The Hammer of God

The little village of Bohun Beacon was perched on a hill so steep

that the tall spire of its church seemed only like the peak of a

small mountain. At the foot of the church stood a smithy,

generally red with fires and always littered with hammers and

scraps of iron; opposite to this, over a rude cross of cobbled

paths, was "The Blue Boar," the only inn of the place. It was

upon this crossway, in the lifting of a leaden and silver

daybreak, that two brothers met in the street and spoke; though

one was beginning the day and the other finishing it. The Rev.

and Hon. Wilfred Bohun was very devout, and was making his way to

some austere exercises of prayer or contemplation at dawn.

Colonel the Hon. Norman Bohun, his elder brother, was by no means

devout, and was sitting in evening dress on the bench outside "The

Blue Boar," drinking what the philosophic observer was free to

regard either as his last glass on Tuesday or his first on

Wednesday. The colonel was not particular.

The Bohuns were one of the very few aristocratic families

really dating from the Middle Ages, and their pennon had actually

seen Palestine. But it is a great mistake to suppose that such

houses stand high in chivalric tradition. Few except the poor

preserve traditions. Aristocrats live not in traditions but in

fashions. The Bohuns had been Mohocks under Queen Anne and

Mashers under Queen Victoria. But like more than one of the

really ancient houses, they had rotted in the last two centuries

into mere drunkards and dandy degenerates, till there had even

come a whisper of insanity. Certainly there was something hardly

human about the colonel's wolfish pursuit of pleasure, and his

chronic resolution not to go home till morning had a touch of the

hideous clarity of insomnia. He was a tall, fine animal, elderly,

but with hair still startlingly yellow. He would have looked

merely blonde and leonine, but his blue eyes were sunk so deep in

his face that they looked black. They were a little too close

together. He had very long yellow moustaches; on each side of

them a fold or furrow from nostril to jaw, so that a sneer seemed

cut into his face. Over his evening clothes he wore a curious

pale yellow coat that looked more like a very light dressing gown

than an overcoat, and on the back of his head was stuck an

extraordinary broad-brimmed hat of a bright green colour,

evidently some oriental curiosity caught up at random. He was

proud of appearing in such incongruous attires--proud of the

fact that he always made them look congruous.

His brother the curate had also the yellow hair and the

elegance, but he was buttoned up to the chin in black, and his

face was clean-shaven, cultivated, and a little nervous. He

seemed to live for nothing but his religion; but there were some

who said (notably the blacksmith, who was a Presbyterian) that it

was a love of Gothic architecture rather than of God, and that his

haunting of the church like a ghost was only another and purer

turn of the almost morbid thirst for beauty which sent his brother

raging after women and wine. This charge was doubtful, while the

man's practical piety was indubitable. Indeed, the charge was

mostly an ignorant misunderstanding of the love of solitude and

secret prayer, and was founded on his being often found kneeling,

not before the altar, but in peculiar places, in the crypts or

gallery, or even in the belfry. He was at the moment about to

enter the church through the yard of the smithy, but stopped and

frowned a little as he saw his brother's cavernous eyes staring in

the same direction. On the hypothesis that the colonel was

interested in the church he did not waste any speculations. There

only remained the blacksmith's shop, and though the blacksmith was

a Puritan and none of his people, Wilfred Bohun had heard some

scandals about a beautiful and rather celebrated wife. He flung a

suspicious look across the shed, and the colonel stood up laughing

to speak to him.

"Good morning, Wilfred," he said. "Like a good landlord I am

watching sleeplessly over my people. I am going to call on the


Wilfred looked at the ground, and said: "The blacksmith is out.

He is over at Greenford."

"I know," answered the other with silent laughter; "that is

why I am calling on him."

"Norman," said the cleric, with his eye on a pebble in the

road, "are you ever afraid of thunderbolts?"

"What do you mean?" asked the colonel. "Is your hobby


"I mean," said Wilfred, without looking up, "do you ever think

that God might strike you in the street?"

"I beg your pardon," said the colonel; "I see your hobby is


"I know your hobby is blasphemy," retorted the religious man,

stung in the one live place of his nature. "But if you do not

fear God, you have good reason to fear man."

The elder raised his eyebrows politely. "Fear man?" he said.

"Barnes the blacksmith is the biggest and strongest man for

forty miles round," said the clergyman sternly. "I know you are

no coward or weakling, but he could throw you over the wall."

This struck home, being true, and the lowering line by mouth

and nostril darkened and deepened. For a moment he stood with the

heavy sneer on his face. But in an instant Colonel Bohun had

recovered his own cruel good humour and laughed, showing two

dog-like front teeth under his yellow moustache. "In that case,

my dear Wilfred," he said quite carelessly, "it was wise for the

last of the Bohuns to come out partially in armour."

And he took off the queer round hat covered with green,

showing that it was lined within with steel. Wilfred recognised

it indeed as a light Japanese or Chinese helmet torn down from a

trophy that hung in the old family hall.

"It was the first hat to hand," explained his brother airily;

"always the nearest hat--and the nearest woman."

"The blacksmith is away at Greenford," said Wilfred quietly;

"the time of his return is unsettled."

And with that he turned and went into the church with bowed

head, crossing himself like one who wishes to be quit of an

unclean spirit. He was anxious to forget such grossness in the

cool twilight of his tall Gothic cloisters; but on that morning it

was fated that his still round of religious exercises should be

everywhere arrested by small shocks. As he entered the church,

hitherto always empty at that hour, a kneeling figure rose hastily

to its feet and came towards the full daylight of the doorway.

When the curate saw it he stood still with surprise. For the

early worshipper was none other than the village idiot, a nephew

of the blacksmith, one who neither would nor could care for the

church or for anything else. He was always called "Mad Joe," and

seemed to have no other name; he was a dark, strong, slouching

lad, with a heavy white face, dark straight hair, and a mouth

always open. As he passed the priest, his moon-calf countenance

gave no hint of what he had been doing or thinking of. He had

never been known to pray before. What sort of prayers was he

saying now? Extraordinary prayers surely.

Wilfred Bohun stood rooted to the spot long enough to see the

idiot go out into the sunshine, and even to see his dissolute

brother hail him with a sort of avuncular jocularity. The last

thing he saw was the colonel throwing pennies at the open mouth of

Joe, with the serious appearance of trying to hit it.

This ugly sunlit picture of the stupidity and cruelty of the

earth sent the ascetic finally to his prayers for purification and

new thoughts. He went up to a pew in the gallery, which brought

him under a coloured window which he loved and always quieted his

spirit; a blue window with an angel carrying lilies. There he

began to think less about the half-wit, with his livid face and

mouth like a fish. He began to think less of his evil brother,

pacing like a lean lion in his horrible hunger. He sank deeper

and deeper into those cold and sweet colours of silver blossoms

and sapphire sky.

In this place half an hour afterwards he was found by Gibbs,

the village cobbler, who had been sent for him in some haste. He

got to his feet with promptitude, for he knew that no small matter

would have brought Gibbs into such a place at all. The cobbler

was, as in many villages, an atheist, and his appearance in church

was a shade more extraordinary than Mad Joe's. It was a morning

of theological enigmas.

"What is it?" asked Wilfred Bohun rather stiffly, but putting

out a trembling hand for his hat.

The atheist spoke in a tone that, coming from him, was quite

startlingly respectful, and even, as it were, huskily sympathetic.

"You must excuse me, sir," he said in a hoarse whisper, "but

we didn't think it right not to let you know at once. I'm afraid

a rather dreadful thing has happened, sir. I'm afraid your


Wilfred clenched his frail hands. "What devilry has he done

now?" he cried in voluntary passion.

"Why, sir," said the cobbler, coughing, "I'm afraid he's done

nothing, and won't do anything. I'm afraid he's done for. You

had really better come down, sir."

The curate followed the cobbler down a short winding stair

which brought them out at an entrance rather higher than the

street. Bohun saw the tragedy in one glance, flat underneath him

like a plan. In the yard of the smithy were standing five or six

men mostly in black, one in an inspector's uniform. They included

the doctor, the Presbyterian minister, and the priest from the

Roman Catholic chapel, to which the blacksmith's wife belonged.

The latter was speaking to her, indeed, very rapidly, in an

undertone, as she, a magnificent woman with red-gold hair, was

sobbing blindly on a bench. Between these two groups, and just

clear of the main heap of hammers, lay a man in evening dress,

spread-eagled and flat on his face. From the height above Wilfred

could have sworn to every item of his costume and appearance, down

to the Bohun rings upon his fingers; but the skull was only a

hideous splash, like a star of blackness and blood.

Wilfred Bohun gave but one glance, and ran down the steps into

the yard. The doctor, who was the family physician, saluted him,

but he scarcely took any notice. He could only stammer out: "My

brother is dead. What does it mean? What is this horrible

mystery?" There was an unhappy silence; and then the cobbler, the

most outspoken man present, answered: "Plenty of horror, sir," he

said; "but not much mystery."

"What do you mean?" asked Wilfred, with a white face.

"It's plain enough," answered Gibbs. "There is only one man

for forty miles round that could have struck such a blow as that,

and he's the man that had most reason to."

"We must not prejudge anything," put in the doctor, a tall,

black-bearded man, rather nervously; "but it is competent for me

to corroborate what Mr. Gibbs says about the nature of the blow,

sir; it is an incredible blow. Mr. Gibbs says that only one man

in this district could have done it. I should have said myself

that nobody could have done it."

A shudder of superstition went through the slight figure of

the curate. "I can hardly understand," he said.

"Mr. Bohun," said the doctor in a low voice, "metaphors

literally fail me. It is inadequate to say that the skull was

smashed to bits like an eggshell. Fragments of bone were driven

into the body and the ground like bullets into a mud wall. It was

the hand of a giant."

He was silent a moment, looking grimly through his glasses;

then he added: "The thing has one advantage--that it clears most

people of suspicion at one stroke. If you or I or any normally

made man in the country were accused of this crime, we should be

acquitted as an infant would be acquitted of stealing the Nelson


"That's what I say," repeated the cobbler obstinately;

"there's only one man that could have done it, and he's the man

that would have done it. Where's Simeon Barnes, the blacksmith?"

"He's over at Greenford," faltered the curate.

"More likely over in France," muttered the cobbler.

"No; he is in neither of those places," said a small and

colourless voice, which came from the little Roman priest who had

joined the group. "As a matter of fact, he is coming up the road

at this moment."

The little priest was not an interesting man to look at,

having stubbly brown hair and a round and stolid face. But if he

had been as splendid as Apollo no one would have looked at him at

that moment. Everyone turned round and peered at the pathway

which wound across the plain below, along which was indeed walking,

at his own huge stride and with a hammer on his shoulder, Simeon

the smith. He was a bony and gigantic man, with deep, dark,

sinister eyes and a dark chin beard. He was walking and talking

quietly with two other men; and though he was never specially

cheerful, he seemed quite at his ease.

"My God!" cried the atheistic cobbler, "and there's the hammer

he did it with."

"No," said the inspector, a sensible-looking man with a sandy

moustache, speaking for the first time. "There's the hammer he

did it with over there by the church wall. We have left it and

the body exactly as they are."

All glanced round and the short priest went across and looked

down in silence at the tool where it lay. It was one of the

smallest and the lightest of the hammers, and would not have

caught the eye among the rest; but on the iron edge of it were

blood and yellow hair.

After a silence the short priest spoke without looking up, and

there was a new note in his dull voice. "Mr. Gibbs was hardly

right," he said, "in saying that there is no mystery. There is at

least the mystery of why so big a man should attempt so big a blow

with so little a hammer."

"Oh, never mind that," cried Gibbs, in a fever. "What are we

to do with Simeon Barnes?"

"Leave him alone," said the priest quietly. "He is coming

here of himself. I know those two men with him. They are very

good fellows from Greenford, and they have come over about the

Presbyterian chapel."

Even as he spoke the tall smith swung round the corner of the

church, and strode into his own yard. Then he stood there quite

still, and the hammer fell from his hand. The inspector, who had

preserved impenetrable propriety, immediately went up to him.

"I won't ask you, Mr. Barnes," he said, "whether you know

anything about what has happened here. You are not bound to say.

I hope you don't know, and that you will be able to prove it. But

I must go through the form of arresting you in the King's name for

the murder of Colonel Norman Bohun."

"You are not bound to say anything," said the cobbler in

officious excitement. "They've got to prove everything. They

haven't proved yet that it is Colonel Bohun, with the head all

smashed up like that."

"That won't wash," said the doctor aside to the priest.

"That's out of the detective stories. I was the colonel's medical

man, and I knew his body better than he did. He had very fine

hands, but quite peculiar ones. The second and third fingers were

the same length. Oh, that's the colonel right enough."

As he glanced at the brained corpse upon the ground the iron

eyes of the motionless blacksmith followed them and rested there


"Is Colonel Bohun dead?" said the smith quite calmly. "Then

he's damned."

"Don't say anything! Oh, don't say anything," cried the

atheist cobbler, dancing about in an ecstasy of admiration of the

English legal system. For no man is such a legalist as the good


The blacksmith turned on him over his shoulder the august face

of a fanatic.

"It's well for you infidels to dodge like foxes because the

world's law favours you," he said; "but God guards His own in His

pocket, as you shall see this day."

Then he pointed to the colonel and said: "When did this dog

die in his sins?"

"Moderate your language," said the doctor.

"Moderate the Bible's language, and I'll moderate mine. When

did he die?"

"I saw him alive at six o'clock this morning," stammered

Wilfred Bohun.

"God is good," said the smith. "Mr. Inspector, I have not the

slightest objection to being arrested. It is you who may object

to arresting me. I don't mind leaving the court without a stain

on my character. You do mind perhaps leaving the court with a bad

set-back in your career."

The solid inspector for the first time looked at the

blacksmith with a lively eye; as did everybody else, except the

short, strange priest, who was still looking down at the little

hammer that had dealt the dreadful blow.

"There are two men standing outside this shop," went on the

blacksmith with ponderous lucidity, "good tradesmen in Greenford

whom you all know, who will swear that they saw me from before

midnight till daybreak and long after in the committee room of our

Revival Mission, which sits all night, we save souls so fast. In

Greenford itself twenty people could swear to me for all that

time. If I were a heathen, Mr. Inspector, I would let you walk on

to your downfall. But as a Christian man I feel bound to give you

your chance, and ask you whether you will hear my alibi now or in


The inspector seemed for the first time disturbed, and said,

"Of course I should be glad to clear you altogether now."

The smith walked out of his yard with the same long and easy

stride, and returned to his two friends from Greenford, who were

indeed friends of nearly everyone present. Each of them said a

few words which no one ever thought of disbelieving. When they

had spoken, the innocence of Simeon stood up as solid as the great

church above them.

One of those silences struck the group which are more strange

and insufferable than any speech. Madly, in order to make

conversation, the curate said to the Catholic priest:

"You seem very much interested in that hammer, Father Brown."

"Yes, I am," said Father Brown; "why is it such a small


The doctor swung round on him.

"By George, that's true," he cried; "who would use a little

hammer with ten larger hammers lying about?"

Then he lowered his voice in the curate's ear and said: "Only

the kind of person that can't lift a large hammer. It is not a

question of force or courage between the sexes. It's a question

of lifting power in the shoulders. A bold woman could commit ten

murders with a light hammer and never turn a hair. She could not

kill a beetle with a heavy one."

Wilfred Bohun was staring at him with a sort of hypnotised

horror, while Father Brown listened with his head a little on one

side, really interested and attentive. The doctor went on with

more hissing emphasis:

"Why do these idiots always assume that the only person who

hates the wife's lover is the wife's husband? Nine times out of

ten the person who most hates the wife's lover is the wife. Who

knows what insolence or treachery he had shown her--look there!"

He made a momentary gesture towards the red-haired woman on

the bench. She had lifted her head at last and the tears were

drying on her splendid face. But the eyes were fixed on the

corpse with an electric glare that had in it something of idiocy.

The Rev. Wilfred Bohun made a limp gesture as if waving away

all desire to know; but Father Brown, dusting off his sleeve some

ashes blown from the furnace, spoke in his indifferent way.

"You are like so many doctors," he said; "your mental science

is really suggestive. It is your physical science that is utterly

impossible. I agree that the woman wants to kill the

co-respondent much more than the petitioner does. And I agree

that a woman will always pick up a small hammer instead of a big

one. But the difficulty is one of physical impossibility. No

woman ever born could have smashed a man's skull out flat like

that." Then he added reflectively, after a pause: "These people

haven't grasped the whole of it. The man was actually wearing an

iron helmet, and the blow scattered it like broken glass. Look at

that woman. Look at her arms."

Silence held them all up again, and then the doctor said

rather sulkily: "Well, I may be wrong; there are objections to

everything. But I stick to the main point. No man but an idiot

would pick up that little hammer if he could use a big hammer."

With that the lean and quivering hands of Wilfred Bohun went

up to his head and seemed to clutch his scanty yellow hair. After

an instant they dropped, and he cried: "That was the word I wanted;

you have said the word."

Then he continued, mastering his discomposure: "The words you

said were, `No man but an idiot would pick up the small hammer.'"

"Yes," said the doctor. "Well?"

"Well," said the curate, "no man but an idiot did." The rest

stared at him with eyes arrested and riveted, and he went on in a

febrile and feminine agitation.

"I am a priest," he cried unsteadily, "and a priest should be

no shedder of blood. I--I mean that he should bring no one to

the gallows. And I thank God that I see the criminal clearly now

--because he is a criminal who cannot be brought to the gallows."

"You will not denounce him?" inquired the doctor.

"He would not be hanged if I did denounce him," answered

Wilfred with a wild but curiously happy smile. "When I went into

the church this morning I found a madman praying there--that

poor Joe, who has been wrong all his life. God knows what he

prayed; but with such strange folk it is not incredible to suppose

that their prayers are all upside down. Very likely a lunatic

would pray before killing a man. When I last saw poor Joe he was

with my brother. My brother was mocking him."

"By Jove!" cried the doctor, "this is talking at last. But

how do you explain--"

The Rev. Wilfred was almost trembling with the excitement of

his own glimpse of the truth. "Don't you see; don't you see," he

cried feverishly; "that is the only theory that covers both the

queer things, that answers both the riddles. The two riddles are

the little hammer and the big blow. The smith might have struck

the big blow, but would not have chosen the little hammer. His

wife would have chosen the little hammer, but she could not have

struck the big blow. But the madman might have done both. As for

the little hammer--why, he was mad and might have picked up

anything. And for the big blow, have you never heard, doctor,

that a maniac in his paroxysm may have the strength of ten men?"

The doctor drew a deep breath and then said, "By golly, I

believe you've got it."

Father Brown had fixed his eyes on the speaker so long and

steadily as to prove that his large grey, ox-like eyes were not

quite so insignificant as the rest of his face. When silence had

fallen he said with marked respect: "Mr. Bohun, yours is the only

theory yet propounded which holds water every way and is

essentially unassailable. I think, therefore, that you deserve to

be told, on my positive knowledge, that it is not the true one."

And with that the old little man walked away and stared again at

the hammer.

"That fellow seems to know more than he ought to," whispered

the doctor peevishly to Wilfred. "Those popish priests are

deucedly sly."

"No, no," said Bohun, with a sort of wild fatigue. "It was

the lunatic. It was the lunatic."

The group of the two clerics and the doctor had fallen away

from the more official group containing the inspector and the man

he had arrested. Now, however, that their own party had broken

up, they heard voices from the others. The priest looked up

quietly and then looked down again as he heard the blacksmith say

in a loud voice:

"I hope I've convinced you, Mr. Inspector. I'm a strong man,

as you say, but I couldn't have flung my hammer bang here from

Greenford. My hammer hasn't got wings that it should come flying

half a mile over hedges and fields."

The inspector laughed amicably and said: "No, I think you can

be considered out of it, though it's one of the rummiest

coincidences I ever saw. I can only ask you to give us all the

assistance you can in finding a man as big and strong as yourself.

By George! you might be useful, if only to hold him! I suppose

you yourself have no guess at the man?"

"I may have a guess," said the pale smith, "but it is not at a

man." Then, seeing the scared eyes turn towards his wife on the

bench, he put his huge hand on her shoulder and said: "Nor a woman


"What do you mean?" asked the inspector jocularly. "You don't

think cows use hammers, do you?"

"I think no thing of flesh held that hammer," said the

blacksmith in a stifled voice; "mortally speaking, I think the man

died alone."

Wilfred made a sudden forward movement and peered at him with

burning eyes.

"Do you mean to say, Barnes," came the sharp voice of the

cobbler, "that the hammer jumped up of itself and knocked the man


"Oh, you gentlemen may stare and snigger," cried Simeon; "you

clergymen who tell us on Sunday in what a stillness the Lord smote

Sennacherib. I believe that One who walks invisible in every

house defended the honour of mine, and laid the defiler dead

before the door of it. I believe the force in that blow was just

the force there is in earthquakes, and no force less."

Wilfred said, with a voice utterly undescribable: "I told

Norman myself to beware of the thunderbolt."

"That agent is outside my jurisdiction," said the inspector

with a slight smile.

"You are not outside His," answered the smith; "see you to it,"

and, turning his broad back, he went into the house.

The shaken Wilfred was led away by Father Brown, who had an

easy and friendly way with him. "Let us get out of this horrid

place, Mr. Bohun," he said. "May I look inside your church? I

hear it's one of the oldest in England. We take some interest,

you know," he added with a comical grimace, "in old English


Wilfred Bohun did not smile, for humour was never his strong

point. But he nodded rather eagerly, being only too ready to

explain the Gothic splendours to someone more likely to be

sympathetic than the Presbyterian blacksmith or the atheist


"By all means," he said; "let us go in at this side." And he

led the way into the high side entrance at the top of the flight

of steps. Father Brown was mounting the first step to follow him

when he felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to behold the dark,

thin figure of the doctor, his face darker yet with suspicion.

"Sir," said the physician harshly, "you appear to know some

secrets in this black business. May I ask if you are going to

keep them to yourself?"

"Why, doctor," answered the priest, smiling quite pleasantly,

"there is one very good reason why a man of my trade should keep

things to himself when he is not sure of them, and that is that it

is so constantly his duty to keep them to himself when he is sure

of them. But if you think I have been discourteously reticent

with you or anyone, I will go to the extreme limit of my custom.

I will give you two very large hints."

"Well, sir?" said the doctor gloomily.

"First," said Father Brown quietly, "the thing is quite in

your own province. It is a matter of physical science. The

blacksmith is mistaken, not perhaps in saying that the blow was

divine, but certainly in saying that it came by a miracle. It was

no miracle, doctor, except in so far as man is himself a miracle,

with his strange and wicked and yet half-heroic heart. The force

that smashed that skull was a force well known to scientists--

one of the most frequently debated of the laws of nature."

The doctor, who was looking at him with frowning intentness,

only said: "And the other hint?"

"The other hint is this," said the priest. "Do you remember

the blacksmith, though he believes in miracles, talking scornfully

of the impossible fairy tale that his hammer had wings and flew

half a mile across country?"

"Yes," said the doctor, "I remember that."

"Well," added Father Brown, with a broad smile, "that fairy

tale was the nearest thing to the real truth that has been said

today." And with that he turned his back and stumped up the steps

after the curate.

The Reverend Wilfred, who had been waiting for him, pale and

impatient, as if this little delay were the last straw for his

nerves, led him immediately to his favourite corner of the church,

that part of the gallery closest to the carved roof and lit by the

wonderful window with the angel. The little Latin priest explored

and admired everything exhaustively, talking cheerfully but in a

low voice all the time. When in the course of his investigation

he found the side exit and the winding stair down which Wilfred

had rushed to find his brother dead, Father Brown ran not down but

up, with the agility of a monkey, and his clear voice came from an

outer platform above.

"Come up here, Mr. Bohun," he called. "The air will do you


Bohun followed him, and came out on a kind of stone gallery or

balcony outside the building, from which one could see the

illimitable plain in which their small hill stood, wooded away to

the purple horizon and dotted with villages and farms. Clear and

square, but quite small beneath them, was the blacksmith's yard,

where the inspector still stood taking notes and the corpse still

lay like a smashed fly.

"Might be the map of the world, mightn't it?" said Father


"Yes," said Bohun very gravely, and nodded his head.

Immediately beneath and about them the lines of the Gothic

building plunged outwards into the void with a sickening swiftness

akin to suicide. There is that element of Titan energy in the

architecture of the Middle Ages that, from whatever aspect it be

seen, it always seems to be rushing away, like the strong back of

some maddened horse. This church was hewn out of ancient and

silent stone, bearded with old fungoids and stained with the nests

of birds. And yet, when they saw it from below, it sprang like a

fountain at the stars; and when they saw it, as now, from above,

it poured like a cataract into a voiceless pit. For these two men

on the tower were left alone with the most terrible aspect of

Gothic; the monstrous foreshortening and disproportion, the dizzy

perspectives, the glimpses of great things small and small things

great; a topsy-turvydom of stone in the mid-air. Details of stone,

enormous by their proximity, were relieved against a pattern of

fields and farms, pygmy in their distance. A carved bird or beast

at a corner seemed like some vast walking or flying dragon wasting

the pastures and villages below. The whole atmosphere was dizzy

and dangerous, as if men were upheld in air amid the gyrating

wings of colossal genii; and the whole of that old church, as tall

and rich as a cathedral, seemed to sit upon the sunlit country

like a cloudburst.

"I think there is something rather dangerous about standing on

these high places even to pray," said Father Brown. "Heights were

made to be looked at, not to be looked from."

"Do you mean that one may fall over," asked Wilfred.

"I mean that one's soul may fall if one's body doesn't," said

the other priest.

"I scarcely understand you," remarked Bohun indistinctly.

"Look at that blacksmith, for instance," went on Father Brown

calmly; "a good man, but not a Christian--hard, imperious,

unforgiving. Well, his Scotch religion was made up by men who

prayed on hills and high crags, and learnt to look down on the

world more than to look up at heaven. Humility is the mother of

giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things

from the peak."

"But he--he didn't do it," said Bohun tremulously.

"No," said the other in an odd voice; "we know he didn't do


After a moment he resumed, looking tranquilly out over the

plain with his pale grey eyes. "I knew a man," he said, "who

began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew

fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in

the belfry or the spire. And once in one of those dizzy places,

where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his

brain turned also, and he fancied he was God. So that, though he

was a good man, he committed a great crime."

Wilfred's face was turned away, but his bony hands turned blue

and white as they tightened on the parapet of stone.

"He thought it was given to him to judge the world and strike

down the sinner. He would never have had such a thought if he had

been kneeling with other men upon a floor. But he saw all men

walking about like insects. He saw one especially strutting just

below him, insolent and evident by a bright green hat--a

poisonous insect."

Rooks cawed round the corners of the belfry; but there was no

other sound till Father Brown went on.

"This also tempted him, that he had in his hand one of the

most awful engines of nature; I mean gravitation, that mad and

quickening rush by which all earth's creatures fly back to her

heart when released. See, the inspector is strutting just below

us in the smithy. If I were to toss a pebble over this parapet it

would be something like a bullet by the time it struck him. If I

were to drop a hammer--even a small hammer--"

Wilfred Bohun threw one leg over the parapet, and Father Brown

had him in a minute by the collar.

"Not by that door," he said quite gently; "that door leads to


Bohun staggered back against the wall, and stared at him with

frightful eyes.

"How do you know all this?" he cried. "Are you a devil?"

"I am a man," answered Father Brown gravely; "and therefore

have all devils in my heart. Listen to me," he said after a short

pause. "I know what you did--at least, I can guess the great

part of it. When you left your brother you were racked with no

unrighteous rage, to the extent even that you snatched up a small

hammer, half inclined to kill him with his foulness on his mouth.

Recoiling, you thrust it under your buttoned coat instead, and

rushed into the church. You pray wildly in many places, under the

angel window, upon the platform above, and a higher platform

still, from which you could see the colonel's Eastern hat like the

back of a green beetle crawling about. Then something snapped in

your soul, and you let God's thunderbolt fall."

Wilfred put a weak hand to his head, and asked in a low voice:

"How did you know that his hat looked like a green beetle?"

"Oh, that," said the other with the shadow of a smile, "that

was common sense. But hear me further. I say I know all this;

but no one else shall know it. The next step is for you; I shall

take no more steps; I will seal this with the seal of confession.

If you ask me why, there are many reasons, and only one that

concerns you. I leave things to you because you have not yet gone

very far wrong, as assassins go. You did not help to fix the

crime on the smith when it was easy; or on his wife, when that was

easy. You tried to fix it on the imbecile because you knew that

he could not suffer. That was one of the gleams that it is my

business to find in assassins. And now come down into the

village, and go your own way as free as the wind; for I have said

my last word."

They went down the winding stairs in utter silence, and came

out into the sunlight by the smithy. Wilfred Bohun carefully

unlatched the wooden gate of the yard, and going up to the

inspector, said: "I wish to give myself up; I have killed my