The Wisdom of Father Brown HTML version
The Mistake of the Machine
FLAMBEAU and his friend the priest were sitting in the Temple Gardens about sunset;
and their neighbourhood or some such accidental influence had turned their talk to
matters of legal process. From the problem of the licence in cross-examination, their talk
strayed to Roman and mediaeval torture, to the examining magistrate in France and the
Third Degree in America.
"I've been reading," said Flambeau, "of this new psychometric method they talk about so
much, especially in America. You know what I mean; they put a pulsometer on a man's
wrist and judge by how his heart goes at the pronunciation of certain words. What do you
think of it?"
"I think it very interesting," replied Father Brown; "it reminds me of that interesting idea
in the Dark Ages that blood would flow from a corpse if the murderer touched it."
"Do you really mean," demanded his friend, "that you think the two methods equally
"I think them equally valueless," replied Brown. "Blood flows, fast or slow, in dead folk
or living, for so many more million reasons than we can ever know. Blood will have to
flow very funnily; blood will have to flow up the Matterhorn, before I will take it as a
sign that I am to shed it."
"The method," remarked the other, "has been guaranteed by some of the greatest
American men of science."
"What sentimentalists men of science are!" exclaimed Father Brown, "and how much
more sentimental must American men of science be! Who but a Yankee would think of
proving anything from heart-throbs? Why, they must be as sentimental as a man who
thinks a woman is in love with him if she blushes. That's a test from the circulation of the
blood, discovered by the immortal Harvey; and a jolly rotten test, too."
"But surely," insisted Flambeau, "it might point pretty straight at something or other."
"There's a disadvantage in a stick pointing straight," answered the other. "What is it?
Why, the other end of the stick always points the opposite way. It depends whether you
get hold of the stick by the right end. I saw the thing done once and I've never believed in
it since." And he proceeded to tell the story of his disillusionment.
It happened nearly twenty years before, when he was chaplain to his co-religionists in a
prison in Chicago--where the Irish population displayed a capacity both for crime and
penitence which kept him tolerably busy. The official second-in-command under the
Governor was an ex-detective named Greywood Usher, a cadaverous, careful-spoken
Yankee philosopher, occasionally varying a very rigid visage with an odd apologetic
grimace. He liked Father Brown in a slightly patronizing way; and Father Brown liked