had been captains among these coves and islets compared with whom
Drake was practically a landsman. He heard Flambeau laugh, and ask if,
perhaps, the adventurous title of "Westward Ho!" only meant that
all Devonshire men wished they were living in Cornwall. He heard Fanshaw
say there was no need to be silly; that not only had Cornish captains
been heroes, but that they were heroes still: that near that very spot
there was an old admiral, now retired, who was scarred by thrilling voyages
full of adventures; and who had in his youth found the last group
of eight Pacific Islands that was added to the chart of the world.
This Cecil Fanshaw was, in person, of the kind that commonly urges
such crude but pleasing enthusiasms; a very young man, light-haired,
high-coloured, with an eager profile; with a boyish bravado of spirits,
but an almost girlish delicacy of tint and type. The big shoulders,
black brows and black mousquetaire swagger of Flambeau
were a great contrast.
All these trivialities Brown heard and saw; but heard them
as a tired man hears a tune in the railway wheels, or saw them
as a sick man sees the pattern of his wall-paper. No one can calculate
the turns of mood in convalescence: but Father Brown's depression
must have had a great deal to do with his mere unfamiliarity with the sea.
For as the river mouth narrowed like the neck of a bottle,
and the water grew calmer and the air warmer and more earthly,
he seemed to wake up and take notice like a baby. They had reached
that phase just after sunset when air and water both look bright,
but earth and all its growing things look almost black by comparison.
About this particular evening, however, there was something exceptional.
It was one of those rare atmospheres in which a smoked-glass slide
seems to have been slid away from between us and Nature; so that even
dark colours on that day look more gorgeous than bright colours
on cloudier days. The trampled earth of the river-banks and
the peaty stain in the pools did not look drab but glowing umber,
and the dark woods astir in the breeze did not look, as usual, dim blue
with mere depth of distance, but more like wind-tumbled masses of some
vivid violet blossom. This magic clearness and intensity in the colours
was further forced on Brown's slowly reviving senses by something
romantic and even secret in the very form of the landscape.
The river was still well wide and deep enough for a pleasure boat
so small as theirs; but the curves of the country-side suggested
that it was closing in on either hand; the woods seemed to be making
broken and flying attempts at bridge-building--as if the boat
were passing from the romance of a valley to the romance of a hollow
and so to the supreme romance of a tunnel. Beyond this mere
look of things there was little for Brown's freshening fancy to feed on;
he saw no human beings, except some gipsies trailing along the river bank,
with faggots and osiers cut in the forest; and one sight
no longer unconventional, but in such remote parts still uncommon:
a dark-haired lady, bare-headed, and paddling her own canoe.
If Father Brown ever attached any importance to either of these,
he certainly forgot them at the next turn of the river which
brought in sight a singular object.
The water seemed to widen and split, being cloven by the dark wedge
of a fish-shaped and wooded islet. With the rate at which they went,
the islet seemed to swim towards them like a ship; a ship with
a very high prow--or, to speak more strictly, a very high funnel.
For at the extreme point nearest them stood up an odd-looking building,
unlike anything they could remember or connect with any purpose.
It was not specially high, but it was too high for its breadth
to be called anything but a tower. Yet it appeared to be built
entirely of wood, and that in a most unequal and eccentric way.
Some of the planks and beams were of good, seasoned oak; some of
such wood cut raw and recent; some again of white pinewood,
and a great deal more of the same sort of wood painted black with tar.
These black beams were set crooked or crisscross at all kinds of angles,
giving the whole a most patchy and puzzling appearance.
There were one or two windows, which appeared to be coloured and
leaded in an old-fashioned but more elaborate style. The travellers
looked at it with that paradoxical feeling we have when something
reminds us of something, and yet we are certain it is something
Father Brown, even when he was mystified, was clever in analysing
his own mystification. And he found himself reflecting that
the oddity seemed to consist in a particular shape cut out in
an incongruous material; as if one saw a top-hat made of tin,
or a frock-coat cut out of tartan. He was sure he had seen timbers
of different tints arranged like that somewhere, but never
in such architectural proportions. The next moment a glimpse
through the dark trees told him all he wanted to know and he laughed.
Through a gap in the foliage there appeared for a moment one of those
old wooden houses, faced with black beams, which are still to be found
here and there in England, but which most of us see imitated
in some show called "Old London" or "Shakespeare's England'.
It was in view only long enough for the priest to see that,
however old-fashioned, it was a comfortable and well-kept country-house,
with flower-beds in front of it. It had none of the piebald and crazy
look of the tower that seemed made out of its refuse.
"What on earth's this?" said Flambeau, who was still staring
at the tower.
Fanshaw's eyes were shining, and he spoke triumphantly.
"Aha! you've not seen a place quite like this before, I fancy;
that's why I've brought you here, my friend. Now you shall see
whether I exaggerate about the mariners of Cornwall. This place belongs
to Old Pendragon, whom we call the Admiral; though he retired
before getting the rank. The spirit of Raleigh and Hawkins is a memory
with the Devon folk; it's a modern fact with the Pendragons.
If Queen Elizabeth were to rise from the grave and come up this river
in a gilded barge, she would be received by the Admiral in a house
exactly such as she was accustomed to, in every corner and casement,
in every panel on the wall or plate on the table. And she would find
an English Captain still talking fiercely of fresh lands to be found
in little ships, as much as if she had dined with Drake."
"She'd find a rum sort of thing in the garden," said Father Brown,
"which would not please her Renaissance eye. That Elizabethan domestic
architecture is charming in its way; but it's against the very nature
of it to break out into turrets."
"And yet," answered Fanshaw, "that's the most romantic and
Elizabethan part of the business. It was built by the Pendragons
in the very days of the Spanish wars; and though it's needed patching
and even rebuilding for another reason, it's always been rebuilt
in the old way. The story goes that the lady of Sir Peter Pendragon
built it in this place and to this height, because from the top
you can just see the corner where vessels turn into the river mouth;
and she wished to be the first to see her husband's ship,
as he sailed home from the Spanish Main."
"For what other reason," asked Father Brown, "do you mean that
it has been rebuilt?"
"Oh, there's a strange story about that, too," said the young squire
with relish. "You are really in a land of strange stories.
King Arthur was here and Merlin and the fairies before him.
The story goes that Sir Peter Pendragon, who (I fear) had some of
the faults of the pirates as well as the virtues of the sailor,
was bringing home three Spanish gentlemen in honourable captivity,
intending to escort them to Elizabeth's court. But he was a man
of flaming and tigerish temper, and coming to high words with one of them,
he caught him by the throat and flung him by accident or design,
into the sea. A second Spaniard, who was the brother of the first,
instantly drew his sword and flew at Pendragon, and after a short but
furious combat in which both got three wounds in as many minutes,
Pendragon drove his blade through the other's body and the second Spaniard
was accounted for. As it happened the ship had already turned
into the river mouth and was close to comparatively shallow water.
The third Spaniard sprang over the side of the ship, struck out
for the shore, and was soon near enough to it to stand up to his waist
in water. And turning again to face the ship, and holding up both
arms to Heaven--like a prophet calling plagues upon a wicked city--
he called out to Pendragon in a piercing and terrible voice,
that he at least was yet living, that he would go on living,
that he would live for ever; and that generation after generation
the house of Pendragon should never see him or his, but should know
by very certain signs that he and his vengeance were alive.
With that he dived under the wave, and was either drowned or swam
so long under water that no hair of his head was seen afterwards."
"There's that girl in the canoe again," said Flambeau irrelevantly,
for good-looking young women would call him off any topic.
"She seems bothered by the queer tower just as we were."
Indeed, the black-haired young lady was letting her canoe float
slowly and silently past the strange islet; and was looking intently up
at the strange tower, with a strong glow of curiosity on her oval
and olive face.
"Never mind girls," said Fanshaw impatiently, "there are plenty
of them in the world, but not many things like the Pendragon Tower.
As you may easily suppose, plenty of superstitions and scandals
have followed in the track of the Spaniard's curse; and no doubt,
as you would put it, any accident happening to this Cornish family
would be connected with it by rural credulity. But it is perfectly true
that this tower has been burnt down two or three times; and the family
can't be called lucky, for more than two, I think, of the Admiral's
near kin have perished by shipwreck; and one at least, to my own knowledge,
on practically the same spot where Sir Peter threw the Spaniard overboard."
"What a pity!" exclaimed Flambeau. "She's going."
"When did your friend the Admiral tell you this family history?"
asked Father Brown, as the girl in the canoe paddled off,
without showing the least intention of extending her interest from
the tower to the yacht, which Fanshaw had already caused to lie
alongside the island.
"Many years ago," replied Fanshaw; "he hasn't been to sea for
some time now, though he is as keen on it as ever. I believe there's
a family compact or something. Well, here's the landing stage;
let's come ashore and see the old boy."
They followed him on to the island, just under the tower,
and Father Brown, whether from the mere touch of dry land, or the interest
of something on the other bank of the river (which he stared at
very hard for some seconds), seemed singularly improved in briskness.
They entered a wooded avenue between two fences of thin greyish wood,
such as often enclose parks or gardens, and over the top of which
the dark trees tossed to and fro like black and purple plumes upon
the hearse of a giant. The tower, as they left it behind,
looked all the quainter, because such entrances are usually flanked
by two towers; and this one looked lopsided. But for this, the avenue
had the usual appearance of the entrance to a gentleman's grounds;
and, being so curved that the house was now out of sight,
somehow looked a much larger park than any plantation on such an island
could really be. Father Brown was, perhaps, a little fanciful
in his fatigue, but he almost thought the whole place must be
growing larger, as things do in a nightmare. Anyhow, a mystical monotony
was the only character of their march, until Fanshaw suddenly stopped,
and pointed to something sticking out through the grey fence--
something that looked at first rather like the imprisoned horn
of some beast. Closer observation showed that it was
a slightly curved blade of metal that shone faintly in the fading light.
Flambeau, who like all Frenchmen had been a soldier, bent over it
and said in a startled voice: "Why, it's a sabre! I believe
I know the sort, heavy and curved, but shorter than the cavalry;
they used to have them in artillery and the--"
As he spoke the blade plucked itself out of the crack it had made
and came down again with a more ponderous slash, splitting
the fissiparous fence to the bottom with a rending noise.
Then it was pulled out again, flashed above the fence some feet
further along, and again split it halfway down with the first stroke;
and after waggling a little to extricate itself (accompanied with
curses in the darkness) split it down to the ground with a second.
Then a kick of devilish energy sent the whole loosened square
of thin wood flying into the pathway, and a great gap of dark coppice
gaped in the paling.
Fanshaw peered into the dark opening and uttered an exclamation
of astonishment. "My dear Admiral!" he exclaimed, "do you--er--
do you generally cut out a new front door whenever you want to
go for a walk?"
The voice in the gloom swore again, and then broke into a jolly laugh.
"No," it said; "I've really got to cut down this fence somehow;
it's spoiling all the plants, and no one else here can do it.
But I'll only carve another bit off the front door, and then come out
and welcome you."
And sure enough, he heaved up his weapon once more, and,
hacking twice, brought down another and similar strip of fence,
making the opening about fourteen feet wide in all. Then through this
larger forest gateway he came out into the evening light,
with a chip of grey wood sticking to his sword-blade.
He momentarily fulfilled all Fanshaw's fable of an old piratical
Admiral; though the details seemed afterwards to decompose into accidents.
For instance, he wore a broad-brimmed hat as protection against the sun;
but the front flap of it was turned up straight to the sky, and the
two corners pulled down lower than the ears, so that it stood across
his forehead in a crescent like the old cocked hat worn by Nelson.
He wore an ordinary dark-blue jacket, with nothing special about
the buttons, but the combination of it with white linen trousers
somehow had a sailorish look. He was tall and loose, and walked with
a sort of swagger, which was not a sailor's roll, and yet somehow
suggested it; and he held in his hand a short sabre which was like
a navy cutlass, but about twice as big. Under the bridge of the hat
his eagle face looked eager, all the more because it was not only
clean-shaven, but without eyebrows. It seemed almost as if all
the hair had come off his face from his thrusting it through
a throng of elements. His eyes were prominent and piercing.
His colour was curiously attractive, while partly tropical;
it reminded one vaguely of a blood-orange. That is, that while it was
ruddy and sanguine, there was a yellow in it that was in no way sickly,
but seemed rather to glow like gold apples of the Hesperides--
Father Brown thought he had never seen a figure so expressive
of all the romances about the countries of the Sun.
When Fanshaw had presented his two friends to their host
he fell again into a tone of rallying the latter about his wreckage
of the fence and his apparent rage of profanity. The Admiral pooh-poohed
it at first as a piece of necessary but annoying garden work;
but at length the ring of real energy came back into his laughter,
and he cried with a mixture of impatience and good humour:
"Well, perhaps I do go at it a bit rabidly, and feel
a kind of pleasure in smashing anything. So would you if your
only pleasure was in cruising about to find some new Cannibal Islands,
and you had to stick on this muddy little rockery in a sort of rustic pond.
When I remember how I've cut down a mile and a half of green poisonous
jungle with an old cutlass half as sharp as this; and then remember
I must stop here and chop this matchwood, because of some confounded
old bargain scribbled in a family Bible, why, I--"
He swung up the heavy steel again; and this time sundered
the wall of wood from top to bottom at one stroke.
"I feel like that," he said laughing, but furiously flinging
the sword some yards down the path, "and now let's go up to the house;
you must have some dinner."
The semicircle of lawn in front of the house was varied by
three circular garden beds, one of red tulips, a second of
yellow tulips, and the third of some white, waxen-looking blossoms
that the visitors did not know and presumed to be exotic.
A heavy, hairy and rather sullen-looking gardener was hanging up
a heavy coil of garden hose. The corners of the expiring sunset
which seemed to cling about the corners of the house gave glimpses
here and there of the colours of remoter flowerbeds; and in
a treeless space on one side of the house opening upon the river
stood a tall brass tripod on which was tilted a big brass telescope.
Just outside the steps of the porch stood a little painted
green garden table, as if someone had just had tea there.
The entrance was flanked with two of those half-featured lumps of stone
with holes for eyes that are said to be South Sea idols; and on
the brown oak beam across the doorway were some confused carvings
that looked almost as barbaric.
As they passed indoors, the little cleric hopped suddenly
on to the table, and standing on it peered unaffectedly
through his spectacles at the mouldings in the oak. Admiral Pendragon
looked very much astonished, though not particularly annoyed;
while Fanshaw was so amused with what looked like a performing pigmy
on his little stand, that he could not control his laughter.
But Father Brown was not likely to notice either the laughter
or the astonishment.
He was gazing at three carved symbols, which, though very worn
and obscure, seemed still to convey some sense to him. The first
seemed to be the outline of some tower or other building, crowned with
what looked like curly-pointed ribbons. The second was clearer:
an old Elizabethan galley with decorative waves beneath it,
but interrupted in the middle by a curious jagged rock, which was either
a fault in the wood or some conventional representation of the water
coming in. The third represented the upper half of a human figure,
ending in an escalloped line like the waves; the face was rubbed
and featureless, and both arms were held very stiffly up in the air.
"Well," muttered Father Brown, blinking, "here is the legend
of the Spaniard plain enough. Here he is holding up his arms
and cursing in the sea; and here are the two curses: the wrecked ship
and the burning of Pendragon Tower."
Pendragon shook his head with a kind of venerable amusement.
"And how many other things might it not be?" he said. "Don't you know
that that sort of half-man, like a half-lion or half-stag,
is quite common in heraldry? Might not that line through the ship
be one of those parti-per-pale lines, indented, I think they call it?
And though the third thing isn't so very heraldic, it would be
more heraldic to suppose it a tower crowned with laurel than with fire;
and it looks just as like it."
"But it seems rather odd," said Flambeau, "that it should
exactly confirm the old legend."
"Ah," replied the sceptical traveller, "but you don't know
how much of the old legend may have been made up from the old figures.
Besides, it isn't the only old legend. Fanshaw, here, who is
fond of such things, will tell you there are other versions of the tale,
and much more horrible ones. One story credits my unfortunate ancestor
with having had the Spaniard cut in two; and that will fit
the pretty picture also. Another obligingly credits our family
with the possession of a tower full of snakes and explains those little,
wriggly things in that way. And a third theory supposes the crooked line
on the ship to be a conventionalized thunderbolt; but that alone,
if seriously examined, would show what a very little way these
unhappy coincidences really go."
"Why, how do you mean?" asked Fanshaw.
"It so happens," replied his host coolly, "that there was
no thunder and lightning at all in the two or three shipwrecks
I know of in our family."
"Oh!" said Father Brown, and jumped down from the little table.
There was another silence in which they heard the continuous murmur
of the river; then Fanshaw said, in a doubtful and perhaps
disappointed tone: "Then you don't think there is anything in the
tales of the tower in flames?"
"There are the tales, of course," said the Admiral,
shrugging his shoulders; "and some of them, I don't deny,
on evidence as decent as one ever gets for such things.
Someone saw a blaze hereabout, don't you know, as he walked home
through a wood; someone keeping sheep on the uplands inland thought
he saw a flame hovering over Pendragon Tower. Well, a damp dab of mud
like this confounded island seems the last place where one would
think of fires."
"What is that fire over there?" asked Father Brown with
a gentle suddenness, pointing to the woods on the left river-bank.
They were all thrown a little off their balance, and the more fanciful
Fanshaw had even some difficulty in recovering his, as they saw a long,
thin stream of blue smoke ascending silently into the end of
the evening light.
Then Pendragon broke into a scornful laugh again. "Gipsies!"
he said; "they've been camping about here for about a week.
Gentlemen, you want your dinner," and he turned as if to enter the house.
But the antiquarian superstition in Fanshaw was still quivering,
and he said hastily: "But, Admiral, what's that hissing noise
quite near the island? It's very like fire."
"It's more like what it is," said the Admiral, laughing as he
led the way; "it's only some canoe going by."
Almost as he spoke, the butler, a lean man in black,
with very black hair and a very long, yellow face, appeared in the doorway
and told him that dinner was served.
The dining-room was as nautical as the cabin of a ship;
but its note was rather that of the modern than the Elizabethan captain.
There were, indeed, three antiquated cutlasses in a trophy over
the fireplace, and one brown sixteenth-century map with Tritons
and little ships dotted about a curly sea. But such things were
less prominent on the white panelling than some cases of quaint-coloured
South American birds, very scientifically stuffed, fantastic shells
from the Pacific, and several instruments so rude and queer in shape
that savages might have used them either to kill their enemies or
to cook them. But the alien colour culminated in the fact that,
besides the butler, the Admiral's only servants were two negroes,
somewhat quaintly clad in tight uniforms of yellow. The priest's
instinctive trick of analysing his own impressions told him that
the colour and the little neat coat-tails of these bipeds had suggested
the word "Canary," and so by a mere pun connected them with
southward travel. Towards the end of the dinner they took their
yellow clothes and black faces out of the room, leaving only
the black clothes and yellow face of the butler.
"I'm rather sorry you take this so lightly," said Fanshaw to the host;
"for the truth is, I've brought these friends of mine with the idea
of their helping you, as they know a good deal of these things.
Don't you really believe in the family story at all?"
"I don't believe in anything," answered Pendragon very briskly,
with a bright eye cocked at a red tropical bird. "I'm a man of science."
Rather to Flambeau's surprise, his clerical friend,
who seemed to have entirely woken up, took up the digression and
talked natural history with his host with a flow of words and
much unexpected information, until the dessert and decanters were
set down and the last of the servants vanished. Then he said,
without altering his tone.
"Please don't think me impertinent, Admiral Pendragon. I don't
ask for curiosity, but really for my guidance and your convenience.
Have I made a bad shot if I guess you don't want these old things
talked of before your butler?"
The Admiral lifted the hairless arches over his eyes and exclaimed:
"Well, I don't know where you got it, but the truth is I can't stand
the fellow, though I've no excuse for discharging a family servant.
Fanshaw, with his fairy tales, would say my blood moved against men
with that black, Spanish-looking hair."
Flambeau struck the table with his heavy fist. "By Jove!" he cried;
"and so had that girl!"
"I hope it'll all end tonight," continued the Admiral,
"when my nephew comes back safe from his ship. You looked surprised.
You won't understand, I suppose, unless I tell you the story.
You see, my father had two sons; I remained a bachelor,
but my elder brother married, and had a son who became a sailor
like all the rest of us, and will inherit the proper estate.
Well, my father was a strange man; he somehow combined Fanshaw's
superstition with a good deal of my scepticism--they were always
fighting in him; and after my first voyages, he developed a notion
which he thought somehow would settle finally whether the curse
was truth or trash. If all the Pendragons sailed about anyhow,
he thought there would be too much chance of natural catastrophes
to prove anything. But if we went to sea one at a time in strict order
of succession to the property, he thought it might show whether any
connected fate followed the family as a family. It was a silly notion,
I think, and I quarrelled with my father pretty heartily; for I was
an ambitious man and was left to the last, coming, by succession,
after my own nephew."
"And your father and brother," said the priest, very gently,
"died at sea, I fear."
"Yes," groaned the Admiral; "by one of those brutal accidents
on which are built all the lying mythologies of mankind,
they were both shipwrecked. My father, coming up this coast
out of the Atlantic, was washed up on these Cornish rocks.
My brother's ship was sunk, no one knows where, on the voyage home
from Tasmania. His body was never found. I tell you it was
from perfectly natural mishap; lots of other people besides Pendragons
were drowned; and both disasters are discussed in a normal way
by navigators. But, of course, it set this forest of superstition on fire;
and men saw the flaming tower everywhere. That's why I say it will
be all right when Walter returns. The girl he's engaged to was
coming today; but I was so afraid of some chance delay frightening her
that I wired her not to come till she heard from me. But he's practically
sure to be here some time tonight, and then it'll all end in smoke--
tobacco smoke. We'll crack that old lie when we crack a bottle
of this wine."
"Very good wine," said Father Brown, gravely lifting his glass,
"but, as you see, a very bad wine-bibber. I most sincerely
beg your pardon": for he had spilt a small spot of wine on
the table-cloth. He drank and put down the glass with a composed face;
but his hand had started at the exact moment when he became conscious
of a face looking in through the garden window just behind the Admiral--
the face of a woman, swarthy, with southern hair and eyes, and young,
but like a mask of tragedy.
After a pause the priest spoke again in his mild manner.
"Admiral," he said, "will you do me a favour? Let me, and my friends
if they like, stop in that tower of yours just for tonight?
Do you know that in my business you're an exorcist almost before
Pendragon sprang to his feet and paced swiftly to and fro
across the window, from which the face had instantly vanished.
"I tell you there is nothing in it," he cried, with ringing violence.
"There is one thing I know about this matter. You may call me an atheist.
I am an atheist." Here he swung round and fixed Father Brown with a face
of frightful concentration. "This business is perfectly natural.
There is no curse in it at all."
Father Brown smiled. "In that case," he said, "there can't be
any objection to my sleeping in your delightful summer-house."
"The idea is utterly ridiculous," replied the Admiral,
beating a tattoo on the back of his chair.
"Please forgive me for everything," said Brown in his most
sympathetic tone, "including spilling the wine. But it seems to me
you are not quite so easy about the flaming tower as you try to be."
Admiral Pendragon sat down again as abruptly as he had risen;
but he sat quite still, and when he spoke again it was in a lower voice.
"You do it at your own peril," he said; "but wouldn't you be an atheist
to keep sane in all this devilry?"
Some three hours afterwards Fanshaw, Flambeau and the priest
were still dawdling about the garden in the dark; and it began to dawn
on the other two that Father Brown had no intention of going to bed
either in the tower or the house.
"I think the lawn wants weeding," said he dreamily.
"If I could find a spud or something I'd do it myself."
They followed him, laughing and half remonstrating; but he replied
with the utmost solemnity, explaining to them, in a maddening little sermon,
that one can always find some small occupation that is helpful to others.
He did not find a spud; but he found an old broom made of twigs,
with which he began energetically to brush the fallen leaves off the grass.
"Always some little thing to be done," he said with
idiotic cheerfulness; "as George Herbert says: `Who sweeps
an Admiral's garden in Cornwall as for Thy laws makes that and
the action fine.' And now," he added, suddenly slinging the broom away,
"Let's go and water the flowers."
With the same mixed emotions they watched him uncoil some
considerable lengths of the large garden hose, saying with an air of
wistful discrimination: "The red tulips before the yellow, I think.
Look a bit dry, don't you think?"
He turned the little tap on the instrument, and the water shot out
straight and solid as a long rod of steel.
"Look out, Samson," cried Flambeau; "why, you've cut off
the tulip's head."
Father Brown stood ruefully contemplating the decapitated plant.
"Mine does seem to be a rather kill or cure sort of watering,"
he admitted, scratching his head. "I suppose it's a pity I didn't
find the spud. You should have seen me with the spud! Talking of tools,
you've got that swordstick, Flambeau, you always carry? That's right;
and Sir Cecil could have that sword the Admiral threw away
by the fence here. How grey everything looks!"
"The mist's rising from the river," said the staring Flambeau.
Almost as he spoke the huge figure of the hairy gardener appeared
on a higher ridge of the trenched and terraced lawn, hailing them with
a brandished rake and a horribly bellowing voice. "Put down that hose,"
he shouted; "put down that hose and go to your--"
"I am fearfully clumsy," replied the reverend gentleman weakly;
"do you know, I upset some wine at dinner." He made a wavering
half-turn of apology towards the gardener, with the hose still spouting
in his hand. The gardener caught the cold crash of the water
full in his face like the crash of a cannon-ball; staggered,
slipped and went sprawling with his boots in the air.
"How very dreadful!" said Father Brown, looking round in
a sort of wonder. "Why, I've hit a man!"
He stood with his head forward for a moment as if
looking or listening; and then set off at a trot towards the tower,
still trailing the hose behind him. The tower was quite close,
but its outline was curiously dim.
"Your river mist," he said, "has a rum smell."
"By the Lord it has," cried Fanshaw, who was very white.
"But you can't mean--"
"I mean," said Father Brown, "that one of the Admiral's scientific
predictions is coming true tonight. This story is going to end in smoke."
As he spoke a most beautiful rose-red light seemed to burst
into blossom like a gigantic rose; but accompanied with a crackling
and rattling noise that was like the laughter of devils.
"My God! what is this?" cried Sir Cecil Fanshaw.
"The sign of the flaming tower," said Father Brown, and sent
the driving water from his hose into the heart of the red patch.
"Lucky we hadn't gone to bed!" ejaculated Fanshaw. "I suppose
it can't spread to the house."
"You may remember," said the priest quietly, "that the wooden fence
that might have carried it was cut away."
Flambeau turned electrified eyes upon his friend, but Fanshaw
only said rather absently: "Well, nobody can be killed, anyhow."
"This is rather a curious kind of tower," observed Father Brown,
"when it takes to killing people, it always kills people
who are somewhere else."
At the same instant the monstrous figure of the gardener with
the streaming beard stood again on the green ridge against the sky,
waving others to come on; but now waving not a rake but a cutlass.
Behind him came the two negroes, also with the old crooked cutlasses
out of the trophy. But in the blood-red glare, with their black faces
and yellow figures, they looked like devils carrying instruments of torture.
In the dim garden behind them a distant voice was heard calling out
brief directions. When the priest heard the voice, a terrible change
came over his countenance.
But he remained composed; and never took his eye off
the patch of flame which had begun by spreading, but now seemed
to shrink a little as it hissed under the torch of the long silver spear
of water. He kept his finger along the nozzle of the pipe to ensure the aim,
and attended to no other business, knowing only by the noise and
that semi-conscious corner of the eye, the exciting incidents that
began to tumble themselves about the island garden. He gave two brief
directions to his friends. One was: "Knock these fellows down somehow
and tie them up, whoever they are; there's rope down by those faggots.
They want to take away my nice hose." The other was: "As soon as you
get a chance, call out to that canoeing girl; she's over on the bank
with the gipsies. Ask her if they could get some buckets across
and fill them from the river." Then he closed his mouth and continued
to water the new red flower as ruthlessly as he had watered the red tulip.
He never turned his head to look at the strange fight that
followed between the foes and friends of the mysterious fire.
He almost felt the island shake when Flambeau collided with
the huge gardener; he merely imagined how it would whirl round them
as they wrestled. He heard the crashing fall; and his friend's
gasp of triumph as he dashed on to the first negro; and the cries
of both the blacks as Flambeau and Fanshaw bound them.
Flambeau's enormous strength more than redressed the odds in the fight,
especially as the fourth man still hovered near the house,
only a shadow and a voice. He heard also the water broken by
the paddles of a canoe; the girl's voice giving orders,
the voices of gipsies answering and coming nearer, the plumping and
sucking noise of empty buckets plunged into a full stream; and finally
the sound of many feet around the fire. But all this was less to him
than the fact that the red rent, which had lately once more increased,
had once more slightly diminished.
Then came a cry that very nearly made him turn his head.
Flambeau and Fanshaw, now reinforced by some of the gipsies,
had rushed after the mysterious man by the house; and he heard from
the other end of the garden the Frenchman's cry of horror and astonishment.
It was echoed by a howl not to be called human, as the being broke
from their hold and ran along the garden. Three times at least
it raced round the whole island, in a way that was as horrible as
the chase of a lunatic, both in the cries of the pursued and the ropes
carried by the pursuers; but was more horrible still, because it somehow
suggested one of the chasing games of children in a garden.
Then, finding them closing in on every side, the figure sprang upon
one of the higher river banks and disappeared with a splash
into the dark and driving river.
"You can do no more, I fear," said Brown in a voice cold with pain.
"He has been washed down to the rocks by now, where he has sent
so many others. He knew the use of a family legend."
"Oh, don't talk in these parables," cried Flambeau impatiently.
"Can't you put it simply in words of one syllable?"
"Yes," answered Brown, with his eye on the hose. "`Both eyes bright,
she's all right; one eye blinks, down she sinks.'"
The fire hissed and shrieked more and more, like a strangled thing,
as it grew narrower and narrower under the flood from the pipe and buckets,
but Father Brown still kept his eye on it as he went on speaking:
"I thought of asking this young lady, if it were morning yet,
to look through that telescope at the river mouth and the river.
She might have seen something to interest her: the sign of the ship,
or Mr Walter Pendragon coming home, and perhaps even the sign of
the half-man, for though he is certainly safe by now, he may very well
have waded ashore. He has been within a shave of another shipwreck;
and would never have escaped it, if the lady hadn't had the sense
to suspect the old Admiral's telegram and come down to watch him.
Don't let's talk about the old Admiral. Don't let's talk about anything.
It's enough to say that whenever this tower, with its pitch and resin-wood,
really caught fire, the spark on the horizon always looked like
the twin light to the coast light-house."
"And that," said Flambeau, "is how the father and brother died.
The wicked uncle of the legends very nearly got his estate after all."
Father Brown did not answer; indeed, he did not speak again,
save for civilities, till they were all safe round a cigar-box in
the cabin of the yacht. He saw that the frustrated fire was extinguished;
and then refused to linger, though he actually heard young Pendragon,
escorted by an enthusiastic crowd, come tramping up the river bank;
and might (had he been moved by romantic curiosities) have received
the combined thanks of the man from the ship and the girl from the canoe.
But his fatigue had fallen on him once more, and he only started once,
when Flambeau abruptly told him he had dropped cigar-ash on his trousers.
"That's no cigar-ash," he said rather wearily. "That's from the fire,
but you don't think so because you're all smoking cigars.
That's just the way I got my first faint suspicion about the chart."
"Do you mean Pendragon's chart of his Pacific Islands?" asked Fanshaw.
"You thought it was a chart of the Pacific Islands," answered Brown.
"Put a feather with a fossil and a bit of coral and everyone will
think it's a specimen. Put the same feather with a ribbon and
an artificial flower and everyone will think it's for a lady's hat.
Put the same feather with an ink-bottle, a book and a stack
of writing-paper, and most men will swear they've seen a quill pen.
So you saw that map among tropic birds and shells and thought it was
a map of Pacific Islands. It was the map of this river."
"But how do you know?" asked Fanshaw.
"I saw the rock you thought was like a dragon, and the one
like Merlin, and--"
"You seem to have noticed a lot as we came in," cried Fanshaw.
"We thought you were rather abstracted."
"I was sea-sick," said Father Brown simply. "I felt simply horrible.
But feeling horrible has nothing to do with not seeing things."
And he closed his eyes.
"Do you think most men would have seen that?" asked Flambeau.
He received no answer: Father Brown was asleep.
The God of the Gongs
IT was one of those chilly and empty afternoons in early winter,
when the daylight is silver rather than gold and pewter rather than silver.
If it was dreary in a hundred bleak offices and yawning drawing-rooms,
it was drearier still along the edges of the flat Essex coast,
where the monotony was the more inhuman for being broken
at very long intervals by a lamp-post that looked less civilized
than a tree, or a tree that looked more ugly than a lamp-post.
A light fall of snow had half-melted into a few strips, also looking leaden
rather than silver, when it had been fixed again by the seal of frost;
no fresh snow had fallen, but a ribbon of the old snow ran along
the very margin of the coast, so as to parallel the pale ribbon of the foam.
The line of the sea looked frozen in the very vividness of
its violet-blue, like the vein of a frozen finger. For miles and miles,
forward and back, there was no breathing soul, save two pedestrians,
walking at a brisk pace, though one had much longer legs and took
much longer strides than the other.
It did not seem a very appropriate place or time for a holiday,
but Father Brown had few holidays, and had to take them when he could,
and he always preferred, if possible, to take them in company with
his old friend Flambeau, ex-criminal and ex-detective. The priest had
had a fancy for visiting his old parish at Cobhole, and was going
north-eastward along the coast.
After walking a mile or two farther, they found that the shore was
beginning to be formally embanked, so as to form something like a parade;
the ugly lamp-posts became less few and far between and more ornamental,
though quite equally ugly. Half a mile farther on Father Brown
was puzzled first by little labyrinths of flowerless flower-pots,
covered with the low, flat, quiet-coloured plants that look less like
a garden than a tessellated pavement, between weak curly paths studded
with seats with curly backs. He faintly sniffed the atmosphere of
a certain sort of seaside town that he did not specially care about,
and, looking ahead along the parade by the sea, he saw something that
put the matter beyond a doubt. In the grey distance the big bandstand
of a watering-place stood up like a giant mushroom with six legs.
"I suppose," said Father Brown, turning up his coat-collar
and drawing a woollen scarf rather closer round his neck,
"that we are approaching a pleasure resort."
"I fear," answered Flambeau, "a pleasure resort to which
few people just now have the pleasure of resorting. They try to
revive these places in the winter, but it never succeeds except with
Brighton and the old ones. This must be Seawood, I think--
Lord Pooley's experiment; he had the Sicilian Singers down at Christmas,
and there's talk about holding one of the great glove-fights here.
But they'll have to chuck the rotten place into the sea;
it's as dreary as a lost railway-carriage."
They had come under the big bandstand, and the priest was
looking up at it with a curiosity that had something rather odd about it,
his head a little on one side, like a bird's. It was the conventional,
rather tawdry kind of erection for its purpose: a flattened dome
or canopy, gilt here and there, and lifted on six slender pillars
of painted wood, the whole being raised about five feet above the parade
on a round wooden platform like a drum. But there was something
fantastic about the snow combined with something artificial about
the gold that haunted Flambeau as well as his friend with
some association he could not capture, but which he knew was at once
artistic and alien.
"I've got it," he said at last. "It's Japanese. It's like
those fanciful Japanese prints, where the snow on the mountain
looks like sugar, and the gilt on the pagodas is like gilt on gingerbread.
It looks just like a little pagan temple."
"Yes," said Father Brown. "Let's have a look at the god."
And with an agility hardly to be expected of him, he hopped up
on to the raised platform.
"Oh, very well," said Flambeau, laughing; and the next instant
his own towering figure was visible on that quaint elevation.
Slight as was the difference of height, it gave in those level wastes
a sense of seeing yet farther and farther across land and sea.
Inland the little wintry gardens faded into a confused grey copse;
beyond that, in the distance, were long low barns of a lonely farmhouse,
and beyond that nothing but the long East Anglian plains.
Seawards there was no sail or sign of life save a few seagulls:
and even they looked like the last snowflakes, and seemed to float
rather than fly.
Flambeau turned abruptly at an exclamation behind him.
It seemed to come from lower down than might have been expected,
and to be addressed to his heels rather than his head. He instantly
held out his hand, but he could hardly help laughing at what he saw.
For some reason or other the platform had given way under Father Brown,
and the unfortunate little man had dropped through to the level
of the parade. He was just tall enough, or short enough,
for his head alone to stick out of the hole in the broken wood,
looking like St John the Baptist's head on a charger. The face wore
a disconcerted expression, as did, perhaps, that of St John the Baptist.
In a moment he began to laugh a little. "This wood must be rotten,"
said Flambeau. "Though it seems odd it should bear me, and you go through
the weak place. Let me help you out."
But the little priest was looking rather curiously at the corners
and edges of the wood alleged to be rotten, and there was a sort of trouble
on his brow.
"Come along," cried Flambeau impatiently, still with his big
brown hand extended. "Don't you want to get out?"
The priest was holding a splinter of the broken wood between
his finger and thumb, and did not immediately reply. At last he said
thoughtfully: "Want to get out? Why, no. I rather think I want
to get in." And he dived into the darkness under the wooden floor
so abruptly as to knock off his big curved clerical hat and leave it
lying on the boards above, without any clerical head in it.
Flambeau looked once more inland and out to sea, and once more
could see nothing but seas as wintry as the snow, and snows as level
as the sea.
There came a scurrying noise behind him, and the little priest
came scrambling out of the hole faster than he had fallen in.
His face was no longer disconcerted, but rather resolute, and,
perhaps only through the reflections of the snow, a trifle paler than usual.
"Well?" asked his tall friend. "Have you found the god
of the temple?"
"No," answered Father Brown. "I have found what was sometimes
more important. The Sacrifice."
"What the devil do you mean?" cried Flambeau, quite alarmed.
Father Brown did not answer. He was staring, with a knot
in his forehead, at the landscape; and he suddenly pointed at it.
"What's that house over there?" he asked.
Following his finger, Flambeau saw for the first time the corners
of a building nearer than the farmhouse, but screened for the most part
with a fringe of trees. It was not a large building, and stood well back
from the shore--, but a glint of ornament on it suggested that it was
part of the same watering-place scheme of decoration as the bandstand,
the little gardens and the curly-backed iron seats.
Father Brown jumped off the bandstand, his friend following;
and as they walked in the direction indicated the trees fell away
to right and left, and they saw a small, rather flashy hotel,
such as is common in resorts--the hotel of the Saloon Bar rather than
the Bar Parlour. Almost the whole frontage was of gilt plaster and
figured glass, and between that grey seascape and the grey,
witch-like trees, its gimcrack quality had something spectral
in its melancholy. They both felt vaguely that if any food or drink
were offered at such a hostelry, it would be the paste-board ham
and empty mug of the pantomime.
In this, however, they were not altogether confirmed. As they drew
nearer and nearer to the place they saw in front of the buffet,
which was apparently closed, one of the iron garden-seats with curly backs
that had adorned the gardens, but much longer, running almost
the whole length of the frontage. Presumably, it was placed so that
visitors might sit there and look at the sea, but one hardly expected
to find anyone doing it in such weather.
Nevertheless, just in front of the extreme end of the iron seat
stood a small round restaurant table, and on this stood
a small bottle of Chablis and a plate of almonds and raisins.
Behind the table and on the seat sat a dark-haired young man,
bareheaded, and gazing at the sea in a state of almost
But though he might have been a waxwork when they were within
four yards of him, he jumped up like a jack-in-the-box when they
came within three, and said in a deferential, though not undignified,
manner: "Will you step inside, gentlemen? I have no staff at present,
but I can get you anything simple myself."
"Much obliged," said Flambeau. "So you are the proprietor?"
"Yes," said the dark man, dropping back a little into
his motionless manner. "My waiters are all Italians, you see,
and I thought it only fair they should see their countryman beat the black,
if he really can do it. You know the great fight between Malvoli and
Nigger Ned is coming off after all?"
"I'm afraid we can't wait to trouble your hospitality seriously,"
said Father Brown. "But my friend would be glad of a glass of sherry,
I'm sure, to keep out the cold and drink success to the Latin champion."
Flambeau did not understand the sherry, but he did not object to it
in the least. He could only say amiably: "Oh, thank you very much."
"Sherry, sir--certainly," said their host, turning to his hostel.
"Excuse me if I detain you a few minutes. As I told you,
I have no staff--" And he went towards the black windows of
his shuttered and unlighted inn.
"Oh, it doesn't really matter," began Flambeau, but the man
turned to reassure him.
"I have the keys," he said. "I could find my way in the dark."
"I didn't mean--" began Father Brown.
He was interrupted by a bellowing human voice that came
out of the bowels of the uninhabited hotel. It thundered
some foreign name loudly but inaudibly, and the hotel proprietor
moved more sharply towards it than he had done for Flambeau's sherry.
As instant evidence proved, the proprietor had told, then and after,
nothing but the literal truth. But both Flambeau and Father Brown
have often confessed that, in all their (often outrageous) adventures,
nothing had so chilled their blood as that voice of an ogre,
sounding suddenly out of a silent and empty inn.
"My cook!" cried the proprietor hastily. "I had forgotten my cook.
He will be starting presently. Sherry, sir?"
And, sure enough, there appeared in the doorway a big white bulk
with white cap and white apron, as befits a cook, but with
the needless emphasis of a black face. Flambeau had often heard
that negroes made good cooks. But somehow something in the contrast
of colour and caste increased his surprise that the hotel proprietor
should answer the call of the cook, and not the cook the call
of the proprietor. But he reflected that head cooks are proverbially
arrogant; and, besides, the host had come back with the sherry,
and that was the great thing.
"I rather wonder," said Father Brown, "that there are so few people
about the beach, when this big fight is coming on after all.
We only met one man for miles."
The hotel proprietor shrugged his shoulders. "They come from
the other end of the town, you see--from the station, three miles from here.
They are only interested in the sport, and will stop in hotels
for the night only. After all, it is hardly weather for
basking on the shore."
"Or on the seat," said Flambeau, and pointed to the little table.
"I have to keep a look-out," said the man with the motionless face.
He was a quiet, well-featured fellow, rather sallow; his dark clothes
had nothing distinctive about them, except that his black necktie
was worn rather high, like a stock, and secured by a gold pin
with some grotesque head to it. Nor was there anything notable
in the face, except something that was probably a mere nervous trick--
a habit of opening one eye more narrowly than the other,
giving the impression that the other was larger, or was,
The silence that ensued was broken by their host saying quietly:
"Whereabouts did you meet the one man on your march?"
"Curiously enough," answered the priest, "close by here--
just by that bandstand."
Flambeau, who had sat on the long iron seat to finish his sherry,
put it down and rose to his feet, staring at his friend in amazement.
He opened his mouth to speak, and then shut it again.
"Curious," said the dark-haired man thoughtfully. "What was he like?"
"It was rather dark when I saw him," began Father Brown,
"but he was--"
As has been said, the hotel-keeper can be proved to have told
the precise truth. His phrase that the cook was starting presently
was fulfilled to the letter, for the cook came out, pulling his gloves on,
even as they spoke.
But he was a very different figure from the confused mass
of white and black that had appeared for an instant in the doorway.
He was buttoned and buckled up to his bursting eyeballs in the most
brilliant fashion. A tall black hat was tilted on his broad black head--
a hat of the sort that the French wit has compared to eight mirrors.
But somehow the black man was like the black hat. He also was black,
and yet his glossy skin flung back the light at eight angles or more.
It is needless to say that he wore white spats and a white slip inside
his waistcoat. The red flower stood up in his buttonhole aggressively,
as if it had suddenly grown there. And in the way he carried his cane
in one hand and his cigar in the other there was a certain attitude--
an attitude we must always remember when we talk of racial prejudices:
something innocent and insolent--the cake walk.
"Sometimes," said Flambeau, looking after him, "I'm not surprised
that they lynch them."
"I am never surprised," said Father Brown, "at any work of hell.
But as I was saying," he resumed, as the negro, still ostentatiously
pulling on his yellow gloves, betook himself briskly towards
the watering-place, a queer music-hall figure against that grey and
frosty scene--"as I was saying, I couldn't describe the man very minutely,
but he had a flourish and old-fashioned whiskers and moustachios,
dark or dyed, as in the pictures of foreign financiers, round his neck
was wrapped a long purple scarf that thrashed out in the wind as he walked.
It was fixed at the throat rather in the way that nurses
fix children's comforters with a safety-pin. Only this,"
added the priest, gazing placidly out to sea, "was not a safety-pin."
The man sitting on the long iron bench was also gazing placidly
out to sea. Now he was once more in repose. Flambeau felt quite certain
that one of his eyes was naturally larger than the other.
Both were now well opened, and he could almost fancy the left eye
grew larger as he gazed.
"It was a very long gold pin, and had the carved head of a monkey
or some such thing," continued the cleric; "and it was fixed
in a rather odd way--he wore pince-nez and a broad black--"
The motionless man continued to gaze at the sea, and the eyes in
his head might have belonged to two different men. Then he made
a movement of blinding swiftness.
Father Brown had his back to him, and in that flash might have
fallen dead on his face. Flambeau had no weapon, but his large
brown hands were resting on the end of the long iron seat.
His shoulders abruptly altered their shape, and he heaved
the whole huge thing high over his head, like a headsman's axe
about to fall. The mere height of the thing, as he held it vertical,
looked like a long iron ladder by which he was inviting men to climb
towards the stars. But the long shadow, in the level evening light,
looked like a giant brandishing the Eiffel Tower. It was the shock
of that shadow, before the shock of the iron crash, that made the stranger
quail and dodge, and then dart into his inn, leaving the flat and
shining dagger he had dropped exactly where it had fallen.
"We must get away from here instantly," cried Flambeau,
flinging the huge seat away with furious indifference on the beach.
He caught the little priest by the elbow and ran him down
a grey perspective of barren back garden, at the end of which there
was a closed back garden door. Flambeau bent over it an instant
in violent silence, and then said: "The door is locked."
As he spoke a black feather from one of the ornamental firs fell,
brushing the brim of his hat. It startled him more than the small
and distant detonation that had come just before. Then came another
distant detonation, and the door he was trying to open shook
under the bullet buried in it. Flambeau's shoulders again filled out
and altered suddenly. Three hinges and a lock burst at the same instant,
and he went out into the empty path behind, carrying the great garden door
with him, as Samson carried the gates of Gaza.
Then he flung the garden door over the garden wall, just as
a third shot picked up a spurt of snow and dust behind his heel.
Without ceremony he snatched up the little priest, slung him astraddle
on his shoulders, and went racing towards Seawood as fast as
his long legs could carry him. It was not until nearly two miles
farther on that he set his small companion down. It had hardly been
a dignified escape, in spite of the classic model of Anchises,
but Father Brown's face only wore a broad grin.
"Well," said Flambeau, after an impatient silence, as they resumed
their more conventional tramp through the streets on the edge of the town,
where no outrage need be feared, "I don't know what all this means,
but I take it I may trust my own eyes that you never met the man
you have so accurately described."
"I did meet him in a way," Brown said, biting his finger
rather nervously--"I did really. And it was too dark to see him properly,
because it was under that bandstand affair. But I'm afraid I didn't
describe him so very accurately after all, for his pince-nez
was broken under him, and the long gold pin wasn't stuck through
his purple scarf but through his heart."
"And I suppose," said the other in a lower voice, "that glass-eyed guy
had something to do with it."
"I had hoped he had only a little," answered Brown
in a rather troubled voice, "and I may have been wrong in what I did.
I acted on impulse. But I fear this business has deep roots and dark."
They walked on through some streets in silence. The yellow lamps
were beginning to be lit in the cold blue twilight, and they were
evidently approaching the more central parts of the town.
Highly coloured bills announcing the glove-fight between Nigger Ned
and Malvoli were slapped about the walls.
"Well," said Flambeau, "I never murdered anyone, even in
my criminal days, but I can almost sympathize with anyone doing it
in such a dreary place. Of all God-forsaken dustbins of Nature,
I think the most heart-breaking are places like that bandstand,
that were meant to be festive and are forlorn. I can fancy a morbid man
feeling he must kill his rival in the solitude and irony of such a scene.
I remember once taking a tramp in your glorious Surrey hills,
thinking of nothing but gorse and skylarks, when I came out on
a vast circle of land, and over me lifted a vast, voiceless structure,
tier above tier of seats, as huge as a Roman amphitheatre and as empty
as a new letter-rack. A bird sailed in heaven over it. It was
the Grand Stand at Epsom. And I felt that no one would ever
be happy there again."
"It's odd you should mention Epsom," said the priest.
"Do you remember what was called the Sutton Mystery, because two
suspected men--ice-cream men, I think--happened to live at Sutton?
They were eventually released. A man was found strangled, it was said,
on the Downs round that part. As a fact, I know (from an Irish policeman
who is a friend of mine) that he was found close up to the Epsom
Grand Stand--in fact, only hidden by one of the lower doors being
"That is queer," assented Flambeau. "But it rather confirms
my view that such pleasure places look awfully lonely out of season,
or the man wouldn't have been murdered there."
"I'm not so sure he--" began Brown, and stopped.
"Not so sure he was murdered?" queried his companion.
"Not so sure he was murdered out of the season," answered
the little priest, with simplicity. "Don't you think there's something
rather tricky about this solitude, Flambeau? Do you feel sure
a wise murderer would always want the spot to be lonely?
It's very, very seldom a man is quite alone. And, short of that,
the more alone he is, the more certain he is to be seen.
No; I think there must be some other--Why, here we are at
the Pavilion or Palace, or whatever they call it."
They had emerged on a small square, brilliantly lighted,
of which the principal building was gay with gilding, gaudy with posters,
and flanked with two giant photographs of Malvoli and Nigger Ned.
"Hallo!" cried Flambeau in great surprise, as his clerical friend
stumped straight up the broad steps. "I didn't know pugilism was
your latest hobby. Are you going to see the fight?"
"I don't think there will be any fight," replied Father Brown.
They passed rapidly through ante-rooms and inner rooms;
they passed through the hall of combat itself, raised, roped,
and padded with innumerable seats and boxes, and still the cleric did
not look round or pause till he came to a clerk at a desk outside
a door marked "Committee". There he stopped and asked to see Lord Pooley.
The attendant observed that his lordship was very busy,
as the fight was coming on soon, but Father Brown had a good-tempered
tedium of reiteration for which the official mind is generally not prepared.
In a few moments the rather baffled Flambeau found himself in the presence
of a man who was still shouting directions to another man going out of
the room. "Be careful, you know, about the ropes after the fourth--
Well, and what do you want, I wonder!"
Lord Pooley was a gentleman, and, like most of the few remaining
to our race, was worried--especially about money. He was half grey
and half flaxen, and he had the eyes of fever and a high-bridged,
"Only a word," said Father Brown. "I have come to prevent
a man being killed."
Lord Pooley bounded off his chair as if a spring had
flung him from it. "I'm damned if I'll stand any more of this!"
he cried. "You and your committees and parsons and petitions!
Weren't there parsons in the old days, when they fought without gloves?
Now they're fighting with the regulation gloves, and there's not
the rag of a possibility of either of the boxers being killed."
"I didn't mean either of the boxers," said the little priest.
"Well, well, well!" said the nobleman, with a touch of frosty humour.
"Who's going to be killed? The referee?"
"I don't know who's going to be killed," replied Father Brown,
with a reflective stare. "If I did I shouldn't have to
spoil your pleasure. I could simply get him to escape.
I never could see anything wrong about prize-fights. As it is,
I must ask you to announce that the fight is off for the present."
"Anything else?" jeered the gentleman with feverish eyes.
"And what do you say to the two thousand people who have come to see it?"
"I say there will be one thousand nine-hundred and ninety-nine
of them left alive when they have seen it," said Father Brown.
Lord Pooley looked at Flambeau. "Is your friend mad?" he asked.
"Far from it," was the reply.
"And look here," resumed Pooley in his restless way,
"it's worse than that. A whole pack of Italians have turned up
to back Malvoli--swarthy, savage fellows of some country, anyhow.
You know what these Mediterranean races are like. If I send out word
that it's off we shall have Malvoli storming in here at the head of
a whole Corsican clan."
"My lord, it is a matter of life and death," said the priest.
"Ring your bell. Give your message. And see whether it is Malvoli
The nobleman struck the bell on the table with an odd air
of new curiosity. He said to the clerk who appeared almost instantly
in the doorway: "I have a serious announcement to make to the audience
shortly. Meanwhile, would you kindly tell the two champions that
the fight will have to be put off."
The clerk stared for some seconds as if at a demon and vanished.
"What authority have you for what you say?" asked Lord Pooley
abruptly. "Whom did you consult?"
"I consulted a bandstand," said Father Brown, scratching his head.
"But, no, I'm wrong; I consulted a book, too. I picked it up
on a bookstall in London--very cheap, too."
He had taken out of his pocket a small, stout, leather-bound volume,
and Flambeau, looking over his shoulder, could see that it was some
book of old travels, and had a leaf turned down for reference.
"`The only form in which Voodoo--'" began Father Brown, reading aloud.
"In which what?" inquired his lordship.
"`In which Voodoo,'" repeated the reader, almost with relish,
"`is widely organized outside Jamaica itself is in the form known as
the Monkey, or the God of the Gongs, which is powerful in many parts of
the two American continents, especially among half-breeds, many of whom
look exactly like white men. It differs from most other forms
of devil-worship and human sacrifice in the fact that the blood
is not shed formally on the altar, but by a sort of assassination
among the crowd. The gongs beat with a deafening din as
the doors of the shrine open and the monkey-god is revealed;
almost the whole congregation rivet ecstatic eyes on him. But after--'"
The door of the room was flung open, and the fashionable negro
stood framed in it, his eyeballs rolling, his silk hat still insolently
tilted on his head. "Huh!" he cried, showing his apish teeth.
"What this? Huh! Huh! You steal a coloured gentleman's prize--
prize his already--yo' think yo' jes' save that white 'Talian trash--"
"The matter is only deferred," said the nobleman quietly.
"I will be with you to explain in a minute or two."
"Who you to--" shouted Nigger Ned, beginning to storm.
"My name is Pooley," replied the other, with a creditable coolness.
"I am the organizing secretary, and I advise you just now
to leave the room."
"Who this fellow?" demanded the dark champion, pointing to the
"My name is Brown," was the reply. "And I advise you just now
to leave the country."
The prize-fighter stood glaring for a few seconds, and then,
rather to the surprise of Flambeau and the others, strode out,
sending the door to with a crash behind him.
"Well," asked Father Brown rubbing his dusty hair up,
"what do you think of Leonardo da Vinci? A beautiful Italian head."
"Look here," said Lord Pooley, "I've taken a considerable responsibility,
on your bare word. I think you ought to tell me more about this."
"You are quite right, my lord," answered Brown. "And it won't take
long to tell." He put the little leather book in his overcoat pocket.
"I think we know all that this can tell us, but you shall look at it
to see if I'm right. That negro who has just swaggered out is one of
the most dangerous men on earth, for he has the brains of a European,
with the instincts of a cannibal. He has turned what was clean,
common-sense butchery among his fellow-barbarians into a very modern
and scientific secret society of assassins. He doesn't know I know it,
nor, for the matter of that, that I can't prove it."
There was a silence, and the little man went on.
"But if I want to murder somebody, will it really be the best plan
to make sure I'm alone with him?"
Lord Pooley's eyes recovered their frosty twinkle as he
looked at the little clergyman. He only said: "If you want to
murder somebody, I should advise it."
Father Brown shook his head, like a murderer of much riper experience.
"So Flambeau said," he replied, with a sigh. "But consider.
The more a man feels lonely the less he can be sure he is alone.
It must mean empty spaces round him, and they are just what
make him obvious. Have you never seen one ploughman from the heights,
or one shepherd from the valleys? Have you never walked along a cliff,
and seen one man walking along the sands? Didn't you know when he's
killed a crab, and wouldn't you have known if it had been a creditor?
No! No! No! For an intelligent murderer, such as you or I might be,
it is an impossible plan to make sure that nobody is looking at you."
"But what other plan is there?"
"There is only one," said the priest. "To make sure
that everybody is looking at something else. A man is throttled
close by the big stand at Epsom. Anybody might have seen it done
while the stand stood empty--any tramp under the hedges or motorist
among the hills. But nobody would have seen it when the stand
was crowded and the whole ring roaring, when the favourite was
coming in first--or wasn't. The twisting of a neck-cloth,
the thrusting of a body behind a door could be done in an instant--
so long as it was that instant. It was the same, of course,"
he continued turning to Flambeau, "with that poor fellow
under the bandstand. He was dropped through the hole (it wasn't
an accidental hole) just at some very dramatic moment of the entertainment,
when the bow of some great violinist or the voice of some great singer
opened or came to its climax. And here, of course, when the knock-out
blow came--it would not be the only one. That is the little trick
Nigger Ned has adopted from his old God of Gongs."
"By the way, Malvoli--" Pooley began.
"Malvoli," said the priest, "has nothing to do with it.
I dare say he has some Italians with him, but our amiable friends
are not Italians. They are octoroons and African half-bloods
of various shades, but I fear we English think all foreigners
are much the same so long as they are dark and dirty. Also,"
he added, with a smile, "I fear the English decline to draw
any fine distinction between the moral character produced by my religion
and that which blooms out of Voodoo."
The blaze of the spring season had burst upon Seawood,
littering its foreshore with famines and bathing-machines,
with nomadic preachers and nigger minstrels, before the two friends
saw it again, and long before the storm of pursuit after the strange
secret society had died away. Almost on every hand the secret
of their purpose perished with them. The man of the hotel was found
drifting dead on the sea like so much seaweed; his right eye was
closed in peace, but his left eye was wide open, and glistened like glass
in the moon. Nigger Ned had been overtaken a mile or two away,
and murdered three policemen with his closed left hand.
The remaining officer was surprised--nay, pained--and the negro got away.
But this was enough to set all the English papers in a flame,
and for a month or two the main purpose of the British Empire was
to prevent the buck nigger (who was so in both senses) escaping by any
English port. Persons of a figure remotely reconcilable with his
were subjected to quite extraordinary inquisitions, made to scrub
their faces before going on board ship, as if each white complexion
were made up like a mask, of greasepaint. Every negro in England
was put under special regulations and made to report himself;
the outgoing ships would no more have taken a nigger than a basilisk.
For people had found out how fearful and vast and silent was
the force of the savage secret society, and by the time Flambeau and
Father Brown were leaning on the parade parapet in April, the Black Man
meant in England almost what he once meant in Scotland.
"He must be still in England," observed Flambeau, "and horridly
well hidden, too. They must have found him at the ports if he had
only whitened his face."
"You see, he is really a clever man," said Father Brown
apologetically. "And I'm sure he wouldn't whiten his face."
"Well, but what would he do?"
"I think," said Father Brown, "he would blacken his face."
Flambeau, leaning motionless on the parapet, laughed and said:
"My dear fellow!"
Father Brown, also leaning motionless on the parapet, moved one finger
for an instant into the direction of the soot-masked niggers singing
on the sands.
The Salad of Colonel Cray
FATHER BROWN was walking home from Mass on a white weird morning
when the mists were slowly lifting--one of those mornings when
the very element of light appears as something mysterious and new.
The scattered trees outlined themselves more and more out of the vapour,
as if they were first drawn in grey chalk and then in charcoal.
At yet more distant intervals appeared the houses upon the broken fringe
of the suburb; their outlines became clearer and clearer until
he recognized many in which he had chance acquaintances, and many more
the names of whose owners he knew. But all the windows and doors
were sealed; none of the people were of the sort that would be up
at such a time, or still less on such an errand. But as he passed under
the shadow of one handsome villa with verandas and wide ornate gardens,
he heard a noise that made him almost involuntarily stop.
It was the unmistakable noise of a pistol or carbine or some
light firearm discharged; but it was not this that puzzled him most.
The first full noise was immediately followed by a series of fainter noises--
as he counted them, about six. He supposed it must be the echo;
but the odd thing was that the echo was not in the least like
the original sound. It was not like anything else that he could think of;
the three things nearest to it seemed to be the noise made by
siphons of soda-water, one of the many noises made by an animal,
and the noise made by a person attempting to conceal laughter.
None of which seemed to make much sense.
Father Brown was made of two men. There was a man of action,
who was as modest as a primrose and as punctual as a clock;
who went his small round of duties and never dreamed of altering it.
There was also a man of reflection, who was much simpler but much stronger,
who could not easily be stopped; whose thought was always (in the only
intelligent sense of the words) free thought. He could not help,
even unconsciously, asking himself all the questions that