**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


The Sign Of The Broken Sword
by [?]

The match burnt the big man’s fingers, blackened, and dropped. He was about to strike another, but his small companion stopped him. “That’s all right, Flambeau, old man; I saw what I wanted. Or, rather, I didn’t see what I didn’t want. And now we must walk a mile and a half along the road to the next inn, and I will try to tell you all about it. For Heaven knows a man should have a fire and ale when he dares tell such a story.”

They descended the precipitous path, they relatched the rusty gate, and set off at a stamping, ringing walk down the frozen forest road. They had gone a full quarter of a mile before the smaller man spoke again. He said: “Yes; the wise man hides a pebble on the beach. But what does he do if there is no beach? Do you know anything of that great St. Clare trouble?”

“I know nothing about English generals, Father Brown,” answered the large man, laughing, “though a little about English policemen. I only know that you have dragged me a precious long dance to all the shrines of this fellow, whoever he is. One would think he got buried in six different places. I’ve seen a memorial to General St. Clare in Westminster Abbey. I’ve seen a ramping equestrian statue of General St. Clare on the Embankment. I’ve seen a medallion of St. Clare in the street he was born in, and another in the street he lived in; and now you drag me after dark to his coffin in the village churchyard. I am beginning to be a bit tired of his magnificent personality, especially as I don’t in the least know who he was. What are you hunting for in all these crypts and effigies?”

“I am only looking for one word,” said Father Brown. “A word that isn’t there.”

“Well,” asked Flambeau; “are you going to tell me anything about it?”

“I must divide it into two parts,” remarked the priest. “First there is what everybody knows; and then there is what I know. Now, what everybody knows is short and plain enough. It is also entirely wrong.”

“Right you are,” said the big man called Flambeau cheerfully. “Let’s begin at the wrong end. Let’s begin with what everybody knows, which isn’t true.”

“If not wholly untrue, it is at least very inadequate,” continued Brown; “for in point of fact, all that the public knows amounts precisely to this: The public knows that Arthur St. Clare was a great and successful English general. It knows that after splendid yet careful campaigns both in India and Africa he was in command against Brazil when the great Brazilian patriot Olivier issued his ultimatum. It knows that on that occasion St. Clare with a very small force attacked Olivier with a very large one, and was captured after heroic resistance. And it knows that after his capture, and to the abhorrence of the civilised world, St. Clare was hanged on the nearest tree. He was found swinging there after the Brazilians had retired, with his broken sword hung round his neck.”

“And that popular story is untrue?” suggested Flambeau.

“No,” said his friend quietly, “that story is quite true, so far as it goes.”

“Well, I think it goes far enough!” said Flambeau; “but if the popular story is true, what is the mystery?”

They had passed many hundreds of grey and ghostly trees before the little priest answered. Then he bit his finger reflectively and said: “Why, the mystery is a mystery of psychology. Or, rather, it is a mystery of two psychologies. In that Brazilian business two of the most famous men of modern history acted flat against their characters. Mind you, Olivier and St. Clare were both heroes–the old thing, and no mistake; it was like the fight between Hector and Achilles. Now, what would you say to an affair in which Achilles was timid and Hector was treacherous?”