The Innocence of Father Brown
The Three Tools of Death
Both by calling and conviction Father Brown knew better than most of us, that every man
is dignified when he is dead. But even he felt a pang of incongruity when he was knocked
up at daybreak and told that Sir Aaron Armstrong had been murdered. There was
something absurd and unseemly about secret violence in connection with so entirely
entertaining and popular a figure. For Sir Aaron Armstrong was entertaining to the point
of being comic; and popular in such a manner as to be almost legendary. It was like
hearing that Sunny Jim had hanged himself; or that Mr. Pickwick had died in Hanwell.
For though Sir Aaron was a philanthropist, and thus dealt with the darker side of our
society, he prided himself on dealing with it in the brightest possible style. His political
and social speeches were cataracts of anecdotes and "loud laughter"; his bodily health
was of a bursting sort; his ethics were all optimism; and he dealt with the Drink problem
(his favourite topic) with that immortal or even monotonous gaiety which is so often a
mark of the prosperous total abstainer.
The established story of his conversion was familiar on the more puritanic platforms
and pulpits, how he had been, when only a boy, drawn away from Scotch theology to
Scotch whisky, and how he had risen out of both and become (as he modestly put it) what
he was. Yet his wide white beard, cherubic face, and sparkling spectacles, at the
numberless dinners and congresses where they appeared, made it hard to believe,
somehow, that he had ever been anything so morbid as either a dram-drinker or a
Calvinist. He was, one felt, the most seriously merry of all the sons of men.
He had lived on the rural skirt of Hampstead in a handsome house, high but not broad,
a modern and prosaic tower. The narrowest of its narrow sides overhung the steep green
bank of a railway, and was shaken by passing trains. Sir Aaron Armstrong, as he
boisterously explained, had no nerves. But if the train had often given a shock to the
house, that morning the tables were turned, and it was the house that gave a shock to the
The engine slowed down and stopped just beyond that point where an angle of the
house impinged upon the sharp slope of turf. The arrest of most mechanical things must
be slow; but the living cause of this had been very rapid. A man clad completely in black,
even (it was remembered) to the dreadful detail of black gloves, appeared on the ridge
above the engine, and waved his black hands like some sable windmill. This in itself
would hardly have stopped even a lingering train. But there came out of him a cry which
was talked of afterwards as something utterly unnatural and new. It was one of those
shouts that are horridly distinct even when we cannot hear what is shouted. The word in
this case was "Murder!"
But the engine-driver swears he would have pulled up just the same if he had heard only
the dreadful and definite accent and not the word.