Gilbert Keith


The Blue Cross

Das blaue Kreuz

Übersetzt von Hedwig Maria von Lama
Synchronisation und Ergänzungen © Doppeltext 2022




Between the sil­ver rib­bon of morn­ing and the green glit­ter­ing rib­bon of sea,
the boat touched Har­wich and let loose a swarm of folk like flies,
among whom the man we must fol­low was by no means con­spicu­ous — nor wished to be.
There was noth­ing not­able about him, ex­cept a slight con­trast between the hol­i­day gaiety of his clothes and the of­fi­cial grav­ity of his face.
His clothes in­cluded a slight, pale grey jack­et, a white waist­coat, and a sil­ver straw hat with a grey-blue rib­bon.
His lean face was dark by con­trast, and ended in a curt black beard
that looked Span­ish and sug­ges­ted an Eliza­beth­an ruff.
He was smoking a ci­gar­ette with the ser­i­ous­ness of an idler.
There was noth­ing about him to in­dic­ate the fact that the grey jack­et covered a loaded re­volver,
that the white waist­coat covered a po­lice card, or that the straw hat covered one of the most power­ful in­tel­lects in Europe.
For this was Valentin him­self, the head of the Par­is po­lice and the most fam­ous in­vest­ig­at­or of the world;
and he was com­ing from Brus­sels to Lon­don to make the greatest ar­rest of the cen­tury.
Flam­beau was in Eng­land. The po­lice of three coun­tries had tracked the great crim­in­al at last from Ghent to Brus­sels, from Brus­sels to the Hook of Hol­land;
and it was con­jec­tured that he would take some ad­vant­age of the un­fa­mili­ar­ity and con­fu­sion of the Euchar­ist­ic Con­gress, then tak­ing place in Lon­don.
Prob­ably he would travel as some minor clerk or sec­ret­ary con­nec­ted with it;
but, of course, Valentin could not be cer­tain; nobody could be cer­tain about Flam­beau.
It is many years now since this co­los­sus of crime sud­denly ceased keep­ing the world in a tur­moil;
and when he ceased, as they said after the death of Ro­land, there was a great quiet upon the earth.
But in his best days (I mean, of course, his worst) Flam­beau was a fig­ure as statuesque and in­ter­na­tion­al as the Kais­er.
Al­most every morn­ing the daily pa­per an­nounced that he had es­caped the con­sequences of one ex­traordin­ary crime by com­mit­ting an­oth­er.
He was a Gas­con of gi­gant­ic stature and bod­ily dar­ing; and the wild­est tales were told of his out­bursts of ath­let­ic hu­mour;
how he turned the juge d’in­struc­tion up­side down and stood him on his head, “to clear his mind”;
how he ran down the Rue de Rivoli with a po­lice­man un­der each arm.
It is due to him to say that his fant­ast­ic phys­ic­al strength
was gen­er­ally em­ployed in such blood­less though un­dig­ni­fied scenes;
his real crimes were chiefly those of in­geni­ous and whole­sale rob­bery.
But each of his thefts was al­most a new sin, and would make a story by it­self.
It was he who ran the great Tyr­olean Dairy Com­pany in Lon­don,
with no dair­ies, no cows, no carts, no milk, but with some thou­sand sub­scribers.
These he served by the simple op­er­a­tion of mov­ing the little milk cans out­side people’s doors to the doors of his own cus­tom­ers.
It was he who had kept up an un­ac­count­able and close cor­res­pond­ence with a young lady whose whole let­ter-bag was in­ter­cep­ted,
by the ex­traordin­ary trick of pho­to­graph­ing his mes­sages in­fin­ites­im­ally small upon the slides of a mi­cro­scope.
A sweep­ing sim­pli­city, however, marked many of his ex­per­i­ments.
It is said that he once re­painted all the num­bers in a street in the dead of night merely to di­vert one trav­el­ler into a trap.
It is quite cer­tain that he in­ven­ted a port­able pil­lar-box,
which he put up at corners in quiet sub­urbs on the chance of strangers drop­ping postal or­ders into it.
Lastly, he was known to be a start­ling ac­robat;
des­pite his huge fig­ure, he could leap like a grasshop­per and melt into the tree-tops like a mon­key.
Hence the great Valentin, when he set out to find Flam­beau, was per­fectly aware
that his ad­ven­tures would not end when he had found him.
But how was he to find him?
On this the great Valentin’s ideas were still in pro­cess of set­tle­ment.
There was one thing which Flam­beau, with all his dex­ter­ity of dis­guise, could not cov­er, and that was his sin­gu­lar height.
If Valentin’s quick eye had caught a tall apple-wo­man, a tall gren­adier,
or even a tol­er­ably tall duch­ess, he might have ar­res­ted them on the spot.
But all along his train there was nobody that could be a dis­guised Flam­beau, any more than a cat could be a dis­guised gir­affe.
About the people on the boat he had already sat­is­fied him­self;
and the people picked up at Har­wich or on the jour­ney lim­ited them­selves with cer­tainty to six.
There was a short rail­way of­fi­cial trav­el­ling up to the ter­minus,
three fairly short mar­ket garden­ers picked up two sta­tions af­ter­wards,
one very short wid­ow lady go­ing up from a small Es­sex town,
and a very short Ro­man Cath­ol­ic priest go­ing up from a small Es­sex vil­lage.
When it came to the last case, Valentin gave it up and al­most laughed.
The little priest was so much the es­sence of those East­ern flats; he had a face as round and dull as a Nor­folk dump­ling;
he had eyes as empty as the North Sea; he had sev­er­al brown pa­per par­cels, which he was quite in­cap­able of col­lect­ing.
The Euchar­ist­ic Con­gress had doubt­less sucked out of their loc­al stag­na­tion many such creatures, blind and help­less, like moles dis­in­terred.
Valentin was a scep­tic in the severe style of France, and could have no love for priests.
But he could have pity for them, and this one might have pro­voked pity in any­body.
He had a large, shabby um­brella, which con­stantly fell on the floor.
He did not seem to know which was the right end of his re­turn tick­et.
He ex­plained with a moon-calf sim­pli­city to every­body in the car­riage that he had to be care­ful,
be­cause he had something made of real sil­ver “with blue stones” in one of his brown-pa­per par­cels.
His quaint blend­ing of Es­sex flat­ness with saintly sim­pli­city con­tinu­ously amused the French­man
till the priest ar­rived (some­how) at Tot­ten­ham with all his par­cels, and came back for his um­brella.
When he did the last, Valentin even had the good nature to warn him not to take care of the sil­ver by telling every­body about it.
But to whomever he talked, Valentin kept his eye open for someone else;
he looked out stead­ily for any­one, rich or poor, male or fe­male,
who was well up to six feet; for Flam­beau was four inches above it.
He alighted at Liv­er­pool Street, however, quite con­scien­tiously se­cure that he had not missed the crim­in­al so far.
He then went to Scot­land Yard to reg­u­lar­ise his po­s­i­tion and ar­range for help in case of need;
he then lit an­oth­er ci­gar­ette and went for a long stroll in the streets of Lon­don.
As he was walk­ing in the streets and squares bey­ond Vic­tor­ia, he paused sud­denly and stood.
It was a quaint, quiet square, very typ­ic­al of Lon­don, full of an ac­ci­dent­al still­ness.
The tall, flat houses round looked at once pros­per­ous and un­in­hab­ited; the square of shrub­bery in the centre looked as deser­ted as a green Pa­cific is­let.
One of the four sides was much high­er than the rest, like a dais; and the line of this side was broken
by one of Lon­don’s ad­mir­able ac­ci­dents — a res­taur­ant that looked as if it had strayed from Soho.
It was an un­reas­on­ably at­tract­ive ob­ject, with dwarf plants in pots and long, striped blinds of lem­on yel­low and white.
It stood spe­cially high above the street, and in the usu­al patch­work way of Lon­don,
a flight of steps from the street ran up to meet the front door al­most as a fire-es­cape might run up to a first-floor win­dow.
Valentin stood and smoked in front of the yel­low-white blinds and con­sidered them long.
The most in­cred­ible thing about mir­acles is that they hap­pen.
A few clouds in heav­en do come to­geth­er into the star­ing shape of one hu­man eye.
A tree does stand up in the land­scape of a doubt­ful jour­ney in the ex­act and elab­or­ate shape of a note of in­ter­rog­a­tion.
I have seen both these things my­self with­in the last few days.
Nel­son does die in the in­stant of vic­tory; and a man named Wil­li­ams does quite ac­ci­dent­ally murder a man named Wil­li­am­son; it sounds like a sort of in­fant­i­cide.
In short, there is in life an ele­ment of elfin co­in­cid­ence which people reck­on­ing on the pro­sa­ic may per­petu­ally miss.
As it has been well ex­pressed in the para­dox of Poe, wis­dom should reck­on on the un­fore­seen.
Ar­istide Valentin was un­fathom­ably French; and the French in­tel­li­gence is in­tel­li­gence spe­cially and solely.
He was not “a think­ing ma­chine”; for that is a brain­less phrase of mod­ern fa­tal­ism and ma­ter­i­al­ism.
A ma­chine only is a ma­chine be­cause it can­not think. But he was a think­ing man, and a plain man at the same time.
All his won­der­ful suc­cesses, that looked like con­jur­ing, had been gained by plod­ding lo­gic, by clear and com­mon­place French thought.
The French elec­tri­fy the world not by start­ing any para­dox, they elec­tri­fy it by car­ry­ing out a tru­ism.
They carry a tru­ism so far — as in the French Re­volu­tion.
But ex­actly be­cause Valentin un­der­stood reas­on, he un­der­stood the lim­its of reas­on.
Only a man who knows noth­ing of mo­tors talks of mo­tor­ing without pet­rol;
only a man who knows noth­ing of reas­on talks of reas­on­ing without strong, un­dis­puted first prin­ciples. Here he had no strong first prin­ciples.
Flam­beau had been missed at Har­wich; and if he was in Lon­don at all,
he might be any­thing from a tall tramp on Wimble­don Com­mon to a tall toast-mas­ter at the Hotel Met­ro­pole.
In such a na­ked state of nes­ci­ence, Valentin had a view and a meth­od of his own.
In such cases he reckoned on the un­fore­seen.
In such cases, when he could not fol­low the train of the reas­on­able, he coldly and care­fully fol­lowed the train of the un­reas­on­able.
In­stead of go­ing to the right places — banks, po­lice sta­tions, ren­dez­vous
— he sys­tem­at­ic­ally went to the wrong places; knocked at every empty house, turned down every cul de sac,
went up every lane blocked with rub­bish, went round every cres­cent that led him use­lessly out of the way.
He de­fen­ded this crazy course quite lo­gic­ally.
He said that if one had a clue this was the worst way;
but if one had no clue at all it was the best, be­cause there was just the chance
that any oddity that caught the eye of the pur­suer might be the same that had caught the eye of the pur­sued.
Some­where a man must be­gin, and it had bet­ter be just where an­oth­er man might stop.
Something about that flight of steps up to the shop, something about the quiet­ude and quaint­ness of the res­taur­ant,
roused all the de­tect­ive’s rare ro­mantic fancy and made him re­solve to strike at ran­dom.
He went up the steps, and sit­ting down at a table by the win­dow, asked for a cup of black cof­fee.
It was half-way through the morn­ing, and he had not break­fas­ted;
the slight lit­ter of oth­er break­fasts stood about on the table to re­mind him of his hun­ger;
and adding a poached egg to his or­der, he pro­ceeded mus­ingly
to shake some white sug­ar into his cof­fee, think­ing all the time about Flam­beau.
He re­membered how Flam­beau had es­caped, once by a pair of nail scis­sors,
and once by a house on fire; once by hav­ing to pay for an un­stamped let­ter,
and once by get­ting people to look through a tele­scope at a comet that might des­troy the world.
He thought his de­tect­ive brain as good as the crim­in­al’s, which was true. But he fully real­ised the dis­ad­vant­age.
“The crim­in­al is the cre­at­ive artist; the de­tect­ive only the crit­ic,” he said with a sour smile,
and lif­ted his cof­fee cup to his lips slowly, and put it down very quickly. He had put salt in it.
He looked at the ves­sel from which the sil­very powder had come; it was cer­tainly a sug­ar-basin;
as un­mis­tak­ably meant for sug­ar as a cham­pagne-bottle for cham­pagne.
He wondered why they should keep salt in it.
He looked to see if there were any more or­tho­dox ves­sels. Yes; there were two salt-cel­lars quite full.
Per­haps there was some spe­ci­al­ity in the con­di­ment in the salt-cel­lars. He tasted it; it was sug­ar.
Then he looked round at the res­taur­ant with a re­freshed air of in­terest, to see
if there were any oth­er traces of that sin­gu­lar artist­ic taste which puts the sug­ar in the salt-cel­lars and the salt in the sug­ar-basin.
Ex­cept for an odd splash of some dark flu­id on one of the white-papered walls,
the whole place ap­peared neat, cheer­ful and or­din­ary. He rang the bell for the waiter.
When that of­fi­cial hur­ried up, fuzzy-haired and some­what blear-eyed at that early hour,
the de­tect­ive (who was not without an ap­pre­ci­ation of the sim­pler forms of hu­mour) asked him
to taste the sug­ar and see if it was up to the high repu­ta­tion of the hotel.
The res­ult was that the waiter yawned sud­denly and woke up.
“Do you play this del­ic­ate joke on your cus­tom­ers every morn­ing?” in­quired Valentin.
“Does chan­ging the salt and sug­ar nev­er pall on you as a jest?”
The waiter, when this irony grew clear­er, stam­mer­ingly as­sured him that the es­tab­lish­ment had cer­tainly no such in­ten­tion; it must be a most curi­ous mis­take.
He picked up the sug­ar-basin and looked at it; he picked up the salt-cel­lar and looked at that, his face grow­ing more and more be­wildered.
At last he ab­ruptly ex­cused him­self, and hur­ry­ing away, re­turned in a few seconds with the pro­pri­et­or.
The pro­pri­et­or also ex­amined the sug­ar-basin and then the salt-cel­lar; the pro­pri­et­or also looked be­wildered.
Sud­denly the waiter seemed to grow in­ar­tic­u­late with a rush of words.
“I zink,” he stuttered eagerly, “I zink it is those two clergy-men.”
“What two cler­gy­men?”
“The two cler­gy­men,” said the waiter, “that threw soup at the wall.”
“Threw soup at the wall?” re­peated Valentin, feel­ing sure this must be some sin­gu­lar Itali­an meta­phor.
“Yes, yes,” said the at­tend­ant ex­citedly, and poin­ted at the dark splash on the white pa­per; “threw it over there on the wall.”
Valentin looked his query at the pro­pri­et­or, who came to his res­cue with fuller re­ports.
“Yes, sir,” he said, “it’s quite true, though I don’t sup­pose it has any­thing to do with the sug­ar and salt.
Two cler­gy­men came in and drank soup here very early, as soon as the shut­ters were taken down.
They were both very quiet, re­spect­able people; one of them paid the bill and went out;
the oth­er, who seemed a slower coach al­to­geth­er, was some minutes longer get­ting his things to­geth­er.
But he went at last. Only, the in­stant be­fore he stepped into the street he de­lib­er­ately picked up his cup,
which he had only half emp­tied, and threw the soup slap on the wall.
I was in the back room my­self, and so was the waiter;
so I could only rush out in time to find the wall splashed and the shop empty.
It don’t do any par­tic­u­lar dam­age, but it was con­foun­ded cheek; and I tried to catch the men in the street.
They were too far off though; I only no­ticed they went round the next corner into Carstairs Street.”
The de­tect­ive was on his feet, hat settled and stick in hand.
He had already de­cided that in the uni­ver­sal dark­ness of his mind
he could only fol­low the first odd fin­ger that poin­ted; and this fin­ger was odd enough.
Pay­ing his bill and clash­ing the glass doors be­hind him, he was soon swinging round into the oth­er street.
It was for­tu­nate that even in such fevered mo­ments his eye was cool and quick.
Something in a shop-front went by him like a mere flash; yet he went back to look at it.
The shop was a pop­u­lar green­gro­cer and fruit­er­er’s,
an ar­ray of goods set out in the open air and plainly tick­eted with their names and prices.
In the two most prom­in­ent com­part­ments were two heaps, of or­anges and of nuts re­spect­ively.
On the heap of nuts lay a scrap of card­board, on which was writ­ten in bold, blue chalk, “Best tan­ger­ine or­anges, two a penny.”
On the or­anges was the equally clear and ex­act de­scrip­tion, “Finest Brazil nuts, 4d. a lb.”
M. Valentin looked at these two plac­ards and fan­cied he had met this highly subtle form of hu­mour be­fore, and that some­what re­cently.
He drew the at­ten­tion of the red-faced fruit­er­er,
who was look­ing rather sul­lenly up and down the street, to this in­ac­cur­acy in his ad­vert­ise­ments.
The fruit­er­er said noth­ing, but sharply put each card into its prop­er place.
The de­tect­ive, lean­ing el­eg­antly on his walk­ing-cane, con­tin­ued to scru­tin­ise the shop. At last he said,
“Pray ex­cuse my ap­par­ent ir­rel­ev­ance, my good sir, but I should like to ask you a ques­tion in ex­per­i­ment­al psy­cho­logy and the as­so­ci­ation of ideas.”
The red-faced shop­man re­garded him with an eye of men­ace; but he con­tin­ued gaily, swinging his cane,
“Why,” he pur­sued, “why are two tick­ets wrongly placed in a green­gro­cer’s shop like a shovel hat that has come to Lon­don for a hol­i­day?
Or, in case I do not make my­self clear, what is the mys­tic­al as­so­ci­ation
which con­nects the idea of nuts marked as or­anges with the idea of two cler­gy­men, one tall and the oth­er short?”
The eyes of the trades­man stood out of his head like a snail’s;
he really seemed for an in­stant likely to fling him­self upon the stranger.
At last he stammered an­grily:
“I don’t know what you ’ave to do with it, but if you’re one of their friends,
you can tell ’em from me that I’ll knock their silly ’eads off, par­sons or no par­sons, if they up­set my apples again.”
“In­deed?” asked the de­tect­ive, with great sym­pathy. “Did they up­set your apples?”
“One of ’em did,” said the heated shop­man; “rolled ’em all over the street.
I’d ’ave caught the fool but for hav­in’ to pick ’em up.”
“Which way did these par­sons go?” asked Valentin.
“Up that second road on the left-hand side, and then across the square,” said the oth­er promptly.
“Thanks,” replied Valentin, and van­ished like a fairy.
On the oth­er side of the second square he found a po­lice­man, and said:
“This is ur­gent, con­stable; have you seen two cler­gy­men in shovel hats?”
The po­lice­man began to chuckle heav­ily.
“I ’ave, sir; and if you arst me, one of ’em was drunk. He stood in the middle of the road that be­wildered that —”
“Which way did they go?” snapped Valentin.
“They took one of them yel­low buses over there,” answered the man; “them that go to Hamp­stead.”
Valentin pro­duced his of­fi­cial card and said very rap­idly:
“Call up two of your men to come with me in pur­suit,” and crossed the road with such con­ta­gious en­ergy
that the pon­der­ous po­lice­man was moved to al­most agile obed­i­ence.
In a minute and a half the French de­tect­ive was joined on the op­pos­ite pave­ment by an in­spect­or and a man in plain clothes.
“Well, sir,” began the former, with smil­ing im­port­ance, “and what may —?”
Valentin poin­ted sud­denly with his cane.
“I’ll tell you on the top of that om­ni­bus,” he said, and was dart­ing and dodging across the tangle of the traffic.
When all three sank pant­ing on the top seats of the yel­low vehicle, the in­spect­or said:
“We could go four times as quick in a taxi.”
“Quite true,” replied their lead­er pla­cidly, “if we only had an idea of where we were go­ing.”
“Well, where are you go­ing?” asked the oth­er, star­ing.
Valentin smoked frown­ingly for a few seconds; then, re­mov­ing his ci­gar­ette, he said:
“If you know what a man’s do­ing, get in front of him; but if you want to guess what he’s do­ing, keep be­hind him.
Stray when he strays; stop when he stops; travel as slowly as he.
Then you may see what he saw and may act as he ac­ted.
All we can do is to keep our eyes skinned for a queer thing.”
“What sort of queer thing do you mean?” asked the in­spect­or.
“Any sort of queer thing,” answered Valentin, and re­lapsed into ob­stin­ate si­lence.
The yel­low om­ni­bus crawled up the north­ern roads for what seemed like hours on end;
the great de­tect­ive would not ex­plain fur­ther, and per­haps his as­sist­ants felt a si­lent and grow­ing doubt of his er­rand.
Per­haps, also, they felt a si­lent and grow­ing de­sire for lunch, for the hours crept long past the nor­mal lunch­eon hour,
and the long roads of the North Lon­don sub­urbs seemed to shoot out into length after length like an in­fernal tele­scope.
It was one of those jour­neys on which a man per­petu­ally feels
that now at last he must have come to the end of the uni­verse, and then finds he has only come to the be­gin­ning of Tufnell Park.
Lon­don died away in draggled tav­erns and dreary scrubs, and then was un­ac­count­ably born again in blaz­ing high streets and blatant ho­tels.
It was like passing through thir­teen sep­ar­ate vul­gar cit­ies all just touch­ing each oth­er.
But though the winter twi­light was already threat­en­ing the road ahead of them,
the Parisi­an de­tect­ive still sat si­lent and watch­ful, eye­ing the front­age of the streets that slid by on either side.
By the time they had left Cam­den Town be­hind, the po­lice­men were nearly asleep; at least, they gave something like a jump
as Valentin leapt erect, struck a hand on each man’s shoulder, and shouted to the driver to stop.
They tumbled down the steps into the road without real­ising why they had been dis­lodged;
when they looked round for en­light­en­ment they found Valentin tri­umphantly point­ing his fin­ger to­wards a win­dow on the left side of the road.
It was a large win­dow, form­ing part of the long facade of a gilt and pala­tial pub­lic-house;
it was the part re­served for re­spect­able din­ing, and la­belled “Res­taur­ant.”
This win­dow, like all the rest along the front­age of the hotel, was of fros­ted and figured glass;
but in the middle of it was a big, black smash, like a star in the ice.
“Our cue at last,” cried Valentin, wav­ing his stick; “the place with the broken win­dow.”
“What win­dow? What cue?” asked his prin­cip­al as­sist­ant. “Why, what proof is there that this has any­thing to do with them?”
Valentin al­most broke his bam­boo stick with rage.
“Proof!” he cried. “Good God! the man is look­ing for proof! Why, of course, the chances are twenty to one that it has noth­ing to do with them.
But what else can we do? Don’t you see we must either fol­low one wild pos­sib­il­ity or else go home to bed?” He banged his way into the res­taur­ant,
fol­lowed by his com­pan­ions, and they were soon seated at a late lunch­eon at a little table,
and looked at the star of smashed glass from the in­side. Not that it was very in­form­at­ive to them even then.
“Got your win­dow broken, I see,” said Valentin to the waiter as he paid the bill.
“Yes, sir,” answered the at­tend­ant, bend­ing busily over the change,
to which Valentin si­lently ad­ded an enorm­ous tip. The waiter straightened him­self with mild but un­mis­tak­able an­im­a­tion.
“Ah, yes, sir,” he said. “Very odd thing, that, sir.”
“In­deed?” Tell us about it,” said the de­tect­ive with care­less curi­os­ity.
“Well, two gents in black came in,” said the waiter; “two of those for­eign par­sons that are run­ning about.
They had a cheap and quiet little lunch, and one of them paid for it and went out.
The oth­er was just go­ing out to join him when I looked at my change again and found he’d paid me more than three times too much.
‘Here,’ I says to the chap who was nearly out of the door, ‘you’ve paid too much.’
‘Oh,’ he says, very cool, ‘have we?’ ‘Yes,’ I says, and picks up the bill to show him. Well, that was a knock-out.”
“What do you mean?” asked his in­ter­locutor.
“Well, I’d have sworn on sev­en Bibles that I’d put 4s. on that bill.
But now I saw I’d put 14s., as plain as paint.”
“Well?” cried Valentin, mov­ing slowly, but with burn­ing eyes, “and then?”
“The par­son at the door he says all se­rene, ‘Sorry to con­fuse your ac­counts, but it’ll pay for the win­dow.’
‘What win­dow?’ I says. ‘The one I’m go­ing to break,’ he says, and smashed that blessed pane with his um­brella.”
All three in­quirers made an ex­clam­a­tion; and the in­spect­or said un­der his breath,
“Are we after es­caped lun­at­ics?”
The waiter went on with some rel­ish for the ri­dicu­lous story:
“I was so knocked silly for a second, I couldn’t do any­thing.
The man marched out of the place and joined his friend just round the corner.
Then they went so quick up Bul­lock Street that I couldn’t catch them, though I ran round the bars to do it.”
“Bul­lock Street,” said the de­tect­ive, and shot up that thor­ough­fare as quickly as the strange couple he pur­sued.
Their jour­ney now took them through bare brick ways like tun­nels; streets with few lights and even with few win­dows;
streets that seemed built out of the blank backs of everything and every­where.
Dusk was deep­en­ing, and it was not easy even for the Lon­don po­lice­men to guess in what ex­act dir­ec­tion they were tread­ing.
The in­spect­or, however, was pretty cer­tain that they would even­tu­ally strike some part of Hamp­stead Heath.
Ab­ruptly one bul­ging gas-lit win­dow broke the blue twi­light like a bull’s-eye lan­tern;
and Valentin stopped an in­stant be­fore a little gar­ish sweet­stuff shop.
After an in­stant’s hes­it­a­tion he went in; he stood amid the gaudy col­ours of the con­fec­tion­ery with en­tire grav­ity and bought thir­teen chocol­ate ci­gars with a cer­tain care.
He was clearly pre­par­ing an open­ing; but he did not need one.
An an­gu­lar, eld­erly young wo­man in the shop had re­garded his el­eg­ant ap­pear­ance with a merely auto­mat­ic in­quiry;
but when she saw the door be­hind him blocked with the blue uni­form of the in­spect­or, her eyes seemed to wake up.
“Oh,” she said, “if you’ve come about that par­cel, I’ve sent it off already.”
“Par­cel?” re­peated Valentin; and it was his turn to look in­quir­ing.
“I mean the par­cel the gen­tle­man left — the cler­gy­man gen­tle­man.”
“For good­ness’ sake,” said Valentin, lean­ing for­ward with his first real con­fes­sion of eager­ness,
“for Heav­en’s sake tell us what happened ex­actly.”
“Well,” said the wo­man a little doubt­fully,
“the cler­gy­men came in about half an hour ago and bought some pep­per­mints and talked a bit, and then went off to­wards the Heath.
But a second after, one of them runs back into the shop and says, ‘Have I left a par­cel!’
Well, I looked every­where and couldn’t see one;
so he says, ‘Nev­er mind; but if it should turn up, please post it to this ad­dress,’
and he left me the ad­dress and a shil­ling for my trouble.
And sure enough, though I thought I’d looked every­where,
I found he’d left a brown pa­per par­cel, so I pos­ted it to the place he said.
I can’t re­mem­ber the ad­dress now; it was some­where in West­min­ster.
But as the thing seemed so im­port­ant, I thought per­haps the po­lice had come about it.”
“So they have,” said Valentin shortly. “Is Hamp­stead Heath near here?”
“Straight on for fif­teen minutes,” said the wo­man, “and you’ll come right out on the open.”
Valentin sprang out of the shop and began to run. The oth­er de­tect­ives fol­lowed him at a re­luct­ant trot.
The street they threaded was so nar­row and shut in by shad­ows
that when they came out un­ex­pec­tedly into the void com­mon and vast sky they were startled to find the even­ing still so light and clear.
A per­fect dome of pea­cock-green sank into gold amid the black­en­ing trees and the dark vi­ol­et dis­tances.
The glow­ing green tint was just deep enough to pick out in points of crys­tal one or two stars.
All that was left of the day­light lay in a golden glit­ter across the edge of Hamp­stead and that pop­u­lar hol­low which is called the Vale of Health.
The hol­i­day makers who roam this re­gion had not wholly dis­persed;
a few couples sat shape­lessly on benches; and here and there a dis­tant girl still shrieked in one of the swings.
The glory of heav­en deepened and darkened around the sub­lime vul­gar­ity of man; and stand­ing on the slope and look­ing across the val­ley, Valentin be­held the thing which he sought.
Among the black and break­ing groups in that dis­tance was one es­pe­cially black
which did not break — a group of two fig­ures cler­ic­ally clad.
Though they seemed as small as in­sects, Valentin could see that one of them was much smal­ler than the oth­er.
Though the oth­er had a stu­dent’s stoop and an in­con­spicu­ous man­ner, he could see that the man was well over six feet high.
He shut his teeth and went for­ward, whirl­ing his stick im­pa­tiently.
By the time he had sub­stan­tially di­min­ished the dis­tance and mag­ni­fied the two black fig­ures as in a vast mi­cro­scope, he had per­ceived something else;
something which startled him, and yet which he had some­how ex­pec­ted.
Who­ever was the tall priest, there could be no doubt about the iden­tity of the short one.
It was his friend of the Har­wich train, the stumpy little cure of Es­sex whom he had warned about his brown pa­per par­cels.
Now, so far as this went, everything fit­ted in fi­nally and ra­tion­ally enough.
Valentin had learned by his in­quir­ies that morn­ing that a Fath­er Brown from Es­sex was bring­ing up a sil­ver cross with sap­phires,
a rel­ic of con­sid­er­able value, to show some of the for­eign priests at the con­gress.
This un­doubtedly was the “sil­ver with blue stones”; and Fath­er Brown un­doubtedly was the little green­horn in the train.
Now there was noth­ing won­der­ful about the fact that what Valentin had found out Flam­beau had also found out; Flam­beau found out everything.
Also there was noth­ing won­der­ful in the fact that when Flam­beau heard of a sap­phire cross he should try to steal it;
that was the most nat­ur­al thing in all nat­ur­al his­tory.
And most cer­tainly there was noth­ing won­der­ful about the fact
that Flam­beau should have it all his own way with such a silly sheep as the man with the um­brella and the par­cels.
He was the sort of man whom any­body could lead on a string to the North Pole;
it was not sur­pris­ing that an act­or like Flam­beau, dressed as an­oth­er priest, could lead him to Hamp­stead Heath.
So far the crime seemed clear enough; and while the de­tect­ive pit­ied the priest for his help­less­ness,
he al­most des­pised Flam­beau for con­des­cend­ing to so gull­ible a vic­tim.
But when Valentin thought of all that had happened in between,
of all that had led him to his tri­umph, he racked his brains for the smal­lest rhyme or reas­on in it.
What had the steal­ing of a blue-and-sil­ver cross from a priest from Es­sex to do with chuck­ing soup at wall pa­per?
What had it to do with call­ing nuts or­anges, or with pay­ing for win­dows first and break­ing them af­ter­wards?
He had come to the end of his chase; yet some­how he had missed the middle of it.
When he failed (which was sel­dom), he had usu­ally grasped the clue, but nev­er­the­less missed the crim­in­al.
Here he had grasped the crim­in­al, but still he could not grasp the clue.
The two fig­ures that they fol­lowed were crawl­ing like black flies across the huge green con­tour of a hill.
They were evid­ently sunk in con­ver­sa­tion, and per­haps did not no­tice where they were go­ing;
but they were cer­tainly go­ing to the wilder and more si­lent heights of the Heath.
As their pur­suers gained on them, the lat­ter had to use the un­dig­ni­fied at­ti­tudes of the deer-stalk­er,
to crouch be­hind clumps of trees and even to crawl pros­trate in deep grass.
By these un­gainly in­genu­it­ies the hunters even came close enough to the quarry to hear the mur­mur of the dis­cus­sion,
but no word could be dis­tin­guished ex­cept the word “reas­on” re­cur­ring fre­quently in a high and al­most child­ish voice.
Once over an ab­rupt dip of land and a dense tangle of thick­ets, the de­tect­ives ac­tu­ally lost the two fig­ures they were fol­low­ing.
They did not find the trail again for an ag­on­ising ten minutes,
and then it led round the brow of a great dome of hill over­look­ing an am­phi­theatre of rich and des­ol­ate sun­set scenery.
Un­der a tree in this com­mand­ing yet neg­lected spot was an old ram­shackle wooden seat.
On this seat sat the two priests still in ser­i­ous speech to­geth­er.
The gor­geous green and gold still clung to the dark­en­ing ho­ri­zon;
but the dome above was turn­ing slowly from pea­cock-green to pea­cock-blue, and the stars de­tached them­selves more and more like sol­id jew­els.
Mutely mo­tion­ing to his fol­low­ers, Valentin con­trived to creep up be­hind the big branch­ing tree,
and, stand­ing there in deathly si­lence, heard the words of the strange priests for the first time.
After he had listened for a minute and a half, he was gripped by a dev­il­ish doubt.
Per­haps he had dragged the two Eng­lish po­lice­men to the wastes of a noc­turn­al heath on an er­rand no saner than seek­ing figs on its thistles.
For the two priests were talk­ing ex­actly like priests, pi­ously, with learn­ing and leis­ure, about the most aer­i­al en­ig­mas of theo­logy.
The little Es­sex priest spoke the more simply, with his round face turned to the strength­en­ing stars;
the oth­er talked with his head bowed, as if he were not even worthy to look at them.
But no more in­no­cently cler­ic­al con­ver­sa­tion could have been heard in any white Itali­an cloister or black Span­ish cathed­ral.
The first he heard was the tail of one of Fath­er Brown’s sen­tences, which ended: “… what they really meant in the Middle Ages by the heav­ens be­ing in­cor­rupt­ible.”
The taller priest nod­ded his bowed head and said:
“Ah, yes, these mod­ern in­fi­dels ap­peal to their reas­on; but who can look at those mil­lions of worlds and not feel
that there may well be won­der­ful uni­verses above us where reas­on is ut­terly un­reas­on­able?”
“No,” said the oth­er priest; “reas­on is al­ways reas­on­able, even in the last limbo, in the lost bor­der­land of things.
I know that people charge the Church with lower­ing reas­on, but it is just the oth­er way.
Alone on earth, the Church makes reas­on really su­preme.
Alone on earth, the Church af­firms that God him­self is bound by reas­on.”
The oth­er priest raised his aus­tere face to the spangled sky and said:
“Yet who knows if in that in­fin­ite uni­verse —?”
“Only in­fin­ite phys­ic­ally,” said the little priest, turn­ing sharply in his seat,
“not in­fin­ite in the sense of es­cap­ing from the laws of truth.”
Valentin be­hind his tree was tear­ing his fin­ger­nails with si­lent fury.
He seemed al­most to hear the snig­gers of the Eng­lish de­tect­ives
whom he had brought so far on a fant­ast­ic guess only to listen to the meta­phys­ic­al gos­sip of two mild old par­sons.
In his im­pa­tience he lost the equally elab­or­ate an­swer of the tall cler­ic,
and when he listened again it was again Fath­er Brown who was speak­ing:
“Reas­on and justice grip the re­motest and the lone­li­est star. Look at those stars.
Don’t they look as if they were single dia­monds and sap­phires? Well, you can ima­gine any mad bot­any or geo­logy you please.
Think of forests of adam­ant with leaves of bril­liants. Think the moon is a blue moon, a single ele­phant­ine sap­phire.
But don’t fancy that all that frantic as­tro­nomy would make the smal­lest dif­fer­ence to the reas­on and justice of con­duct.
On plains of opal, un­der cliffs cut out of pearl, you would still find a no­tice-board, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’”
Valentin was just in the act of rising from his ri­gid and crouch­ing at­ti­tude and creep­ing away as softly as might be,
felled by the one great folly of his life.
But something in the very si­lence of the tall priest made him stop un­til the lat­ter spoke.
When at last he did speak, he said simply, his head bowed and his hands on his knees:
“Well, I think that oth­er worlds may per­haps rise high­er than our reas­on.
The mys­tery of heav­en is un­fathom­able, and I for one can only bow my head.”
Then, with brow yet bent and without chan­ging by the faintest shade his at­ti­tude or voice, he ad­ded:
“Just hand over that sap­phire cross of yours, will you? We’re all alone here, and I could pull you to pieces like a straw doll.”
The ut­terly un­altered voice and at­ti­tude ad­ded a strange vi­ol­ence to that shock­ing change of speech.
But the guarder of the rel­ic only seemed to turn his head by the smal­lest sec­tion of the com­pass.
He seemed still to have a some­what fool­ish face turned to the stars. Per­haps he had not un­der­stood.
Or, per­haps, he had un­der­stood and sat ri­gid with ter­ror.
“Yes,” said the tall priest, in the same low voice and in the same still pos­ture, “yes, I am Flam­beau.”
Then, after a pause, he said:
“Come, will you give me that cross?”
“No,” said the oth­er, and the mono­syl­lable had an odd sound.
Flam­beau sud­denly flung off all his pon­ti­fic­al pre­ten­sions. The great rob­ber leaned back in his seat and laughed low but long.
“No,” he cried, “you won’t give it me, you proud pre­l­ate. You won’t give it me, you little cel­ib­ate sim­pleton.
Shall I tell you why you won’t give it me? Be­cause I’ve got it already in my own breast-pock­et.”
The small man from Es­sex turned what seemed to be a dazed face in the dusk, and said, with the tim­id eager­ness of “The Private Sec­ret­ary”:
“Are — are you sure?”
Flam­beau yelled with de­light.
“Really, you’re as good as a three-act farce,” he cried. “Yes, you turnip, I am quite sure.
I had the sense to make a du­plic­ate of the right par­cel, and now, my friend, you’ve got the du­plic­ate and I’ve got the jew­els.
An old dodge, Fath­er Brown — a very old dodge.”
“Yes,” said Fath­er Brown, and passed his hand through his hair with the same strange vague­ness of man­ner.
“Yes, I’ve heard of it be­fore.”
The co­los­sus of crime leaned over to the little rus­tic priest with a sort of sud­den in­terest.
“You have heard of it?” he asked. “Where have you heard of it?”
“Well, I mustn’t tell you his name, of course,” said the little man simply. “He was a pen­it­ent, you know.
He had lived pros­per­ously for about twenty years en­tirely on du­plic­ate brown pa­per par­cels.
And so, you see, when I began to sus­pect you, I thought of this poor chap’s way of do­ing it at once.”
“Began to sus­pect me?” re­peated the out­law with in­creased in­tens­ity.
“Did you really have the gump­tion to sus­pect me just be­cause I brought you up to this bare part of the heath?”
“No, no,” said Brown with an air of apo­logy. “You see, I sus­pec­ted you when we first met.
It’s that little bulge up the sleeve where you people have the spiked brace­let.”
“How in Tar­tarus,” cried Flam­beau, “did you ever hear of the spiked brace­let?”
“Oh, one’s little flock, you know!” said Fath­er Brown, arch­ing his eye­brows rather blankly.
“When I was a cur­ate in Hartle­pool, there were three of them with spiked brace­lets.
So, as I sus­pec­ted you from the first, don’t you see, I made sure that the cross should go safe, any­how.
I’m afraid I watched you, you know. So at last I saw you change the par­cels.
Then, don’t you see, I changed them back again. And then I left the right one be­hind.”
“Left it be­hind?” re­peated Flam­beau, and for the first time there was an­oth­er note in his voice be­side his tri­umph.
“Well, it was like this,” said the little priest, speak­ing in the same un­af­fected way.
“I went back to that sweet-shop and asked if I’d left a par­cel, and gave them a par­tic­u­lar ad­dress if it turned up.
Well, I knew I hadn’t; but when I went away again I did.
So, in­stead of run­ning after me with that valu­able par­cel, they have sent it fly­ing to a friend of mine in West­min­ster.”
Then he ad­ded rather sadly: “I learnt that, too, from a poor fel­low in Hartle­pool.
He used to do it with hand­bags he stole at rail­way sta­tions, but he’s in a mon­as­tery now.
Oh, one gets to know, you know,” he ad­ded, rub­bing his head again with the same sort of des­per­ate apo­logy.
“We can’t help be­ing priests. People come and tell us these things.”
Flam­beau tore a brown-pa­per par­cel out of his in­ner pock­et and rent it in pieces.
There was noth­ing but pa­per and sticks of lead in­side it. He sprang to his feet with a gi­gant­ic ges­ture, and cried:
“I don’t be­lieve you. I don’t be­lieve a bump­kin like you could man­age all that.
I be­lieve you’ve still got the stuff on you, and if you don’t give it up — why, we’re all alone, and I’ll take it by force!”
“No,” said Fath­er Brown simply, and stood up also, “you won’t take it by force.
First, be­cause I really haven’t still got it. And, second, be­cause we are not alone.”
Flam­beau stopped in his stride for­ward.
“Be­hind that tree,” said Fath­er Brown, point­ing, “are two strong po­lice­men and the greatest de­tect­ive alive.
How did they come here, do you ask? Why, I brought them, of course! How did I do it? Why, I’ll tell you if you like!
Lord bless you, we have to know twenty such things when we work among the crim­in­al classes!
Well, I wasn’t sure you were a thief, and it would nev­er do to make a scan­dal against one of our own clergy.
So I just tested you to see if any­thing would make you show your­self.
A man gen­er­ally makes a small scene if he finds salt in his cof­fee; if he doesn’t, he has some reas­on for keep­ing quiet.
I changed the salt and sug­ar, and you kept quiet. A man gen­er­ally ob­jects if his bill is three times too big.
If he pays it, he has some motive for passing un­noticed. I altered your bill, and you paid it.”
The world seemed wait­ing for Flam­beau to leap like a ti­ger. But he was held back as by a spell; he was stunned with the ut­most curi­os­ity.
“Well,” went on Fath­er Brown, with lum­ber­ing lu­cid­ity,
“as you wouldn’t leave any tracks for the po­lice, of course some­body had to.
At every place we went to, I took care to do something that would get us talked about for the rest of the day.
I didn’t do much harm — a splashed wall, spilt apples, a broken win­dow;
but I saved the cross, as the cross will al­ways be saved.
It is at West­min­ster by now. I rather won­der you didn’t stop it with the Don­key’s Whistle.”
“With the what?” asked Flam­beau.
“I’m glad you’ve nev­er heard of it,” said the priest, mak­ing a face.
“It’s a foul thing. I’m sure you’re too good a man for a Whist­ler.
I couldn’t have countered it even with the Spots my­self; I’m not strong enough in the legs.”
“What on earth are you talk­ing about?” asked the oth­er.
“Well, I did think you’d know the Spots,” said Fath­er Brown, agree­ably sur­prised. “Oh, you can’t have gone so very wrong yet!”
“How in blazes do you know all these hor­rors?” cried Flam­beau.
The shad­ow of a smile crossed the round, simple face of his cler­ic­al op­pon­ent.
“Oh, by be­ing a cel­ib­ate sim­pleton, I sup­pose,” he said. “Has it nev­er struck you that a man who does next to noth­ing
but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly un­aware of hu­man evil?
But, as a mat­ter of fact, an­oth­er part of my trade, too, made me sure you wer­en’t a priest.”
“What?” asked the thief, al­most gap­ing.
“You at­tacked reas­on,” said Fath­er Brown. “It’s bad theo­logy.”
And even as he turned away to col­lect his prop­erty, the three po­lice­men came out from un­der the twi­light trees.
Flam­beau was an artist and a sports­man. He stepped back and swept Valentin a great bow.
“Do not bow to me, mon ami,” said Valentin with sil­ver clear­ness. “Let us both bow to our mas­ter.”
And they both stood an in­stant un­covered while the little Es­sex priest blinked about for his um­brella.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton
The Blue Cross / Das blaue Kreuz
Zweisprachige Ausgabe
Übersetzt von Hedwig Maria von Lama

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