The Man Who Knew Too Much HTML version

2. The Vanishing Prince
This tale begins among a tangle of tales round a name that is at once recent and
legendary. The name is that of Michael O'Neill, popularly called Prince Michael, partly
because he claimed descent from ancient Fenian princes, and partly because he was
credited with a plan to make himself prince president of Ireland, as the last Napoleon did
of France. He was undoubtedly a gentleman of honorable pedigree and of many
accomplishments, but two of his accomplishments emerged from all the rest. He had a
talent for appearing when he was not wanted and a talent for disappearing when he was
wanted, especially when he was wanted by the police. It may be added that his
disappearances were more dangerous than his appearances. In the latter he seldom went
beyond the sensational--pasting up seditious placards, tearing down official placards,
making flamboyant speeches, or unfurling forbidden flags. But in order to effect the
former he would sometimes fight for his freedom with startling energy, from which men
were sometimes lucky to escape with a broken head instead of a broken neck. His most
famous feats of escape, however, were due to dexterity and not to violence. On a
cloudless summer morning he had come down a country road white with dust, and,
pausing outside a farmhouse, had told the farmer's daughter, with elegant indifference,
that the local police were in pursuit of him. The girl's name was Bridget Royce, a somber
and even sullen type of beauty, and she looked at him darkly, as if in doubt, and said, "Do
you want me to hide you?" Upon which he only laughed, leaped lightly over the stone
wall, and strode toward the farm, merely throwing over his shoulder the remark, "Thank
you, I have generally been quite capable of hiding myself." In which proceeding he acted
with a tragic ignorance of the nature of women; and there fell on his path in that sunshine
a shadow of doom.
While he disappeared through the farmhouse the girl remained for a few moments
looking up the road, and two perspiring policemen came plowing up to the door where
she stood. Though still angry, she was still silent, and a quarter of an hour later the
officers had searched the house and were already inspecting the kitchen garden and
cornfield behind it. In the ugly reaction of her mood she might have been tempted even to
point out the fugitive, but for a small difficulty that she had no more notion than the
policemen had of where he could possibly have gone. The kitchen garden was inclosed
by a very low wall, and the cornfield beyond lay aslant like a square patch on a great
green hill on which he could still have been seen even as a dot in the distance. Everything
stood solid in its familiar place; the apple tree was too small to support or hide a climber;
the only shed stood open and obviously empty; there was no sound save the droning of
summer flies and the occasional flutter of a bird unfamiliar enough to be surprised by the
scarecrow in the field; there was scarcely a shadow save a few blue lines that fell from
the thin tree; every detail was picked out by the brilliant day light as if in a microscope.
The girl described the scene later, with all the passionate realism of her race, and,
whether or no the policemen had a similar eye for the picturesque, they had at least an
eye for the facts of the case, and were compelled to give up the chase and retire from the
scene. Bridget Royce remained as if in a trance, staring at the sunlit garden in which a
man had just vanished like a fairy. She was still in a sinister mood, and the miracle took