The Innocence of Father Brown HTML version

The Blue Cross
Between the silver ribbon of morning and the green glittering ribbon of sea, the boat
touched Harwich and let loose a swarm of folk like flies, among whom the man we must
follow was by no means conspicuous--nor wished to be. There was nothing notable about
him, except a slight contrast between the holiday gaiety of his clothes and the official
gravity of his face. His clothes included a slight, pale grey jacket, a white waistcoat, and a
silver straw hat with a grey-blue ribbon. His lean face was dark by contrast, and ended in
a curt black beard that looked Spanish and suggested an Elizabethan ruff. He was
smoking a cigarette with the seriousness of an idler. There was nothing about him to
indicate the fact that the grey jacket covered a loaded revolver, that the white waistcoat
covered a police card, or that the straw hat covered one of the most powerful intellects in
Europe. For this was Valentin himself, the head of the Paris police and the most famous
investigator of the world; and he was coming from Brussels to London to make the
greatest arrest of the century.
Flambeau was in England. The police of three countries had tracked the great criminal at
last from Ghent to Brussels, from Brussels to the Hook of Holland; and it was
conjectured that he would take some advantage of the unfamiliarity and confusion of the
Eucharistic Congress, then taking place in London. Probably he would travel as some
minor clerk or secretary connected with it; but, of course, Valentin could not be certain;
nobody could be certain about Flambeau.
It is many years now since this colossus of crime suddenly ceased keeping the world in a
turmoil; and when he ceased, as they said after the death of Roland, there was a great
quiet upon the earth. But in his best days (I mean, of course, his worst) Flambeau was a
figure as statuesque and international as the Kaiser. Almost every morning the daily
paper announced that he had escaped the consequences of one extraordinary crime by
committing another. He was a Gascon of gigantic stature and bodily daring; and the
wildest tales were told of his outbursts of athletic humour; how he turned the juge
d'instruction upside down and stood him on his head, "to clear his mind"; how he ran
down the Rue de Rivoli with a policeman under each arm. It is due to him to say that his
fantastic physical strength was generally employed in such bloodless though undignified
scenes; his real crimes were chiefly those of ingenious and wholesale robbery. But each
of his thefts was almost a new sin, and would make a story by itself. It was he who ran
the great Tyrolean Dairy Company in London, with no dairies, no cows, no carts, no
milk, but with some thousand subscribers. These he served by the simple operation of
moving the little milk cans outside people's doors to the doors of his own customers. It
was he who had kept up an unaccountable and close correspondence with a young lady
whose whole letter-bag was intercepted, by the extraordinary trick of photographing his
messages infinitesimally small upon the slides of a microscope. A sweeping simplicity,
however, marked many of his experiments. It is said that he once repainted all the
numbers in a street in the dead of night merely to divert one traveller into a trap. It is
quite certain that he invented a portable pillar-box, which he put up at corners in quiet