The Wisdom of Father Brown HTML version

The Salad of Colonel Cray
FATHER BROWN was walking home from Mass on a white weird morning when the
mists were slowly lifting--one of those mornings when the very element of light appears
as something mysterious and new. The scattered trees outlined themselves more and
more out of the vapour, as if they were first drawn in grey chalk and then in charcoal. At
yet more distant intervals appeared the houses upon the broken fringe of the suburb; their
outlines became clearer and clearer until he recognized many in which he had chance
acquaintances, and many more the names of whose owners he knew. But all the windows
and doors were sealed; none of the people were of the sort that would be up at such a
time, or still less on such an errand. But as he passed under the shadow of one handsome
villa with verandas and wide ornate gardens, he heard a noise that made him almost
involuntarily stop. It was the unmistakable noise of a pistol or carbine or some light
firearm discharged; but it was not this that puzzled him most. The first full noise was
immediately followed by a series of fainter noises-- as he counted them, about six. He
supposed it must be the echo; but the odd thing was that the echo was not in the least like
the original sound. It was not like anything else that he could think of; the three things
nearest to it seemed to be the noise made by siphons of soda-water, one of the many
noises made by an animal, and the noise made by a person attempting to conceal
laughter. None of which seemed to make much sense.
Father Brown was made of two men. There was a man of action, who was as modest as a
primrose and as punctual as a clock; who went his small round of duties and never
dreamed of altering it. There was also a man of reflection, who was much simpler but
much stronger, who could not easily be stopped; whose thought was always (in the only
intelligent sense of the words) free thought. He could not help, even unconsciously,
asking himself all the questions that there were to be asked, and answering as many of
them as he could; all that went on like his breathing or circulation. But he never
consciously carried his actions outside the sphere of his own duty; and in this case the
two attitudes were aptly tested. He was just about to resume his trudge in the twilight,
telling himself it was no affair of his, but instinctively twisting and untwisting twenty
theories about what the odd noises might mean. Then the grey sky-line brightened into
silver, and in the broadening light he realized that he had been to the house which
belonged to an Anglo-Indian Major named Putnam; and that the Major had a native cook
from Malta who was of his communion. He also began to remember that pistol-shots are
sometimes serious things; accompanied with consequences with which he was
legitimately concerned. He turned back and went in at the garden gate, making for the
front door.
Half-way down one side of the house stood out a projection like a very low shed; it was,
as he afterwards discovered, a large dustbin. Round the corner of this came a figure, at
first a mere shadow in the haze, apparently bending and peering about. Then, coming
nearer, it solidified into a figure that was, indeed, rather unusually solid. Major Putnam
was a bald-headed, bull-necked man, short and very broad, with one of those rather
apoplectic faces that are produced by a prolonged attempt to combine the oriental climate
with the occidental luxuries. But the face was a good-humoured one, and even now,
though evidently puzzled and inquisitive, wore a kind of innocent grin. He had a large