The Blue Cross: Short Story Summary

Instructor: Kevin Watson

Kevin has taught college English and has master's degrees in Applied Linguistics and Creative Writing.

G. K. Chesterton's story, 'The Blue Cross,' deals with a notorious French thief and the Parisian police chief who has followed him to London to trap him. In this story, you'll learn about the detective and man behind the capture of the criminal and how he does it.

A Manhunt Is on

In G. K. Chesterton's short story 'The Blue Cross,' Aristide Valentin, head of the Paris police, arrives in the England by ferry on the trail of Flambeau, a legendary thief known for elaborate plots to swindle people. Physically, Flambeau has great agility and strength, but cannot disguise himself well because he is so tall, around six-foot-four.

Valentin suspects Flambeau of planning a caper for the Eucharistic Congress in London. As passengers leave the ferry in Harwich, Valentin watches all, but none of the passengers are particularly tall. He laughs at a small priest who looks confused, no doubt on his way to the congress. He checks in with Scotland Yard and stops at a restaurant that seems out of place. He smokes a cigarette, contemplating the restaurant at the top of some stairs, thinking of things that pass people's eyes unnoticed. He thinks 'wisdom should reckon on the unforeseen.' He believes in reason but knows the limits of reason. He believes that leaving logic behind and following the unpredictable path might well be what the criminal has done. By doing the same, Valentin hopes to find Flambeau.

His Hunches Lead the Way

So, Valentin follows intuition and goes to the restaurant. While having a coffee and egg, he recalls some of Flambeau's escapes. Both men are smart, but Valentin knows his own disadvantage in this pursuit: 'The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic.'

The sugar he puts in his coffee turns out to be salt; each condiment is in the wrong container. This confuses the waiter and owner, who suddenly suspect it was two clergymen who earlier threw soup on the wall when no one was looking. The waiter pursued them but they were gone. Valentin hurries after them but stops in the fruit market: the signs on the nuts and fruit are reversed. The fruit vendor tells Valentin that two clergymen dumped his fruit over and ran off. He points the way after them, and Valentin continues. In the street, a constable tells Valentin he's seen the clergymen board an omnibus heading for Hampstead.

With two other officers, Valentin takes another omnibus through North London. After a long ride, the two police are startled awake and get off in front of a restaurant with a broken window. The three police have lunch inside and pay, with a large tip for the waiter, who tells them about the two parsons in black who ate, paid too much because of the waiter's mistake on the bill, and then told the waiter the extra money would pay for the broken window. Then the parson broke the window with his cane.

The two officers and Valentin follow the direction the waiter points to and stop in a sweets shop that caught Valentin's attention. The shop woman explains that the clergyman returned and asked her to send to an address in Westminster. Soon, the three officers reach Hampstead. Valentin sees the two priests far off in a group, one tall and one short. Closer up, Valentin sees that the short one was the one on the ferry from Brussels. Valentin learned earlier that Father Brown of Essex was bringing a valuable relic with precious gems to the Eucharistic Congress. He knows that if he has found this out, Flambeau has certainly found out as well.

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