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The Innocence of Father Brown

The Sign of the Broken Sword
The thousand arms of the forest were grey, and its million fingers silver. In a sky of dark
green-blue-like slate the stars were bleak and brilliant like splintered ice. All that thickly
wooded and sparsely tenanted countryside was stiff with a bitter and brittle frost. The
black hollows between the trunks of the trees looked like bottomless, black caverns of
that Scandinavian hell, a hell of incalculable cold. Even the square stone tower of the
church looked northern to the point of heathenry, as if it were some barbaric tower among
the sea rocks of Iceland. It was a queer night for anyone to explore a churchyard. But, on
the other hand, perhaps it was worth exploring.
It rose abruptly out of the ashen wastes of forest in a sort of hump or shoulder of green
turf that looked grey in the starlight. Most of the graves were on a slant, and the path
leading up to the church was as steep as a staircase. On the top of the hill, in the one flat
and prominent place, was the monument for which the place was famous. It contrasted
strangely with the featureless graves all round, for it was the work of one of the greatest
sculptors of modern Europe; and yet his fame was at once forgotten in the fame of the
man whose image he had made. It showed, by touches of the small silver pencil of
starlight, the massive metal figure of a soldier recumbent, the strong hands sealed in an
everlasting worship, the great head pillowed upon a gun. The venerable face was bearded,
or rather whiskered, in the old, heavy Colonel Newcome fashion. The uniform, though
suggested with the few strokes of simplicity, was that of modern war. By his right side
lay a sword, of which the tip was broken off; on the left side lay a Bible. On glowing
summer afternoons wagonettes came full of Americans and cultured suburbans to see the
sepulchre; but even then they felt the vast forest land with its one dumpy dome of
churchyard and church as a place oddly dumb and neglected. In this freezing darkness of
mid-winter one would think he might be left alone with the stars. Nevertheless, in the
stillness of those stiff woods a wooden gate creaked, and two dim figures dressed in black
climbed up the little path to the tomb.
So faint was that frigid starlight that nothing could have been traced about them except
that while they both wore black, one man was enormously big, and the other (perhaps by
contrast) almost startlingly small. They went up to the great graven tomb of the historic
warrior, and stood for a few minutes staring at it. There was no human, perhaps no living,
thing for a wide circle; and a morbid fancy might well have wondered if they were human
themselves. In any case, the beginning of their conversation might have seemed strange.
After the first silence the small man said to the other:
"Where does a wise man hide a pebble?"
And the tall man answered in a low voice: "On the beach."
The small man nodded, and after a short silence said: "Where does a wise man hide a
leaf?"
 
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