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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 586

Aristide Valentin, the chief of the Paris police, arrives from Holland by boat at the English port of Harwich. He is pursuing an infamous thief and con man named Flambeau, to whom Parisian reporters attribute numerous mysterious and unsolved crimes committed in the French capital. Flambeau has become somewhat of a sympathetic rogue in the eyes of certain Frenchmen, and Valentin definitely wants to arrest this troublemaker, who has managed to avoid arrest by the French, Belgian, and Dutch police. Valentin’s chances of catching Flambeau seem slim, however, because all he knows about the man is that he is six feet, four inches tall. Valentin certainly cannot arrest every tall man whom he encounters in England, but he is a tireless investigator. During his train journey to London, Valentin sees many short people, including a rotund Roman Catholic priest who tells him that he is carrying a valuable silver cross with blue sapphires to a eucharistic congress in London. A skeptic with no love of priests, Valentin regards this priest with contempt for revealing such information to a stranger.

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After a quick visit to Scotland Yard, where he speaks with his English colleagues, Valentin formulates a plan for finding Flambeau. He decides to look for Flambeau in out-of-the-way places, believing that an escaped criminal such as Flambeau will avoid public places such as banks and railroad stations. As he eats breakfast in an Italian restaurant, he notices an odd, short clergyman who is attracting attention by putting salt in a sugar bowl and throwing soup against a wall as he leaves. The waiter who has served the priest complains about the mess. Soon after Valentin leaves the restaurant, he comes on a vegetable and fruit shop where a short priest has just switched the signs for oranges and nuts and knocked the apples from a table. The upset greengrocer tells Valentin in what direction short and tall priests have gone. When Valentin learns from a police officer that the priests have boarded a bus for Hampstead, he commandeers a police car to follow it. He believes that the tall priest is probably Flambeau and that the short one might well be the priest whom he had met on the train.

Valentin looks for anything that will tell him where Flambeau may be in Hampstead. Soon he spots a restaurant with a broken window. The restaurant’s proprietor tells him that a short priest has just added ten shillings to his bill to pay for the window that he was about to smash with his umbrella. Thinking that this priest must be an escaped lunatic, the distressed proprietor tells Valentin that the two priests are headed for Hampstead Heath, where Valentin and his English colleagues soon find them.

Just before the police arrive, the two priests have a short theological discussion in which the tall priest denounces reason, while the other explains that Christianity enables us to reconcile faith and reason. The short priest, who turns out to be Father Brown, realizes that the other man’s attack on reason constitutes such “bad theology” that the man cannot be a true priest. When the tall man threatens Father Brown with physical violence unless he turns over his blue cross, Brown points to the police officers hiding behind a nearby tree who then arrest Flambeau.

The story ends with Valentin admitting that Father Brown is a master detective who has behaved strangely deliberately in order to make the police follow two priests who would otherwise be inconspicuous.

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Themes