The Wisdom of Father Brown HTML version

The Absence of Mr Glass
THE consulting-rooms of Dr Orion Hood, the eminent criminologist and specialist in
certain moral disorders, lay along the sea-front at Scarborough, in a series of very large
and well-lighted french windows, which showed the North Sea like one endless outer
wall of blue-green marble. In such a place the sea had something of the monotony of a
blue-green dado: for the chambers themselves were ruled throughout by a terrible tidiness
not unlike the terrible tidiness of the sea. It must not be supposed that Dr Hood's
apartments excluded luxury, or even poetry. These things were there, in their place; but
one felt that they were never allowed out of their place. Luxury was there: there stood
upon a special table eight or ten boxes of the best cigars; but they were built upon a plan
so that the strongest were always nearest the wall and the mildest nearest the window. A
tantalus containing three kinds of spirit, all of a liqueur excellence, stood always on this
table of luxury; but the fanciful have asserted that the whisky, brandy, and rum seemed
always to stand at the same level. Poetry was there: the left-hand corner of the room was
lined with as complete a set of English classics as the right hand could show of English
and foreign physiologists. But if one took a volume of Chaucer or Shelley from that rank,
its absence irritated the mind like a gap in a man's front teeth. One could not say the
books were never read; probably they were, but there was a sense of their being chained
to their places, like the Bibles in the old churches. Dr Hood treated his private book-shelf
as if it were a public library. And if this strict scientific intangibility steeped even the
shelves laden with lyrics and ballads and the tables laden with drink and tobacco, it goes
without saying that yet more of such heathen holiness protected the other shelves that
held the specialist's library, and the other tables that sustained the frail and even fairylike
instruments of chemistry or mechanics.
Dr Hood paced the length of his string of apartments, bounded-- as the boys' geographies
say--on the east by the North Sea and on the west by the serried ranks of his sociological
and criminologist library. He was clad in an artist's velvet, but with none of an artist's
negligence; his hair was heavily shot with grey, but growing thick and healthy; his face
was lean, but sanguine and expectant. Everything about him and his room indicated
something at once rigid and restless, like that great northern sea by which (on pure
principles of hygiene) he had built his home.
Fate, being in a funny mood, pushed the door open and introduced into those long, strict,
sea-flanked apartments one who was perhaps the most startling opposite of them and
their master. In answer to a curt but civil summons, the door opened inwards and there
shambled into the room a shapeless little figure, which seemed to find its own hat and
umbrella as unmanageable as a mass of luggage. The umbrella was a black and prosaic
bundle long past repair; the hat was a broad-curved black hat, clerical but not common in
England; the man was the very embodiment of all that is homely and helpless.
The doctor regarded the new-comer with a restrained astonishment, not unlike that he
would have shown if some huge but obviously harmless sea-beast had crawled into his
room. The new-comer regarded the doctor with that beaming but breathless geniality
which characterizes a corpulent charwoman who has just managed to stuff herself into an
omnibus. It is a rich confusion of social self-congratulation and bodily disarray. His hat