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|The Innocence of Father Brown||Gilbert K. Chesterton|
The Honour of Israel Gow
|Page 7 of 11||
"Something worse than that," said Flambeau.
"And what do you imagine," asked the other, "would be worse than a leper?"
"I don't imagine it," said Flambeau.
He dug for some dreadful minutes in silence, and then said in a choked voice, "I'm afraid of his not being the right shape."
"Nor was that piece of paper, you know," said Father Brown quietly, "and we survived even that piece of paper."
Flambeau dug on with a blind energy. But the tempest had shouldered away the choking grey clouds that clung to the hills like smoke and revealed grey fields of faint starlight before he cleared the shape of a rude timber coffin, and somehow tipped it up upon the turf. Craven stepped forward with his axe; a thistle-top touched him, and he flinched. Then he took a firmer stride, and hacked and wrenched with an energy like Flambeau's till the lid was torn off, and all that was there lay glimmering in the grey starlight.
"Bones," said Craven; and then he added, "but it is a man," as if that were something unexpected.
"Is he," asked Flambeau in a voice that went oddly up and down, "is he all right?"
"Seems so," said the officer huskily, bending over the obscure and decaying skeleton in the box. "Wait a minute."
A vast heave went over Flambeau's huge figure. "And now I come to think of it," he cried, "why in the name of madness shouldn't he be all right? What is it gets hold of a man on these cursed cold mountains? I think it's the black, brainless repetition; all these forests, and over all an ancient horror of unconsciousness. It's like the dream of an atheist. Pine-trees and more pine-trees and millions more pine-trees--"
"God!" cried the man by the coffin, "but he hasn't got a head."
While the others stood rigid the priest, for the first time, showed a leap of startled concern.
"No head!" he repeated. "No head?" as if he had almost expected some other deficiency.
Half-witted visions of a headless baby born to Glengyle, of a headless youth hiding himself in the castle, of a headless man pacing those ancient halls or that gorgeous garden, passed in panorama through their minds. But even in that stiffened instant the tale took no root in them and seemed to have no reason in it. They stood listening to the loud woods and the shrieking sky quite foolishly, like exhausted animals. Thought seemed to be something enormous that had suddenly slipped out of their grasp.
"There are three headless men," said Father Brown, "standing round this open grave."
The pale detective from London opened his mouth to speak, and left it open like a yokel, while a long scream of wind tore the sky; then he looked at the axe in his hands as if it did not belong to him, and dropped it.
"Father," said Flambeau in that infantile and heavy voice he used very seldom, "what are we to do?"
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|The Innocence of Father Brown
Gilbert K. Chesterton
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