THE picturesque city and state of Heiligwaldenstein was one of those toy kingdoms of which certain parts of the German Empire still consist. It had come under the Prussian hegemony quite late in history–hardly fifty years before the fine summer day when Flambeau and Father Brown found themselves sitting in its gardens and drinking its beer. There had been not a little of war and wild justice there within living memory, as soon will be shown. But in merely looking at it one could not dismiss that impression of childishness which is the most charming side of Germany–those little pantomime, paternal monarchies in which a king seems as domestic as a cook. The German soldiers by the innumerable sentry-boxes looked strangely like German toys, and the clean-cut battlements of the castle, gilded by the sunshine, looked the more like the gilt gingerbread. For it was brilliant weather. The sky was as Prussian a blue as Potsdam itself could require, but it was yet more like that lavish and glowing use of the colour which a child extracts from a shilling paint-box. Even the grey-ribbed trees looked young, for the pointed buds on them were still pink, and in a pattern against the strong blue looked like innumerable childish figures.
Despite his prosaic appearance and generally practical walk of life, Father Brown was not without a certain streak of romance in his composition, though he generally kept his daydreams to himself, as many children do. Amid the brisk, bright colours of such a day, and in the heraldic framework of such a town, he did feel rather as if he had entered a fairy tale. He took a childish pleasure, as a younger brother might, in the formidable sword-stick which Flambeau always flung as he walked, and which now stood upright beside his tall mug of Munich. Nay, in his sleepy irresponsibility, he even found himself eyeing the knobbed and clumsy head of his own shabby umbrella, with some faint memories of the ogre’s club in a coloured toy-book. But he never composed anything in the form of fiction, unless it be the tale that follows:
“I wonder,” he said, “whether one would have real adventures in a place like this, if one put oneself in the way? It’s a splendid back-scene for them, but I always have a kind of feeling that they would fight you with pasteboard sabres more than real, horrible swords.”
“You are mistaken,” said his friend. “In this place they not only fight with swords, but kill without swords. And there’s worse than that.”
“Why, what do you mean?” asked Father Brown.
“Why,” replied the other, “I should say this was the only place in Europe where a man was ever shot without firearms.”
“Do you mean a bow and arrow?” asked Brown in some wonder.
“I mean a bullet in the brain,” replied Flambeau. “Don’t you know the story of the late Prince of this place? It was one of the great police mysteries about twenty years ago. You remember, of course, that this place was forcibly annexed at the time of Bismarck’s very earliest schemes of consolidation–forcibly, that is, but not at all easily. The empire (or what wanted to be one) sent Prince Otto of Grossenmark to rule the place in the Imperial interests. We saw his portrait in the gallery there–a handsome old gentleman if he’d had any hair or eyebrows, and hadn’t been wrinkled all over like a vulture; but he had things to harass him, as I’ll explain in a minute. He was a soldier of distinguished skill and success, but he didn’t have altogether an easy job with this little place. He was defeated in several battles by the celebrated Arnhold brothers–the three guerrilla patriots to whom Swinburne wrote a poem, you remember:
Wolves with the hair of the ermine,
Crows that are crowned and kings–
These things be many as vermin,
Yet Three shall abide these things.