The Blue Cross (2)
The detectives followed the two across the wilder part of the Heath, then lost them for a few minutes. When they saw them again, the two priests were sitting on a seat, having a serious conversation. Valentin and his friends hid behind a tree and listened to them talking.
It was then that Valentin began to wonder if he was right. The two men on the seat were talking calmly about the ideas of their church. Valentin could almost hear the other two detectives laughing at him. They had come all this way, only to listen to the talk of two gentle old priests!
Father Brown was speaking. 'Look at the stars, like jewels in the sky. But even in those other worlds, there must be some laws of reason and goodness.' Valentin was about to move away, but the words of the tall priest stopped him.
'Who can understand the mystery of the stars?' Then he added calmly, 'Just give me the silver cross, will you? We're all alone here, and I could pull you to pieces easily.'
The small priest did not move. He continued to look up at the stars. Perhaps he had not understood. Or perhaps he was too afraid to move.
'Yes,' said the tall priest, in the same low voice. 'I am Flambeau. Now, give me that cross.'
'No,' replied the other priest.
Flambeau suddenly laughed. 'No, you won't give it to me, you simple little priest,' he said, 'because I already have it in my pocket!'
The small man looked at him. 'Are you sure?'
Flambeau laughed again. 'Yes, you stupid man. I knew which of your parcels contained the jeweled cross, so I made a careful copy of the parcel. And now you, my friend, have that copy parcel and I have the jewels. It's easily done, Father Brown, easily done!'
Father Brown did not look worried. 'Yes, very easily. I remember another man who used copy parcels for many years,' he said. 'I remembered him when I began to wonder about you.'
'Wonder about me?' said Flambeau. 'When did you begin to wonder about me? When I brought you up to the Heath?'
'No, no,' said Father Brown. 'When we first met. I saw that little shape under the arm of your coat, where you keep your knife.'
'How did you know that?' cried Flambeau.
'When I was a priest in Hartlepool,' said Father Brown, 'there were three men who hid their knives in the same way. So I watched you. I saw you change the parcels... and I changed them back. Then I left the right one behind.'
'Left it behind?' repeated Flambeau.
'I went back to the sweet-shop,' explained Father Brown, 'and asked the woman if she saw me leave a parcel. Then I gave her an address if it was found. I knew I hadn't left a parcel, but when I went away again, I did leave one. She has posted it to a friend of mine in Westminster.' He went on sadly, 'I learnt that from a man in Hartlepool, too. He did it with handbags which he stole at railway stations, but he's a good man now. People tell priests things, you see.'
Flambeau pulled a parcel from his pocket and opened it. There was only paper and stones inside it. He jumped up angrily and shouted, 'I don't believe you. You've got the silver cross on you, and I'm going to take it from you!'
'No,' said Father Brown, and he stood up. 'You won't take it from me. First, because I really haven't got it. And second, because we are not alone. Behind that tree are two strong policemen and the cleverest detective alive. How did they come here? I'll tell you. I wasn't sure if you were a thief, so I tried several things. A man usually says if he finds salt in his coffee. If he doesn't, he has a reason for keeping quiet. I changed the salt and sugar, and you kept quiet. A man usually says if his bill is too big. If he doesn't, he has a reason for saying nothing. I changed your bill, and you paid it.' Flambeau did not seem to be able to move.
'I wanted to be sure the police could follow us,' Father Brown went on. 'At every place we went to, I did something which people would talk about. Only little things - a soup stain on a wall, some apples that were knocked over, a broken window. But I saved the cross.'
'How do you know all these things?' cried Flambeau.
The shadow of a smile went across the round face of Father Brown. 'By being a simple little priest, I suppose,' he said. 'If you listen to enough men telling you about their crimes, you are sure to learn something.'
The three policemen moved out from behind the tree. Flambeau knew when he had lost a battle, and he was famous for his politeness. He took off his hat to Valentin and smiled.
'Do not take your hat off to me, my friend,' said Valentin. 'Let us both take them off to Father Brown.'
And they both stood with their hats off while the little Essex priest looked around for his umbrella.
- THE END -