THIS tale was told by Father Brown to Professor Crake, the celebrated criminologist, after dinner at a club, where the two were introduced to each other as sharing a harmless hobby of murder and robbery. But, as Father Brown’s version rather minimized his own part in the matter, it is here re-told in a more impartial style. It arose out of a playful passage of arms, in which the professor was very scientific and the priest rather sceptical.
“My good sir,” said the professor in remonstrance, “don’t you believe that criminology is a science?”
“I’m not sure,” replied Father Brown. “Do you believe that hagiology is a science?”
“What’s that?” asked the specialist sharply.
“No; it’s not the study of hags, and has nothing to do with burning witches,” said the priest, smiling. “It’s the study of holy things, saints and so on. You see, the Dark Ages tried to make a science about good people. But our own humane and enlightened age is only interested in a science about bad ones. Yet I think our general experience is that every conceivable sort of man has been a saint. And I suspect you will find, too, that every conceivable sort of man has been a murderer.”
“Well, we believe murderers can be pretty well classified,” observed Crake. “The list sounds rather long and dull; but I think it’s exhaustive. First, all killing can be divided into rational and irrational, and we’ll take the last first, because they are much fewer. There is such a thing as homicidal mania, or love of butchery in the abstract. There is such a thing as irrational antipathy, though it’s very seldom homicidal. Then we come to the true motives: of these, some are less rational in the sense of being merely romantic and retrospective. Acts of pure revenge are acts of hopeless revenge. Thus a lover will sometimes kill a rival he could never supplant, or a rebel assassinate a tyrant after the conquest is complete. But, more often, even these acts have a rational explanation. They are hopeful murders. They fall into the larger section of the second division, of what we may call prudential crimes. These, again, fall chiefly under two descriptions. A man kills either in order to obtain what the other man possesses, either by theft or inheritance, or to stop the other man from acting in some way: as in the case of killing a blackmailer or a political opponent; or, in the case of a rather more passive obstacle, a husband or wife whose continued functioning, as such, interferes with other things. We believe that classification is pretty thoroughly thought out and, properly applied, covers the whole ground—But I’m afraid that it perhaps sounds rather dull; I hope I’m not boring you.”
“Not at all,” said Father Brown. “If I seemed a little absent-minded I must apologize; the truth is, I was thinking of a man I once knew. He was a murderer; but I can’t see where he fits into your museum of murderers. He was not mad, nor did he like killing. He did not hate the man he killed; he hardly knew him, and certainly had nothing to avenge on him. The other man did not possess anything that he could possibly want. The other man was not behaving in any way which the murderer wanted to stop. The murdered man was not in a position to hurt, or hinder, or even affect the murderer in any way. There was no woman in the case. There were no politics in the case. This man killed a fellow-creature who was practically a stranger, and that for a very strange reason; which is possibly unique in human history.”
And so, in his own more conversational fashion, he told the story. The story may well begin in a sufficiently respectable setting, at the breakfast table of a worthy though wealthy suburban family named Bankes, where the normal discussion of the newspaper had, for once, been silenced by the discussion about a mystery nearer home. Such people are sometimes accused of gossip about their neighbours, but they are in that matter almost inhumanly innocent. Rustic villagers tell tales about their neighbours, true and false; but the curious culture of the modern suburb will believe anything it is told in the papers about the wickedness of the Pope, or the martyrdom of the King of the Cannibal Islands, and, in the excitement of these topics, never knows what is happening next door. In this case, however, the two forms of interest actually coincided in a coincidence of thrilling intensity. Their own suburb had actually been mentioned in their favourite newspaper. It seemed to them like a new proof of their own existence when they saw the name in print. It was almost as if they had been unconscious and invisible before; and now they were as real as the King of the Cannibal Islands.
It was stated in the paper that a once famous criminal, known as Michael Moonshine, and many other names that were presumably not his own, had recently been released after a long term of imprisonment for his numerous burglaries; that his whereabouts was being kept quiet, but that he was believed to have settled down in the suburb in question, which we will call for convenience Chisham. A resume of some of his famous and daring exploits and escapes was given in the same issue. For it is a character of that kind of press, intended for that kind of public, that it assumes that its reader have no memories. While the peasant will remember an outlaw like Robin Hood or Rob Roy for centuries, the clerk will hardly remember the name of the criminal about whom he argued in trams and tubes two years before. Yet, Michael Moonshine had really shown some of the heroic rascality of Rob Roy or Robin Hood. He was worthy to be turned into legend and not merely into news. He was far too capable a burglar to be a murderer. But his terrific strength and the ease with which he knocked policemen over like ninepins, stunned people, and bound and gagged them, gave something almost like a final touch of fear or mystery to the fact that he never killed them. People almost felt that he would have been more human if he had.
Mr. Simon Bankes, the father of the family, was at once better read and more old-fashioned than the rest. He was a sturdy man, with a short grey beard and a brow barred with wrinkles. He had a turn for anecdotes and reminiscence, and he distinctly remembered the days when Londoners had lain awake listening for Mike Moonshine as they did for Spring-heeled Jack. Then there was his wife, a thin, dark lady. There was a sort of acid elegance about her, for her family had much more money than her husband’s, if rather less education; and she even possessed a very valuable emerald necklace upstairs, that gave her a right to prominence in a discussion about thieves. There was his daughter, Opal, who was also thin and dark and supposed to be psychic—at any rate, by herself; for she had little domestic encouragement. Spirits of an ardently astral turn will be well advised not to materialize as members of a large family. There was her brother John, a burly youth, particularly boisterous in his indifference to her spiritual development; and otherwise distinguishable only by his interest in motor-cars. He seemed to be always in the act of selling one car and buying another; and by some process, hard for the economic theorist to follow, it was always possible to buy a much better article by selling the one that was damaged or discredited. There was his brother Philip, a young man with dark curly hair, distinguished by his attention to dress; which is doubtless part of the duty of a stockbroker’s clerk, but, as the stockbroker was prone to hint, hardly the whole of it. Finally, there was present at this family scene his friend, Daniel Devine, who was also dark and exquisitely dressed, but bearded in a fashion that was somewhat foreign, and therefore, for many, slightly menacing.
It was Devine who had introduced the topic of the newspaper paragraph, tactfully insinuating so effective an instrument of distraction at what looked like the beginning of a small family quarrel; for the psychic lady had begun the description of a vision she had had of pale faces floating in empty night outside her window, and John Bankes was trying to roar down this revelation of a higher state with more than his usual heartiness.
But the newspaper reference to their new and possibly alarming neighbour soon put both controversialists out of court.
“How frightful,” cried Mrs. Bankes. “He must be quite a new-comer; but who can he possibly be?”
“I don’t know any particularly new-comers,” said her husband, “except Sir Leopold Pulman, at Beechwood House.”
“My dear,” said the lady, “how absurd you are—Sir Leopold!” Then, after a pause, she added: “If anybody suggested his secretary now—that man with the whiskers; I’ve always said, ever since he got the place Philip ought to have had——— ”
“Nothing doing,” said Philip languidly, making his sole contribution to the conversation. “Not good enough.”
“The only one I know,” observed Devine, “is that man called Carver, who is stopping at Smith’s Farm. He lives a very quiet life, but he’s quite interesting to talk to. I think John has had some business with him.”
“Knows a bit about cars,” conceded the monomaniac John. “He’ll know a bit more when he’s been in my new car.”
Devine smiled slightly; everybody had been threatened with the hospitality of John’s new car. Then he added reflectively:
“That’s a little what I feel about him. He knows a lot about motoring and travelling, and the active ways of the world, and yet he always stays at home pottering about round old Smith’s beehives. Says he’s only interested in bee culture, and that’s why he’s staying with Smith. It seems a very quiet hobby for a man of his sort. However, I’ve no doubt John’s car will shake him up a bit.”
As Devine walked away from the house that evening his dark face wore an expression of concentrated thought. His thoughts would, perhaps, have been worthy of our attention, even at this stage; but it is enough to say that their practical upshot was a resolution to pay an immediate visit to Mr. Carver at the house of Mr. Smith. As he was making his way thither he encountered Barnard, the secretary at Beechwood House, conspicuous by his lanky figure and the large side whiskers which Mrs. Bankes counted among her private wrongs. Their acquaintance was slight, and their conversation brief and casual; but Devine seemed to find in it food for further cogitation.
“Look here,” he said abruptly, “excuse my asking, but is it true that Lady Pulman has some very famous jewellery up at the House? I’m not a professional thief, but I’ve just heard there’s one hanging about.”
“I’ll get her to give an eye to them,” answered the secretary. “To tell the truth, I’ve ventured to warn her about them already myself. I hope she has attended to it.”
As they spoke, there came the hideous cry of a motor-horn just behind, and John Bankes came to a stop beside them, radiant at his own steering-wheel. When he heard of Devine’s destination he claimed it as his own, though his tone suggested rather an abstract relish for offering people a ride. The ride was consumed in continuous praises of the car, now mostly in the matter of its adaptability to weather.
“Shuts up as tight as a box,” he said, “and opens as easy—as easy as opening your mouth.”
Devine’s mouth, at the moment, did not seem so easy to open, and they arrived at Smith’s farm to the sound of a soliloquy. Passing the outer gate, Devine found the man he was looking for without going into the house. The man was walking about in the garden, with his hands in his pockets, wearing a large, limp straw hat; a man with a long face and a large chin. The wide brim cut off the upper part of his face with a shadow that looked a little like a mask. In the background was a row of sunny beehives, along which an elderly man, presumably Mr. Smith, was moving accompanied by a short, commonplace-looking companion in black clerical costume.
“I say,” burst in the irrepressible John, before Devine could offer any polite greeting, “I’ve brought her round to give you a little run. You see if she isn’t better than a ‘Thunderbolt.’”
Mr Carver’s mouth set into a smile that may have been meant to be gracious, but looked rather grim. “I’m afraid I shall be too busy for pleasure this evening,” he said.
“How doth the little busy bee,” observed Devine, equally enigmatically. “Your bees must be very busy if they keep you at it all night. I was wondering if——— ”
“Well,” demanded Carver, with a certain cool defiance.
“Well, they say we should make hay while the sun shines,” said Devine. “Perhaps you make honey while the moon shines.”
There came a flash from the shadow of the broad-brimmed hat, as the whites of the man’s eyes shifted and shone.
“Perhaps there is a good deal of moonshine in the business,” he said: “but I warn you my bees do not only make honey. They sting.”
“Are you coming along in the car?” insisted the staring John. But Carver, though he threw off the momentary air of sinister significance with which he had been answering Devine, was still positive in his polite refusal.
“I can’t possibly go,” he said. “Got a lot of writing to do. Perhaps you’d be kind enough to give some of my friends a run, if you want a companion. This is my friend, Mr. Smith, Father Brown—”
“Of course,” cried Bankes; “let ’em all come.”
“Thank you very much,” said Father Brown. “I’m afraid I shall have to decline; I’ve got to go on to Benediction in a few minutes.”
“Mr. Smith is your man, then,” said Carver, with something almost like impatience. “I’m sure Smith is longing for a motor ride.”
Smith, who wore a broad grin, bore no appearance of longing for anything. He was an active little old man with a very honest wig; one of those wigs that look no more natural than a hat. Its tinge of yellow was out of keeping with his colourless complexion. He shook his head and answered with amiable obstinacy:
“I remember I went over this road ten years ago—in one of those contraptions. Came over in it from my sister’s place at Holmgate, and never been over that road in a car since. It was rough going I can tell you,”
“Ten years ago!” scoffed John Bankes. “Two thousand years ago you went in an ox wagon. Do you think cars haven’t changed in ten years—and roads, too, for that matter? In my little bus you don’t know the wheels are going round. You think you’re just flying.”
“I’m sure Smith wants to go flying,” urged Carver. “It’s the dream of his life. Come, Smith, go over to Holmgate and see your sister. You know you ought to go and see your sister. Go over and stay the night if you like.”
“Well, I generally walk over, so I generally do stay the night,” said old Smith. “No need to trouble the gentleman to-day, particularly.”
“But think what fun it will be for your sister to see you arrive in a car!” cried Carver. “You really ought to go. Don’t be so selfish.”
“That’s it,” assented Bankes, with buoyant benevolence. “Don’t you be selfish. It won’t hurt you. You aren’t afraid of it, are you?”
“Well,” said Mr. Smith, blinking thoughtfully, “I don’t want to be selfish, and I don’t think I’m afraid—I’ll come with you if you put it that way.”
The pair drove off, amid waving salutations that seemed somehow to give the little group the appearance of a cheering crowd. Yet Devine and the priest only joined in out of courtesy, and they both felt it was the dominating gesture of their host that gave it its final air of farewell. The detail gave them a curious sense of the pervasive force of his personality.
The moment the car was out of sight he turned to them with a sort of boisterous apology and said: “Well!”
He said it with that curious heartiness which is the reverse of hospitality. That extreme geniality is the same as a dismissal.
“I must be going,” said Devine. “We must not interrupt the busy bee. I’m afraid I know very little about bees; sometimes I can hardly tell a bee from a wasp.”
“I’ve kept wasps, too,” answered the mysterious Mr. Carver. When his guests were a few yards down the street, Devine said rather impulsively to his companion: “Rather an odd scene that, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” replied Father Brown. “And what do you think about it?”
Devine looked at the little man in black, and something in the gaze of his great, grey eyes seemed to renew his impulse.
“I think,” he said, “that Carver was very anxious to have the house to himself tonight. I don’t know whether you had any such suspicions?”
“I may have my suspicions,” replied the priest, “but I’m not sure whether they’re the same as yours.”
That evening, when the last dusk was turning into dark in the gardens round the family mansion, Opal Bankes was moving through some of the dim and empty rooms with even more than her usual abstraction; and anyone who had looked at her closely would have noted that her pale face had more than its usual pallor. Despite its bourgeois luxury, the house as a whole had a rather unique shade of melancholy. It was the sort of immediate sadness that belongs to things that are old rather than ancient. It was full of faded fashions, rather than historic customs; of the order and ornament that is just recent enough to be recognized as dead. Here and there, Early Victorian coloured glass tinted the twilight; the high ceilings made the long rooms look narrow; and at the end of the long room down which she was walking was one of those round windows, to be found in the buildings of its period. As she came to about the middle of the room, she stopped, and then suddenly swayed a little, as if some invisible hand had struck her on the face.
An instant after there was the noise or knocking on the front door, dulled by the closed doors between. She knew that the rest of the household were in the upper parts of the house, but she could not have analysed the motive that made her go to the front door herself. On the doorstep stood a dumpy and dingy figure in black, which she recognized as the Roman Catholic priest, whose name was Brown. She knew him only slightly; but she liked him. He did not encourage her psychic views; quite the contrary; but he discouraged them as if they mattered and not as if they did not matter. It was not so much that he did not sympathize with her opinions, as that he did sympathize but did not agree. All this was in some sort of chaos in her mind as she found herself saying, without greeting, or waiting to hear his business:
“I’m so glad you’ve come. I’ve seen a ghost.”
“There’s no need to be distressed about that,” he said. “It often happens. Most of the ghosts aren’t ghosts, and the few that may be won’t do you any harm. Was it any ghost in particular?”
“No,” she admitted, with a vague feeling of relief, “it wasn’t so much the thing itself as an atmosphere of awful decay, a sort of luminous ruin. It was a face. A face at the window. But it was pale and goggling, and looked like the picture of Judas.”
“Well, some people do look like that,” reflected the priest, “and I dare say they look in at windows, sometimes. May I come in and see where it happened?”
When she returned to the room with the visitor, however, other members of the family had assembled, and those of a less psychic habit had thought it convenient to light the lamps. In the presence of Mrs. Bankes, Father Brown assumed a more conventional civility, and apologized for his intrusion.
“I’m afraid it is taking a liberty with your house, Mrs. Bankes,” he said. “But I think I can explain how the business happens to concern you. I was up at the Pulmans’ place just now, when I was rung up and asked to come round here to meet a man who is coming to communicate something that may be of some moment to you. I should not have added myself to the party, only I am wanted, apparently, because I am a witness to what has happened up at Beechwood. In fact, it was I who had to give the alarm.”
“What has happened?” repeated the lady.
“There has been a robbery up, at Beechwood House,” said Father Brown, gravely; “a robbery, and what I fear is worse, Lady Pulman’s jewels have gone; and her unfortunate secretary, Mr. Barnard, was picked up in the garden, having evidently been shot by the escaping burglar.”
“That man,” ejaculated the lady of the house. “I believe he was——— ”
She encountered the grave gaze of the priest, and her words suddenly went from her; she never knew why.
“I communicated with the police,” he went on, “and with another authority interested in this case; and they say that even a superficial examination has revealed foot-prints and finger-prints and other indications of a well-known criminal.”
At this point, the conference was for a moment disturbed, by the return of John Bankes, from what appeared to be an abortive expedition in the car. Old Smith seemed to have been a disappointing passenger, after all.
“Funked it, after all, at the last minute,” he announced with noisy disgust. “Bolted off while I was looking at what I thought was a puncture. Last time I’ll take one of these yokels——— ”
But his complaints received small attention in the general excitement that gathered round Father Brown and his news.
“Somebody will arrive in a moment,” went on the priest, with the same air of weighty reserve, “who will relieve me of this responsibility. When I have confronted you with him I shall have done my duty as a witness in a serious business. It only remains for me to say that a servant up at Beechwood House told me that she had seen a face at one of the windows——— ”
“I saw a face,” said Opal, “at one of our windows.”
“Oh, you are always seeing faces,” said her brother John roughly.
“It is as well to see facts even if they are faces,” said Father Brown equably, “and I think the face you saw——— ”
Another knock at the front door sounded through the house, and a minute afterwards the door of the room opened and another figure appeared. Devine half-rose from his chair at the sight of it.
It was a tall, erect figure, with a long, rather cadaverous face, ending in a formidable chin. The brow was rather bald, and the eyes bright and blue, which Devine had last seen obscured with a broad straw hat.
“Pray don’t let anybody move,” said the man called Carver, in clear and courteous tones. But to Devine’s disturbed mind the courtesy had an ominous resemblance to that of a brigand who holds a company motionless with a pistol.
“Please sit down, Mr. Devine,” said Carver; “and, with Mrs. Bankes’s permission, I will follow your example. My presence here necessitates an explanation. I rather fancy you suspected me of being an eminent and distinguished burglar.”
“I did,” said Devine grimly.
“As you remarked,” said Carver, “it is not always easy to know a wasp from a bee.”
After a pause, he continued: “I can claim to be one of the more useful, though equally annoying, insects. I am a detective, and I have come down to investigate an alleged renewal of the activities of the criminal calling himself Michael Moonshine. Jewel robberies were his speciality; and there has just been one of them at Beechwood House, which, by all the technical tests, is obviously his work. Not only do the prints correspond, but you may possibly know that when he was last arrested, and it is believed on other occasions also, he wore a simple but effective disguise of a red beard and a pair of large horn-rimmed spectacles.”
Opal Bankes leaned forward fiercely.
“That was it,” she cried in excitement, “that was the face I saw, with great goggles and a red, ragged beard like Judas. I thought it was a ghost.”
“That was also the ghost the servant at Beechwood saw,” said Carver dryly.
He laid some papers and packages on the table, and began carefully to unfold them. “As I say,” he continued, “I was sent down here to make inquiries about the criminal plans of this man, Moonshine. That is why I interested myself in bee-keeping and went to stay with Mr. Smith.”
There was a silence, and then Devine started and spoke: “You don’t seriously mean to say that nice old man——— ”
“Come, Mr. Devine,” said Carver, with a smile, “you believed a beehive was only a hiding-place for me. Why shouldn’t it be a hiding-place for him?”
Devine nodded gloomily, and the detective turned back to his papers. “Suspecting Smith, I wanted to get him out of the way and go through his belongings; so I took advantage of Mr. Bankes’s kindness in giving him a joy ride. Searching his house, I found some curious things to be owned by an innocent old rustic interested only in bees. This is one of them.”
From the unfolded paper he lifted a long, hairy object almost scarlet in colour—the sort of sham beard that is worn in theatricals.
Beside it lay an old pair of heavy horn-rimmed spectacles.
“But I also found something,” continued Carver, “that more directly concerns this house, and must be my excuse for intruding to-night. I found a memorandum, with notes of the names and conjectural value of various pieces of jewellery in the neighbourhood. Immediately after the note of Lady Pulman’s tiara was the mention of an emerald necklace belonging to Mrs. Bankes.”
Mrs. Bankes, who had hitherto regarded the invasion of her house with an air of supercilious bewilderment, suddenly grew attentive. Her face suddenly looked ten years older and much more intelligent. But before she could speak the impetuous John had risen to his full height like a trumpeting elephant.
“And the tiara’s gone already,” he roared; “and the necklace—I’m going to see about that necklace!”
“Not a bad idea,” said Carver, as the young man rushed from the room; “though, of course, we’ve been keeping our eyes open since we’ve been here. Well, it took me a little time to make out the memorandum, which was in cipher, and Father Brown’s telephone message from the House came as I was near the end. I asked him to run round here first with the news, and I would follow; and so——— ”
His speech was sundered by a scream. Opal was standing up and pointing rigidly at the round window.
“There it is again!” she cried.
For a moment they all saw something—something that cleared the lady of the charges of lying and hysteria not uncommonly brought against her. Thrust out of the slate-blue darkness without, the face was pale, or, perhaps, blanched by pressure against the glass; and the great, glaring eyes, encircled as with rings, gave it rather the look of a great fish out of the dark-blue sea nosing at the port-hole of a ship. But the gills or fins of the fish were a coppery red; they were, in truth, fierce red whiskers and the upper part of a red beard. The next moment it had vanished.
Devine had taken a single stride towards the window when a shout resounded through the house, a shout that seemed to shake it. It seemed almost too deafening to be distinguishable as words; yet it was enough to stop Devine in his stride, and he knew what had happened.
“Necklace gone!” shouted John Bankes, appearing huge and heaving in the doorway, and almost instantly vanishing again with the plunge of a pursuing hound.
“Thief was at the window just now!” cried the detective, who had already darted to the door, following the headlong John, who was already in the garden.
“Be careful,” wailed the lady, “they have pistols and things.”
“So have I,” boomed the distant voice of the dauntless John out of the dark garden.
Devine had, indeed, noticed as the young man plunged past him that he was defiantly brandishing a revolver, and hoped there would be no need for him to so defend himself. But even as he had the thought, came the shock of two shots, as if one answered the other, and awakened a wild flock of echoes in that still suburban garden. They flapped into silence.
“Is John dead?” asked Opal in a low, shuddering voice.
Father Brown had already advanced deeper into the darkness, and stood with his back to them, looking down at something. It was he who answered her.
“No,” he said; “it is the other.”
Carver had joined him, and for a moment the two figures, the tall and the short, blocked out what view the fitful and stormy moonlight would allow. Then they moved to one side and, the others saw the small, wiry figure lying slightly twisted, as if with its last struggle. The false red beard was thrust upwards, as if scornfully at the sky, and the moon shone on the great sham spectacles of the man who had been called Moonshine.
“What an end,” muttered the detective, Carver. “After all his adventures, to be shot almost by accident by a stockbroker in a suburban garden.”
The stockbroker himself naturally regarded his own triumph with more solemnity, though not without nervousness.
“I had to do it,” he gasped, still panting with exertion. “I’m sorry, he fired at me.”
“There will have to be an inquest, of course,” said Carver, gravely. “But I think there will be nothing for you to worry about. There’s a revolver fallen from his hand with one shot discharged; and he certainly didn’t fire after he’d got yours.”
By this time they had assembled again in the room, and the detective was getting his papers together for departure. Father Brown was standing opposite to him, looking down at the table, as if in a brown study. Then he spoke abruptly:
“Mr. Carver, you have certainly worked out a very complete case in a very masterly way. I rather suspected your professional business; but I never guessed you would link everything up together so quickly—the bees and the beard and the spectacles and the cipher and the necklace and everything.”
“Always satisfactory to get a case really rounded off.” said Carver.
“Yes,” said Father Brown, still looking at the table. “I admire it very much.” Then he added with a modesty verging on nervousness: “It’s only fair to you to say that I don’t believe a word of it.”
Devine leaned forward with sudden interest. “Do you mean you don’t believe he is Moonshine, the burglar?”
“I know he is the burglar, but he didn’t burgle,” answered Father Brown. “I know he didn’t come here, or to the great house, to steal jewels, or get shot getting away with them. Where are the jewels?”
“Where they generally are in such cases,” said Carver. “He’s either hidden them or passed them on to a confederate. This was not a one-man job. Of course, my people are searching the garden and warning the district.”
“Perhaps,” suggested Mrs. Bankes, “the confederate stole the necklace while Moonshine was looking in at the window.”
“Why was Moonshine looking in at the window?” asked Father Brown quietly. “Why should he want to look in at the window?”
“Well, what do you think?” cried the cheery John.
“I think,” said Father Brown, “that he never did want to look in at the window.”
“Then why did he do it?” demanded Carver. “What’s the good of talking in the air like that? We’ve seen the whole thing acted before our very eyes.”
“I’ve seen a good many things acted before my eyes that I didn’t believe in,” replied the priest. “So have you, on the stage and off.”
“Father Brown,” said Devine, with a certain respect in his tones, “will you tell us why you can’t believe your eyes?”
“Yes, I will try to tell you,” answered the priest. Then he said gently:
“You know what I am and what we are. We don’t bother you much. We try to be friends with all our neighbours. But you can’t think we do nothing. You can’t think we know nothing. We mind our own business; but we know our own people. I knew this dead man very well indeed; I was his confessor, and his friend. So far as a man can, I knew his mind when he left that garden to-day; and his mind was like a glass hive full of golden bees. It’s an under-statement to say his reformation was sincere. He was one of those great penitents who manage to make more out of penitence than others can make out of virtue. I say I was his confessor; but, indeed, it was I who went to him for comfort. It did me good to be near so good a man. And when I saw him lying there dead in the garden, it seemed to me as if certain strange words that were said of old were spoken over him aloud in my ear. They might well be; for if ever a man went straight to heaven, it might be he.”
“Hang it all,” said John Bankes restlessly, “after all, he was a convicted thief.”
“Yes,” said Father Brown; “and only a convicted thief has ever in this world heard that assurance: ‘This night shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.’”
Nobody seemed to know what to do with the silence that followed, until Devine said, abruptly, at last:
“Then how in the world would you explain it all?”
The priest shook his head. “I can’t explain it at all, just yet,” he said, simply. “I can see one or two odd things, but I don’t understand them. As yet I’ve nothing to go on to prove the man’s innocence, except the man. But I’m quite sure I’m right.”
He sighed, and put out his hand for his big, black hat. As he removed it he remained gazing at the table with rather a new expression, his round, straight-haired head cocked at a new angle. It was rather as if some curious animal had come out of his hat, as out of the hat of a conjurer. But the others, looking at the table, could see nothing there but the detective’s documents and the tawdry old property beard and spectacles.
“Lord bless us,” muttered Father Brown, “and he’s lying outside dead, in a beard and spectacles.” He swung round suddenly upon Devine. “Here’s something to follow up, if you want to know. Why did he have two beards?”
With that he bustled in his undignified way out of the room; but Devine was now devoured with curiosity, and pursued him into the front garden.
“I can’t tell you now,”—said Father Brown. “I’m not sure, and I’m bothered about what to do. Come round and see me to-morrow, and I may be able to tell you the whole thing. It may already be settled for me, and—did you hear that noise?”
“A motor-car starting,” remarked Devine.
“Mr. John Bankes’s motor-car,” said the priest. “I believe it goes very fast.”
“He certainly is of that opinion.” said Devine, with a smile.
“It will go far, as well as fast, to-night,” said Father Brown.
“And what do you mean by that?” demanded the other.
“I mean it will not return,” replied the priest. “John Bankes suspected something of what I knew from what I said. John Bankes has gone and the emeralds and all the other jewels with him.”
Next day, Devine found Father Brown moving to and fro in front of the row of beehives, sadly, but with a certain serenity.
“I’ve been telling the bees,” he said. “You know one has to tell the bees! ‘Those singing masons building roofs of gold.’ What a line!” Then more abruptly. “He would like the bees looked after.”
“I hope he doesn’t want the human beings neglected, when the whole swarm is buzzing with curiosity,” observed the young man. “You were quite right when you said that Bankes was gone with the jewels; but I don’t know how you knew, or even what there was to be known.”
Father Brown blinked benevolently at the bee-hives and said:
“One sort of stumbles on things, and there was one stumbling-block at the start. I was puzzled by poor Barnard being shot up at Beechwood House. Now, even when Michael was a master criminal, he made it a point of honour, even a point of vanity, to succeed without any killing. It seemed extraordinary that when he had become a sort of saint he should go out of his way to commit the sin he had despised when he was a sinner. The rest of the business puzzled me to the last; I could make nothing out of it, except that it wasn’t true. Then I had a belated gleam of sense when I saw the beard and goggles and remembered the thief had come in another beard with other goggles. Now, of course, it was just possible that he had duplicates; but it was at least a coincidence that he used neither the old glasses nor the old beard, both in good repair. Again, it was just possible that he went out without them and had to procure new ones; but it was unlikely. There was nothing to make him go motoring with Bankes at all; if he was really going burgling, he could have taken his outfit easily in his pocket. Besides, beards don’t grow on bushes. He would have found it hard to get such things anywhere in the time.
“No, the more I thought of it the more I felt there was something funny about his having a completely new outfit. And then the truth began to dawn on me by reason, which I knew already by instinct. He never did go out with Bankes with any intention of putting on the disguise. He never did put on the disguise. Somebody else manufactured the disguise at leisure, and then put it on him.”
“Put it on him!” repeated Devine. “How the devil could they?”
“Let us go back,” said Father Brown, “and look at the thing through another window—the window through which the young lady saw the ghost.”
“The ghost!” repeated the other, with a slight start.
“She called it the ghost,” said the little man, with composure, “and perhaps she was not so far wrong. It’s quite true that she is what they call psychic. Her only mistake is in thinking that being psychic is being spiritual. Some animals are psychic; anyhow, she is a sensitive, and she was right when she felt that the face at the window had a sort of horrible halo of deathly things.”
“You mean——— ” began Devine.
“I mean it was a dead man who looked in at the window,” said Father Brown. “It was a dead man who crawled round more than one house, looking in at more than one window. Creepy, wasn’t it? But in one way it was the reverse of a ghost; for it was not the antic of the soul freed from the body. It was the antic of the body freed from the soul.”
He blinked again at the beehive and continued: “But, I suppose, the shortest explanation is to take it from the standpoint of the man who did it. You know the man who did it. John Bankes.”
“The very last man I should have thought of,” said Devine.
“The very first man I thought of,” said Father Brown; “in so far as I had any right to think of anybody. My friend, there are no good or bad social types or trades. Any man can be a murderer like poor John; any man, even the same man, can be a saint like poor Michael. But if there is one type that tends at times to be more utterly godless than another, it is that rather brutal sort of business man. He has no social ideal, let alone religion; he has neither the gentleman’s traditions nor the trade unionist’s class loyalty. All his boasts about getting good bargains were practically boasts of having cheated people. His snubbing of his sister’s poor little attempts at mysticism was detestable. Her mysticism was all nonsense; but he only hated spiritualism because it was spirituality. Anyhow, there’s no doubt he was the villain of the piece; the only interest is in a rather original piece of villainy. It was really a new and unique motive for murder. It was the motive of using the corpse as a stage property—a sort of hideous doll or dummy. At the start he conceived a plan of killing Michael in the motor, merely to take him home and pretend to have killed him in the garden. But all sorts of fantastic finishing touches followed quite naturally from the primary fact; that he had at his disposal in a closed car at night the dead body of a recognized and recognizable burglar. He could leave his finger-prints and foot-prints; he could lean the familiar face against windows and take it away. You will notice that Moonshine ostensibly appeared and vanished while Bankes was ostensibly out of the room looking for the emerald necklace.
“Finally, he had only to tumble the corpse on to the lawn, fire a shot from each pistol, and there he was. It might never have been found out but for a guess about the two beards.”
“Why had your friend Michael kept the old beard?” Devine said thoughtfully. “That seems to me questionable.”
“To me, who knew him, it seems quite inevitable,” replied Father Brown. “His whole attitude was like that wig that he wore. There was no disguise about his disguises. He didn’t want the old disguise any more, but he wasn’t frightened of it; he would have felt it false to destroy the false beard. It would have been like hiding; and he was not hiding. He was not hiding from God; he was not hiding from himself. He was in the broad daylight. If they’d taken him back to prison, he’d still have been quite happy. He was not whitewashed, but washed white. There was something very strange about him; almost as strange as the grotesque dance of death through which he was dragged after he was dead. When he moved to and fro smiling among these beehives, even then, in a most radiant and shining sense, he was dead. He was out of the judgment of this world.”
There was a short pause, and then Devine shrugged his shoulders and said: “It all comes back to bees and wasps looking very much alike in this world, doesn’t it?”
Last updated Friday, May 27, 2016 at 16:09