The Wrong Shape

Certain of the great roads going north out of London continue far

into the country a sort of attenuated and interrupted spectre of a

street, with great gaps in the building, but preserving the line.

Here will be a group of shops, followed by a fenced field or

paddock, and then a famous public-house, and then perhaps a market

garden or a nursery garden, and then one large private house, and

then another field and another inn, and so on. If anyone walks

along one of these roads he will pass a house which will probably

catch his eye, though he may not be able to explain its attraction.

It is a long, low house, running parallel with the road, painted

mostly white and pale green, with a veranda and sun-blinds, and

porches capped with those quaint sort of cupolas like wooden

umbrellas that one sees in some old-fashioned houses. In fact, it

is an old-fashioned house, very English and very suburban in the

good old wealthy Clapham sense. And yet the house has a look of

having been built chiefly for the hot weather. Looking at its

white paint and sun-blinds one thinks vaguely of pugarees and even

of palm trees. I cannot trace the feeling to its root; perhaps

the place was built by an Anglo-Indian.

Anyone passing this house, I say, would be namelessly

fascinated by it; would feel that it was a place about which some

story was to be told. And he would have been right, as you shall

shortly hear. For this is the story--the story of the strange

things that did really happen in it in the Whitsuntide of the year


Anyone passing the house on the Thursday before WhitSunday at

about half-past four p.m. would have seen the front door open, and

Father Brown, of the small church of St. Mungo, come out smoking a

large pipe in company with a very tall French friend of his called

Flambeau, who was smoking a very small cigarette. These persons

may or may not be of interest to the reader, but the truth is that

they were not the only interesting things that were displayed when

the front door of the white-and-green house was opened. There are

further peculiarities about this house, which must be described to

start with, not only that the reader may understand this tragic

tale, but also that he may realise what it was that the opening of

the door revealed.

The whole house was built upon the plan of a T, but a T with a

very long cross piece and a very short tail piece. The long cross

piece was the frontage that ran along in face of the street, with

the front door in the middle; it was two stories high, and

contained nearly all the important rooms. The short tail piece,

which ran out at the back immediately opposite the front door, was

one story high, and consisted only of two long rooms, the one

leading into the other. The first of these two rooms was the study

in which the celebrated Mr. Quinton wrote his wild Oriental poems

and romances. The farther room was a glass conservatory full of

tropical blossoms of quite unique and almost monstrous beauty, and

on such afternoons as these glowing with gorgeous sunlight. Thus

when the hall door was open, many a passer-by literally stopped to

stare and gasp; for he looked down a perspective of rich apartments

to something really like a transformation scene in a fairy play:

purple clouds and golden suns and crimson stars that were at once

scorchingly vivid and yet transparent and far away.

Leonard Quinton, the poet, had himself most carefully arranged

this effect; and it is doubtful whether he so perfectly expressed

his personality in any of his poems. For he was a man who drank

and bathed in colours, who indulged his lust for colour somewhat

to the neglect of form--even of good form. This it was that had

turned his genius so wholly to eastern art and imagery; to those

bewildering carpets or blinding embroideries in which all the

colours seem fallen into a fortunate chaos, having nothing to

typify or to teach. He had attempted, not perhaps with complete

artistic success, but with acknowledged imagination and invention,

to compose epics and love stories reflecting the riot of violent

and even cruel colour; tales of tropical heavens of burning gold or

blood-red copper; of eastern heroes who rode with twelve-turbaned

mitres upon elephants painted purple or peacock green; of gigantic

jewels that a hundred negroes could not carry, but which burned

with ancient and strange-hued fires.

In short (to put the matter from the more common point of

view), he dealt much in eastern heavens, rather worse than most

western hells; in eastern monarchs, whom we might possibly call

maniacs; and in eastern jewels which a Bond Street jeweller (if

the hundred staggering negroes brought them into his shop) might

possibly not regard as genuine. Quinton was a genius, if a morbid

one; and even his morbidity appeared more in his life than in his

work. In temperament he was weak and waspish, and his health had

suffered heavily from oriental experiments with opium. His wife

--a handsome, hard-working, and, indeed, over-worked woman

objected to the opium, but objected much more to a live Indian

hermit in white and yellow robes, whom her husband insisted on

entertaining for months together, a Virgil to guide his spirit

through the heavens and the hells of the east.

It was out of this artistic household that Father Brown and

his friend stepped on to the door-step; and to judge from their

faces, they stepped out of it with much relief. Flambeau had

known Quinton in wild student days in Paris, and they had renewed

the acquaintance for a week-end; but apart from Flambeau's more

responsible developments of late, he did not get on well with the

poet now. Choking oneself with opium and writing little erotic

verses on vellum was not his notion of how a gentleman should go

to the devil. As the two paused on the door-step, before taking a

turn in the garden, the front garden gate was thrown open with

violence, and a young man with a billycock hat on the back of his

head tumbled up the steps in his eagerness. He was a

dissipated-looking youth with a gorgeous red necktie all awry, as

if he had slept in it, and he kept fidgeting and lashing about

with one of those little jointed canes.

"I say," he said breathlessly, "I want to see old Quinton. I

must see him. Has he gone?"

"Mr. Quinton is in, I believe," said Father Brown, cleaning

his pipe, "but I do not know if you can see him. The doctor is

with him at present."

The young man, who seemed not to be perfectly sober, stumbled

into the hall; and at the same moment the doctor came out of

Quinton's study, shutting the door and beginning to put on his


"See Mr. Quinton?" said the doctor coolly. "No, I'm afraid

you can't. In fact, you mustn't on any account. Nobody must see

him; I've just given him his sleeping draught."

"No, but look here, old chap," said the youth in the red tie,

trying affectionately to capture the doctor by the lapels of his

coat. "Look here. I'm simply sewn up, I tell you. I--"

"It's no good, Mr. Atkinson," said the doctor, forcing him to

fall back; "when you can alter the effects of a drug I'll alter my

decision," and, settling on his hat, he stepped out into the

sunlight with the other two. He was a bull-necked, good-tempered

little man with a small moustache, inexpressibly ordinary, yet

giving an impression of capacity.

The young man in the billycock, who did not seem to be gifted

with any tact in dealing with people beyond the general idea of

clutching hold of their coats, stood outside the door, as dazed as

if he had been thrown out bodily, and silently watched the other

three walk away together through the garden.

"That was a sound, spanking lie I told just now," remarked the

medical man, laughing. "In point of fact, poor Quinton doesn't

have his sleeping draught for nearly half an hour. But I'm not

going to have him bothered with that little beast, who only wants

to borrow money that he wouldn't pay back if he could. He's a

dirty little scamp, though he is Mrs. Quinton's brother, and she's

as fine a woman as ever walked."

"Yes," said Father Brown. "She's a good woman."

"So I propose to hang about the garden till the creature has

cleared off," went on the doctor, "and then I'll go in to Quinton

with the medicine. Atkinson can't get in, because I locked the


"In that case, Dr. Harris," said Flambeau, "we might as well

walk round at the back by the end of the conservatory. There's no

entrance to it that way, but it's worth seeing, even from the


"Yes, and I might get a squint at my patient," laughed the

doctor, "for he prefers to lie on an ottoman right at the end of

the conservatory amid all those blood-red poinsettias; it would

give me the creeps. But what are you doing?"

Father Brown had stopped for a moment, and picked up out of

the long grass, where it had almost been wholly hidden, a queer,

crooked Oriental knife, inlaid exquisitely in coloured stones and


"What is this?" asked Father Brown, regarding it with some


"Oh, Quinton's, I suppose," said Dr. Harris carelessly; "he

has all sorts of Chinese knickknacks about the place. Or perhaps

it belongs to that mild Hindoo of his whom he keeps on a string."

"What Hindoo?" asked Father Brown, still staring at the dagger

in his hand.

"Oh, some Indian conjuror," said the doctor lightly; "a fraud,

of course."

"You don't believe in magic?" asked Father Brown, without

looking up.

"O crickey! magic!" said the doctor.

"It's very beautiful," said the priest in a low, dreaming

voice; "the colours are very beautiful. But it's the wrong shape."

"What for?" asked Flambeau, staring.

"For anything. It's the wrong shape in the abstract. Don't

you ever feel that about Eastern art? The colours are

intoxicatingly lovely; but the shapes are mean and bad--

deliberately mean and bad. I have seen wicked things in a Turkey


"Mon Dieu!" cried Flambeau, laughing.

"They are letters and symbols in a language I don't know; but

I know they stand for evil words," went on the priest, his voice

growing lower and lower. "The lines go wrong on purpose--like

serpents doubling to escape."

"What the devil are you talking about?" said the doctor with a

loud laugh.

Flambeau spoke quietly to him in answer. "The Father

sometimes gets this mystic's cloud on him," he said; "but I give

you fair warning that I have never known him to have it except

when there was some evil quite near."

"Oh, rats!" said the scientist.

"Why, look at it," cried Father Brown, holding out the crooked

knife at arm's length, as if it were some glittering snake.

"Don't you see it is the wrong shape? Don't you see that it has

no hearty and plain purpose? It does not point like a spear. It

does not sweep like a scythe. It does not look like a weapon. It

looks like an instrument of torture."

"Well, as you don't seem to like it," said the jolly Harris,

"it had better be taken back to its owner. Haven't we come to the

end of this confounded conservatory yet? This house is the wrong

shape, if you like."

"You don't understand," said Father Brown, shaking his head.

"The shape of this house is quaint--it is even laughable. But

there is nothing wrong about it."

As they spoke they came round the curve of glass that ended

the conservatory, an uninterrupted curve, for there was neither

door nor window by which to enter at that end. The glass,

however, was clear, and the sun still bright, though beginning to

set; and they could see not only the flamboyant blossoms inside,

but the frail figure of the poet in a brown velvet coat lying

languidly on the sofa, having, apparently, fallen half asleep over

a book. He was a pale, slight man, with loose, chestnut hair and

a fringe of beard that was the paradox of his face, for the beard

made him look less manly. These traits were well known to all

three of them; but even had it not been so, it may be doubted

whether they would have looked at Quinton just then. Their eyes

were riveted on another object.

Exactly in their path, immediately outside the round end of

the glass building, was standing a tall man, whose drapery fell to

his feet in faultless white, and whose bare, brown skull, face,

and neck gleamed in the setting sun like splendid bronze. He was

looking through the glass at the sleeper, and he was more

motionless than a mountain.

"Who is that?" cried Father Brown, stepping back with a

hissing intake of his breath.

"Oh, it is only that Hindoo humbug," growled Harris; "but I

don't know what the deuce he's doing here."

"It looks like hypnotism," said Flambeau, biting his black


"Why are you unmedical fellows always talking bosh about

hypnotism?" cried the doctor. "It looks a deal more like


"Well, we will speak to it, at any rate," said Flambeau, who

was always for action. One long stride took him to the place

where the Indian stood. Bowing from his great height, which

overtopped even the Oriental's, he said with placid impudence:

"Good evening, sir. Do you want anything?"

Quite slowly, like a great ship turning into a harbour, the

great yellow face turned, and looked at last over its white

shoulder. They were startled to see that its yellow eyelids were

quite sealed, as in sleep. "Thank you," said the face in

excellent English. "I want nothing." Then, half opening the

lids, so as to show a slit of opalescent eyeball, he repeated, "I

want nothing." Then he opened his eyes wide with a startling

stare, said, "I want nothing," and went rustling away into the

rapidly darkening garden.

"The Christian is more modest," muttered Father Brown; "he

wants something."

"What on earth was he doing?" asked Flambeau, knitting his

black brows and lowering his voice.

"I should like to talk to you later," said Father Brown.

The sunlight was still a reality, but it was the red light of

evening, and the bulk of the garden trees and bushes grew blacker

and blacker against it. They turned round the end of the

conservatory, and walked in silence down the other side to get

round to the front door. As they went they seemed to wake

something, as one startles a bird, in the deeper corner between

the study and the main building; and again they saw the

white-robed fakir slide out of the shadow, and slip round towards

the front door. To their surprise, however, he had not been

alone. They found themselves abruptly pulled up and forced to

banish their bewilderment by the appearance of Mrs. Quinton, with

her heavy golden hair and square pale face, advancing on them out

of the twilight. She looked a little stern, but was entirely


"Good evening, Dr. Harris," was all she said.

"Good evening, Mrs. Quinton," said the little doctor heartily.

"I am just going to give your husband his sleeping draught."

"Yes," she said in a clear voice. "I think it is quite time."

And she smiled at them, and went sweeping into the house.

"That woman's over-driven," said Father Brown; "that's the

kind of woman that does her duty for twenty years, and then does

something dreadful."

The little doctor looked at him for the first time with an eye

of interest. "Did you ever study medicine?" he asked.

"You have to know something of the mind as well as the body,"

answered the priest; "we have to know something of the body as

well as the mind."

"Well," said the doctor, "I think I'll go and give Quinton his


They had turned the corner of the front facade, and were

approaching the front doorway. As they turned into it they saw

the man in the white robe for the third time. He came so straight

towards the front door that it seemed quite incredible that he had

not just come out of the study opposite to it. Yet they knew that

the study door was locked.

Father Brown and Flambeau, however, kept this weird

contradiction to themselves, and Dr. Harris was not a man to

waste his thoughts on the impossible. He permitted the

omnipresent Asiatic to make his exit, and then stepped briskly

into the hall. There he found a figure which he had already

forgotten. The inane Atkinson was still hanging about, humming

and poking things with his knobby cane. The doctor's face had a

spasm of disgust and decision, and he whispered rapidly to his

companion: "I must lock the door again, or this rat will get in.

But I shall be out again in two minutes."

He rapidly unlocked the door and locked it again behind him,

just balking a blundering charge from the young man in the

billycock. The young man threw himself impatiently on a hall

chair. Flambeau looked at a Persian illumination on the wall;

Father Brown, who seemed in a sort of daze, dully eyed the door.

In about four minutes the door was opened again. Atkinson was

quicker this time. He sprang forward, held the door open for an

instant, and called out: "Oh, I say, Quinton, I want--"

From the other end of the study came the clear voice of

Quinton, in something between a yawn and a yell of weary laughter.

"Oh, I know what you want. Take it, and leave me in peace.

I'm writing a song about peacocks."

Before the door closed half a sovereign came flying through

the aperture; and Atkinson, stumbling forward, caught it with

singular dexterity.

"So that's settled," said the doctor, and, locking the door

savagely, he led the way out into the garden.

"Poor Leonard can get a little peace now," he added to Father

Brown; "he's locked in all by himself for an hour or two."

"Yes," answered the priest; "and his voice sounded jolly enough

when we left him." Then he looked gravely round the garden, and

saw the loose figure of Atkinson standing and jingling the

half-sovereign in his pocket, and beyond, in the purple twilight,

the figure of the Indian sitting bolt upright upon a bank of grass

with his face turned towards the setting sun. Then he said

abruptly: "Where is Mrs. Quinton!"

"She has gone up to her room," said the doctor. "That is her

shadow on the blind."

Father Brown looked up, and frowningly scrutinised a dark

outline at the gas-lit window.

"Yes," he said, "that is her shadow," and he walked a yard or

two and threw himself upon a garden seat.

Flambeau sat down beside him; but the doctor was one of those

energetic people who live naturally on their legs. He walked

away, smoking, into the twilight, and the two friends were left


"My father," said Flambeau in French, "what is the matter with


Father Brown was silent and motionless for half a minute, then

he said: "Superstition is irreligious, but there is something in

the air of this place. I think it's that Indian--at least,


He sank into silence, and watched the distant outline of the

Indian, who still sat rigid as if in prayer. At first sight he

seemed motionless, but as Father Brown watched him he saw that the

man swayed ever so slightly with a rhythmic movement, just as the

dark tree-tops swayed ever so slightly in the wind that was

creeping up the dim garden paths and shuffling the fallen leaves a


The landscape was growing rapidly dark, as if for a storm, but

they could still see all the figures in their various places.

Atkinson was leaning against a tree with a listless face; Quinton's

wife was still at her window; the doctor had gone strolling round

the end of the conservatory; they could see his cigar like a

will-o'-the-wisp; and the fakir still sat rigid and yet rocking,

while the trees above him began to rock and almost to roar. Storm

was certainly coming.

"When that Indian spoke to us," went on Brown in a

conversational undertone, "I had a sort of vision, a vision of him

and all his universe. Yet he only said the same thing three

times. When first he said `I want nothing,' it meant only that he

was impenetrable, that Asia does not give itself away. Then he

said again, `I want nothing,' and I knew that he meant that he was

sufficient to himself, like a cosmos, that he needed no God,

neither admitted any sins. And when he said the third time, `I

want nothing,' he said it with blazing eyes. And I knew that he

meant literally what he said; that nothing was his desire and his

home; that he was weary for nothing as for wine; that annihilation,

the mere destruction of everything or anything--"

Two drops of rain fell; and for some reason Flambeau started

and looked up, as if they had stung him. And the same instant the

doctor down by the end of the conservatory began running towards

them, calling out something as he ran.

As he came among them like a bombshell the restless Atkinson

happened to be taking a turn nearer to the house front; and the

doctor clutched him by the collar in a convulsive grip. "Foul

play!" he cried; "what have you been doing to him, you dog?"

The priest had sprung erect, and had the voice of steel of a

soldier in command.

"No fighting," he cried coolly; "we are enough to hold anyone

we want to. What is the matter, doctor?"

"Things are not right with Quinton," said the doctor, quite

white. "I could just see him through the glass, and I don't like

the way he's lying. It's not as I left him, anyhow."

"Let us go in to him," said Father Brown shortly. "You can

leave Mr. Atkinson alone. I have had him in sight since we heard

Quinton's voice."

"I will stop here and watch him," said Flambeau hurriedly.

"You go in and see."

The doctor and the priest flew to the study door, unlocked it,

and fell into the room. In doing so they nearly fell over the

large mahogany table in the centre at which the poet usually

wrote; for the place was lit only by a small fire kept for the

invalid. In the middle of this table lay a single sheet of paper,

evidently left there on purpose. The doctor snatched it up,

glanced at it, handed it to Father Brown, and crying, "Good God,

look at that!" plunged toward the glass room beyond, where the

terrible tropic flowers still seemed to keep a crimson memory of

the sunset.

Father Brown read the words three times before he put down the

paper. The words were: "I die by my own hand; yet I die murdered!"

They were in the quite inimitable, not to say illegible, handwriting

of Leonard Quinton.

Then Father Brown, still keeping the paper in his hand, strode

towards the conservatory, only to meet his medical friend coming

back with a face of assurance and collapse. "He's done it," said


They went together through the gorgeous unnatural beauty of

cactus and azalea and found Leonard Quinton, poet and romancer,

with his head hanging downward off his ottoman and his red curls

sweeping the ground. Into his left side was thrust the queer

dagger that they had picked up in the garden, and his limp hand

still rested on the hilt.

Outside the storm had come at one stride, like the night in

Coleridge, and garden and glass roof were darkened with driving

rain. Father Brown seemed to be studying the paper more than the

corpse; he held it close to his eyes; and seemed trying to read it

in the twilight. Then he held it up against the faint light, and,

as he did so, lightning stared at them for an instant so white

that the paper looked black against it.

Darkness full of thunder followed, and after the thunder

Father Brown's voice said out of the dark: "Doctor, this paper is

the wrong shape."

"What do you mean?" asked Doctor Harris, with a frowning


"It isn't square," answered Brown. "It has a sort of edge

snipped off at the corner. What does it mean?"

"How the deuce should I know?" growled the doctor. "Shall we

move this poor chap, do you think? He's quite dead."

"No," answered the priest; "we must leave him as he lies and

send for the police." But he was still scrutinising the paper.

As they went back through the study he stopped by the table

and picked up a small pair of nail scissors. "Ah," he said, with

a sort of relief, "this is what he did it with. But yet--" And

he knitted his brows.

"Oh, stop fooling with that scrap of paper," said the doctor

emphatically. "It was a fad of his. He had hundreds of them. He

cut all his paper like that," as he pointed to a stack of sermon

paper still unused on another and smaller table. Father Brown

went up to it and held up a sheet. It was the same irregular


"Quite so," he said. "And here I see the corners that were

snipped off." And to the indignation of his colleague he began to

count them.

"That's all right," he said, with an apologetic smile.

"Twenty-three sheets cut and twenty-two corners cut off them. And

as I see you are impatient we will rejoin the others."

"Who is to tell his wife?" asked Dr. Harris. "Will you go and

tell her now, while I send a servant for the police?"

"As you will," said Father Brown indifferently. And he went

out to the hall door.

Here also he found a drama, though of a more grotesque sort.

It showed nothing less than his big friend Flambeau in an attitude

to which he had long been unaccustomed, while upon the pathway at

the bottom of the steps was sprawling with his boots in the air

the amiable Atkinson, his billycock hat and walking cane sent

flying in opposite directions along the path. Atkinson had at

length wearied of Flambeau's almost paternal custody, and had

endeavoured to knock him down, which was by no means a smooth game

to play with the Roi des Apaches, even after that monarch's


Flambeau was about to leap upon his enemy and secure him once

more, when the priest patted him easily on the shoulder.

"Make it up with Mr. Atkinson, my friend," he said. "Beg a

mutual pardon and say `Good night.' We need not detain him any

longer." Then, as Atkinson rose somewhat doubtfully and gathered

his hat and stick and went towards the garden gate, Father Brown

said in a more serious voice: "Where is that Indian?"

They all three (for the doctor had joined them) turned

involuntarily towards the dim grassy bank amid the tossing trees

purple with twilight, where they had last seen the brown man

swaying in his strange prayers. The Indian was gone.

"Confound him," cried the doctor, stamping furiously. "Now I

know that it was that nigger that did it."

"I thought you didn't believe in magic," said Father Brown


"No more I did," said the doctor, rolling his eyes. "I only

know that I loathed that yellow devil when I thought he was a sham

wizard. And I shall loathe him more if I come to think he was a

real one."

"Well, his having escaped is nothing," said Flambeau. "For we

could have proved nothing and done nothing against him. One hardly

goes to the parish constable with a story of suicide imposed by

witchcraft or auto-suggestion."

Meanwhile Father Brown had made his way into the house, and

now went to break the news to the wife of the dead man.

When he came out again he looked a little pale and tragic, but

what passed between them in that interview was never known, even

when all was known.

Flambeau, who was talking quietly with the doctor, was

surprised to see his friend reappear so soon at his elbow; but

Brown took no notice, and merely drew the doctor apart. "You have

sent for the police, haven't you?" he asked.

"Yes," answered Harris. "They ought to be here in ten


"Will you do me a favour?" said the priest quietly. "The

truth is, I make a collection of these curious stories, which

often contain, as in the case of our Hindoo friend, elements which

can hardly be put into a police report. Now, I want you to write

out a report of this case for my private use. Yours is a clever

trade," he said, looking the doctor gravely and steadily in the

face. "I sometimes think that you know some details of this

matter which you have not thought fit to mention. Mine is a

confidential trade like yours, and I will treat anything you write

for me in strict confidence. But write the whole."

The doctor, who had been listening thoughtfully with his head

a little on one side, looked the priest in the face for an

instant, and said: "All right," and went into the study, closing

the door behind him.

"Flambeau," said Father Brown, "there is a long seat there

under the veranda, where we can smoke out of the rain. You are my

only friend in the world, and I want to talk to you. Or, perhaps,

be silent with you."

They established themselves comfortably in the veranda seat;

Father Brown, against his common habit, accepted a good cigar and

smoked it steadily in silence, while the rain shrieked and rattled

on the roof of the veranda.

"My friend," he said at length, "this is a very queer case. A

very queer case."

"I should think it was," said Flambeau, with something like a


"You call it queer, and I call it queer," said the other, "and

yet we mean quite opposite things. The modern mind always mixes

up two different ideas: mystery in the sense of what is marvellous,

and mystery in the sense of what is complicated. That is half its

difficulty about miracles. A miracle is startling; but it is

simple. It is simple because it is a miracle. It is power coming

directly from God (or the devil) instead of indirectly through

nature or human wills. Now, you mean that this business is

marvellous because it is miraculous, because it is witchcraft

worked by a wicked Indian. Understand, I do not say that it was

not spiritual or diabolic. Heaven and hell only know by what

surrounding influences strange sins come into the lives of men.

But for the present my point is this: If it was pure magic, as you

think, then it is marvellous; but it is not mysterious--that is,

it is not complicated. The quality of a miracle is mysterious,

but its manner is simple. Now, the manner of this business has

been the reverse of simple."

The storm that had slackened for a little seemed to be swelling

again, and there came heavy movements as of faint thunder. Father

Brown let fall the ash of his cigar and went on:

"There has been in this incident," he said, "a twisted, ugly,

complex quality that does not belong to the straight bolts either

of heaven or hell. As one knows the crooked track of a snail, I

know the crooked track of a man."

The white lightning opened its enormous eye in one wink, the

sky shut up again, and the priest went on:

"Of all these crooked things, the crookedest was the shape of

that piece of paper. It was crookeder than the dagger that killed


"You mean the paper on which Quinton confessed his suicide,"

said Flambeau.

"I mean the paper on which Quinton wrote, `I die by my own

hand,'" answered Father Brown. "The shape of that paper, my

friend, was the wrong shape; the wrong shape, if ever I have seen

it in this wicked world."

"It only had a corner snipped off," said Flambeau, "and I

understand that all Quinton's paper was cut that way."

"It was a very odd way," said the other, "and a very bad way,

to my taste and fancy. Look here, Flambeau, this Quinton--God

receive his soul!--was perhaps a bit of a cur in some ways, but

he really was an artist, with the pencil as well as the pen. His

handwriting, though hard to read, was bold and beautiful. I can't

prove what I say; I can't prove anything. But I tell you with the

full force of conviction that he could never have cut that mean

little piece off a sheet of paper. If he had wanted to cut down

paper for some purpose of fitting in, or binding up, or what not,

he would have made quite a different slash with the scissors. Do

you remember the shape? It was a mean shape. It was a wrong

shape. Like this. Don't you remember?"

And he waved his burning cigar before him in the darkness,

making irregular squares so rapidly that Flambeau really seemed to

see them as fiery hieroglyphics upon the darkness--hieroglyphics

such as his friend had spoken of, which are undecipherable, yet

can have no good meaning.

"But," said Flambeau, as the priest put his cigar in his mouth

again and leaned back, staring at the roof, "suppose somebody else

did use the scissors. Why should somebody else, cutting pieces off

his sermon paper, make Quinton commit suicide?"

Father Brown was still leaning back and staring at the roof,

but he took his cigar out of his mouth and said: "Quinton never

did commit suicide."

Flambeau stared at him. "Why, confound it all," he cried,

"then why did he confess to suicide?"

The priest leant forward again, settled his elbows on his

knees, looked at the ground, and said, in a low, distinct voice:

"He never did confess to suicide."

Flambeau laid his cigar down. "You mean," he said, "that the

writing was forged?"

"No," said Father Brown. "Quinton wrote it all right."

"Well, there you are," said the aggravated Flambeau; "Quinton

wrote, `I die by my own hand,' with his own hand on a plain piece

of paper."

"Of the wrong shape," said the priest calmly.

"Oh, the shape be damned!" cried Flambeau. "What has the

shape to do with it?"

"There were twenty-three snipped papers," resumed Brown

unmoved, "and only twenty-two pieces snipped off. Therefore one

of the pieces had been destroyed, probably that from the written

paper. Does that suggest anything to you?"

A light dawned on Flambeau's face, and he said: "There was

something else written by Quinton, some other words. `They will

tell you I die by my own hand,' or `Do not believe that--'"

"Hotter, as the children say," said his friend. "But the

piece was hardly half an inch across; there was no room for one

word, let alone five. Can you think of anything hardly bigger

than a comma which the man with hell in his heart had to tear away

as a testimony against him?"

"I can think of nothing," said Flambeau at last.

"What about quotation marks?" said the priest, and flung his

cigar far into the darkness like a shooting star.

All words had left the other man's mouth, and Father Brown

said, like one going back to fundamentals:

"Leonard Quinton was a romancer, and was writing an Oriental

romance about wizardry and hypnotism. He--"

At this moment the door opened briskly behind them, and the

doctor came out with his hat on. He put a long envelope into the

priest's hands.

"That's the document you wanted," he said, "and I must be

getting home. Good night."

"Good night," said Father Brown, as the doctor walked briskly

to the gate. He had left the front door open, so that a shaft of

gaslight fell upon them. In the light of this Brown opened the

envelope and read the following words:

DEAR FATHER BROWN,--Vicisti Galilee. Otherwise, damn your

eyes, which are very penetrating ones. Can it be possible that

there is something in all that stuff of yours after all?

I am a man who has ever since boyhood believed in Nature and

in all natural functions and instincts, whether men called them

moral or immoral. Long before I became a doctor, when I was a

schoolboy keeping mice and spiders, I believed that to be a good

animal is the best thing in the world. But just now I am shaken;

I have believed in Nature; but it seems as if Nature could betray

a man. Can there be anything in your bosh? I am really getting


I loved Quinton's wife. What was there wrong in that? Nature

told me to, and it's love that makes the world go round. I also

thought quite sincerely that she would be happier with a clean

animal like me than with that tormenting little lunatic. What was

there wrong in that? I was only facing facts, like a man of

science. She would have been happier.

According to my own creed I was quite free to kill Quinton,

which was the best thing for everybody, even himself. But as a

healthy animal I had no notion of killing myself. I resolved,

therefore, that I would never do it until I saw a chance that

would leave me scot free. I saw that chance this morning.

I have been three times, all told, into Quinton's study today.

The first time I went in he would talk about nothing but the weird

tale, called "The Cure of a Saint," which he was writing, which

was all about how some Indian hermit made an English colonel kill

himself by thinking about him. He showed me the last sheets, and

even read me the last paragraph, which was something like this:

"The conqueror of the Punjab, a mere yellow skeleton, but still

gigantic, managed to lift himself on his elbow and gasp in his

nephew's ear: `I die by my own hand, yet I die murdered!'" It so

happened by one chance out of a hundred, that those last words

were written at the top of a new sheet of paper. I left the room,

and went out into the garden intoxicated with a frightful


We walked round the house; and two more things happened in my

favour. You suspected an Indian, and you found a dagger which the

Indian might most probably use. Taking the opportunity to stuff

it in my pocket I went back to Quinton's study, locked the door,

and gave him his sleeping draught. He was against answering

Atkinson at all, but I urged him to call out and quiet the fellow,

because I wanted a clear proof that Quinton was alive when I left

the room for the second time. Quinton lay down in the conservatory,

and I came through the study. I am a quick man with my hands, and

in a minute and a half I had done what I wanted to do. I had

emptied all the first part of Quinton's romance into the fireplace,

where it burnt to ashes. Then I saw that the quotation marks

wouldn't do, so I snipped them off, and to make it seem likelier,

snipped the whole quire to match. Then I came out with the

knowledge that Quinton's confession of suicide lay on the front

table, while Quinton lay alive but asleep in the conservatory


The last act was a desperate one; you can guess it: I pretended

to have seen Quinton dead and rushed to his room. I delayed you

with the paper, and, being a quick man with my hands, killed

Quinton while you were looking at his confession of suicide. He

was half-asleep, being drugged, and I put his own hand on the

knife and drove it into his body. The knife was of so queer a

shape that no one but an operator could have calculated the angle

that would reach his heart. I wonder if you noticed this.

When I had done it, the extraordinary thing happened. Nature

deserted me. I felt ill. I felt just as if I had done something

wrong. I think my brain is breaking up; I feel some sort of

desperate pleasure in thinking I have told the thing to somebody;

that I shall not have to be alone with it if I marry and have

children. What is the matter with me? ... Madness ... or can one

have remorse, just as if one were in Byron's poems! I cannot

write any more.