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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Broken sword -Abridged short story -3

Flambeau looked about him in the moonlight, as a man struck blind might look in the sun; and his friend went on, for the first time with eagerness:
"Flambeau," he cried, "I cannot prove it, even after hunting through the tombs. But I am sure of it. Let me add just one more tiny fact that tips the whole thing over. The colonel, by a strange chance, was one of the first struck by a bullet. He was struck long before the troops came to close quarters. But he saw St. Clare's sword broken. Why was it broken? How was it broken? My friend, it was broken before the battle."
"Oh!" said his friend, with a sort of forlorn jocularity; "and pray where is the other piece?"
"I can tell you," said the priest promptly. "In the northeast corner of the cemetery of the Cathedral at Belfast."
"Indeed?" inquired the other. "Have you looked for it?"
"I couldn't," replied Brown, with frank regret. "There's a great marble monument on top of it; a monument to the heroic Major Murray, who fell fighting gloriously at the famous Battle of the Black River."
Flambeau seemed suddenly galvanised into existence. "You mean," he cried hoarsely, "that General St. Clare hated Murray, and murdered him on the field of battle because—"
"You are still full of good and pure thoughts," said the other. "It was worse than that."
"Well," said the large man, "my stock of evil imagination is used up."
The priest seemed really doubtful where to begin, and at last he said again:
"Where would a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest."
The other did not answer.
"If there were no forest, he would make a forest. And if he wished to hide a dead leaf, he would make a dead forest."
There was still no reply, and the priest added still more mildly and quietly:
"And if a man had to hide a dead body, he would make a field of dead bodies to hide it in."
Flambeau began to stamp forward with an intolerance of delay in time or space; but Father Brown went on as if he were continuing the last sentence:
"Sir Arthur St. Clare, as I have already said, was a man who read his Bible. That was what was the matter with him. When will people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible unless he also reads everybody else's Bible? St. Clare was an old Anglo-Indian Protestant soldier.
"Now, just think what that might mean. Of course, he read the Old Testament rather than the New. Of course, he found in the Old Testament anything that he wanted—lust, tyranny, treason. Oh, I dare say he was honest, as you call it. But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?
"In each of the hot and secret countries to which the man went he kept a harem, he tortured witnesses, he amassed shameful gold; but certainly he would have said with steady eyes that he did it to the glory of the Lord. Arthur St. Clare was soon suffocated by difficulties of bribery and blackmail; and needed more and more cash. And by the time of the Battle of the Black River he had fallen from world to world to that place which Dante makes the lowest floor of the universe."
"What do you mean?" asked his friend again.
"I mean that," retorted the cleric.
Father Brown suddenly pointed at a puddle sealed with ice that shone in the moon.
"Do you remember whom Dante put in the last circle of ice?"
"The traitors," said Flambeau, and shuddered.

The priest's voice went on:
"Olivier, as you know, was quixotic, and would not permit a secret service and spies. The thing, however, was done, like many other things, behind his back. It was managed by my old friend Espado, called the Vulture.
"Posing as a sort of philanthropist at the front, he felt his way through the English Army, and at last got his fingers on its one corrupt man—please God!— and that man at the top. St. Clare was in foul need of money, and mountains of it. The discredited family doctor was threatening those extraordinary exposures that afterwards began and were broken off. Money was wanted, too, for his daughter's dowry; for to him the fame of wealth was as sweet as wealth itself.
"He snapped the last thread, whispered the word to Brazil, and wealth poured in from the enemies of England. But another man had talked to Espado the Vulture as well as he. Somehow Murray, the dark, grim young major from Ulster had guessed the hideous truth; and when they walked slowly together down that road towards the bridge ... Murray was telling the general that he must resign instantly, or be court- martialled and shot. The general temporised with him till they came to the fringe of tropic trees by the bridge; and there by the singing river the general drew his sabre and plunged it through the body of the major."

The wintry road curved over a ridge in cutting frost, but Flambeau fancied that he saw beyond it faintly the edge of an aureole that was some fire such as is made by men. He watched it as the tale drew to its close.
"St. Clare was a hell-hound, but he was a hound of breed. Never, I'll swear, was he so lucid and so strong as when poor Murray lay a cold lump at his feet. Never in all his triumphs, as Captain Keith said truly, was the great man so great as he was in this last world-despised defeat.
"He looked coolly at his weapon to wipe off the blood; he saw the point he had planted between his victim's shoulders had broken off in the body. He saw quite calmly, as through a club window, all that must follow. He saw that men must find the unaccountable corpse; must extract the unaccountable sword-point; must notice the unaccountable broken sword—or absence of sword. He had killed, but not silenced. But his imperious intellect rose against the facer; there was one way yet. He could make the corpse less unaccountable. He could create a hill of corpses to cover this one. In twenty minutes eight hundred English soldiers were marching down to their death."

The warmer glow behind the black winter wood grew richer and brighter, and Flambeau strode on to reach it. Father Brown also quickened his stride; but he seemed merely absorbed in his tale.
"Such was the valour of that English thousand, and such the genius of their commander, that if they had at once attacked the hill, even their mad march might have met some luck. But the evil mind that played with them like pawns had other aims and reasons. They must remain in the marshes by the bridge at least till British corpses should be a common sight there. Then for the last grand scene; the silver-haired soldier-saint would give up his shattered sword to save further slaughter. Oh, it was well organised for an impromptu. But I think (I cannot prove), I think that it was while they stuck there in the bloody mire that someone doubted— and someone guessed."
He was mute a moment, and then said: "There is a voice from nowhere that tells me the man who guessed was the lover ... the man to wed the old man's child."
"But what about Olivier and the hanging?" asked Flambeau.
"Olivier, partly from chivalry, partly from policy, seldom encumbered his march with captives," explained the narrator. "He released everybody in most cases. He released everybody in this case.
"Everybody but the general," said the tall man.
"Everybody," said the priest.
Flambeau knit his black brows.
"I don't grasp it all yet," he said.
"There is another picture, Flambeau," said Brown in his more mystical undertone. "I can't prove it; but I can do more—I can see it. There is a camp breaking up on the bare, torrid hills at morning, and Brazilian uniforms massed in blocks and columns to march. There is the red shirt and long black beard of Olivier, which blows as he stands, his broad-brimmed hat in his hand. He is saying farewell to the great enemy he is setting free—the simple, snow-headed English veteran, who thanks him in the name of his men. The English remnant stand behind at attention; beside them are stores and vehicles for the retreat. The drums roll; the Brazilians are moving; the English are still like statues. So they abide till the last hum and flash of the enemy have faded from the tropic horizon. Then they alter their postures all at once, like dead men coming to life; they turn their fifty faces upon the general—faces not to be forgotten."
Flambeau gave a great jump. "Ah," he cried, "you don't mean—"
"Yes," said Father Brown in a deep, moving voice. "It was an English hand that put the rope round St. Clare's neck; I believe the hand that put the ring on his daughter's finger. They were English hands that dragged him up to the tree of shame; the hands of men that had adored him and followed him to victory. And they were English souls who stared at him swinging in that foreign sun on the gallows of palm, and prayed in their hatred that he might drop off it into hell."
As the two topped the ridge there burst on them the strong scarlet light of a red-curtained English inn. Its three doors stood open with invitation; and even where they stood they could hear the hum and laughter of humanity happy for a night.
"I needn't tell you more," said Father Brown. "They tried him in the wilderness and destroyed him. Then, for the honour of England & of his daughter, they took an oath to seal up for ever the story of the traitor's purse and the assassin's sword blade. Perhaps —Lord helps them— they tried to forget it. Let us try to forget it, anyhow; here is our inn."
"With all my heart," said Flambeau, and striding into the noisy bar he stepped back and almost fell on the road.
"Look there, in the devil's name!" he cried,
He then pointed rigidly at the square wooden sign that overhung the road. It showed dimly the crude shape of a sabre hilt and a shortened blade;   and was inscribed in false archaic lettering,  "The Sign of the Broken Sword."
"Were you not prepared?" asked Father Brown gently. "He is the god of this country; half the inns and parks and streets are named after him and his story."
"You will never have done with him in England," said the priest, looking down. His marble statues will erect the souls of proud, innocent boys for centuries, his village tomb will smell of loyalty as of lilies. Millions who never knew him shall love him like a father. He shall be a saint; and the truth shall never be told of him, because I have made up my mind at last. There is so much good and evil in breaking secrets, that I put my conduct to a test. If it were only that St. Clare was wrongly praised, I would be silent. And I will."
They plunged into the red-curtained tavern, which was not only cosy, but even luxurious inside. On a table stood a silver model of the tomb of St. Clare, the silver head bowed, the silver sword broken. On the walls were coloured photographs of the same scene, and of the system of wagonettes that took tourists to see it.

   See two previous post.

(One third from original text is missing) 

For an analysis, see next post

by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

First published in The Saturday Evening Post, Jan 7, 1911

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