The Innocence of Father Brown HTML version

The Secret Garden
Aristide Valentin, Chief of the Paris Police, was late for his dinner, and some of his
guests began to arrive before him. These were, however, reassured by his confidential
servant, Ivan, the old man with a scar, and a face almost as grey as his moustaches, who
always sat at a table in the entrance hall--a hall hung with weapons. Valentin's house was
perhaps as peculiar and celebrated as its master. It was an old house, with high walls and
tall poplars almost overhanging the Seine; but the oddity--and perhaps the police value--
of its architecture was this: that there was no ultimate exit at all except through this front
door, which was guarded by Ivan and the armoury. The garden was large and elaborate,
and there were many exits from the house into the garden. But there was no exit from the
garden into the world outside; all round it ran a tall, smooth, unscalable wall with special
spikes at the top; no bad garden, perhaps, for a man to reflect in whom some hundred
criminals had sworn to kill.
As Ivan explained to the guests, their host had telephoned that he was detained for ten
minutes. He was, in truth, making some last arrangements about executions and such ugly
things; and though these duties were rootedly repulsive to him, he always performed
them with precision. Ruthless in the pursuit of criminals, he was very mild about their
punishment. Since he had been supreme over French--and largely over European--
policial methods, his great influence had been honourably used for the mitigation of
sentences and the purification of prisons. He was one of the great humanitarian French
freethinkers; and the only thing wrong with them is that they make mercy even colder
than justice.
When Valentin arrived he was already dressed in black clothes and the red rosette--an
elegant figure, his dark beard already streaked with grey. He went straight through his
house to his study, which opened on the grounds behind. The garden door of it was open,
and after he had carefully locked his box in its official place, he stood for a few seconds
at the open door looking out upon the garden. A sharp moon was fighting with the flying
rags and tatters of a storm, and Valentin regarded it with a wistfulness unusual in such
scientific natures as his. Perhaps such scientific natures have some psychic prevision of
the most tremendous problem of their lives. From any such occult mood, at least, he
quickly recovered, for he knew he was late, and that his guests had already begun to
arrive. A glance at his drawing-room when he entered it was enough to make certain that
his principal guest was not there, at any rate. He saw all the other pillars of the little
party; he saw Lord Galloway, the English Ambassador--a choleric old man with a russet
face like an apple, wearing the blue ribbon of the Garter. He saw Lady Galloway, slim
and threadlike, with silver hair and a face sensitive and superior. He saw her daughter,
Lady Margaret Graham, a pale and pretty girl with an elfish face and copper-coloured
hair. He saw the Duchess of Mont St. Michel, black-eyed and opulent, and with her her
two daughters, black-eyed and opulent also. He saw Dr. Simon, a typical French scientist,
with glasses, a pointed brown beard, and a forehead barred with those parallel wrinkles
which are the penalty of superciliousness, since they come through constantly elevating
the eyebrows. He saw Father Brown, of Cobhole, in Essex, whom he had recently met in