IT is to be feared that about a hundred detective stories have begun with the discovery that an American millionaire has been murdered; an event which is, for some reason, treated as a sort of calamity. This story, I am happy to say, has to begin with a murdered millionaire; in one sense, indeed, it has to begin with three murdered millionaires, which some may regard as an embarras de richesse. But it was chiefly this coincidence or continuity of criminal policy that took the whole affair out of the ordinary run of criminal cases and made it the extraordinary problem that it was.
It was very generally said that they had all fallen victims to some vendetta or curse attaching to the possession of a relic of great value both intrinsically and historically: a sort of chalice inlaid with precious stones and commonly called the Coptic Cup. Its origin was obscure, but its use was conjectured to be religious; and some attributed the fate that followed its possessors to the fanaticism of some Oriental Christian horrified at its passing through such materialistic hands. But the mysterious slayer, whether or no he was such a fanatic, was already a figure of lurid and sensational interest in the world of journalism and gossip. The nameless being was provided with a name, or a nickname. But it is only with the story of the third victim that we are now concerned; for it was only in this case that a certain Father Brown, who is the subject of these sketches, had an opportunity of making his presence felt.
When Father Brown first stepped off an Atlantic liner on to American soil, he discovered as many other Englishman has done, that he was a much more important person than he had ever supposed. His short figure, his short-sighted and undistinguished countenance, his rather rusty-black clerical clothes, could pass through any crowd in his own country without being noticed as anything unusual, except perhaps unusually insignificant. But America has a genius for the encouragement of fame; and his appearance in one or two curious criminal problems, together with his long association with Flambeau, the ex-criminal and detective, had consolidated a reputation in America out of what was little more than a rumour in England. His round face was blank with surprise when he found himself held up on the quay by a group of journalists, as by a gang of brigands, who asked him questions about all the subjects on which he was least likely to regard himself as an authority, such as the details of female dress and the criminal statistics of the country that he had only that moment clapped his eyes on. Perhaps it was the contrast with the black embattled solidarity of this group that made more vivid another figure that stood apart from it, equally black against the burning white daylight of that brilliant place and season, but entirely solitary; a tall, rather yellow-faced man in great goggles, who arrested him with a gesture when the journalists had finished and said: ‘Excuse me, but maybe you are looking for Captain Wain.’
Some apology may be made for Father Brown; for he himself would have been sincerely apologetic. It must be remembered that he had never seen America before, and more especially that he had never seen that sort of tortoise-shell spectacles before; for the fashion at this time had not spread to England. His first sensation was that of gazing at some goggling sea-monster with a faint suggestion of a diver’s helmet. Otherwise the man was exquisitely dressed; and to Brown, in his innocence, the spectacles seemed the queerest disfigurement for a dandy. It was as if a dandy had adorned himself with a wooden leg as an extra touch of elegance. The question also embarrassed him. An American aviator of the name of Wain, a friend of some friends of his own in France, was indeed one of a long list of people he had some hope of seeing during his American visit; but he had never expected to hear of him so soon.
‘I beg your pardon,’ he said doubtfully, ‘are you Captain Wain? Do you — do you know him?’
‘Well, I’m pretty confident I’m not Captain Wain,’ said the man in goggles, with a face of wood. ‘I was pretty clear about that when I saw him waiting for you over there in the car. But the other question’s a bit more problematical. I reckon I know Wain and his uncle, and old man Merton, too. I know old man Merton, but old man Merton don’t know me. And he thinks he has the advantage, and I think I have the advantage. See?’
Father Brown did not quite see. He blinked at the glittering seascape and the pinnacles of the city, and then at the man in goggles. It was not only the masking of the man’s eyes that produced the impression of something impenetrable. Something in his yellow face was almost Asiatic, even Chinese; and his conversation seemed to consist of stratified layers of irony. He was a type to be found here and there in that hearty and sociable population; he was the inscrutable American.
‘My name’s Drage,’ he said, ‘Norman Drage, and I’m an American citizen, which explains everything. At least I imagine your friend Wain would like to explain the rest; so we’ll postpone The Fourth of July till another date.’
Father Brown was dragged in a somewhat dazed condition towards a car at some little distance, in which a young man with tufts of untidy yellow hair and a rather harassed and haggard expression, hailed him from afar, and presented himself as Peter Wain. Before he knew where he was he was stowed in the car and travelling with considerable speed through and beyond the city. He was unused to the impetuous practicality of such American action, and felt about as bewildered as if a chariot drawn by dragons had carried him away into fairyland. It was under these disconcerting conditions that he heard for the first time, in long monologues from Wain, and short sentences from Drage, the story of the Coptic Cup and the two crimes already connected with it.
It seemed that Wain had an uncle named Crake who had a partner named Merton, who was number three in the series of rich business men to whom the cup had belonged. The first of them, Titus P. Trant, the Copper King, had received threatening letters from somebody signing himself Daniel Doom. The name was presumably a pseudonym, but it had come to stand for a very public if not a very popular character; for somebody as well known as Robin Hood and Jack the Ripper combined. For it soon became clear that the writer of the threatening letter did not confine himself to threatening. Anyhow, the upshot was that old Trant was found one morning with his head in his own lily-pond, and there was not the shadow of a clue. The cup was, fortunately, safe in the bank; and it passed with the rest of Trant’s property to his cousin, Brian Horder, who was also a man of great wealth and who was also threatened by the nameless enemy. Brian Horder was picked up dead at the foot of a cliff outside his seaside residence, at which there was a burglary, this time on a large scale. For though the cup apparently again escaped, enough bonds and securities were stolen to leave Horder’s financial affairs in confusion.
‘Brian Horder’s widow,’ explained Wain, ‘had to sell most of his valuables, I believe, and Brander Merton must have purchased the cup at that time, for he had it when I first knew him. But you can guess for yourself that it’s not a very comfortable thing to have.’
‘Has Mr Merton ever had any of the threatening letters?’ asked Father Brown, after a pause.
‘I imagine he has,’ said Mr Drage; and something in his voice made the priest look at him curiously, until he realized that the man in goggles was laughing silently, in a fashion that gave the newcomer something of a chill.
‘I’m pretty sure he has,’ said Peter Wain, frowning. ‘I’ve not seen the letters, only his secretary sees any of his letters, for he is pretty reticent about business matters, as big business men have to be. But I’ve seen him real upset and annoyed with letters; and letters that he tore up, too, before even his secretary saw them. The secretary himself is getting nervous and says he is sure somebody is laying for the old man; and the long and the short of it is, that we’d be very grateful for a little advice in the matter. Everybody knows your great reputation, Father Brown, and the secretary asked me to see if you’d mind coming straight out to the Merton house at once.’
‘Oh, I see,’ said Father Brown, on whom the meaning of this apparent kidnapping began to dawn at last. ‘But, really, I don’t see that I can do any more than you can. You’re on the spot, and must have a hundred times more data for a scientific conclusion than a chance visitor.’
‘Yes,’ said Mr Drage dryly; ‘our conclusions are much too scientific to be true. I reckon if anything hit a man like Titus P. Trant, it just came out of the sky without waiting for any scientific explanation. What they call a bolt from the blue.’
‘You can’t possibly mean,’ cried Wain, ‘that it was supernatural!’
But it was by no means easy at any time to discover what Mr Drage could possibly mean; except that if he said somebody was a real smart man, he very probably meant he was a fool. Mr Drage maintained an Oriental immobility until the car stopped, a little while after, at what was obviously their destination. It was rather a singular place. They had been driving through a thinly-wooded country that opened into a wide plain, and just in front of them was a building consisting of a single wall or very high fence, round, like a Roman camp, and having rather the appearance of an aerodrome. The barrier did not look like wood or stone, and closer inspection proved it to be of metal.
They all alighted from the car, and one small door in the wall was slid open with considerable caution, after manipulations resembling the opening of a safe. But, much to Father Brown’s surprise, the man called Norman Drage showed no disposition to enter, but took leave of them with sinister gaiety.
‘I won’t come in,’ he said. ‘It ‘ud be too much pleasurable excitement for old man Merton, I reckon. He loves the sight of me so much that he’d die of joy.’
And he strode away, while Father Brown, with increasing wonder, was admitted through the steel door which instantly clicked behind him. Inside was a large and elaborate garden of gay and varied colours, but entirely without any trees or tall shrubs or flowers. In the centre of it rose a house of handsome and even striking architecture, but so high and narrow as rather to resemble a tower. The burning sunlight gleamed on glass roofing here and there at the top, but there seemed to be no windows at all in the lower part of it. Over everything was that spotless and sparkling cleanliness that seemed so native to the clear American air. When they came inside the portal, they stood amid resplendent marble and metals and enamels of brilliant colours, but there was no staircase. Nothing but a single shaft for a lift went up the centre between the solid walls, and the approach to it was guarded by heavy, powerful men like plain-clothes policemen.
‘Pretty elaborate protection, I know,’ said Wain. ‘Maybe it makes you smile a little, Father Brown, to find Merton has to live in a fortress like this without even a tree in the garden for anyone to hide behind. But you don’t know what sort of proposition we’re up against in this country. And perhaps you don’t know just what the name of Brander Merton means. He’s a quiet-looking man enough, and anybody might pass him in the street; not that they get much chance nowadays, for he can only go out now and then in a closed car. But if anything happened to Brander Merton there’d be earthquakes from Alaska to the Cannibal Islands. I fancy there was never a king or emperor who had such power over the nations as he has. After all, I suppose if you’d been asked to visit the tsar, or the king of England, you’d have had the curiosity to go. You mayn’t care much for tsars or millionaires; but it just means that power like that is always interesting. And I hope it’s not against your principles to visit a modern sort of emperor like Merton.’
‘Not at all,’ said Father Brown, quietly. ‘It is my duty to visit prisoners and all miserable men in captivity.’
There was a silence, and the young man frowned with a strange and almost shifty look on his lean face. Then he said, abruptly:
‘Well, you’ve got to remember it isn’t only common crooks or the Black Hand that’s against him. This Daniel Doom is pretty much like the devil. Look how he dropped Trant in his own gardens and Horder outside his house, and got away with it.’
The top floor of the mansion, inside the enormously thick walls, consisted of two rooms; an outer room which they entered, and an inner room that was the great millionaire’s sanctum. They entered the outer room just as two other visitors were coming out of the inner one. One was hailed by Peter Wain as his uncle — a small but very stalwart and active man with a shaven head that looked bald, and a brown face that looked almost too brown to have ever been white. This was old Crake, commonly called Hickory Crake in reminiscence of the more famous Old Hickory, because of his fame in the last Red Indian wars. His companion was a singular contrast — a very dapper gentleman with dark hair like a black varnish and a broad, black ribbon to his monocle: Barnard Blake, who was old Merton’s lawyer and had been discussing with the partners the business of the firm. The four men met in the middle of the outer room and paused for a little polite conversation, in the act of respectively going and coming. And through all goings and comings another figure sat at the back of the room near the inner door, massive and motionless in the half-light from the inner window; a man with a Negro face and enormous shoulders. This was what the humorous self-criticism of America playfully calls the Bad Man; whom his friends might call a bodyguard and his enemies a bravo.
This man never moved or stirred to greet anybody; but the sight of him in the outer room seemed to move Peter Wain to his first nervous query.
‘Is anybody with the chief?’ he asked.
‘Don’t get rattled, Peter,’ chuckled his uncle. ‘Wilton the secretary is with him, and I hope that’s enough for anybody. I don’t believe Wilton ever sleeps for watching Merton. He is better than twenty bodyguards. And he’s quick and quiet as an Indian.’
‘Well, you ought to know,’ said his nephew, laughing. ‘I remember the Red Indian tricks you used to teach me when I was a boy and liked to read Red Indian stories. But in my Red Indian stories Red Indians seemed always to have the worst of it.’
‘They didn’t in real life,’ said the old frontiersman grimly.
‘Indeed?’ inquired the bland Mr Blake. ‘I should have thought they could do very little against our firearms.’
‘I’ve seen an Indian stand under a hundred guns with nothing but a little scalping-knife and kill a white man standing on the top of a fort,’ said Crake.
‘Why, what did he do with it?’ asked the other.
‘Threw it,’ replied Crake, ‘threw it in a flash before a shot could be fired. I don’t know where he learnt the trick.’
‘Well, I hope you didn’t learn it,’ said his nephew, laughing.
‘It seems to me,’ said Father Brown, thoughtfully, ‘that the story might have a moral.’
While they were speaking Mr Wilton, the secretary, had come out of the inner room and stood waiting; a pale, fair-haired man with a square chin and steady eyes with a look like a dog’s; it was not difficult to believe that he had the single — eye of a watchdog.
He only said, ‘Mr Merton can see you in about ten minutes,’ but it served for a signal to break up the gossiping group. Old Crake said he must be off, and his nephew went out with him and his legal companion, leaving Father Brown for the moment alone with his secretary; for the negroid giant at the other end of the room could hardly be felt as if he were human or alive; he sat so motionless with his broad back to them, staring towards the inner room.
‘Arrangements rather elaborate here, I’m afraid,’ said the secretary. ‘You’ve probably heard all about this Daniel Doom, and why it isn’t safe to leave the boss very much alone.’
‘But he is alone just now, isn’t he?’ said Father Brown.
The secretary looked at him with grave, grey eyes. ‘For fifteen minutes,’ he said. ‘For fifteen minutes out of the twenty-four hours. That is all the real solitude he has; and that he insists on, for a pretty remarkable reason.’
‘And what is the reason?’ inquired the visitor. Wilton, the secretary, continued his steady gaze, but his mouth, that had been merely grave, became grim.
‘The Coptic Cup,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you’ve forgotten the Coptic Cup; but he hasn’t forgotten that or anything else. He doesn’t trust any of us about the Coptic Cup. It’s locked up somewhere and somehow in that room so that only he can find it; and he won’t take it out till we’re all out of the way. So we have to risk that quarter of an hour while he sits and worships it; I reckon it’s the only worshipping he does. Not that there’s any risk really; for I’ve turned all this place into a trap I don’t believe the devil himself could get into — or at any rate, get out of. If this infernal Daniel Doom pays us a visit, he’ll stay to dinner and a good bit later, by God! I sit here on hot bricks for the fifteen minutes, and the instant I heard a shot or a sound of struggle I’d press this button and an electrocuting current would run in a ring round that garden wall, so that it ‘ud be death to cross or climb it. Of course, there couldn’t be a shot, for this is the only way in; and the only window he sits at is away up on the top of a tower as smooth as a greasy pole. But, anyhow, we’re all armed here, of course; and if Doom did get into that room he’d be dead before he got out.’
Father Brown was blinking at the carpet in a brown study. Then he said suddenly, with something like a jerk: ‘I hope you won’t mind my mentioning it, but a kind of a notion came into my head just this minute. It’s about you.’
‘Indeed,’ remarked Wilton, ‘and what about me?’
‘I think you are a man of one idea,’ said Father Brown, ‘and you will forgive me for saying that it seems to be even more the idea of catching Daniel Doom than of defending Brander Merton.’
Wilton started a little and continued to stare at his companion; then very slowly his grim mouth took on a rather curious smile. ‘How did you — what makes you think that?’ he asked.
‘You said that if you heard a shot you could instantly electrocute the escaping enemy,’ remarked the priest. ‘I suppose it occurred to you that the shot might be fatal to your employer before the shock was fatal to his foe. I don’t mean that you wouldn’t protect Mr Merton if you could, but it seems to come rather second in your thoughts. The arrangements are very elaborate, as you say, and you seem to have elaborated them. But they seem even more designed to catch a murderer than to save a man.’
‘Father Brown,’ said the secretary, who had recovered his quiet tone, ‘you’re very smart, but there’s something more to you than smartness. Somehow you’re the sort of man to whom one wants to tell the truth; and besides, you’ll probably hear it, anyhow, for in one way it’s a joke against me already. They all say I’m a monomaniac about running down this big crook, and perhaps I am. But I’ll tell you one thing that none of them know. My full name is John Wilton Border.’ Father Brown nodded as if he were completely enlightened, but the other went on.
‘This fellow who calls himself Doom killed my father and uncle and ruined my mother. When Merton wanted a secretary I took the job, because I thought that where the cup was the criminal might sooner or later be. But I didn’t know who the criminal was and could only wait for him; and I meant to serve Merton faithfully.’
‘I understand,’ said Father Brown gently; ‘and, by the way, isn’t it time that we attended on him?’
‘Why, yes,’ answered Wilton, again starting a little out of his brooding so that the priest concluded that his vindictive mania had again absorbed him for a moment. ‘Go in now by all means.’
Father Brown walked straight into the inner room. No sound of greetings followed, but only a dead silence; and a moment after the priest reappeared in the doorway.
At the same moment the silent bodyguard sitting near the door moved suddenly; and it was as if a huge piece of furniture had come to life. It seemed as though something in the very attitude of the priest had been a signal; for his head was against the light from the inner window and his face was in shadow.
‘I suppose you will press that button,’ he said with a sort of sigh.
Wilton seemed to awake from his savage brooding with a bound and leapt up with a catch in his voice.
‘There was no shot,’ he cried.
‘Well,’ said Father Brown, ‘it depends what you mean by a shot.’
Wilton rushed forward, and they plunged into the inner room together. It was a comparatively small room and simply though elegantly furnished. Opposite to them one wide window stood open, over-looking the garden and the wooded plain. Close up against the window stood a chair and a small table, as if the captive desired as much air and light as was allowed him during his brief luxury of loneliness.
On the little table under the window stood the Coptic Cup; its owner had evidently been looking at it in the best light. It was well worth looking at, for that white and brilliant daylight turned its precious stones to many-coloured flames so that it might have been a model of the Holy Grail. It was well worth looking at; but Brander Merton was not looking at it. For his head had fallen back over his chair, his mane of white hair hanging towards the floor, and his spike of grizzled beard thrust up towards the ceiling, and out of his throat stood a long, brown painted arrow with red feathers at the other end.
‘A silent shot,’ said Father Brown, in a low voice; ‘I was just wondering about those new inventions for silencing firearms. But this is a very old invention, and quite as silent.’
Then, after a moment, he added: ‘I’m afraid he is dead. What are you going to do?’
The pale secretary roused himself with abrupt resolution. ‘I’m going to press that button, of course,’ he said, ‘and if that doesn’t do for Daniel Doom, I’m going to hunt him through the world till I find him.’
‘Take care it doesn’t do for any of our friends,’ observed Father Brown; ‘they can hardly be far off; we’d better call them.’
‘That lot know all about the wall,’ answered Wilton. ‘None of them will try to climb it, unless one of them . . . is in a great hurry.’
Father Brown went to the window by which the arrow had evidently entered and looked out. The garden, with its flat flower-beds, lay far below like a delicately coloured map of the world. The whole vista seemed so vast and empty, the tower seemed set so far up in the sky that as he stared out a strange phrase came back to his memory.
‘A bolt from the blue,’ he said. ‘What was that somebody said about a bolt from the blue and death coming out of the sky? Look how far away everything looks; it seems extraordinary that an arrow could come so far, unless it were an arrow from heaven.’
Wilton had returned, but did not reply, and the priest went on as in soliloquy. ‘One thinks of aviation. We must ask young Wain . . . about aviation.’
‘There’s a lot of it round here,’ said the secretary.
‘Case of very old or very new weapons,’ observed Father Brown. ‘Some would be quite familiar to his old uncle, I suppose; we must ask him about arrows. This looks rather like a Red Indian arrow. I don’t know where the Red Indian shot it from; but you remember the story the old man told. I said it had a moral.’
‘If it had a moral,’ said Wilton warmly, ‘it was only that a real Red Indian might shoot a thing farther than you’d fancy. It’s nonsense your suggesting a parallel.’
‘I don’t think you’ve got the moral quite right,’ said Father Brown.
Although the little priest appeared to melt into the millions of New York next day, without any apparent attempt to be anything but a number in a numbered street, he was, in fact, unobtrusively busy for the next fortnight with the commission that had been given him, for he was filled with profound fear about a possible miscarriage of justice. Without having any particular air of singling them out from his other new acquaintances, he found it easy to fall into talk with the two or three men recently involved in the mystery; and with old Hickory Crake especially he had a curious and interesting conversation. It took place on a seat in Central Park, where the veteran sat with his bony hands and hatchet face resting on the oddly-shaped head of a walking-stick of dark red wood, possibly modelled on a tomahawk.
‘Well, it may be a long shot,’ he said, wagging his head, ‘but I wouldn’t advise you to be too positive about how far an Indian arrow could go. I’ve known some bow-shots that seemed to go straighter than any bullets, and hit the mark to amazement, considering how long they had been travelling. Of course, you practically never hear now of a Red Indian with a bow and arrows, still less of a Red Indian hanging about here. But if by any chance there were one of the old Indian marksmen, with one of the old Indian bows, hiding in those trees hundreds of yards beyond the Merton outer wall — why, then I wouldn’t put it past the noble savage to be able to send an arrow over the wall and into the top window of Merton’s house; no, nor into Merton, either. I’ve seen things quite as wonderful as that done in the old days.’
‘No doubt,’ said the priest, ‘you have done things quite as wonderful, as well as seen them.’
Old Crake chuckled, and then said gruffly: ‘Oh, that’s all ancient history.’
‘Some people have a way of studying ancient history,’ the priest said. ‘I suppose we may take it there is nothing in your old record to make people talk unpleasantly about this affair.’
‘What do you mean?’ demanded Crake, his eyes shifting sharply for the first time, in his red, wooden face, that was rather like the head of a tomahawk.
‘Well, since you were so well acquainted with all the arts and crafts of the Redskin — ’ began Father Brown slowly.
Crake had had a hunched and almost shrunken appearance as he sat with his chin propped on its queer-shaped crutch. But the next instant he stood erect in the path like a fighting bravo with the crutch clutched like a cudgel.
‘What?’ he cried — in something like a raucous screech — ‘what the hell! Are you standing up to me to tell me I might happen to have murdered my own brother-in-law?’
From a dozen seats dotted about the path people looked to-wards the disputants, as they stood facing each other in the middle of the path, the bald-headed energetic little man brandishing his outlandish stick like a club, and the black, dumpy figure of the little cleric looking at him without moving a muscle, save for his hinging eyelids. For a moment it looked as if the black, dumpy figure would be knocked on the head, and laid out with true Red Indian promptitude and dispatch; and the large form of an Irish policeman could be seen heaving up in the distance and bearing down on the group. But the priest only said, quite placidly, like one answering an ordinary query:
‘I have formed certain conclusions about it, but I do not think I will mention them till I make my report.’
Whether under the influence of the footsteps of the policeman or of the eyes of the priest, old Hickory tucked his stick under his arm and put his hat on again, grunting. The priest bade him a placid good morning, and passed in an unhurried fashion out of the park, making his way to the lounge of the hotel where he knew that young Wain was to be found. The young man sprang up with a greeting; he looked even more haggard and harassed than before, as if some worry were eating him away; and the priest had a suspicion that his young friend had recently been engaged, with only too conspicuous success, in evading the last Amendment to the American Constitution. But at the first word about his hobby or favourite science he was vigilant and concentrated enough. For Father Brown had asked, in an idle and conversational fashion, whether much flying was done in that district, and had told how he had at first mistaken Mr Merton’s circular wall for an aerodrome.
‘It’s a wonder you didn’t see any while we were there,’ answered Captain Wain. ‘Sometimes they’re as thick as flies; that open plain is a great place for them, and I shouldn’t wonder if it were the chief breeding-ground, so to speak, for my sort of birds in the future. I’ve flown a good deal there myself, of course, and I know most of the fellows about here who flew in the war; but there are a whole lot of people taking to it out there now whom I never heard of in my life. I suppose it will be like motoring soon, and every man in the States will have one.’
‘Being endowed by his Creator,’ said Father Brown with a smile, ’with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of motoring — not to mention aviation. So I suppose we may take it that one strange aeroplane passing over that house, at certain times, wouldn’t be noticed much.’
‘No,’ replied the young man; ‘I don’t suppose it would.’
‘Or even if the man were known,’ went on the other, ‘I suppose he might get hold of a machine that wouldn’t be recognized as his. If you, for instance, flew in the ordinary way, Mr Merton and his friends might recognize the rig-out, perhaps; but you might pass pretty near that window on a different pattern of plane, or whatever you call it; near enough for practical purposes.’
‘Well, yes,’ began the young man, almost automatically, and then ceased, and remained staring at the cleric with an open mouth and eyes standing out of his head.
‘My God!’ he said, in a low voice; ‘my God!’
Then he rose from the lounge seat, pale and shaking from head to foot and still staring at the priest.
‘Are you mad?’ he said; ‘are you raving mad?’
There was a silence and then he spoke again in a swift hissing fashion. ‘You positively come here to suggest — ’
‘No; only to collect suggestions,’ said Father Brown, rising. ‘I may have formed some conclusions provisionally, but I had better reserve them for the present.’
And then saluting the other with the same stiff civility, he passed out of the hotel to continue his curious peregrinations.
By the dusk of that day they had led him down the dingy streets and steps that straggled and tumbled towards the river in the oldest and most irregular part of the city. Immediately under the coloured lantern that marked the entrance to a rather low Chinese restaurant he encountered a figure he had seen before, though by no means presenting itself to the eye as he had seen it.
Mr Norman Drage still confronted the world grimly behind his great goggles, which seemed somehow to cover his face like a dark musk of glass. But except for the goggles, his appearance had undergone a strange transformation in the month that had elapsed since the murder. He had then, as Father Brown had noted, been dressed up to the nines — up to that point, indeed, where there begins to be too fine a distinction between the dandy and the dummy outside a tailor’s shop. But now all those externals were mysteriously altered for the worse; as if the tailor’s dummy had been turned into a scarecrow. His top hat still existed, but it was battered and shabby; his clothes were dilapidated; his watch-chain and minor ornaments were gone. Father Brown, however, addressed him as if they had met yesterday, and made no demur to sitting down with him on a bench in the cheap eating-house whither he was bound. It was not he, however, who began the conversation.
‘Well?’ growled Drage, ‘and have you succeeded in avenging your holy and sainted millionaire? We know all millionaires are holy and sainted; you can find it all in the papers next day, about how they lived by the light of the Family Bible they read at their mother’s knee. Gee! if they’d only read out some of the things there are in the Family Bible, the mother might have been startled some. And the millionaire, too, I reckon. The old Book’s full of a lot of grand fierce old notions they don’t grow nowadays; sort of wisdom of the Stone Age and buried under the Pyramids. Suppose somebody had flung old man Merton from the top of that tower of his, and let him be eaten by dogs at the bottom, it would be no worse than what happened to Jezebel. Wasn’t Agag hacked into little pieces, for all he went walking delicately? Merton walked delicately all his life, damn him — until he got too delicate to walk at all. But the shaft of the Lord found him out, as it might have done in the old Book, and struck him dead on the top of his tower to be a spectacle to the people.
‘The shaft was material, at least,’ said his companion.
‘The Pyramids are mighty material, and they hold down the dead kings all right,’ grinned the man in the goggles. ‘I think there’s a lot to be said for these old material religions. There’s old carvings that have lasted for thousands of years, showing their gods and emperors with bended bows; with hands that look as if they could really bend bows of stone. Material, perhaps — but what materials! Don’t you sometimes stand staring at those old Eastern patterns and things, till you have a hunch that old Lord God is still driving like a dark Apollo, and shooting black rays of death?’
‘If he is,’ replied Father Brown, ‘I might call him by another name. But I doubt whether Merton died by a dark ray or even a stone arrow.’
‘I guess you think he’s St Sebastian,’ sneered Drage, ‘killed with an arrow. A millionaire must be a martyr. How do you know he didn’t deserve it? You don’t know much about your millionaire, I fancy. Well, let me tell you he deserved it a hundred times over.’
‘Well,’ asked Father Brown gently, ‘why didn’t you murder him?’
‘You want to know why I didn’t?’ said the other, staring. ‘Well, you’re a nice sort of clergyman.’
‘Not at all,’ said the other, as if waving away a compliment.
‘I suppose it’s your way of saying I did,’ snarled Drage. ‘Well, prove it, that’s all. As for him, I reckon he was no loss.’
‘Yes, he was,’ said Father Brown, sharply. ‘He was a loss to you. That’s why you didn’t kill him.’
And he walked out of the room, leaving the man in goggles gaping after him.
It was nearly a month later that Father Brown revisited the house where the third millionaire had suffered from the vendetta of Daniel Doom. A sort of council was held of the persons most interested. Old Crake sat at the head of the table with his nephew at his right hand, the lawyer on his left; the big man with the African features, whose name appeared to be Harris, was ponderously present, if only as a material witness; a red-haired, sharp-nosed individual addressed as Dixon seemed to be the representative of Pinkerton’s or some such private agency; and Father Brown slipped unobtrusively into an empty seat beside him.
Every newspaper in the world was full of the catastrophe of the colossus of finance, of the great organizer of the Big Business that bestrides the modern world; but from the tiny group that had been nearest to him at the very instant of his death very little could be learned. The uncle, nephew, and attendant solicitor declared they were well outside the outer wall before the alarm was raised; and inquiries of the official guardians at both barriers brought answers that were rather confused, but on the whole confirmatory. Only one other complication seemed to call for consideration. It seemed that round about the time of the death, before or after, a stranger had been found hanging mysteriously round the entrance and asking to see Mr Merton. The servants had some difficulty in understanding what he meant, for his language was very obscure; but it was afterwards considered to be also very suspicious, since he had said something about a wicked man being destroyed by a word out of the sky.
Peter Wain leaned forward, the eyes bright in his haggard face, and said:
‘I’ll bet on that, anyhow. Norman Drage.’
‘And who in the world is Norman Drage?’ asked his uncle.
‘That’s what I want to know,’ replied the young man. ‘I practically asked him, but he has got a wonderful trick of twisting every straight question crooked; it’s like lunging at a fencer. He hooked on to me with hints about the flying-ship of the future; but I never trusted him much.’
‘But what sort of a man is he?’ asked Crake.
‘He’s a mystagogue,’ said Father Brown, with innocent promptitude. ‘There are quite a lot of them about; the sort of men about town who hint to you in Paris cafes and cabarets that they’ve lifted the veil of Isis or know the secret of Stonehenge. In a case like this they’re sure to have some sort of mystical explanations.’
The smooth, dark head of Mr Barnard Blake, the lawyer, was inclined politely towards the speaker, but his smile was faintly hostile.
‘I should hardly have thought, sir,’ he said, ‘that you had any quarrel with mystical explanations.’
‘On the contrary,’ replied Father Brown, blinking amiably at him. ‘That’s just why I can quarrel with ’em. Any sham lawyer could bamboozle me, but he couldn’t bamboozle you; because you’re a lawyer yourself. Any fool could dress up as a Red Indian and I’d swallow him whole as the only original Hiawatha; but Mr Crake would see through him at once. A swindler could pretend to me that he knew all about aeroplanes, but not to Captain Wain. And it’s just the same with the other, don’t you see? It’s just because I have picked up a little about mystics that I have no use for mystagogues. Real mystics don’t hide mysteries, they reveal them. They set a thing up in broad daylight, and when you’ve seen it it’s still a mystery. But the mystagogues hide a thing in darkness and secrecy, and when you find it, it’s a platitude. But in the case of Drage, I admit he had also another and more practical notion in talking about fire from heaven or bolts from the blue.’
‘And what was his notion?’ asked Wain. ‘I think it wants watching whatever it is.’
‘Well,’ replied the priest, slowly, ‘he wanted us to think the murders were miracles because . . . well, because he knew they weren’t.’
‘Ah,’ said Wain, with a sort of hiss, ‘I was waiting for that. In plain words, he is the criminal.’
‘In plain words, he is the criminal who didn’t commit the crime,’ answered Father Brown calmly.
‘Is that your conception of plain words?’ inquired Blake politely.
‘You’ll be saying I’m the mystagogue now,’ said Father Brown somewhat abashed, but with a broad smile, ‘but it was really quite accidental. Drage didn’t commit the crime — I mean this crime. His only crime was blackmailing somebody, and he hung about here to do it; but he wasn’t likely to want the secret to be public property or the whole business to be cut short by death. We can talk about him afterwards. Just at the moment, I only want him cleared out of the way.’
‘Out of the way of what?’ asked the other.
‘Out of the way of the truth,’ replied the priest, looking at him tranquilly, with level eyelids.
‘Do you mean,’ faltered the other, ‘that you know the truth?’
‘I rather think so,’ said Father Brown modestly.
There was an abrupt silence, after which Crake cried out suddenly and irrelevantly in a rasping voice:
‘Why, where is that secretary fellow? Wilton! He ought to be here.’
‘I am in communication with Mr Wilton,’ said Father Brown gravely; ‘in fact, I asked him to ring me up here in a few minutes from now. I may say that we’ve worked the thing out together, in a manner of speaking.’
‘If you’re working together, I suppose it’s all right,’ grumbled Crake. ‘I know he was always a sort of bloodhound on the trail of his vanishing crook, so perhaps it was well to hunt in couples with him. But if you know the truth about this, where the devil did you get it from?’
‘I got it from you,’ answered the priest, quietly, and continued to gaze mildly at the glaring veteran.’ I mean I made the first guess from a hint in a story of yours about an Indian who threw a knife and hit a man on the top of a fortress.’
‘You’ve said that several times,’ said Wain, with a puzzled air; ‘but I can’t see any inference, except that this murderer threw an arrow and hit a man on the top of a house very like a fortress. But of course the arrow wasn’t thrown but shot, and would go much further. Certainly it went uncommonly far; but I don’t see how it brings us any farther.’
‘I’m afraid you missed the point of the story,’ said Father Brown. ‘It isn’t that if one thing can go far another can go farther. It is that the wrong use of a tool can cut both ways. The men on Crake’s fort thought of a knife as a thing for a hand-to-hand fight and forgot that it could be a missile like a javelin. Some other people I know thought of a thing as a missile like a javelin and forgot that, after all, it could be used hand-to-hand as a spear. In short, the moral of the story is that since a dagger can be turned into an arrow, so can an arrow be turned into a dagger.’
They were all looking at him now; but he continued in the same casual and unconscious tone: ‘Naturally we wondered and worried a good deal about who shot that arrow through the window and whether it came from far away, and so on. But the truth is that nobody shot the arrow at all. It never came in at the window at all.’
‘Then how did it come there?’ asked the swarthy lawyer, with a rather lowering face.
‘Somebody brought it with him, I suppose,’ said Father Brown; ‘it wouldn’t be hard to carry or conceal. Somebody had it in his hand as he stood with Merton in Merton’s own room. Somebody thrust it into Merton’s throat like a poignard, and then had the highly intelligent idea of placing the whole thing at such a place and angle that we all assumed in a flash that it had flown in at the window like a bird.’
‘Somebody,’ said old Crake, in a voice as heavy as stone.
The telephone bell rang with a strident and horrible clamour of insistence. It was in the adjoining room, and Father Brown had darted there before anybody else could move.
‘What the devil is it all about?’ cried Peter Wain, who seemed all shaken and distracted.
‘He said he expected to be rung up by Wilton, the secretary,’ replied his uncle in the same dead voice.
‘I suppose it is Wilton?’ observed the lawyer, like one speaking to fill up a silence. But nobody answered the question until Father Brown reappeared suddenly and silently in the room, bringing the answer.
‘Gentlemen,’ he said, when he had resumed his seat, ‘it was you who asked me to look into the truth about this puzzle; and having found the truth, I must tell it, without any pretence of softening the shock. I’m afraid anybody who pokes his nose into things like this can’t afford to be a respecter of persons.’
‘I suppose,’ said Crake, breaking the silence that followed, ‘that means that some of us are accused, or suspected.’
‘All of us are suspected,’ answered Father Brown. ‘I may be suspected myself, for I found the body.’
‘Of course we’re suspected,’ snapped Wain. ‘Father Brown kindly explained to me how I could have besieged the tower in a flying-machine.’
‘No,’ replied the priest, with a smile; ‘you described to me how you could have done it. That was just the interesting part of it.’
‘He seemed to think it likely,’ growled Crake, ‘that I killed him myself with a Red Indian arrow.’
‘I thought it most unlikely,’ said Father Brown, making rather a wry face. I’m sorry if I did wrong, but I couldn’t think of any other way of testing the matter. I can hardly think of anything more improbable than the notion that Captain Wain went careering in a huge machine past the window, at the very moment of the murder, and nobody noticed it; unless, perhaps, it were the notion that a respectable old gentleman should play at Red Indians with a bow and arrow behind the bushes, to kill somebody he could have killed in twenty much simpler ways. But I had to find out if they had had anything to do with it; and so I had to accuse them in order to prove their innocence.’
‘And how have you proved their innocence?’ asked Blake the lawyer, leaning forward eagerly.
‘Only by the agitation they showed when they were accused,’ answered the other.
‘What do you mean, exactly?’
‘If you will permit me to say so,’ remarked Father Brown, composedly enough, ‘I did undoubtedly think it my duty to suspect them and everybody else. I did suspect Mr Crake and I did suspect Captain Wain, in the sense that I considered the possibility or probability of their guilt. I told them I had formed conclusions about it; and I will now tell them what those conclusions were. I was sure they were innocent, because of the manner and the moment in which they passed from unconsciousness to indignation. So long as they never thought they were accused, they went on giving me materials to support the accusation. They practically explained to me how they might have committed the crime. Then they suddenly realized with a shock and a shout of rage that they were accused; they realized it long after they might well have expected to be accused, but long before I had accused them. Now no guilty person could possibly do that. He might be snappy and suspicious from the first; or he might simulate unconsciousness and innocence up to the end. But he wouldn’t begin by making things worse for himself and then give a great jump and begin furiously denying the notion he had himself helped to suggest. That could only come by his having really failed to realize what he was suggesting. The self-consciousness of a murderer would always be at least morbidly vivid enough to prevent him first forgetting his relation with the thing and then remembering to deny it. So I ruled you both out and others for other reasons I needn’t discuss now. For instance, there was the secretary —
‘But I’m not talking about that just now. Look here, I’ve just heard from Wilton on the phone, and he’s given me permission to tell you some rather serious news. Now I suppose you all know by this time who Wilton was, and what he was after.’
‘I know he was after Daniel Doom and wouldn’t be happy till he got him,’ answered Peter Wain; ‘and I’ve heard the story that he’s the son of old Horder, and that’s why he’s the avenger of blood. Anyhow, he’s certainly looking for the man called Doom.’
‘Well,’ said Father Brown, ‘he has found him.’
Peter Wain sprang to his feet in excitement.
‘The murderer!’ he cried. ‘Is the murderer in the lock-up already?’
‘No,’ said Father Brown, gravely; ‘I said the news was serious, and it’s more serious than that. I’m afraid poor Wilton has taken a terrible responsibility. I’m afraid he’s going to put a terrible responsibility on us. He hunted the criminal down, and just when he had him cornered at last — well, he has taken the law into his own hands.’
‘You mean that Daniel Doom — ’ began the lawyer.
‘I mean that Daniel Doom is dead,’ said the priest. ‘There was some sort of wild struggle, and Wilton killed him.’
‘Serve him right,’ growled Mr Hickory Crake.
‘Can’t blame Wilton for downing a crook like that, especially considering the feud,’ assented Wain; ‘it was like stepping on a viper.’
‘I don’t agree with you,’ said Father Brown. ‘I suppose we all talk romantic stuff at random in defence of lynching and lawlessness; but I have a suspicion that if we lose our laws and liberties we shall regret it. Besides, it seems to me illogical to say there is something to be said for Wilton committing murder, without even inquiring whether there was anything to be said for Doom committing it. I rather doubt whether Doom was merely a vulgar assassin; he may have been a sort of outlaw with a mania about the cup, demanding it with threats and only killing after a struggle; both victims were thrown down just outside their houses. The objection to Wilton’s way of doing it is that we shall never hear Doom’s side of the case.’
‘Oh, I’ve no patience with all this sentimental whitewashing of worthless, murderous blackguards,’ cried Wain, heatedly. ‘If Wilton croaked the criminal he did a jolly good day’s work, and there’s an end of it.’
‘Quite so, quite so,’ said his uncle, nodding vigorously.
Father Brown’s face had a yet heavier gravity as he looked slowly round the semicircle of faces. ‘Is that really what you all think?’ he asked. Even as he did so he realized that he was an Englishman and an exile. He realized that he was among foreigners, even if he was among friends. Around that ring of foreigners ran a restless fire that was not native to his own breed; the fiercer spirit of the western nation that can rebel and lynch, and above all, combine. He knew that they had already combined.
‘Well,’ said Father Brown, with a sigh, ‘I am to understand, then, that you do definitely condone this unfortunate man’s crime, or act of private justice, or whatever you call it. In that case it will not hurt him if I tell you a little more about it.’
He rose suddenly to his feet; and though they saw no meaning in his movement, it seemed in some way to change or chill the very air in the room.
‘Wilton killed Doom in a rather curious way,’ he began.
‘How did Wilton kill him?’ asked Crake, abruptly.
‘With an arrow,’ said Father Brown.
Twilight was gathering in the long room, and daylight dwindling to a gleam from the great window in the inner room, where the great millionaire had died. Almost automatically the eyes of the group turned slowly towards it, but as yet there was no sound. Then the voice of Crake came cracked and high and senile in a sort of crowing gabble.
‘What you mean? What you mean? Brander Merton killed by an arrow. This crook killed by an arrow — ’
‘By the same arrow,’ said the priest, ‘and at the same moment.’
Again there was a sort of strangled and yet swollen and bursting silence, and young Wain began: ‘You mean — ’
‘I mean that your friend Merton was Daniel Doom,’ said Father Brown firmly;’ and the only Daniel Doom you’ll ever find. Your friend Merton was always crazy after that Coptic Cup that he used to worship like an idol every day; and in his wild youth he had really killed two men to get it, though I still think the deaths may have been in a sense accidents of the robbery. Anyhow, he had it; and that man Drage knew the story and was blackmailing him. But Wilton was after him for a very different purpose; I fancy he only discovered the truth when he’d got into this house. But anyhow, it was in this house, and in that room, that this hunt ended, and he slew the slayer of his father.’
For a long time nobody answered. Then old Crake could be heard drumming with his fingers on the table and muttering:
‘Brander must have been mad. He must have been mad.’
‘But, good Lord!’ burst out Peter Wain; ‘what are we to do? What are we to say? Oh, it’s all quite different! What about the papers and the big business people? Brander Merton is a thing like the President or the Pope of Rome.’
‘I certainly think it is rather different,’ began Barnard Blake, the lawyer, in a low voice. ‘The difference involves a whole — ’
Father Brown struck the table so that the glasses on it rang; and they could almost fancy a ghostly echo from the mysterious chalice that still stood in the room beyond.
‘No!’ he cried, in a voice like a pistol-shot. ‘There shall be no difference. I gave you your chance of pitying the poor devil when you thought he was a common criminal. You wouldn’t listen then; you were all for private vengeance then. You were all for letting him be butchered like a wild beast without a hearing or a public trial, and said he had only got his deserts. Very well then, if Daniel Doom has got his deserts, Brander Merton has got his deserts. If that was good enough for Doom, by all that is holy it is good enough for Merton. Take your wild justice or our dull legality; but in the name of Almighty God, let there be an equal lawlessness or an equal law.’
Nobody answered except the lawyer, and he answered with something like a snarl: ‘What will the police say if we tell them we mean to condone a crime?’
‘What will they say if I tell them you did condone it?’ replied Father Brown. ‘Your respect for the law comes rather late, Mr Barnard Blake.’
After a pause he resumed in a milder tone: ’I, for one, am ready to tell the truth if the proper authorities ask me; and the rest of you can do as you like. But as a fact, it will make very little difference. Wilton only rang me up to tell me that I was now free to lay his confession before you; for when you heard it, he would be beyond pursuit.’
He walked slowly into the inner room and stood there by the little table beside which the millionaire had died. The Coptic Cup still stood in the same place, and he remained there for a space staring at its cluster of all the colours of the rainbow, and beyond it into a blue abyss of sky.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06