Atmosphere in Chesterton’s Father Brown stories III

I had given you a couple of examples about the special atmosphere G K Chesterton could evoke in his Father Brown stories. Here is another one…. from the The Mirror of the Magistrate, which can be found in The Secret of Father Brown – the fourth volume of the series.

As like the others, I shall not even attempt to give a synopsis and just concentrate on presenting to you a few passages in support of my contention.

~~The garden of Mr. Justice Gwynne by night was rather a singular spectacle. It was large and lay on the empty edge of the suburb, in the shadow of a tall, dark house that was the last in its line of houses. The house was literally dark, being shuttered and unlighted, at least on the side overlooking the garden. But the garden itself, which lay in its shadow, and should have been a tract of absolute darkness, showed a random glitter, like that of fading fireworks; as if a giant rocket had fallen in fire among the trees. As they advanced they were able to locate it as the light of several coloured lamps, entangled in the trees like the jewel fruits of Aladdin, and especially as the light from a small, round lake or pond, which gleamed, with pale colours as if a lamp were kindled under it.

And with this scene before you, we move slightly ahead after the crime is detected and the good father makes his appearance…

Father Brown strolled up to the hole and ducked his head under it. A few moments after he had disappeared they were astonished to hear his quiet voice in conversation above their heads, as if he were talking to somebody at the top of a tree. The detective followed, and found that the curious covered stairway led to what looked like a broken bridge, over-hanging the darker and emptier spaces of the garden. It just curled round the corner of the house, bringing in sight the field of coloured lights beyond and beneath. Probably it was the relic of some abandoned architectural fancy of building a sort of terrace on arches across the lawn. Bagshaw thought it a curious cul-de-sac in which to find anybody in the small hours between night and morning; but he was not looking at the details of it just then. He was looking at the man who was found.

And some days later when the trial is on, Father Brown presents an ingenious reason in favour of the suspect …. and a spirited account of how poetry is created.

~~~~Well, that barrister doesn’t know what a poet is. He doesn’t understand that a poet’s eccentricities wouldn’t seem eccentric to other poets. He thinks it odd that Orm should walk about in a beautiful garden for two hours, with nothing to do. God bless my soul! a poet would think nothing of walking about in the same backyard for ten hours if he had a poem to do. Orm’s own counsel was quite as stupid. It never occurred to him to ask Orm the obvious question.”

“What question do you mean?” asked the other.

“Why, what poem he was making up, of course,” said Father Brown rather impatiently. “What line he was stuck at, what epithet he was looking for, what climax he was trying to work up to. If there were any educated people in court, who know what literature is, they would have known well enough whether he had had anything genuine to do. You’d have asked a manufacturer about the conditions of his factory; but nobody seems to consider the conditions under which poetry is manufactured. It’s done by doing nothing.”

“That’s all very well,” replied the detective; “but why did he hide? Why did he climb up that crooked little stairway and stop there; it led nowhere.”

“Why, because it led nowhere, of course,” cried Father Brown explosively. “Anybody who clapped eyes on that blind alley ending in mid-air might have known an artist would want to go there, just as a child would.”

He stood blinking for a moment, and then said apologetically: “I beg your pardon; but it seems odd that none of them understand these things. And then there was another thing. Don’t you know that everything has, for an artist, one aspect or angle that is exactly right? A tree, a cow, and a cloud, in a certain relation only, mean something; as three letters, in one order only, mean a word. Well, the view of that illuminated garden from that unfinished bridge was the right view of it. It was as unique as the fourth dimension. It was a sort of fairy foreshortening; it was like looking down at heaven and seeing all the stars growing on trees and that luminous pond like a moon fallen flat on the fields in some happy nursery tale. He could have looked at it for ever. If you told him the path led nowhere, he would tell you it had led him to the country at the end of the world. But do you expect him to tell you that in the witness-box? What would you say to him if he did? You talk about a man having a jury of his peers. Why don’t you have a jury of poets?”


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