Atmosphere in Chesterton’s Father Brown stories II

I had begun telling you about the wonderfully vivid and almost surrealistic atmosphere G K Chesterton managed to create in his Father Brown stories. Here is another example of the author creating a latent sense of menace, as he presents a case which seems inexplicable and redolent of unexplained horrors until the good father explains it all. I am not going to give you a synopsis – those who have read the The Honour of Israel Gow already know it and for those who have to yet to read it, I know what to spoil the element of surprise.

As the tale begins….

A stormy evening of olive and silver was closing in, as Father Brown, wrapped in a grey Scotch plaid, came to the end of a grey Scotch valley and beheld the strange castle of Glengyle. It stopped one end of the glen or hollow like a blind alley; and it looked like the end of the world. Rising in steep roofs and spires of seagreen slate in the manner of the old French-Scotch chateaux, it reminded an Englishman of the sinister steeple-hats of witches in fairy tales; and the pine woods that rocked round the green turrets looked, by comparison, as black as numberless flocks of ravens. This note of a dreamy, almost a sleepy devilry, was no mere fancy from the landscape. For there did rest on the place one of those clouds of pride and madness and mysterious sorrow which lie more heavily on the noble houses of Scotland than on any other of the children of men.

And as the story unfolds….

“What do you mean?” demanded the London officer.
“I mean,” answered the little priest, and his voice seemed to rise slightly in the roar of the gale. “I mean that the great devil of the universe may be sitting on the top tower of this castle at this moment, as big as a hundred elephants, and roaring like the Apocalypse. There is black magic somewhere at the bottom of this.”

And as our protagonists attempt to solve the mystery…

The path up the hill to the churchyard was crooked but short; only under that stress of wind it seemed laborious and long. Far as the eye could see, farther and farther as they mounted the slope, were seas beyond seas of pines, now all aslope one way under the wind. And that universal gesture seemed as vain as it was vast, as vain as if that wind were whistling about some unpeopled and purposeless planet. Through all that infinite growth of grey-blue forests sang, shrill and high, that ancient sorrow that is in the heart of all heathen things. One could fancy that the voices from the under world of unfathomable foliage were cries of the lost and wandering pagan gods: gods who had gone roaming in that irrational forest, and who will never find their way back to heaven.

A little while later…..

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?”
His friend’s reply came with the pent promptitude of a gun going off.

And Father Brown gives us relief….. and ends with a most marvellous and enigmatic comment….

“Sleep!” cried Father Brown. “Sleep. We have come to the end of the ways. Do you know what sleep is? Do you know that every man who sleeps believes in God? It is a sacrament; for it is an act of faith and it is a food. And we need a sacrament, if only a natural one. Something has fallen on us that falls very seldom on men; perhaps the worst thing that can fall on them.”
Craven’s parted lips came together to say, “What do you mean?”
The priest had turned his face to the castle as he answered: “We have found the truth; and the truth makes no sense.”

To be continued….

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