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Sunday, January 15, 2017
SUNDAY REVIEW / THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Remake of Director Alfred Hitchcock's 1934 film.
American couple (1956 version) becomes accidentally involved in international
intrigue. Doris's "Que Sera, Sera" won Jay Livingston and Ray Evans
the Best Song Oscar
Editor’s Note: The
following is an excerpt (Chapter 1) of Gilbert Chesterton’s “The Man Who Knew
Too Much.”The work first published in
1922 is now in the public domain.
Face in the Target
Harold March, the
rising reviewer and social critic, was walking vigorously across a great
tableland of moors and commons, the horizon of which was fringed with the
far-off woods of the famous estate of Torwood Park.
was a good-looking young man in tweeds, with very pale curly hair and pale
clear eyes. Walking in wind and sun in the very landscape of liberty, he was
still young enough to remember his politics and not merely try to forget them.
his errand at Torwood Park was a political one; it was the place of appointment
named by no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Howard
Horne, then introducing his so-called Socialist budget, and prepared to expound
it in an interview with so promising a penman.
See end of blog
For Brief Bio
March was the sort of man who knows everything about politics, and nothing
about politicians. He also knew a great deal about art, letters, philosophy,
and general culture; about almost everything, indeed, except the world he was
in the middle of those sunny and windy flats, he came upon a sort of cleft
almost narrow enough to be called a crack in the land. It was just large enough
to be the water-course for a small stream which vanished at intervals under
green tunnels of undergrowth, as if in a dwarfish forest. Indeed, he had an odd
feeling as if he were a giant looking over the valley of the pygmies.
he dropped into the hollow, however, the impression was lost; the rocky banks,
though hardly above the height of a cottage, hung over and had the profile of a
he began to wander down the course of the stream, in idle but romantic
curiosity, and saw the water shining in short strips between the great gray
boulders and bushes as soft as great green mosses, he fell into quite an
opposite vein of fantasy.
was rather as if the earth had opened and swallowed him into a sort of
underworld of dreams. And when he became conscious of a human figure dark
against the silver stream, sitting on a large boulder and looking rather like a
large bird, it was perhaps with some of the premonition's proper to a man who
meets the strangest friendship of his life.
man was apparently fishing; or at least was fixed in a fisherman's attitude
with more than a fisherman's immobility. March was able to examine the man
almost as if he had been a statue for some minutes before the statue spoke. He
was a tall, fair man, cadaverous, and a little lackadaisical, with heavy
eyelids and a highbridged nose.
his face was shaded with his wide white hat, his light mustache and lithe
figure gave him a look of youth. But the Panama lay on the moss beside him; and
the spectator could see that his brow was prematurely bald; and this, combined
with a certain hollowness about the eyes, had an air of headwork and even
headache. But the most curious thing about him, realized after a short
scrutiny, was that, though he looked like a fisherman, he was not fishing.
was holding, instead of a rod, something that might have been a landing-net
which some fishermen use, but which was much more like the ordinary toy net
which children carry, and which they generally use indifferently for shrimps or
butterflies. He was dipping this into the water at intervals, gravely regarding
its harvest of weed or mud, and emptying it out again.
I haven't caught anything," he remarked, calmly, as if answering an
unspoken query. "When I do I have to throw it back again; especially the
big fish. But some of the little beasts interest me when I get 'em."
scientific interest, I suppose?" observed March.
a rather amateurish sort, I fear," answered the strange fisherman. "I
have a sort of hobby about what they call 'phenomena of phosphorescence.' But
it would be rather awkward to go about in society crying stinking fish."
suppose it would," said March, with a smile.
odd to enter a drawing-room carrying a large luminous cod," continued the
stranger, in his listless way. "How quaint it would, be if one could carry
it about like a lantern, or have little sprats for candles. Some of the
seabeasts would really be very pretty like lampshades; the blue sea-snail that
glitters all over like starlight; and some of the red starfish really shine
like red stars. But, naturally, I'm not looking for them here."
thought of asking him what he was looking for; but, feeling unequal to a
technical discussion at least as deep as the deep-sea fishes, he returned to
more ordinary topics.
sort of hole this is," he said. "This little dell and river here.
It's like those places Stevenson talks about, where something ought to
know," answered the other. "I think it's because the place itself, so
to speak, seems to happen and not merely to exist. Perhaps that's what old
Picasso and some of the Cubists are trying to express by angles and jagged
lines. Look at that wall like low cliffs that juts forward just at right angles
to the slope of turf sweeping up to it. That's like a silent collision. It's
like a breaker and the back-wash of a wave."
looked at the low-browed crag overhanging the green slope and nodded. He was
interested in a man who turned so easily from the technicalities of science to
those of art; and asked him if he admired the new angular artists.
I feel it, the Cubists are not Cubist enough," replied the stranger.
"I mean they're not thick enough. By making things mathematical they make
them thin. Take the living lines out of that landscape, simplify it to a right
angle, and you flatten it out to a mere diagram on paper. Diagrams have their
own beauty; but it is of just the other sort, They stand for the unalterable
things; the calm, eternal, mathematical sort of truths; what somebody calls the
'white radiance of'--"
stopped, and before the next word came something had happened almost too
quickly and completely to be realized. From behind the overhanging rock came a
noise and rush like that of a railway train; and a great motor car appeared. It
topped the crest of cliff, black against the sun, like a battle-chariot rushing
to destruction in some wild epic.
automatically put out his hand in one futile gesture, as if to catch a falling
tea-cup in a drawing-room.
the fraction of a flash it seemed to leave the ledge of rock like a flying
ship; then the very sky seemed to turn over like a wheel, and it lay a ruin
amid the tall grasses below, a line of gray smoke going up slowly from it into
the silent air. A little lower the figure of a man with gray hair lay tumbled
down the steep green slope, his limbs lying all at random, and his face turned
eccentric fisherman dropped his net and walked swiftly toward the spot, his new
acquaintance following him. As they drew near there seemed a sort of monstrous
irony in the fact that the dead machine was still throbbing and thundering as
busily as a factory, while the man lay so still.
was unquestionably dead. The blood flowed in the grass from a hopelessly fatal
fracture at the back of the skull; but the face, which was turned to the sun,
was uninjured and strangely arresting in itself. It was one of those cases of a
strange face so unmistakable as to feel familiar.
feel, somehow, that we ought to recognize it, even though we do not. It was of
the broad, square sort with great jaws, almost like that of a highly
intellectual ape; the wide mouth shut so tight as to be traced by a mere line;
the nose short with the sort of nostrils that seem to gape with an appetite for
the air. The oddest thing about the face was that one of the eyebrows was
cocked up at a much sharper angle than the other.
thought he had never seen a face so naturally alive as that dead one. And its
ugly energy seemed all the stranger for its halo of hoary hair. Some papers lay
half fallen out of the pocket, and from among them March extracted a card-case.
He read the name on the card aloud.
Humphrey Turnbull. I'm sure I've heard that name somewhere."
companion only gave a sort of a little sigh and was silent for a moment, as if
ruminating, then he merely said, "The poor fellow is quite gone," and
added some scientific terms in which his auditor once more found himself out of
things are," continued the same curiously well-informed person, "it
will be more legal for us to leave the body as it is until the police are
informed. In fact, I think it will be well if nobody except the police is
informed. Don't be surprised if I seem to be keeping it dark from some of our
neighbors round here."
as if prompted to regularize his rather abrupt confidence, he said: "I've
come down to see my cousin at Torwood; my name is Horne Fisher. Might be a pun
on my pottering about here, mightn't it?"
Sir Howard Horne your cousin?" asked March. "I'm going to Torwood
Park to see him myself; only about his public work, of course, and the
wonderful stand he is making for his principles. I think this Budget is the
greatest thing in English history. If it fails, it will be the most heroic
failure in English history. Are you an admirer of your great kinsman, Mr.
said Mr. Fisher. "He's the best shot I know."
as if sincerely repentant of his nonchalance, he added, with a sort of
but really, he's a beautiful shot."
if fired by his own words, he took a sort of leap at the ledges of the rock
above him, and scaled them with a sudden agility in startling contrast to his
general lassitude. He had stood for some seconds on the headland above, with
his aquiline profile under the Panama hat relieved against the sky and peering
over the countryside before his companion had collected himself sufficiently to
scramble up after him.
level above was a stretch of common turf on which the tracks of the fated car
were plowed plainly enough; but the brink of it was broken as with rocky teeth;
broken boulders of all shapes and sizes lay near the edge; it was almost
incredible that any one could have deliberately driven into such a death trap,
especially in broad daylight.
can't make head or tail of it," said March. "Was he blind? Or blind
by the look of him," replied the other.
it was suicide."
doesn't seem a cozy way of doing it," remarked the man called Fisher.
"Besides, I don't fancy poor old Puggy would commit suicide,
old who?" inquired the wondering journalist. "Did you know this
knew him exactly," replied Fisher, with some vagueness. "But one knew
him, of course. He'd been a terror in his time, in Parliament and the courts,
and so on; especially in that row about the aliens who were deported as
undesirables, when he wanted one of 'em hanged for murder. He was so sick about
it that he retired from the bench. Since then he mostly motored about by
himself; but he was coming to Torwood, too, for the week-end; and I don't see
why he should deliberately break his neck almost at the very door. I believe
Hoggs--I mean my cousin Howard--was coming down specially to meet him."
Park doesn't belong to your cousin?" inquired March.
it used to belong to the Winthrops, you know," replied the other.
"Now a new man's got it; a man from Montreal named Jenkins. Hoggs comes
for the shooting; I told you he was a lovely shot."
repeated eulogy on the great social statesman affected Harold March as if somebody
had defined Napoleon as a distinguished player of nap. But he had another
half-formed impression struggling in this flood of unfamiliar things, and he
brought it to the surface before it could vanish.
he repeated. "Surely you don't mean Jefferson Jenkins, the social
reformer? I mean the man who's fighting for the new cottage-estate scheme. It
would be as interesting to meet him as any Cabinet Minister in the world, if
you'll excuse my saying so."
Hoggs told him it would have to be cottages," said Fisher. "He said
the breed of cattle had improved too often, and people were beginning to laugh.
And, of course, you must hang a peerage on to something; though the poor chap
hasn't got it yet. Hullo, here's somebody else."
had started walking in the tracks of the car, leaving it behind them in the
hollow, still humming horribly like a huge insect that had killed a man. The
tracks took them to the corner of the road, one arm of which went on in the
same line toward the distant gates of the park. It was clear that the car had
been driven down the long straight road, and then, instead of turning with the
road to the left, had gone straight on over the turf to its doom.
it was not this discovery that had riveted Fisher's eye, but something even
more solid. At the angle of the white road a dark and solitary figure was
standing almost as still as a finger post. It was that of a big man in rough
shooting-clothes, bareheaded, and with tousled curly hair that gave him a
rather wild look. On a nearer approach this first more fantastic impression
faded; in a full light the figure took on more conventional colors, as of an
ordinary gentleman who happened to have come out without a hat and without very
studiously brushing his hair. But the massive stature remained, and something
deep and even cavernous about the setting of the eyes redeemed. his animal good
looks from the commonplace.
March had no time to study the man more closely, for, much to his astonishment,
his guide merely observed, "Hullo, Jack!" and walked past him as if
he had indeed been a signpost, and without attempting to inform him of the
catastrophe beyond the rocks. It was relatively a small thing, but it was only
the first in a string of singular antics on which his new and eccentric friend
was leading him.
man they had passed looked after them in rather a suspicious fashion, but
Fisher continued serenely on his way along the straight road that ran past the
gates of the great estate.
John Burke, the traveler," he condescended to explain. "I expect
you've heard of him; shoots big game and all that. Sorry I couldn't stop to
introduce you, but I dare say you'll meet him later on."
know his book, of course," said March, with renewed interest. "That
is certainly a fine piece of description, about their being only conscious of
the closeness of the elephant when the colossal head blocked out the
young Halkett writes jolly well, I think. What? Didn't you know Halkett wrote
Burke's book for him? Burke can't use anything except a gun; and you can't
write with that. Oh, he's genuine enough in his way, you know, as brave as a
lion, or a good deal braver by all accounts."
seem to know all about him," observed March, with a rather bewildered
laugh, "and about a good many other people."
bald brow became abruptly corrugated, and a curious expression came into his
know too much," he said. "That's what's the matter with me. That's
what's the matter with all of us, and the whole show; we know too much. Too
much about one another; too much about ourselves. That's why I'm really
interested, just now, about one thing that I don't know."
that is?" inquired the other.
that poor fellow is dead."
had walked along the straight road for nearly a mile, conversing at intervals
in this fashion; and March had a singular sense of the whole world being turned
inside out. Mr. Horne Fisher did not especially abuse his friends and relatives
in fashionable society; of some of them he spoke with affection. But they
seemed to be an entirely new set of men and women, who happened to have the
same nerves as the men and women mentioned most often in the newspapers. Yet no
fury of revolt could have seemed to him more utterly revolutionary than this
cold familiarity. It was like daylight on the other side of stage scenery.
reached the great lodge gates of the park, and, to March's surprise, passed
them and continued along the interminable white, straight road. But he was
himself too early for his appointment with Sir Howard, and was not disinclined
to see the end of his new friend's experiment, whatever it might be. They had
long left the moorland behind them, and half the white road was gray in the
great shadow of the Torwood pine forests, themselves like gray bars shuttered
against the sunshine and within, amid that clear noon, manufacturing their own
midnight. Soon, however, rifts began to appear in them like gleams of colored
windows; the trees thinned and fell away as the road went forward, showing the
wild, irregular copses in which, as Fisher said, the house-party had been
blazing away all day. And about 200 yards farther on they came to the first
turn of the road.
the corner stood a sort of decayed inn with the dingy sign of The Grapes. The
signboard was dark and indecipherable by now, and hung black against the sky
and the gray moorland beyond, about as inviting as a gallows. March remarked
that it looked like a tavern for vinegar instead of wine.
good phrase," said Fisher, "and so it would be if you were silly
enough to drink wine in it. But the beer is very good, and so is the
followed him to the bar parlor with some wonder, and his dim sense of
repugnance was not dismissed by the first sight of the innkeeper, who was
widely different from the genial innkeepers of romance, a bony man, very silent
behind a black mustache, but with black, restless eyes. Taciturn as he was, the
investigator succeeded at last in extracting a scrap of information from him,
by dint of ordering beer and talking to him persistently and minutely on the
subject of motor cars. He evidently regarded the innkeeper as in some singular
way an authority on motor cars; as being deep in the secrets of the mechanism,
management, and mismanagement of motor cars; holding the man all the time with
a glittering eye like the Ancient Mariner.
of all this rather mysterious conversation there did emerge at last a sort of
admission that one particular motor car, of a given description, had stopped
before the inn about an hour before, and that an elderly man had alighted,
requiring some mechanical assistance. Asked if the visitor required any other
assistance, the innkeeper said shortly that the old gentleman had filled his
flask and taken a packet of sandwiches. And with these words the somewhat
inhospitable host had walked hastily out of the bar, and they heard him banging
doors in the dark interior.
weary eye wandered round the dusty and dreary inn parlor and rested dreamily on
a glass case containing a stuffed bird, with a gun hung on hooks above it,
which seemed to be its only ornament.
was a humorist," he observed, "at least in his own rather grim style.
But it seems rather too grim a joke for a man to buy a packet of sandwiches
when he is just going to commit suicide."
you come to that," answered March, "it isn't very usual for a man to
buy a packet of sandwiches when he's just outside the door of a grand house
he's going to stop at."
. . . no," repeated Fisher, almost mechanically; and then suddenly cocked
his eye at his interlocutor with a much livelier expression.
Jove! that's an idea. You're perfectly right. And that suggests a very queer
idea, doesn't it?"
was a silence, and then March started with irrational nervousness as the door
of the inn was flung open and another man walked rapidly to the counter. He had
struck it with a coin and called out for brandy before he saw the other two
guests, who were sitting at a bare wooden table under the window. When he turned
about with a rather wild stare, March had yet another unexpected emotion, for
his guide hailed the man as Hoggs and introduced him as Sir Howard Horne.
looked rather older than his boyish portraits in the illustrated papers, as is
the way of politicians; his flat, fair hair was touched with gray, but his face
was almost comically round, with a Roman nose which, when combined with his
quick, bright eyes, raised a vague reminiscence of a parrot. He had a cap
rather at the back of his head and a gun under his arm. Harold March had
imagined many things about his meeting with the great political reformer, but
he had never pictured him with a gun under his arm, drinking brandy in a public
you're stopping at Jink's, too," said Fisher. "Everybody seems to be
replied the Chancellor of the Exchequer. "Jolly good shooting. At least
all of it that isn't Jink's shooting. I never knew a chap with such good
shooting that was such a bad shot. Mind you, he's a jolly good fellow and all that;
I don't say a word against him. But he never learned to hold a gun when he was
packing pork or whatever he did. They say he shot the cockade off his own
servant's hat; just like him to have cockades, of course. He shot the
weathercock off his own ridiculous gilded summerhouse. It's the only cock he'll
ever kill, I should think. Are you coming up there now?"
said, rather vaguely, that he was following soon, when he had fixed something
up; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer left the inn. March fancied he had been
a little upset or impatient when he called for the brandy; but he had talked
himself back into a satisfactory state, if the talk had not been quite what his
literary visitor had expected.
a few minutes afterward, slowly led the way out of the tavern and stood in the
middle of the road, looking down in the direction from which they had traveled.
Then he walked back about two hundred yards in that direction and stood still
should think this is about the place," he said.
place?" asked his companion.
place where the poor fellow was killed," said Fisher, sadly.
do you mean?" demanded March.
was smashed up on the rocks a mile and a half from here."
he wasn't," replied Fisher. "He didn't fall on the rocks at all.
Didn't you notice that he only fell on the slope of soft grass underneath? But
I saw that he had a bullet in him already."
after a pause he added:
was alive at the inn, but he was dead long before he came to the rocks. So he was
shot as he drove his car down this strip of straight road, and I should think
somewhere about here. After that, of course, the car went straight on with
nobody to stop or turn it. It's really a very cunning dodge in its way; for the
body would be found far away, and most people would say, as you do, that it was
an accident to a motorist. The murderer must have been a clever brute."
wouldn't the shot be heard at the inn or somewhere?" asked March.
would be heard. But it would not be noticed. That," continued the
investigator, "is where he was clever again. Shooting was going on all
over the place all day; very likely he timed his shot so as to drown it in a
number of others. Certainly he was a first-class criminal. And he was something
else as well."
do you mean?" asked his companion, with a creepy premonition of something
coming, he knew not why.
was a first-class shot," said Fisher. He had turned his back abruptly and
was walking down a narrow, grassy lane, little more than a cart track, which
lay opposite the inn and marked the end of the great estate and the beginning
of the open moors. March plodded after him with the same idle perseverance, and
found him staring through a gap in giant weeds and thorns at the flat face of a
painted paling. From behind the paling rose the great gray columns of a row of
poplars, which filled the heavens above them with dark-green shadow and shook
faintly in a wind which had sunk slowly into a breeze. The afternoon was
already deepening into evening, and the titanic shadows of the poplars
lengthened over a third of the landscape.
you a first-class criminal?" asked Fisher, in a friendly tone.
afraid I'm not. But I think I can manage to be a sort of fourth-rate
before his companion could reply he had managed to swing himself up and over
the fence; March followed without much bodily effort, but with considerable
mental disturbance. The poplars grew so close against the fence that they had
some difficulty in slipping past them, and beyond the poplars they could see
only a high hedge of laurel, green and lustrous in the level sun. Something in
this limitation by a series of living walls made him feel as if he were really
entering a shattered house instead of an open field.
was as if he came in by a disused door or window and found the way blocked by
furniture. When they had circumvented the laurel hedge, they came out on a sort
of terrace of turf, which fell by one green step to an oblong lawn like a
bowling green. Beyond this was the only building in sight, a low conservatory,
which seemed far away from anywhere, like a glass cottage standing in its own
fields in fairyland.
knew that lonely look of the outlying parts of a great house well enough. He
realized that it is more of a satire on aristocracy than if it were choked with
weeds and littered with ruins. For it is not neglected and yet it is deserted;
at any rate, it is disused. It is regularly swept and garnished for a master
who never comes.
over the lawn, however, he saw one object which he had not apparently expected.
It was a sort of tripod supporting a large disk like the round top of a table
tipped sideways, and it was not until they had dropped on to the lawn and
walked across to look at it that March realized that it was a target. It was
worn and weatherstained; the gay colors of its concentric rings were faded;
possibly it had been set up in those far-off Victorian days when there was a
fashion of archery. March had one of his vague visions of ladies in cloudy
crinolines and gentlemen in outlandish hats and whiskers revisiting that lost
garden like ghosts.
who was peering more closely at the target, startled him by an exclamation.
he said. "Somebody has been peppering this thing with shot, after all, and
quite lately, too. Why, I believe old Jink's been trying to improve his bad
and it looks as if it still wanted improving," answered March, laughing.
"Not one of these shots is anywhere near the bull's-eye; they seem just
scattered about in the wildest way."
the wildest way," repeated Fisher, still peering intently at the target.
He seemed merely to assent, but March fancied his eye was shining under its
sleepy lid and that he straightened his stooping figure with a strange effort.
me a moment," he said, feeling in his pockets. "I think I've got some
of my chemicals; and after that we'll go up to the house." And he stooped
again over the target, putting something with his finger over each of the shot-holes,
so far as March could see merely a dull-gray smear.
they went through the gathering twilight up the long green avenues to the great
again, however, the eccentric investigator did not enter by the front door. He
walked round the house until he found a window open, and, leaping into it,
introduced his friend to what appeared to be the gun-room. Rows of the regular
instruments for bringing down birds stood against the walls; but across a table
in the window lay one or two weapons of a heavier and more formidable pattern.
I these are Burke's big-game rifles," said Fisher. "I never knew he
kept them here." He lifted one of them, examined it briefly, and put it
down again, frowning heavily. Almost as he did so a strange young man came
hurriedly into the room. He was dark and sturdy, with a bumpy forehead and a
bulldog jaw, and he spoke with a curt apology.
left Major Burke's guns here," he said, "and he wants them packed up.
He's going away to-night."
he carried off the two rifles without casting a glance at the stranger; through
the open window they could see his short, dark figure walking away across the
glimmering garden. Fisher got out of the window again and stood looking after
Halkett, whom I told you about," he said. "I knew he was a sort of
secretary and had to do with Burke's papers; but I never knew he had anything
to do with his guns. But he's just the sort of silent, sensible little devil
who might be very good at anything; the sort of man you know for years before
you find he's a chess champion."
had begun to walk in the direction of the disappearing secretary, and they soon
came within sight of the rest of the house-party talking and laughing on the
lawn. They could see the tall figure and loose mane of the lion-hunter
dominating the little group.
the way," observed Fisher, "when we were talking about Burke and
Halkett, I said that a man couldn't very well write with a gun. Well, I'm not
so sure now. Did you ever hear of an artist so clever that he could draw with a
gun? There's a wonderful chap loose about here."
Howard hailed Fisher and his friend the journalist with almost boisterous
amiability. The latter was presented to Major Burke and Mr. Halkett and also
(by way of a parenthesis) to his host, Mr. Jenkins, a commonplace little man in
loud tweeds, whom everybody else seemed to treat with a sort of affection, as
if he were a baby.
irrepressible Chancellor of the Exchequer was still talking about the birds he
had brought down, the birds that Burke and Halkett had brought down, and the
birds that Jenkins, their host, had failed to bring down. It seemed to be a
sort of sociable monomania.
and your big game," he ejaculated, aggressively, to Burke. "Why,
anybody could shoot big game. You want to be a shot to shoot small game."
so," interposed Horne Fisher. "Now if only a hippopotamus could fly
up in the air out of that bush, or you preserved flying elephants on the
estate, why, then--"
even Jink might hit that sort of bird," cried Sir Howard, hilariously
slapping his host on the back. "Even he might hit a haystack or a
here, you fellows," said Fisher. "I want you to come along with me
for a minute and shoot at something else. Not a hippopotamus. Another kind of
queer animal I've found on the estate. It's an animal with three legs and one
eye, and it's all the colors of the rainbow."
the deuce are you talking about?" asked Burke.
come along and see," replied Fisher, cheerfully.
people seldom reject anything nonsensical, for they are always seeking for
something new. They gravely rearmed themselves from the gun-room and trooped
along at the tail of their guide, Sir Howard only pausing, in a sort of
ecstasy, to point out the celebrated gilt summerhouse on which the gilt
weathercock still stood crooked.
was dusk turning to dark by the time they reached the remote green by the
poplars and accepted the new and aimless game of shooting at the old mark.
last light seemed to fade from the lawn, and the poplars against the sunset
were like great plumes upon a purple hearse, when the futile procession finally
curved round, and came out in front of the target. Sir Howard again slapped his
host on the shoulder, shoving him playfully forward to take the first shot. The
shoulder and arm he touched seemed unnaturally stiff and angular. Mr. Jenkins
was holding his gun in an attitude more awkward than any that his satiric
friends had seen or expected.
the same instant a horrible scream seemed to come from nowhere. It was so
unnatural and so unsuited to the scene that it might have been made by some
inhuman thing flying on wings above them or eavesdropping in the dark woods
Fisher knew that it had started and stopped on the pale lips of Jefferson
Jenkins, of Montreal, and no one at that moment catching sight of Jefferson
Jenkins's face would have complained that it was commonplace. The next moment a
torrent of guttural but good-humored oaths came from Major Burke as he and the
two other men saw what was in front of them.
target stood up in the dim grass like a dark goblin grinning at them, and it
was literally grinning. It had two eyes like stars, and in similar livid points
of light were picked out the two upturned and open nostrils and the two ends of
the wide and tight mouth. A few white dots above each eye indicated the hoary
eyebrows; and one of them ran upward almost erect. It was a brilliant
caricature done in bright botted lines and March knew of whom.
shone in the shadowy grass, smeared with sea fire as if one of the submarine
monsters had crawled into the twilight garden; but it had the head of a dead
only luminous paint," said Burke. "Old Fisher's been having a joke
with that phosphorescent stuff of his."
to be meant for old Puggy"' observed Sir Howard. "Hits him off very
that they all laughed, except Jenkins. When they had all done, he made a noise
like the first effort of an animal to laugh, and Horne Fisher suddenly strode
across to him and said:
Jenkins, I must speak to you at once in private."
was by the little watercourse in the moors, on the slope under the hanging
rock, that March met his new friend Fisher, by appointment, shortly after the
ugly and almost grotesque scene that had broken up the group in the garden.
was a monkey-trick of mine," observed Fisher, gloomily, "putting
phosphorus on the target; but the only chance to make him jump was to give him
the horrors suddenly. And when he saw the face he'd shot at shining on the
target he practiced on, all lit up with an infernal light, he did jump. Quite
enough for my own intellectual satisfaction."
afraid I don't quite understand even now," said March, "exactly what
he did or why he did it."
ought to," replied Fisher, with his rather dreary smile, "for you
gave me the first suggestion yourself. Oh yes, you did; and it was. a very
shrewd one. You said a man wouldn't take sandwiches with him to dine at a great
house. It was quite true; and the inference was that, though he was going
there, he didn't mean to dine there.
at any rate, that he might not be dining there. It occurred to me at once that
he probably expected the visit to be unpleasant, or the reception doubtful, or
something that would prevent his accepting hospitality. Then it struck me that
Turnbull was a terror to certain shady characters in the past, and that he had
come down to identify and denounce one of them.
chances at the start pointed to the host--that is, Jenkins. I'm morally certain
now that Jenkins was the undesirable alien Turnbull wanted to convict in
another shooting-affair, but you see the shooting gentleman had another shot in
you said he would have to be a very good shot," protested March.
is a very good shot," said Fisher. "A very good shot who can pretend
to be a very bad shot. Shall I tell you the second hint I hit on, after yours,
to make me think it was Jenkins? It was my cousin's account of his bad
shooting. He'd shot a cockade off a hat and a weathercock off a building. Now,
in fact, a man must shoot very well indeed to shoot so badly as that.
must shoot very neatly to hit the cockade and not the head, or even the hat. If
the shots had really gone at random, the chances are a thousand to one that they
would not have hit such prominent and picturesque objects. They were chosen
because they were prominent and picturesque objects. They make a story to go
the round of society. He keeps the crooked weathercock in the summerhouse to
perpetuate the story of a legend.
then he lay in wait with his evil eye and wicked gun, safely ambushed behind
the legend of his own incompetence.
there is more than that. There is the summerhouse itself. I mean there is the
whole thing. There's all that Jenkins gets chaffed about, the gilding and the
gaudy colors and all the vulgarity that's supposed to stamp him as an upstart.
Now, as a matter of fact, upstarts generally don't do this. God knows there's
enough of 'em in society; and one knows 'em well enough.
this is the very last thing they do. They're generally only too keen to know
the right thing and do it; and they instantly put themselves body and soul into
the hands of art decorators and art experts, who do the whole thing for them.
There's hardly another millionaire alive who has the moral courage to have a
gilt monogram on a chair like that one in the gun-room.
that matter, there's the name as well as the monogram. Names like Tompkins and
Jenkins and Jinks are funny without being vulgar; I mean they are vulgar
without being common. If you prefer it, they are commonplace without being
are just the names to be chosen to look ordinary, but they're really rather
extraordinary. Do you know many people called Tompkins? It's a good deal rarer
than Talbot. It's pretty much the same with the comic clothes of the parvenu.
Jenkins dresses like a character in Punch. But that's because he is a character
in Punch. I mean he's a fictitious character. He's a fabulous animal. He
you ever considered what it must be like to be a man who doesn't exist? I mean
to be a man with a fictitious character that he has to keep up at the expense
not merely of personal talents: To be a new kind of hypocrite hiding a talent
in a new kind of napkin. This man has chosen his hypocrisy very ingeniously; it
was really a new one.
subtle villain has dressed up as a dashing gentleman and a worthy business man
and a philanthropist and a saint; but the loud checks of a comical little cad
were really rather a new disguise. But the disguise must be very irksome to a
man who can really do things. This is a dexterous little cosmopolitan
guttersnipe who can do scores of things, not only shoot, but draw and paint,
and probably play the fiddle.
a man like that may find the hiding of his talents useful; but he could never
help wanting to use them where they were useless. If he can draw, he will draw
absent-mindedly on blotting paper. I suspect this rascal has often drawn poor
old Puggy's face on blotting paper. Probably he began doing it in blots as he
afterward did it in dots, or rather shots.
was the same sort of thing; he found a disused target in a deserted yard and
couldn't resist indulging in a little secret shooting, like secret drinking.
You thought the shots all scattered and irregular, and so they were; but not
accidental. No two distances were alike; but the different points were exactly
where he wanted to put them. There's nothing needs such mathematical precision
as a wild caricature.
dabbled a little in drawing myself, and I assure you that to put one dot where
you want it is a marvel with a pen close to a piece of paper. It was a miracle
to do it across a garden with a gun. But a man who can work those miracles will
always itch to work them, if it's only in the dark."
a pause March observed, thoughtfully, "But he couldn't have brought him
down like a bird with one of those little guns."
that was why I went into the gun-room," replied Fisher. "He did it
with one of Burke's rifles, and Burke thought he knew the sound of it. That's
why he rushed out without a hat, looking so wild. He saw nothing but a car
passing quickly, which he followed for a little way, and then concluded he'd
made a mistake."
was another silence, during which Fisher sat on a great stone as motionless as
on their first meeting, and watched the gray and silver river eddying past
under the bushes. Then March said, abruptly, "Of course he knows the truth
knows the truth but you and I," answered Fisher, with a certain softening
in his voice. "And I don't think you and I will ever quarrel."
do you mean?" asked March, in an altered accent. "What have you done
Fisher continued to gaze steadily at the eddying stream. At last he said,
"The police have proved it was a motor accident."
you know it was not."
told you that I know too much," replied Fisher, with his eye on the river.
"I know that, and I know a great many other things. I know the atmosphere
and the way the whole thing works. I know this fellow has succeeded in making
himself something incurably commonplace and comic. I know you can't get up a
persecution of old Toole or Little Tich. If I were to tell Hoggs or Halkett
that old Jink was an assassin, they would almost die of laughter before my
eyes. Oh, I don't say their laughter's quite innocent, though it's genuine in
its way. They want old Jink, and they couldn't do without him. I don't say I'm
quite innocent. I like Hoggs; I don't want him to be down and out; and he'd be
done for if Jink can't pay for his coronet. They were devilish near the line at
the last election. But the only real objection to it is that it's impossible.
Nobody would believe it; it's not in the picture. The crooked weathercock would
always turn it into a joke."
you think this is infamous?" asked March, quietly.
think a good many things," replied the other. "If you people ever
happen to blow the whole tangle of society to hell with dynamite, I don't know
that the human race will be much the worse. But don't be too hard on me merely
because I know what society is. That's why I moon away my time over things like
was a pause as he settled himself down again by the stream; and then he added: "I
told you before I had to throw back the big fish."
THE AUTHOR: A prolific English writer of the early 20th century; a popular and
an influential writer during this period, inspiring many historic figures with
his works. He was notably concerned in what he wrote with religious matters, and
was received into the Catholic Church in 1922. Chesterton has been called the
"prince of paradox". He wrote in an off-hand, whimsical prose studded
with startling formulations. For example: "Thieves respect property. They
merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly