G.K. Chesterton.

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Produced by Judith Boss


By G. K. Chesterton


The Blue Cross
The Secret Garden
The Queer Feet
The Flying Stars
The Invisible Man
The Honour of Israel Gow
The Wrong Shape
The Sins of Prince Saradine
The Hammer of God
The Eye of Apollo
The Sign of the Broken Sword
The Three Tools of Death

The Blue Cross

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

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

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

"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

"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

"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

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

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