Part 4 out of 4
there were to be asked, and answering as many of them as he could;
all that went on like his breathing or circulation. But he never
consciously carried his actions outside the sphere of his own duty;
and in this case the two attitudes were aptly tested. He was just about
to resume his trudge in the twilight, telling himself it was no affair
of his, but instinctively twisting and untwisting twenty theories
about what the odd noises might mean. Then the grey sky-line
brightened into silver, and in the broadening light he realized
that he had been to the house which belonged to an Anglo-Indian Major
named Putnam; and that the Major had a native cook from Malta who was
of his communion. He also began to remember that pistol-shots
are sometimes serious things; accompanied with consequences with which
he was legitimately concerned. He turned back and went in
at the garden gate, making for the front door.
Half-way down one side of the house stood out a projection
like a very low shed; it was, as he afterwards discovered,
a large dustbin. Round the corner of this came a figure,
at first a mere shadow in the haze, apparently bending and peering about.
Then, coming nearer, it solidified into a figure that was, indeed,
rather unusually solid. Major Putnam was a bald-headed, bull-necked man,
short and very broad, with one of those rather apoplectic faces
that are produced by a prolonged attempt to combine the oriental climate
with the occidental luxuries. But the face was a good-humoured one,
and even now, though evidently puzzled and inquisitive, wore a kind of
innocent grin. He had a large palm-leaf hat on the back of his head
(suggesting a halo that was by no means appropriate to the face),
but otherwise he was clad only in a very vivid suit of striped scarlet
and yellow pyjamas; which, though glowing enough to behold, must have been,
on a fresh morning, pretty chilly to wear. He had evidently
come out of his house in a hurry, and the priest was not surprised
when he called out without further ceremony: "Did you hear that noise?"
"Yes," answered Father Brown; "I thought I had better look in,
in case anything was the matter."
The Major looked at him rather queerly with his good-humoured
gooseberry eyes. "What do you think the noise was?" he asked.
"It sounded like a gun or something," replied the other,
with some hesitation; "but it seemed to have a singular sort of echo."
The Major was still looking at him quietly, but with protruding eyes,
when the front door was flung open, releasing a flood of gaslight
on the face of the fading mist; and another figure in pyjamas sprang
or tumbled out into the garden. The figure was much longer, leaner,
and more athletic; the pyjamas, though equally tropical, were
comparatively tasteful, being of white with a light lemon-yellow stripe.
The man was haggard, but handsome, more sunburned than the other;
he had an aquiline profile and rather deep-sunken eyes, and a slight air
of oddity arising from the combination of coal-black hair with
a much lighter moustache. All this Father Brown absorbed in detail
more at leisure. For the moment he only saw one thing about the man;
which was the revolver in his hand.
"Cray!" exclaimed the Major, staring at him; "did you fire that shot?"
"Yes, I did," retorted the black-haired gentleman hotly;
"and so would you in my place. If you were chased everywhere
by devils and nearly--"
The Major seemed to intervene rather hurriedly. "This is my friend
Father Brown," he said. And then to Brown: "I don't know whether
you've met Colonel Cray of the Royal Artillery."
"I have heard of him, of course," said the priest innocently.
"Did you--did you hit anything?"
"I thought so," answered Cray with gravity.
"Did he--" asked Major Putnam in a lowered voice, "did he fall
or cry out, or anything?"
Colonel Cray was regarding his host with a strange and steady stare.
"I'll tell you exactly what he did," he said. "He sneezed."
Father Brown's hand went half-way to his head, with the gesture
of a man remembering somebody's name. He knew now what it was
that was neither soda-water nor the snorting of a dog.
"Well," ejaculated the staring Major, "I never heard before
that a service revolver was a thing to be sneezed at."
"Nor I," said Father Brown faintly. "It's lucky you didn't
turn your artillery on him or you might have given him quite a bad cold."
Then, after a bewildered pause, he said: "Was it a burglar?"
"Let us go inside," said Major Putnam, rather sharply,
and led the way into his house.
The interior exhibited a paradox often to be marked in such
morning hours: that the rooms seemed brighter than the sky outside;
even after the Major had turned out the one gaslight in the front hall.
Father Brown was surprised to see the whole dining-table set out
as for a festive meal, with napkins in their rings, and wine-glasses
of some six unnecessary shapes set beside every plate. It was common enough,
at that time of the morning, to find the remains of a banquet over-night;
but to find it freshly spread so early was unusual.
While he stood wavering in the hall Major Putnam rushed past him
and sent a raging eye over the whole oblong of the tablecloth.
At last he spoke, spluttering: "All the silver gone!" he gasped.
"Fish-knives and forks gone. Old cruet-stand gone. Even the old silver
cream-jug gone. And now, Father Brown, I am ready to answer your question
of whether it was a burglar."
"They're simply a blind," said Cray stubbornly. "I know better
than you why people persecute this house; I know better than you why--"
The Major patted him on the shoulder with a gesture almost peculiar
to the soothing of a sick child, and said: "It was a burglar.
Obviously it was a burglar."
"A burglar with a bad cold," observed Father Brown, "that might
assist you to trace him in the neighbourhood."
The Major shook his head in a sombre manner. "He must be far beyond
trace now, I fear," he said.
Then, as the restless man with the revolver turned again towards
the door in the garden, he added in a husky, confidential voice:
"I doubt whether I should send for the police, for fear my friend here
has been a little too free with his bullets, and got on the wrong side
of the law. He's lived in very wild places; and, to be frank with you,
I think he sometimes fancies things."
"I think you once told me," said Brown, "that he believes some
Indian secret society is pursuing him."
Major Putnam nodded, but at the same time shrugged his shoulders.
"I suppose we'd better follow him outside," he said. "I don't want
any more--shall we say, sneezing?"
They passed out into the morning light, which was now even tinged
with sunshine, and saw Colonel Cray's tall figure bent almost double,
minutely examining the condition of gravel and grass. While the Major
strolled unobtrusively towards him, the priest took an equally
indolent turn, which took him round the next corner of the house
to within a yard or two of the projecting dustbin.
He stood regarding this dismal object for some minute and a half--,
then he stepped towards it, lifted the lid and put his head inside.
Dust and other discolouring matter shook upwards as he did so;
but Father Brown never observed his own appearance, whatever else
he observed. He remained thus for a measurable period, as if engaged
in some mysterious prayers. Then he came out again, with some ashes
on his hair, and walked unconcernedly away.
By the time he came round to the garden door again he found
a group there which seemed to roll away morbidities as the sunlight
had already rolled away the mists. It was in no way rationally reassuring;
it was simply broadly comic, like a cluster of Dickens's characters.
Major Putnam had managed to slip inside and plunge into a proper shirt and
trousers, with a crimson cummerbund, and a light square jacket over all;
thus normally set off, his red festive face seemed bursting with
a commonplace cordiality. He was indeed emphatic, but then he was talking
to his cook--the swarthy son of Malta, whose lean, yellow and rather
careworn face contrasted quaintly with his snow-white cap and costume.
The cook might well be careworn, for cookery was the Major's hobby.
He was one of those amateurs who always know more than the professional.
The only other person he even admitted to be a judge of an omelette
was his friend Cray--and as Brown remembered this, he turned to look
for the other officer. In the new presence of daylight and people clothed
and in their right mind, the sight of him was rather a shock.
The taller and more elegant man was still in his night-garb,
with tousled black hair, and now crawling about the garden on his hands
and knees, still looking for traces of the burglar; and now and again,
to all appearance, striking the ground with his hand in anger at not
finding him. Seeing him thus quadrupedal in the grass, the priest
raised his eyebrows rather sadly; and for the first time guessed that
"fancies things" might be an euphemism.
The third item in the group of the cook and the epicure was also
known to Father Brown; it was Audrey Watson, the Major's ward
and housekeeper; and at this moment, to judge by her apron,
tucked-up sleeves and resolute manner, much more the housekeeper
than the ward.
"It serves you right," she was saying: "I always told you
not to have that old-fashioned cruet-stand."
"I prefer it," said Putnam, placably. "I'm old-fashioned myself;
and the things keep together."
"And vanish together, as you see," she retorted. "Well, if you are
not going to bother about the burglar, I shouldn't bother about the lunch.
It's Sunday, and we can't send for vinegar and all that in the town;
and you Indian gentlemen can't enjoy what you call a dinner without
a lot of hot things. I wish to goodness now you hadn't asked
Cousin Oliver to take me to the musical service. It isn't over
till half-past twelve, and the Colonel has to leave by then.
I don't believe you men can manage alone."
"Oh yes, we can, my dear," said the Major, looking at her
very amiably. "Marco has all the sauces, and we've often
done ourselves well in very rough places, as you might know by now.
And it's time you had a treat, Audrey; you mustn't be a housekeeper
every hour of the day; and I know you want to hear the music."
"I want to go to church," she said, with rather severe eyes.
She was one of those handsome women who will always be handsome,
because the beauty is not in an air or a tint, but in the very structure
of the head and features. But though she was not yet middle-aged
and her auburn hair was of a Titianesque fullness in form and colour,
there was a look in her mouth and around her eyes which suggested that
some sorrows wasted her, as winds waste at last the edges of a Greek temple.
For indeed the little domestic difficulty of which she was now speaking
so decisively was rather comic than tragic. Father Brown gathered,
from the course of the conversation, that Cray, the other gourmet,
had to leave before the usual lunch-time; but that Putnam, his host,
not to be done out of a final feast with an old crony, had arranged
for a special dejeuner to be set out and consumed in the course of
the morning, while Audrey and other graver persons were at morning service.
She was going there under the escort of a relative and old friend of hers,
Dr Oliver Oman, who, though a scientific man of a somewhat bitter type,
was enthusiastic for music, and would go even to church to get it.
There was nothing in all this that could conceivably concern
the tragedy in Miss Watson's face; and by a half conscious instinct,
Father Brown turned again to the seeming lunatic grubbing about
in the grass.
When he strolled across to him, the black, unbrushed head was
lifted abruptly, as if in some surprise at his continued presence.
And indeed, Father Brown, for reasons best known to himself,
had lingered much longer than politeness required; or even,
in the ordinary sense, permitted.
"Well!" cried Cray, with wild eyes. "I suppose you think I'm mad,
like the rest?"
"I have considered the thesis," answered the little man, composedly.
"And I incline to think you are not."
"What do you mean?" snapped Cray quite savagely.
"Real madmen," explained Father Brown, "always encourage their
own morbidity. They never strive against it. But you are trying
to find traces of the burglar; even when there aren't any.
You are struggling against it. You want what no madman ever wants."
"And what is that?"
"You want to be proved wrong," said Brown.
During the last words Cray had sprung or staggered to his feet
and was regarding the cleric with agitated eyes. "By hell,
but that is a true word!" he cried. "They are all at me here
that the fellow was only after the silver--as if I shouldn't be
only too pleased to think so! She's been at me," and he tossed his tousled
black head towards Audrey, but the other had no need of the direction,
"she's been at me today about how cruel I was to shoot a poor harmless
house-breaker, and how I have the devil in me against poor harmless natives.
But I was a good-natured man once--as good-natured as Putnam."
After a pause he said: "Look here, I've never seen you before;
but you shall judge of the whole story. Old Putnam and I were friends
in the same mess; but, owing to some accidents on the Afghan border,
I got my command much sooner than most men; only we were both
invalided home for a bit. I was engaged to Audrey out there;
and we all travelled back together. But on the journey back
things happened. Curious things. The result of them was
that Putnam wants it broken off, and even Audrey keeps it hanging on--
and I know what they mean. I know what they think I am. So do you.
"Well, these are the facts. The last day we were in
an Indian city I asked Putnam if I could get some Trichinopoli cigars,
he directed me to a little place opposite his lodgings.
I have since found he was quite right; but `opposite' is a dangerous word
when one decent house stands opposite five or six squalid ones;
and I must have mistaken the door. It opened with difficulty,
and then only on darkness; but as I turned back, the door behind me
sank back and settled into its place with a noise as of innumerable bolts.
There was nothing to do but to walk forward; which I did through
passage after passage, pitch-dark. Then I came to a flight of steps,
and then to a blind door, secured by a latch of elaborate Eastern ironwork,
which I could only trace by touch, but which I loosened at last.
I came out again upon gloom, which was half turned into
a greenish twilight by a multitude of small but steady lamps below.
They showed merely the feet or fringes of some huge and empty architecture.
Just in front of me was something that looked like a mountain.
I confess I nearly fell on the great stone platform on which I had emerged,
to realize that it was an idol. And worst of all, an idol with
its back to me.
"It was hardly half human, I guessed; to judge by the small squat head,
and still more by a thing like a tail or extra limb turned up behind
and pointing, like a loathsome large finger, at some symbol graven
in the centre of the vast stone back. I had begun, in the dim light,
to guess at the hieroglyphic, not without horror, when a more horrible
thing happened. A door opened silently in the temple wall
behind me and a man came out, with a brown face and a black coat.
He had a carved smile on his face, of copper flesh and ivory teeth;
but I think the most hateful thing about him was that he was
in European dress. I was prepared, I think, for shrouded priests
or naked fakirs. But this seemed to say that the devilry was
over all the earth. As indeed I found it to be.
"`If you had only seen the Monkey's Feet,' he said, smiling steadily,
and without other preface, `we should have been very gentle--
you would only be tortured and die. If you had seen the Monkey's Face,
still we should be very moderate, very tolerant--you would only
be tortured and live. But as you have seen the Monkey's Tail,
we must pronounce the worst sentence, which is--Go Free.'
"When he said the words I heard the elaborate iron latch with
which I had struggled, automatically unlock itself: and then,
far down the dark passages I had passed, I heard the heavy street-door
shifting its own bolts backwards.
"`It is vain to ask for mercy; you must go free,' said
the smiling man. `Henceforth a hair shall slay you like a sword,
and a breath shall bite you like an adder; weapons shall come
against you out of nowhere; and you shall die many times.'
And with that he was swallowed once more in the wall behind;
and I went out into the street."
Cray paused; and Father Brown unaffectedly sat down on the lawn
and began to pick daisies.
Then the soldier continued: "Putnam, of course, with his
jolly common sense, pooh-poohed all my fears; and from that time
dates his doubt of my mental balance. Well, I'll simply tell you,
in the fewest words, the three things that have happened since;
and you shall judge which of us is right.
"The first happened in an Indian village on the edge of the jungle,
but hundreds of miles from the temple, or town, or type of tribes
and customs where the curse had been put on me. I woke in black midnight,
and lay thinking of nothing in particular, when I felt a faint
tickling thing, like a thread or a hair, trailed across my throat.
I shrank back out of its way, and could not help thinking of the words
in the temple. But when I got up and sought lights and a mirror,
the line across my neck was a line of blood.
"The second happened in a lodging in Port Said, later,
on our journey home together. It was a jumble of tavern
and curiosity-shop; and though there was nothing there remotely suggesting
the cult of the Monkey, it is, of course, possible that some of its
images or talismans were in such a place. Its curse was there, anyhow.
I woke again in the dark with a sensation that could not be put
in colder or more literal words than that a breath bit like an adder.
Existence was an agony of extinction; I dashed my head against walls
until I dashed it against a window; and fell rather than jumped
into the garden below. Putnam, poor fellow, who had called the other thing
a chance scratch, was bound to take seriously the fact of finding me
half insensible on the grass at dawn. But I fear it was my mental state
he took seriously; and not my story.
"The third happened in Malta. We were in a fortress there;
and as it happened our bedrooms overlooked the open sea, which almost
came up to our window-sills, save for a flat white outer wall
as bare as the sea. I woke up again; but it was not dark.
There was a full moon, as I walked to the window; I could have seen a bird
on the bare battlement, or a sail on the horizon. What I did see
was a sort of stick or branch circling, self-supported, in the empty sky.
It flew straight in at my window and smashed the lamp beside the pillow
I had just quitted. It was one of those queer-shaped war-clubs
some Eastern tribes use. But it had come from no human hand."
Father Brown threw away a daisy-chain he was making,
and rose with a wistful look. "Has Major Putnam," he asked,
"got any Eastern curios, idols, weapons and so on, from which
one might get a hint?"
"Plenty of those, though not much use, I fear," replied Cray;
"but by all means come into his study."
As they entered they passed Miss Watson buttoning her gloves for church,
and heard the voice of Putnam downstairs still giving a lecture on cookery
to the cook. In the Major's study and den of curios they came suddenly
on a third party, silk-hatted and dressed for the street, who was
poring over an open book on the smoking-table--a book which he dropped
rather guiltily, and turned.
Cray introduced him civilly enough, as Dr Oman, but he showed
such disfavour in his very face that Brown guessed the two men,
whether Audrey knew it or not, were rivals. Nor was the priest
wholly unsympathetic with the prejudice. Dr Oman was a very well-dressed
gentleman indeed; well-featured, though almost dark enough for an Asiatic.
But Father Brown had to tell himself sharply that one should be in charity
even with those who wax their pointed beards, who have small gloved hands,
and who speak with perfectly modulated voices.
Cray seemed to find something specially irritating in
the small prayer-book in Oman's dark-gloved hand. "I didn't know
that was in your line," he said rather rudely.
Oman laughed mildly, but without offence. "This is more so, I know,"
he said, laying his hand on the big book he had dropped,
"a dictionary of drugs and such things. But it's rather too large
to take to church." Then he closed the larger book, and there seemed
again the faintest touch of hurry and embarrassment.
"I suppose," said the priest, who seemed anxious to change the subject,
"all these spears and things are from India?"
"From everywhere," answered the doctor. "Putnam is an old soldier,
and has been in Mexico and Australia, and the Cannibal Islands
for all I know."
"I hope it was not in the Cannibal Islands," said Brown,
"that he learnt the art of cookery." And he ran his eyes over
the stew-pots or other strange utensils on the wall.
At this moment the jolly subject of their conversation
thrust his laughing, lobsterish face into the room. "Come along, Cray,"
he cried. "Your lunch is just coming in. And the bells are ringing
for those who want to go to church."
Cray slipped upstairs to change; Dr Oman and Miss Watson betook
themselves solemnly down the street, with a string of other churchgoers;
but Father Brown noticed that the doctor twice looked back
and scrutinized the house; and even came back to the corner of the street
to look at it again.
The priest looked puzzled. "He can't have been at the dustbin,"
he muttered. "Not in those clothes. Or was he there earlier today?"
Father Brown, touching other people, was as sensitive as a barometer;
but today he seemed about as sensitive as a rhinoceros. By no social law,
rigid or implied, could he be supposed to linger round the lunch
of the Anglo-Indian friends; but he lingered, covering his position
with torrents of amusing but quite needless conversation.
He was the more puzzling because he did not seem to want any lunch.
As one after another of the most exquisitely balanced kedgerees of curries,
accompanied with their appropriate vintages, were laid before
the other two, he only repeated that it was one of his fast-days,
and munched a piece of bread and sipped and then left untasted
a tumbler of cold water. His talk, however, was exuberant.
"I'll tell you what I'll do for you," he cried--, "I'll mix you
a salad! I can't eat it, but I'll mix it like an angel!
You've got a lettuce there."
"Unfortunately it's the only thing we have got," answered
the good-humoured Major. "You must remember that mustard, vinegar,
oil and so on vanished with the cruet and the burglar."
"I know," replied Brown, rather vaguely. "That's what I've always
been afraid would happen. That's why I always carry a cruet-stand
about with me. I'm so fond of salads."
And to the amazement of the two men he took a pepper-pot out of
his waistcoat pocket and put it on the table.
"I wonder why the burglar wanted mustard, too," he went on,
taking a mustard-pot from another pocket. "A mustard plaster,
I suppose. And vinegar"--and producing that condiment--
"haven't I heard something about vinegar and brown paper?
As for oil, which I think I put in my left--"
His garrulity was an instant arrested; for lifting his eyes,
he saw what no one else saw--the black figure of Dr Oman standing
on the sunlit lawn and looking steadily into the room. Before he could
quite recover himself Cray had cloven in.
"You're an astounding card," he said, staring. "I shall come
and hear your sermons, if they're as amusing as your manners."
His voice changed a little, and he leaned back in his chair.
"Oh, there are sermons in a cruet-stand, too," said Father Brown,
quite gravely. "Have you heard of faith like a grain of mustard-seed;
or charity that anoints with oil? And as for vinegar, can any soldiers
forget that solitary soldier, who, when the sun was darkened--"
Colonel Cray leaned forward a little and clutched the tablecloth.
Father Brown, who was making the salad, tipped two spoonfuls
of the mustard into the tumbler of water beside him; stood up and said
in a new, loud and sudden voice--"Drink that!"
At the same moment the motionless doctor in the garden came running,
and bursting open a window cried: "Am I wanted? Has he been poisoned?"
"Pretty near," said Brown, with the shadow of a smile; for
the emetic had very suddenly taken effect. And Cray lay in a deck-chair,
gasping as for life, but alive.
Major Putnam had sprung up, his purple face mottled. "A crime!"
he cried hoarsely. "I will go for the police!"
The priest could hear him dragging down his palm-leaf hat from the peg
and tumbling out of the front door; he heard the garden gate slam.
But he only stood looking at Cray; and after a silence said quietly:
"I shall not talk to you much; but I will tell you what
you want to know. There is no curse on you. The Temple of the Monkey
was either a coincidence or a part of the trick; the trick was
the trick of a white man. There is only one weapon that will bring blood
with that mere feathery touch: a razor held by a white man.
There is one way of making a common room full of invisible,
overpowering poison: turning on the gas--the crime of a white man.
And there is only one kind of club that can be thrown out of a window,
turn in mid-air and come back to the window next to it:
the Australian boomerang. You'll see some of them in the Major's study."
With that he went outside and spoke for a moment to the doctor.
The moment after, Audrey Watson came rushing into the house and
fell on her knees beside Cray's chair. He could not hear what they said
to each other; but their faces moved with amazement, not unhappiness.
The doctor and the priest walked slowly towards the garden gate.
"I suppose the Major was in love with her, too," he said with a sigh;
and when the other nodded, observed: "You were very generous, doctor.
You did a fine thing. But what made you suspect?"
"A very small thing," said Oman; "but it kept me restless in church
till I came back to see that all was well. That book on his table
was a work on poisons; and was put down open at the place where it stated
that a certain Indian poison, though deadly and difficult to trace,
was particularly easily reversible by the use of the commonest emetics.
I suppose he read that at the last moment--"
"And remembered that there were emetics in the cruet-stand,"
said Father Brown. "Exactly. He threw the cruet in the dustbin--
where I found it, along with other silver--for the sake of
a burglary blind. But if you look at that pepper-pot I put on the table,
you'll see a small hole. That's where Cray's bullet struck,
shaking up the pepper and making the criminal sneeze."
There was a silence. Then Dr Oman said grimly: "The Major is
a long time looking for the police."
"Or the police in looking for the Major?" said the priest.
The Strange Crime of John Boulnois
MR CALHOUN KIDD was a very young gentleman with a very old face,
a face dried up with its own eagerness, framed in blue-black hair
and a black butterfly tie. He was the emissary in England
of the colossal American daily called the Western Sun--
also humorously described as the "Rising Sunset". This was in allusion
to a great journalistic declaration (attributed to Mr Kidd himself)
that "he guessed the sun would rise in the west yet, if American citizens
did a bit more hustling." Those, however, who mock American journalism
from the standpoint of somewhat mellower traditions forget
a certain paradox which partly redeems it. For while the journalism
of the States permits a pantomimic vulgarity long past anything English,
it also shows a real excitement about the most earnest mental problems,
of which English papers are innocent, or rather incapable.
The Sun was full of the most solemn matters treated in the most
farcical way. William James figured there as well as "Weary Willie,"
and pragmatists alternated with pugilists in the long procession
of its portraits.
Thus, when a very unobtrusive Oxford man named John Boulnois
wrote in a very unreadable review called the Natural Philosophy Quarterly
a series of articles on alleged weak points in Darwinian evolution,
it fluttered no corner of the English papers; though Boulnois's theory
(which was that of a comparatively stationary universe visited occasionally
by convulsions of change) had some rather faddy fashionableness at Oxford,
and got so far as to be named "Catastrophism". But many American papers
seized on the challenge as a great event; and the Sun threw
the shadow of Mr Boulnois quite gigantically across its pages.
By the paradox already noted, articles of valuable intelligence and
enthusiasm were presented with headlines apparently written
by an illiterate maniac, headlines such as "Darwin Chews Dirt;
Critic Boulnois says He Jumps the Shocks"--or "Keep Catastrophic,
says Thinker Boulnois." And Mr Calhoun Kidd, of the Western Sun,
was bidden to take his butterfly tie and lugubrious visage down to
the little house outside Oxford where Thinker Boulnois lived
in happy ignorance of such a title.
That fated philosopher had consented, in a somewhat dazed manner,
to receive the interviewer, and had named the hour of nine that evening.
The last of a summer sunset clung about Cumnor and the low wooded hills;
the romantic Yankee was both doubtful of his road and inquisitive
about his surroundings; and seeing the door of a genuine feudal
old-country inn, The Champion Arms, standing open, he went in
to make inquiries.
In the bar parlour he rang the bell, and had to wait
some little time for a reply to it. The only other person present
was a lean man with close red hair and loose, horsey-looking clothes,
who was drinking very bad whisky, but smoking a very good cigar.
The whisky, of course, was the choice brand of The Champion Arms;
the cigar he had probably brought with him from London.
Nothing could be more different than his cynical negligence from
the dapper dryness of the young American; but something in his pencil
and open notebook, and perhaps in the expression of his alert blue eye,
caused Kidd to guess, correctly, that he was a brother journalist.
"Could you do me the favour," asked Kidd, with the courtesy of
his nation, "of directing me to the Grey Cottage, where Mr Boulnois lives,
as I understand?"
"It's a few yards down the road," said the red-haired man,
removing his cigar; "I shall be passing it myself in a minute,
but I'm going on to Pendragon Park to try and see the fun."
"What is Pendragon Park?" asked Calhoun Kidd.
"Sir Claude Champion's place--haven't you come down for that, too?"
asked the other pressman, looking up. "You're a journalist, aren't you?"
"I have come to see Mr Boulnois," said Kidd.
"I've come to see Mrs Boulnois," replied the other.
"But I shan't catch her at home." And he laughed rather unpleasantly.
"Are you interested in Catastrophism?" asked the wondering Yankee.
"I'm interested in catastrophes; and there are going to be some,"
replied his companion gloomily. "Mine's a filthy trade,
and I never pretend it isn't."
With that he spat on the floor; yet somehow in the very act and
instant one could realize that the man had been brought up as a gentleman.
The American pressman considered him with more attention.
His face was pale and dissipated, with the promise of formidable passions
yet to be loosed; but it was a clever and sensitive face; his clothes
were coarse and careless, but he had a good seal ring on one of his long,
thin fingers. His name, which came out in the course of talk,
was James Dalroy; he was the son of a bankrupt Irish landlord,
and attached to a pink paper which he heartily despised, called
Smart Society, in the capacity of reporter and of something
painfully like a spy.
Smart Society, I regret to say, felt none of that interest in
Boulnois on Darwin which was such a credit to the head and hearts of
the Western Sun. Dalroy had come down, it seemed, to snuff up
the scent of a scandal which might very well end in the Divorce Court,
but which was at present hovering between Grey Cottage and Pendragon Park.
Sir Claude Champion was known to the readers of the Western Sun
as well as Mr Boulnois. So were the Pope and the Derby Winner;
but the idea of their intimate acquaintanceship would have struck Kidd
as equally incongruous. He had heard of (and written about,
nay, falsely pretended to know) Sir Claude Champion, as
"one of the brightest and wealthiest of England's Upper Ten";
as the great sportsman who raced yachts round the world;
as the great traveller who wrote books about the Himalayas,
as the politician who swept constituencies with a startling sort of
Tory Democracy, and as the great dabbler in art, music, literature,
and, above all, acting. Sir Claude was really rather magnificent in
other than American eyes. There was something of the Renascence Prince
about his omnivorous culture and restless publicity--, he was not only
a great amateur, but an ardent one. There was in him none of that
antiquarian frivolity that we convey by the word "dilettante".
That faultless falcon profile with purple-black Italian eye,
which had been snap-shotted so often both for Smart Society and
the Western Sun, gave everyone the impression of a man eaten by ambition
as by a fire, or even a disease. But though Kidd knew a great deal
about Sir Claude--a great deal more, in fact, than there was to know--
it would never have crossed his wildest dreams to connect so showy
an aristocrat with the newly-unearthed founder of Catastrophism,
or to guess that Sir Claude Champion and John Boulnois could be
intimate friends. Such, according to Dalroy's account,
was nevertheless the fact. The two had hunted in couples at school
and college, and, though their social destinies had been very different
(for Champion was a great landlord and almost a millionaire,
while Boulnois was a poor scholar and, until just lately,
an unknown one), they still kept in very close touch with each other.
Indeed, Boulnois's cottage stood just outside the gates of Pendragon Park.
But whether the two men could be friends much longer was becoming
a dark and ugly question. A year or two before, Boulnois had married
a beautiful and not unsuccessful actress, to whom he was devoted
in his own shy and ponderous style; and the proximity of the household
to Champion's had given that flighty celebrity opportunities for behaving
in a way that could not but cause painful and rather base excitement.
Sir Claude had carried the arts of publicity to perfection;
and he seemed to take a crazy pleasure in being equally ostentatious
in an intrigue that could do him no sort of honour. Footmen from
Pendragon were perpetually leaving bouquets for Mrs Boulnois;
carriages and motor-cars were perpetually calling at the cottage
for Mrs Boulnois; balls and masquerades perpetually filled the grounds
in which the baronet paraded Mrs Boulnois, like the Queen of
Love and Beauty at a tournament. That very evening, marked by Mr
Kidd for the exposition of Catastrophism, had been marked by
Sir Claude Champion for an open-air rendering of Romeo and Juliet,
in which he was to play Romeo to a Juliet it was needless to name.
"I don't think it can go on without a smash," said the young man
with red hair, getting up and shaking himself. "Old Boulnois may be
squared--or he may be square. But if he's square he's thick--
what you might call cubic. But I don't believe it's possible."
"He is a man of grand intellectual powers," said Calhoun Kidd
in a deep voice.
"Yes," answered Dalroy; "but even a man of grand intellectual powers
can't be such a blighted fool as all that. Must you be going on?
I shall be following myself in a minute or two."
But Calhoun Kidd, having finished a milk and soda, betook himself
smartly up the road towards the Grey Cottage, leaving his cynical informant
to his whisky and tobacco. The last of the daylight had faded;
the skies were of a dark, green-grey, like slate, studded here and there
with a star, but lighter on the left side of the sky, with the promise
of a rising moon.
The Grey Cottage, which stood entrenched, as it were, in a square
of stiff, high thorn-hedges, was so close under the pines and palisades
of the Park that Kidd at first mistook it for the Park Lodge.
Finding the name on the narrow wooden gate, however, and seeing
by his watch that the hour of the "Thinker's" appointment had just struck,
he went in and knocked at the front door. Inside the garden hedge,
he could see that the house, though unpretentious enough, was larger
and more luxurious than it looked at first, and was quite a different kind
of place from a porter's lodge. A dog-kennel and a beehive stood outside,
like symbols of old English country-life; the moon was rising behind
a plantation of prosperous pear trees, the dog that came out of the kennel
was reverend-looking and reluctant to bark; and the plain, elderly
man-servant who opened the door was brief but dignified.
"Mr Boulnois asked me to offer his apologies, sir," he said,
"but he has been obliged to go out suddenly."
"But see here, I had an appointment," said the interviewer,
with a rising voice. "Do you know where he went to?"
"To Pendragon Park, sir," said the servant, rather sombrely,
and began to close the door.
Kidd started a little.
"Did he go with Mrs--with the rest of the party?" he asked
"No, sir," said the man shortly; "he stayed behind, and then
went out alone." And he shut the door, brutally, but with an air of
duty not done.
The American, that curious compound of impudence and sensitiveness,
was annoyed. He felt a strong desire to hustle them all along a bit
and teach them business habits; the hoary old dog and the grizzled,
heavy-faced old butler with his prehistoric shirt-front, and the drowsy
old moon, and above all the scatter-brained old philosopher who
couldn't keep an appointment.
"If that's the way he goes on he deserves to lose his wife's
purest devotion," said Mr Calhoun Kidd. "But perhaps he's gone over
to make a row. In that case I reckon a man from the Western Sun
will be on the spot."
And turning the corner by the open lodge-gates, he set off,
stumping up the long avenue of black pine-woods that pointed
in abrupt perspective towards the inner gardens of Pendragon Park.
The trees were as black and orderly as plumes upon a hearse;
there were still a few stars. He was a man with more literary
than direct natural associations; the word "Ravenswood" came into
his head repeatedly. It was partly the raven colour of the pine-woods;
but partly also an indescribable atmosphere almost described
in Scott's great tragedy; the smell of something that died
in the eighteenth century; the smell of dank gardens and broken urns,
of wrongs that will never now be righted; of something that is
none the less incurably sad because it is strangely unreal.
More than once, as he went up that strange, black road
of tragic artifice, he stopped, startled, thinking he heard steps
in front of him. He could see nothing in front but the twin sombre
walls of pine and the wedge of starlit sky above them. At first
he thought he must have fancied it or been mocked by a mere echo of
his own tramp. But as he went on he was more and more inclined
to conclude, with the remains of his reason, that there really were
other feet upon the road. He thought hazily of ghosts; and was surprised
how swiftly he could see the image of an appropriate and local ghost,
one with a face as white as Pierrot's, but patched with black.
The apex of the triangle of dark-blue sky was growing brighter and bluer,
but he did not realize as yet that this was because he was coming
nearer to the lights of the great house and garden. He only felt
that the atmosphere was growing more intense, there was in the sadness
more violence and secrecy--more--he hesitated for the word,
and then said it with a jerk of laughter--Catastrophism.
More pines, more pathway slid past him, and then he stood rooted
as by a blast of magic. It is vain to say that he felt as if he had
got into a dream; but this time he felt quite certain that he had
got into a book. For we human beings are used to inappropriate things;
we are accustomed to the clatter of the incongruous; it is a tune
to which we can go to sleep. If one appropriate thing happens,
it wakes us up like the pang of a perfect chord. Something happened
such as would have happened in such a place in a forgotten tale.
Over the black pine-wood came flying and flashing in the moon
a naked sword--such a slender and sparkling rapier as may have
fought many an unjust duel in that ancient park. It fell on the pathway
far in front of him and lay there glistening like a large needle.
He ran like a hare and bent to look at it. Seen at close quarters
it had rather a showy look: the big red jewels in the hilt and guard
were a little dubious. But there were other red drops upon the blade
which were not dubious.
He looked round wildly in the direction from which the dazzling missile
had come, and saw that at this point the sable facade of fir and pine
was interrupted by a smaller road at right angles; which, when he turned it,
brought him in full view of the long, lighted house, with a lake and
fountains in front of it. Nevertheless, he did not look at this,
having something more interesting to look at.
Above him, at the angle of the steep green bank of the
terraced garden, was one of those small picturesque surprises
common in the old landscape gardening; a kind of small round hill or
dome of grass, like a giant mole-hill, ringed and crowned with
three concentric fences of roses, and having a sundial in the highest point
in the centre. Kidd could see the finger of the dial stand up dark
against the sky like the dorsal fin of a shark and the vain moonlight
clinging to that idle clock. But he saw something else clinging
to it also, for one wild moment--the figure of a man.
Though he saw it there only for a moment, though it was outlandish
and incredible in costume, being clad from neck to heel in tight crimson,
with glints of gold, yet he knew in one flash of moonlight who it was.
That white face flung up to heaven, clean-shaven and so unnaturally young,
like Byron with a Roman nose, those black curls already grizzled--
he had seen the thousand public portraits of Sir Claude Champion.
The wild red figure reeled an instant against the sundial; the next
it had rolled down the steep bank and lay at the American's feet,
faintly moving one arm. A gaudy, unnatural gold ornament on the arm
suddenly reminded Kidd of Romeo and Juliet; of course the tight crimson
suit was part of the play. But there was a long red stain down
the bank from which the man had rolled--that was no part of the play.
He had been run through the body.
Mr Calhoun Kidd shouted and shouted again. Once more he seemed
to hear phantasmal footsteps, and started to find another figure
already near him. He knew the figure, and yet it terrified him.
The dissipated youth who had called himself Dalroy had a horribly quiet
way with him; if Boulnois failed to keep appointments that had been made,
Dalroy had a sinister air of keeping appointments that hadn't.
The moonlight discoloured everything, against Dalroy's red hair
his wan face looked not so much white as pale green.
All this morbid impressionism must be Kidd's excuse for having
cried out, brutally and beyond all reason: "Did you do this, you devil?"
James Dalroy smiled his unpleasing smile; but before he could speak,
the fallen figure made another movement of the arm, waving vaguely
towards the place where the sword fell; then came a moan, and then
it managed to speak.
"Boulnois.... Boulnois, I say.... Boulnois did it...
jealous of me...he was jealous, he was, he was..."
Kidd bent his head down to hear more, and just managed
to catch the words:
"Boulnois...with my own sword...he threw it..."
Again the failing hand waved towards the sword, and then fell rigid
with a thud. In Kidd rose from its depth all that acrid humour
that is the strange salt of the seriousness of his race.
"See here," he said sharply and with command, "you must
fetch a doctor. This man's dead."
"And a priest, too, I suppose," said Dalroy in an undecipherable manner.
"All these Champions are papists."
The American knelt down by the body, felt the heart, propped up
the head and used some last efforts at restoration; but before
the other journalist reappeared, followed by a doctor and a priest,
he was already prepared to assert they were too late.
"Were you too late also?" asked the doctor, a solid
prosperous-looking man, with conventional moustache and whiskers,
but a lively eye, which darted over Kidd dubiously.
"In one sense," drawled the representative of the Sun.
"I was too late to save the man, but I guess I was in time to hear
something of importance. I heard the dead man denounce his assassin."
"And who was the assassin?" asked the doctor, drawing his
"Boulnois," said Calhoun Kidd, and whistled softly.
The doctor stared at him gloomily with a reddening brow--,
but he did not contradict. Then the priest, a shorter figure
in the background, said mildly: "I understood that Mr Boulnois
was not coming to Pendragon Park this evening."
"There again," said the Yankee grimly, "I may be in a position
to give the old country a fact or two. Yes, sir, John Boulnois
was going to stay in all this evening; he fixed up a real good appointment
there with me. But John Boulnois changed his mind; John Boulnois
left his home abruptly and all alone, and came over to this darned Park
an hour or so ago. His butler told me so. I think we hold what
the all-wise police call a clue--have you sent for them?"
"Yes," said the doctor, "but we haven't alarmed anyone else yet."
"Does Mrs Boulnois know?" asked James Dalroy, and again Kidd
was conscious of an irrational desire to hit him on his curling mouth.
"I have not told her," said the doctor gruffly--, "but here come
The little priest had stepped out into the main avenue,
and now returned with the fallen sword, which looked ludicrously large
and theatrical when attached to his dumpy figure, at once clerical
and commonplace. "Just before the police come," he said apologetically,
"has anyone got a light?"
The Yankee journalist took an electric torch from his pocket,
and the priest held it close to the middle part of the blade,
which he examined with blinking care. Then, without glancing at
the point or pommel, he handed the long weapon to the doctor.
"I fear I'm no use here," he said, with a brief sigh.
"I'll say good night to you, gentlemen." And he walked away
up the dark avenue towards the house, his hands clasped behind him
and his big head bent in cogitation.
The rest of the group made increased haste towards the lodge-gates,
where an inspector and two constables could already be seen
in consultation with the lodge-keeper. But the little priest
only walked slower and slower in the dim cloister of pine, and at last
stopped dead, on the steps of the house. It was his silent way
of acknowledging an equally silent approach; for there came towards
him a presence that might have satisfied even Calhoun Kidd's demands
for a lovely and aristocratic ghost. It was a young woman
in silvery satins of a Renascence design; she had golden hair
in two long shining ropes, and a face so startingly pale between them
that she might have been chryselephantine--made, that is, like some
old Greek statues, out of ivory and gold. But her eyes were very bright,
and her voice, though low, was confident.
"Father Brown?" she said.
"Mrs Boulnois?" he replied gravely. Then he looked at her and
immediately said: "I see you know about Sir Claude."
"How do you know I know?" she asked steadily.
He did not answer the question, but asked another: "Have you
seen your husband?"
"My husband is at home," she said. "He has nothing to do with this."
Again he did not answer; and the woman drew nearer to him,
with a curiously intense expression on her face.
"Shall I tell you something more?" she said, with a rather
fearful smile. "I don't think he did it, and you don't either."
Father Brown returned her gaze with a long, grave stare, and then nodded,
yet more gravely.
"Father Brown," said the lady, "I am going to tell you all I know,
but I want you to do me a favour first. Will you tell me why
you haven't jumped to the conclusion of poor John's guilt,
as all the rest have done? Don't mind what you say: I--I know about
the gossip and the appearances that are against me."
Father Brown looked honestly embarrassed, and passed his hand
across his forehead. "Two very little things," he said.
"At least, one's very trivial and the other very vague.
But such as they are, they don't fit in with Mr Boulnois
being the murderer."
He turned his blank, round face up to the stars and
continued absentmindedly: "To take the vague idea first.
I attach a good deal of importance to vague ideas. All those things that
`aren't evidence' are what convince me. I think a moral impossibility
the biggest of all impossibilities. I know your husband only slightly,
but I think this crime of his, as generally conceived, something
very like a moral impossibility. Please do not think I mean that
Boulnois could not be so wicked. Anybody can be wicked--as wicked as
he chooses. We can direct our moral wills; but we can't generally change
our instinctive tastes and ways of doing things. Boulnois might
commit a murder, but not this murder. He would not snatch Romeo's sword
from its romantic scabbard; or slay his foe on the sundial as on
a kind of altar; or leave his body among the roses, or fling the sword
away among the pines. If Boulnois killed anyone he'd do it
quietly and heavily, as he'd do any other doubtful thing--
take a tenth glass of port, or read a loose Greek poet.
No, the romantic setting is not like Boulnois. It's more like Champion."
"Ah!" she said, and looked at him with eyes like diamonds.
"And the trivial thing was this," said Brown. "There were
finger-prints on that sword; finger-prints can be detected quite
a time after they are made if they're on some polished surface
like glass or steel. These were on a polished surface.
They were half-way down the blade of the sword. Whose prints they were
I have no earthly clue; but why should anybody hold a sword half-way down?
It was a long sword, but length is an advantage in lunging at an enemy.
At least, at most enemies. At all enemies except one."
"Except one," she repeated.
"There is only one enemy," said Father Brown, "whom it is easier
to kill with a dagger than a sword."
"I know," said the woman. "Oneself."
There was a long silence, and then the priest said quietly
but abruptly: "Am I right, then? Did Sir Claude kill himself?"
"Yes" she said, with a face like marble. "I saw him do it."
"He died," said Father Brown, "for love of you?"
An extraordinary expression flashed across her face,
very different from pity, modesty, remorse, or anything her companion
had expected: her voice became suddenly strong and full.
"I don't believe," she said, "he ever cared about me a rap.
He hated my husband."
"Why?" asked the other, and turned his round face from the sky
to the lady.
"He hated my husband because...it is so strange I hardly know
how to say it...because..."
"Yes?" said Brown patiently.
"Because my husband wouldn't hate him."
Father Brown only nodded, and seemed still to be listening;
he differed from most detectives in fact and fiction in a small point--
he never pretended not to understand when he understood perfectly well.
Mrs Boulnois drew near once more with the same contained
glow of certainty. "My husband," she said, "is a great man.
Sir Claude Champion was not a great man: he was a celebrated and
successful man. My husband has never been celebrated or successful;
and it is the solemn truth that he has never dreamed of being so.
He no more expects to be famous for thinking than for smoking cigars.
On all that side he has a sort of splendid stupidity. He has never
grown up. He still liked Champion exactly as he liked him at school;
he admired him as he would admire a conjuring trick done at
the dinner-table. But he couldn't be got to conceive the notion of
envying Champion. And Champion wanted to be envied. He went mad
and killed himself for that."
"Yes," said Father Brown; "I think I begin to understand."
"Oh, don't you see?" she cried; "the whole picture is made for that--
the place is planned for it. Champion put John in a little house
at his very door, like a dependant--to make him feel a failure.
He never felt it. He thinks no more about such things than--
than an absent-minded lion. Champion would burst in on John's
shabbiest hours or homeliest meals with some dazzling present or
announcement or expedition that made it like the visit of Haroun Alraschid,
and John would accept or refuse amiably with one eye off, so to speak,
like one lazy schoolboy agreeing or disagreeing with another.
After five years of it John had not turned a hair; and Sir Claude Champion
was a monomaniac."
"And Haman began to tell them," said Father Brown,
"of all the things wherein the king had honoured him; and he said:
`All these things profit me nothing while I see Mordecai the Jew
sitting in the gate.'"
"The crisis came," Mrs Boulnois continued, "when I persuaded John
to let me take down some of his speculations and send them to a magazine.
They began to attract attention, especially in America, and one paper
wanted to interview him. When Champion (who was interviewed
nearly every day) heard of this late little crumb of success
falling to his unconscious rival, the last link snapped that held back
his devilish hatred. Then he began to lay that insane siege to my own
love and honour which has been the talk of the shire. You will ask me
why I allowed such atrocious attentions. I answer that I could not have
declined them except by explaining to my husband, and there are
some things the soul cannot do, as the body cannot fly.
Nobody could have explained to my husband. Nobody could do it now.
If you said to him in so many words, `Champion is stealing your wife,'
he would think the joke a little vulgar: that it could be anything
but a joke--that notion could find no crack in his great skull
to get in by. Well, John was to come and see us act this evening,
but just as we were starting he said he wouldn't; he had got
an interesting book and a cigar. I told this to Sir Claude,
and it was his death-blow. The monomaniac suddenly saw despair.
He stabbed himself, crying out like a devil that Boulnois was slaying him;
he lies there in the garden dead of his own jealousy to produce jealousy,
and John is sitting in the dining-room reading a book."
There was another silence, and then the little priest said:
"There is only one weak point, Mrs Boulnois, in all your
very vivid account. Your husband is not sitting in the dining-room
reading a book. That American reporter told me he had been to your house,
and your butler told him Mr Boulnois had gone to Pendragon Park after all."
Her bright eyes widened to an almost electric glare;
and yet it seemed rather bewilderment than confusion or fear.
"Why, what can you mean?" she cried. "All the servants were
out of the house, seeing the theatricals. And we don't keep a butler,
Father Brown started and spun half round like an absurd teetotum.
"What, what?" he cried seeming galvanized into sudden life.
"Look here--I say--can I make your husband hear if I go to the house?"
"Oh, the servants will be back by now," she said, wondering.
"Right, right!" rejoined the cleric energetically, and set off
scuttling up the path towards the Park gates. He turned once to say:
"Better get hold of that Yankee, or `Crime of John Boulnois' will be
all over the Republic in large letters."
"You don't understand," said Mrs Boulnois. "He wouldn't mind.
I don't think he imagines that America really is a place."
When Father Brown reached the house with the beehive and
the drowsy dog, a small and neat maid-servant showed him into
the dining-room, where Boulnois sat reading by a shaded lamp,
exactly as his wife described him. A decanter of port and a wineglass
were at his elbow; and the instant the priest entered he noted
the long ash stand out unbroken on his cigar.
"He has been here for half an hour at least," thought Father Brown.
In fact, he had the air of sitting where he had sat when his dinner
was cleared away.
"Don't get up, Mr Boulnois," said the priest in his pleasant,
prosaic way. "I shan't interrupt you a moment. I fear I break in on
some of your scientific studies."
"No," said Boulnois; "I was reading `The Bloody Thumb.'"
He said it with neither frown nor smile, and his visitor was conscious
of a certain deep and virile indifference in the man which his wife
had called greatness. He laid down a gory yellow "shocker"
without even feeling its incongruity enough to comment on it humorously.
John Boulnois was a big, slow-moving man with a massive head,
partly grey and partly bald, and blunt, burly features.
He was in shabby and very old-fashioned evening-dress, with a narrow
triangular opening of shirt-front: he had assumed it that evening
in his original purpose of going to see his wife act Juliet.
"I won't keep you long from `The Bloody Thumb' or any other
catastrophic affairs," said Father Brown, smiling. "I only came
to ask you about the crime you committed this evening."
Boulnois looked at him steadily, but a red bar began to show
across his broad brow; and he seemed like one discovering embarrassment
for the first time.
"I know it was a strange crime," assented Brown in a low voice.
"Stranger than murder perhaps--to you. The little sins are sometimes
harder to confess than the big ones--but that's why it's so important
to confess them. Your crime is committed by every fashionable hostess
six times a week: and yet you find it sticks to your tongue like
a nameless atrocity."
"It makes one feel," said the philosopher slowly, "such a
"I know," assented the other, "but one often has to choose
between feeling a damned fool and being one."
"I can't analyse myself well," went on Boulnois; "but sitting
in that chair with that story I was as happy as a schoolboy
on a half-holiday. It was security, eternity--I can't convey it...
the cigars were within reach...the matches were within reach...
the Thumb had four more appearances to...it was not only a peace,
but a plenitude. Then that bell rang, and I thought for one long,
mortal minute that I couldn't get out of that chair--literally,
physically, muscularly couldn't. Then I did it like a man
lifting the world, because I knew all the servants were out.
I opened the front door, and there was a little man with his mouth open
to speak and his notebook open to write in. I remembered the Yankee
interviewer I had forgotten. His hair was parted in the middle,
and I tell you that murder--"
"I understand," said Father Brown. "I've seen him."
"I didn't commit murder," continued the Catastrophist mildly,
"but only perjury. I said I had gone across to Pendragon Park
and shut the door in his face. That is my crime, Father Brown,
and I don't know what penance you would inflict for it."
"I shan't inflict any penance," said the clerical gentleman,
collecting his heavy hat and umbrella with an air of some amusement;
"quite the contrary. I came here specially to let you off the little
penance which would otherwise have followed your little offence."
"And what," asked Boulnois, smiling, "is the little penance
I have so luckily been let off?"
"Being hanged," said Father Brown.
The Fairy Tale of Father Brown
THE picturesque city and state of Heiligwaldenstein was one of those
toy kingdoms of which certain parts of the German Empire still consist.
It had come under the Prussian hegemony quite late in history--
hardly fifty years before the fine summer day when Flambeau and
Father Brown found themselves sitting in its gardens and drinking its beer.
There had been not a little of war and wild justice there within
living memory, as soon will be shown. But in merely looking at it
one could not dismiss that impression of childishness which is
the most charming side of Germany--those little pantomime,
paternal monarchies in which a king seems as domestic as a cook.
The German soldiers by the innumerable sentry-boxes looked strangely like
German toys, and the clean-cut battlements of the castle,
gilded by the sunshine, looked the more like the gilt gingerbread.
For it was brilliant weather. The sky was as Prussian a blue as
Potsdam itself could require, but it was yet more like that lavish and
glowing use of the colour which a child extracts from a shilling paint-box.
Even the grey-ribbed trees looked young, for the pointed buds on them
were still pink, and in a pattern against the strong blue looked like
innumerable childish figures.
Despite his prosaic appearance and generally practical walk of life,
Father Brown was not without a certain streak of romance in his composition,
though he generally kept his daydreams to himself, as many children do.
Amid the brisk, bright colours of such a day, and in the heraldic
framework of such a town, he did feel rather as if he had entered
a fairy tale. He took a childish pleasure, as a younger brother might,
in the formidable sword-stick which Flambeau always flung as he walked,
and which now stood upright beside his tall mug of Munich.
Nay, in his sleepy irresponsibility, he even found himself eyeing the
knobbed and clumsy head of his own shabby umbrella, with some
faint memories of the ogre's club in a coloured toy-book.
But he never composed anything in the form of fiction, unless it be
the tale that follows:
"I wonder," he said, "whether one would have real adventures
in a place like this, if one put oneself in the way? It's a splendid
back-scene for them, but I always have a kind of feeling that they
would fight you with pasteboard sabres more than real, horrible swords."
"You are mistaken," said his friend. "In this place they
not only fight with swords, but kill without swords. And there's
worse than that."
"Why, what do you mean?" asked Father Brown.
"Why," replied the other, "I should say this was the only place
in Europe where a man was ever shot without firearms."
"Do you mean a bow and arrow?" asked Brown in some wonder.
"I mean a bullet in the brain," replied Flambeau.
"Don't you know the story of the late Prince of this place?
It was one of the great police mysteries about twenty years ago.
You remember, of course, that this place was forcibly annexed
at the time of Bismarck's very earliest schemes of consolidation--
forcibly, that is, but not at all easily. The empire (or what wanted
to be one) sent Prince Otto of Grossenmark to rule the place
in the Imperial interests. We saw his portrait in the gallery there--
a handsome old gentleman if he'd had any hair or eyebrows,
and hadn't been wrinkled all over like a vulture; but he had
things to harass him, as I'll explain in a minute. He was a soldier
of distinguished skill and success, but he didn't have altogether
an easy job with this little place. He was defeated in several battles
by the celebrated Arnhold brothers--the three guerrilla patriots
to whom Swinburne wrote a poem, you remember:
Wolves with the hair of the ermine,
Crows that are crowned and kings--
These things be many as vermin,
Yet Three shall abide these things.
Or something of that kind. Indeed, it is by no means certain
that the occupation would ever have been successful had not one of
the three brothers, Paul, despicably, but very decisively declined
to abide these things any longer, and, by surrendering all the secrets
of the insurrection, ensured its overthrow and his own ultimate promotion
to the post of chamberlain to Prince Otto. After this, Ludwig,
the one genuine hero among Mr Swinburne's heroes, was killed,
sword in hand, in the capture of the city; and the third, Heinrich,
who, though not a traitor, had always been tame and even timid
compared with his active brothers, retired into something like a hermitage,
became converted to a Christian quietism which was almost Quakerish,
and never mixed with men except to give nearly all he had to the poor.
They tell me that not long ago he could still be seen about
the neighbourhood occasionally, a man in a black cloak, nearly blind,
with very wild, white hair, but a face of astonishing softness."
"I know," said Father Brown. "I saw him once."
His friend looked at him in some surprise. "I didn't know
you'd been here before," he said. "Perhaps you know as much about it
as I do. Anyhow, that's the story of the Arnholds, and he was
the last survivor of them. Yes, and of all the men who played parts
in that drama."
"You mean that the Prince, too, died long before?"
"Died," repeated Flambeau, "and that's about as much as we can say.
You must understand that towards the end of his life he began
to have those tricks of the nerves not uncommon with tyrants.
He multiplied the ordinary daily and nightly guard round his castle
till there seemed to be more sentry-boxes than houses in the town,
and doubtful characters were shot without mercy. He lived almost entirely
in a little room that was in the very centre of the enormous labyrinth
of all the other rooms, and even in this he erected another sort of
central cabin or cupboard, lined with steel, like a safe or a battleship.
Some say that under the floor of this again was a secret hole in the earth,
no more than large enough to hold him, so that, in his anxiety
to avoid the grave, he was willing to go into a place pretty much like it.
But he went further yet. The populace had been supposed to be disarmed
ever since the suppression of the revolt, but Otto now insisted,
as governments very seldom insist, on an absolute and literal disarmament.
It was carried out, with extraordinary thoroughness and severity,
by very well-organized officials over a small and familiar area, and,
so far as human strength and science can be absolutely certain of anything,
Prince Otto was absolutely certain that nobody could introduce so much as
a toy pistol into Heiligwaldenstein."
"Human science can never be quite certain of things like that,"
said Father Brown, still looking at the red budding of the branches
over his head, "if only because of the difficulty about definition
and connotation. What is a weapon? People have been murdered
with the mildest domestic comforts; certainly with tea-kettles,
probably with tea-cosies. On the other hand, if you showed
an Ancient Briton a revolver, I doubt if he would know it was a weapon--
until it was fired into him, of course. Perhaps somebody introduced
a firearm so new that it didn't even look like a firearm.
Perhaps it looked like a thimble or something. Was the bullet
at all peculiar?"
"Not that I ever heard of," answered Flambeau; "but my information
is fragmentary, and only comes from my old friend Grimm.
He was a very able detective in the German service, and he tried
to arrest me; I arrested him instead, and we had many interesting chats.
He was in charge here of the inquiry about Prince Otto, but I forgot
to ask him anything about the bullet. According to Grimm,
what happened was this." He paused a moment to drain the greater part
of his dark lager at a draught, and then resumed:
"On the evening in question, it seems, the Prince was expected
to appear in one of the outer rooms, because he had to receive
certain visitors whom he really wished to meet. They were geological
experts sent to investigate the old question of the alleged supply of gold
from the rocks round here, upon which (as it was said) the small city-state
had so long maintained its credit and been able to negotiate with
its neighbours even under the ceaseless bombardment of bigger armies.
Hitherto it had never been found by the most exacting inquiry
"Which could be quite certain of discovering a toy pistol,"
said Father Brown with a smile. "But what about the brother who ratted?
Hadn't he anything to tell the Prince?"
"He always asseverated that he did not know," replied Flambeau;
"that this was the one secret his brothers had not told him.
It is only right to say that it received some support from
fragmentary words--spoken by the great Ludwig in the hour of death,
when he looked at Heinrich but pointed at Paul, and said,
`You have not told him...' and was soon afterwards incapable of speech.
Anyhow, the deputation of distinguished geologists and mineralogists
from Paris and Berlin were there in the most magnificent and
appropriate dress, for there are no men who like wearing their decorations
so much as the men of science--as anybody knows who has ever been to
a soiree of the Royal Society. It was a brilliant gathering,
but very late, and gradually the Chamberlain--you saw his portrait, too:
a man with black eyebrows, serious eyes, and a meaningless sort of
smile underneath--the Chamberlain, I say, discovered there was
everything there except the Prince himself. He searched all the
outer salons; then, remembering the man's mad fits of fear,
hurried to the inmost chamber. That also was empty, but the steel turret
or cabin erected in the middle of it took some time to open.
When it did open it was empty, too. He went and looked into
the hole in the ground, which seemed deeper and somehow all the more
like a grave--that is his account, of course. And even as he did so
he heard a burst of cries and tumult in the long rooms
and corridors without.
"First it was a distant din and thrill of something unthinkable
on the horizon of the crowd, even beyond the castle. Next it was
a wordless clamour startlingly close, and loud enough to be distinct
if each word had not killed the other. Next came words
of a terrible clearness, coming nearer, and next one man,
rushing into the room and telling the news as briefly as such news is told.
"Otto, Prince of Heiligwaldenstein and Grossenmark, was lying
in the dews of the darkening twilight in the woods beyond the castle,
with his arms flung out and his face flung up to the moon.
The blood still pulsed from his shattered temple and jaw,
but it was the only part of him that moved like a living thing.
He was clad in his full white and yellow uniform, as to receive his
guests within, except that the sash or scarf had been unbound and lay
rather crumpled by his side. Before he could be lifted he was dead.
But, dead or alive, he was a riddle--he who had always hidden in
the inmost chamber out there in the wet woods, unarmed and alone."
"Who found his body?" asked Father Brown.
"Some girl attached to the Court named Hedwig von something or other,"
replied his friend, "who had been out in the wood picking wild flowers."
"Had she picked any?" asked the priest, staring rather vacantly
at the veil of the branches above him.
"Yes," replied Flambeau. "I particularly remember that
the Chamberlain, or old Grimm or somebody, said how horrible it was,
when they came up at her call, to see a girl holding spring flowers
and bending over that--that bloody collapse. However, the main point is
that before help arrived he was dead, and the news, of course,
had to be carried back to the castle. The consternation it created was
something beyond even that natural in a Court at the fall of a potentate.
The foreign visitors, especially the mining experts, were in the wildest
doubt and excitement, as well as many important Prussian officials,
and it soon began to be clear that the scheme for finding the treasure
bulked much bigger in the business than people had supposed.
Experts and officials had been promised great prizes or
international advantages, and some even said that the Prince's
secret apartments and strong military protection were due less to fear
of the populace than to the pursuit of some private investigation of--"
"Had the flowers got long stalks?" asked Father Brown.
Flambeau stared at him. "What an odd person you are!" he said.
"That's exactly what old Grimm said. He said the ugliest part of it,
he thought--uglier than the blood and bullet--was that the flowers
were quite short, plucked close under the head."
"Of course," said the priest, "when a grown up girl is really
picking flowers, she picks them with plenty of stalk. If she just
pulled their heads off, as a child does, it looks as if--"
And he hesitated.
"Well?" inquired the other.
"Well, it looks rather as if she had snatched them nervously,
to make an excuse for being there after--well, after she was there."
"I know what you're driving at," said Flambeau rather gloomily.
"But that and every other suspicion breaks down on the one point--
the want of a weapon. He could have been killed, as you say,
with lots of other things--even with his own military sash;
but we have to explain not how he was killed, but how he was shot.
And the fact is we can't. They had the girl most ruthlessly searched;
for, to tell the truth, she was a little suspect, though the niece
and ward of the wicked old Chamberlain, Paul Arnhold. But she was
very romantic, and was suspected of sympathy with the old revolutionary
enthusiasm in her family. All the same, however romantic you are,
you can't imagine a big bullet into a man's jaw or brain without using
a gun or pistol. And there was no pistol, though there were
two pistol shots. I leave it to you, my friend."
"How do you know there were two shots?" asked the little priest.
"There was only one in his head," said his companion,
"but there was another bullet-hole in the sash."
Father Brown's smooth brow became suddenly constricted.
"Was the other bullet found?" he demanded.
Flambeau started a little. "I don't think I remember," he said.
"Hold on! Hold on! Hold on!" cried Brown, frowning more and more,
with a quite unusual concentration of curiosity. "Don't think me rude.
Let me think this out for a moment."
"All right," said Flambeau, laughing, and finished his beer.
A slight breeze stirred the budding trees and blew up into the sky
cloudlets of white and pink that seemed to make the sky bluer and
the whole coloured scene more quaint. They might have been cherubs
flying home to the casements of a sort of celestial nursery.
The oldest tower of the castle, the Dragon Tower, stood up as grotesque
as the ale-mug, but as homely. Only beyond the tower glimmered
the wood in which the man had lain dead.
"What became of this Hedwig eventually?" asked the priest at last.
"She is married to General Schwartz," said Flambeau.
"No doubt you've heard of his career, which was rather romantic.
He had distinguished himself even, before his exploits at Sadowa
and Gravelotte; in fact, he rose from the ranks, which is very unusual
even in the smallest of the German..."
Father Brown sat up suddenly.
"Rose from the ranks!" he cried, and made a mouth as if to whistle.
"Well, well, what a queer story! What a queer way of killing a man;
but I suppose it was the only one possible. But to think of hate
"What do you mean?" demanded the other. "In what way did they
kill the man?"
"They killed him with the sash," said Brown carefully; and then,
as Flambeau protested: "Yes, yes, I know about the bullet.
Perhaps I ought to say he died of having a sash. I know it doesn't sound
like having a disease."
"I suppose," said Flambeau, "that you've got some notion
in your head, but it won't easily get the bullet out of his.
As I explained before, he might easily have been strangled.
But he was shot. By whom? By what?"
"He was shot by his own orders," said the priest.
"You mean he committed suicide?"
"I didn't say by his own wish," replied Father Brown.
"I said by his own orders."
"Well, anyhow, what is your theory?"
Father Brown laughed. "I am only on my holiday," he said.
"I haven't got any theories. Only this place reminds me of fairy stories,
and, if you like, I'll tell you a story."
The little pink clouds, that looked rather like sweet-stuff,
had floated up to crown the turrets of the gilt gingerbread castle,
and the pink baby fingers of the budding trees seemed spreading and
stretching to reach them; the blue sky began to take a bright violet
of evening, when Father Brown suddenly spoke again:
"It was on a dismal night, with rain still dropping from the trees
and dew already clustering, that Prince Otto of Grossenmark stepped
hurriedly out of a side door of the castle and walked swiftly
into the wood. One of the innumerable sentries saluted him,
but he did not notice it. He had no wish to be specially noticed himself.
He was glad when the great trees, grey and already greasy with rain,
swallowed him up like a swamp. He had deliberately chosen
the least frequented side of his palace, but even that was more frequented
than he liked. But there was no particular chance of officious
or diplomatic pursuit, for his exit had been a sudden impulse.
All the full-dressed diplomatists he left behind were unimportant.
He had realized suddenly that he could do without them.
"His great passion was not the much nobler dread of death,
but the strange desire of gold. For this legend of the gold he had
left Grossenmark and invaded Heiligwaldenstein. For this and only this
he had bought the traitor and butchered the hero, for this he had
long questioned and cross-questioned the false Chamberlain,
until he had come to the conclusion that, touching his ignorance,
the renegade really told the truth. For this he had, somewhat reluctantly,
paid and promised money on the chance of gaining the larger amount;
and for this he had stolen out of his palace like a thief in the rain,
for he had thought of another way to get the desire of his eyes,
and to get it cheap.
"Away at the upper end of a rambling mountain path to which
he was making his way, among the pillared rocks along the ridge
that hangs above the town, stood the hermitage, hardly more than
a cavern fenced with thorn, in which the third of the great brethren
had long hidden himself from the world. He, thought Prince Otto,
could have no real reason for refusing to give up the gold.
He had known its place for years, and made no effort to find it,
even before his new ascetic creed had cut him off from property
or pleasures. True, he had been an enemy, but he now professed
a duty of having no enemies. Some concession to his cause,
some appeal to his principles, would probably get the mere money secret
out of him. Otto was no coward, in spite of his network of military
precautions, and, in any case, his avarice was stronger than his fears.
Nor was there much cause for fear. Since he was certain there were
no private arms in the whole principality, he was a hundred times
more certain there were none in the Quaker's little hermitage on the hill,
where he lived on herbs, with two old rustic servants, and with
no other voice of man for year after year. Prince Otto looked down
with something of a grim smile at the bright, square labyrinths
of the lamp-lit city below him. For as far as the eye could see
there ran the rifles of his friends, and not one pinch of powder
for his enemies. Rifles ranked so close even to that mountain path
that a cry from him would bring the soldiers rushing up the hill,
to say nothing of the fact that the wood and ridge were patrolled
at regular intervals; rifles so far away, in the dim woods,
dwarfed by distance, beyond the river, that an enemy could not
slink into the town by any detour. And round the palace rifles
at the west door and the east door, at the north door and the south,
and all along the four facades linking them. He was safe.
"It was all the more clear when he had crested the ridge
and found how naked was the nest of his old enemy. He found himself
on a small platform of rock, broken abruptly by the three corners
of precipice. Behind was the black cave, masked with green thorn,
so low that it was hard to believe that a man could enter it.
In front was the fall of the cliffs and the vast but cloudy
vision of the valley. On the small rock platform stood
an old bronze lectern or reading-stand, groaning under a great German Bible.
The bronze or copper of it had grown green with the eating airs
of that exalted place, and Otto had instantly the thought,
"Even if they had arms, they must be rusted by now." Moonrise had already
made a deathly dawn behind the crests and crags, and the rain had ceased.
"Behind the lectern, and looking across the valley,
stood a very old man in a black robe that fell as straight as
the cliffs around him, but whose white hair and weak voice seemed alike
to waver in the wind. He was evidently reading some daily lesson
as part of his religious exercises. "They trust in their horses..."
"`Sir,' said the Prince of Heiligwaldenstein, with quite unusual
courtesy, `I should like only one word with you.'
"`...and in their chariots,' went on the old man weakly,
`but we will trust in the name of the Lord of Hosts....'
His last words were inaudible, but he closed the book reverently and,
being nearly blind, made a groping movement and gripped the reading-stand.
Instantly his two servants slipped out of the low-browed cavern
and supported him. They wore dull-black gowns like his own,
but they had not the frosty silver on the hair, nor the frost-bitten
refinement of the features. They were peasants, Croat or Magyar,
with broad, blunt visages and blinking eyes. For the first time
something troubled the Prince, but his courage and diplomatic sense
"`I fear we have not met,' he said, `since that awful cannonade
in which your poor brother died.'
"`All my brothers died,' said the old man, still looking
across the valley. Then, for one instant turning on Otto his drooping,
delicate features, and the wintry hair that seemed to drip
over his eyebrows like icicles, he added: `You see, I am dead, too.'
"`I hope you'll understand,' said the Prince, controlling himself
almost to a point of conciliation, `that I do not come here to haunt you,
as a mere ghost of those great quarrels. We will not talk about
who was right or wrong in that, but at least there was one point
on which we were never wrong, because you were always right.
Whatever is to be said of the policy of your family, no one for one moment
imagines that you were moved by the mere gold; you have proved yourself
above the suspicion that...'
"The old man in the black gown had hitherto continued to gaze at him
with watery blue eyes and a sort of weak wisdom in his face.
But when the word `gold' was said he held out his hand as if
in arrest of something, and turned away his face to the mountains.
"`He has spoken of gold,' he said. `He has spoken of
things not lawful. Let him cease to speak.'
"Otto had the vice of his Prussian type and tradition,
which is to regard success not as an incident but as a quality.
He conceived himself and his like as perpetually conquering peoples
who were perpetually being conquered. Consequently, he was ill acquainted
with the emotion of surprise, and ill prepared for the next movement,
which startled and stiffened him. He had opened his mouth
to answer the hermit, when the mouth was stopped and the voice
strangled by a strong, soft gag suddenly twisted round his head
like a tourniquet. It was fully forty seconds before he even realized
that the two Hungarian servants had done it, and that they had done it
with his own military scarf.
"The old man went again weakly to his great brazen-supported Bible,
turned over the leaves, with a patience that had something horrible
about it, till he came to the Epistle of St James, and then began to read:
`The tongue is a little member, but--'
"Something in the very voice made the Prince turn suddenly
and plunge down the mountain-path he had climbed. He was half-way towards
the gardens of the palace before he even tried to tear the strangling scarf
from his neck and jaws. He tried again and again, and it was impossible;
the men who had knotted that gag knew the difference between
what a man can do with his hands in front of him and what he can do
with his hands behind his head. His legs were free to leap like
an antelope on the mountains, his arms were free to use any gesture
or wave any signal, but he could not speak. A dumb devil was in him.
"He had come close to the woods that walled in the castle
before he had quite realized what his wordless state meant
and was meant to mean. Once more he looked down grimly at the bright,
square labyrinths of the lamp-lit city below him, and he smiled no more.
He felt himself repeating the phrases of his former mood with
a murderous irony. Far as the eye could see ran the rifles
of his friends, every one of whom would shoot him dead
if he could not answer the challenge. Rifles were so near that
the wood and ridge could be patrolled at regular intervals;
therefore it was useless to hide in the wood till morning.
Rifles were ranked so far away that an enemy could not slink
into the town by any detour; therefore it was vain to return to the city
by any remote course. A cry from him would bring his soldiers
rushing up the hill. But from him no cry would come.
"The moon had risen in strengthening silver, and the sky showed
in stripes of bright, nocturnal blue between the black stripes
of the pines about the castle. Flowers of some wide and feathery sort--
for he had never noticed such things before--were at once luminous
and discoloured by the moonshine, and seemed indescribably fantastic
as they clustered, as if crawling about the roots of the trees.
Perhaps his reason had been suddenly unseated by the unnatural captivity
he carried with him, but in that wood he felt something
unfathomably German--the fairy tale. He knew with half his mind
that he was drawing near to the castle of an ogre--he had forgotten
that he was the ogre. He remembered asking his mother if bears lived
in the old park at home. He stooped to pick a flower, as if it were
a charm against enchantment. The stalk was stronger than he expected,
and broke with a slight snap. Carefully trying to place it in his scarf,
he heard the halloo, `Who goes there?' Then he remembered the scarf
was not in its usual place.
"He tried to scream and was silent. The second challenge came;
and then a shot that shrieked as it came and then was stilled suddenly
by impact. Otto of Grossenmark lay very peacefully among the fairy
trees, and would do no more harm either with gold or steel; only the
silver pencil of the moon would pick out and trace here and there the
intricate ornament of his uniform, or the old wrinkles on his brow.
May God have mercy on his soul.
"The sentry who had fired, according to the strict orders
of the garrison, naturally ran forward to find some trace of his quarry.
He was a private named Schwartz, since not unknown in his profession,
and what he found was a bald man in uniform, but with his face
so bandaged by a kind of mask made of his own military scarf
that nothing but open, dead eyes could be seen, glittering stonily
in the moonlight. The bullet had gone through the gag into the jaw;
that is why there was a shot-hole in the scarf, but only one shot.
Naturally, if not correctly, young Schwartz tore off the mysterious
silken mask and cast it on the grass; and then he saw whom he had slain.
"We cannot be certain of the next phase. But I incline to believe
that there was a fairy tale, after all, in that little wood,
horrible as was its occasion. Whether the young lady named Hedwig
had any previous knowledge of the soldier she saved and eventually married,
or whether she came accidentally upon the accident and their intimacy
began that night, we shall probably never know. But we can know,
I fancy, that this Hedwig was a heroine, and deserved to marry a man
who became something of a hero. She did the bold and the wise thing.
She persuaded the sentry to go back to his post, in which place
there was nothing to connect him with the disaster; he was but one of
the most loyal and orderly of fifty such sentries within call.
She remained by the body and gave the alarm; and there was nothing
to connect her with the disaster either, since she had not got,
and could not have, any firearms.
"Well," said Father Brown rising cheerfully "I hope they're happy."
"Where are you going?" asked his friend.
"I'm going to have another look at that portrait of the Chamberlain,
the Arnhold who betrayed his brethren," answered the priest.
"I wonder what part--I wonder if a man is less a traitor when he is
twice a traitor?"
And he ruminated long before the portrait of a white-haired man
with black eyebrows and a pink, painted sort of smile that seemed
to contradict the black warning in his eyes.