Kalon was the alias of a man who styled himself the New Priest of Apollo. Since Apollo was an ancient Greek sun-god, Kalon worshiped the sun. In fact, he believed that a healthy man or woman could gaze directly at the sun without suffering any harm.
His office was on one of the upper floors of a multistory building. Three times each day, he would stand in his balcony and chant a litany to the sun with his sonorous voice. He did this at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset.
He had a wealthy disciple named Pauline Stacey. She was impatient, impetuous, and proud. Her office was two floors below his. When she went from one floor to another, she always operated the elevator herself, even though a boy was supposed to perform this service. Operating modern machines gave her a feeling of power.
She did not approve of all modern technology. When her sister Joan came to the office with glasses, Pauline threw them on the floor and stamped on them. By wearing glasses, Joan was admitting that her eyes were weak. Pauline believed that a person should not yield to weakness.
In view of her temperament, Pauline quickly succumbed to the influence of the powerful Kalon. Like him, she was accustomed to gaze directly at the sun. Her eyes were already bad before she started this practice. They quickly got worse.
A detective named Flambeau had an office directly below that of Kalon and above that of the two sisters. He considered Kalon a charlatan, but he was intrigued by the two sisters, who were very beautiful.
One day Flambeau approached the building at noon. He was accompanied by his friend Father Brown. Kalon was chanting a litany, looking directly at the sun with his bare eyes (or so it seemed). Flambeau had witnessed this many times, but Father Brown had not observed this operation before. So while Flambeau entered the building, Father Brown remained outside and watched.
During the recitation of the litany, a tragedy occurred. Pauline Stacey fell down the elevator shaft and plunged to her death.
Flambeau was puzzled. In view of Pauline’s character, he ruled out suicide. If it was murder, there were not too many people who could have done the deed. The building had been built recently, and so far Kalon, Flambeau, and the two sisters were the only tenants.
Flambeau and Father Brown went up to the room of the two sisters. No one was there, but Flambeau went up one floor and returned with Kalon and Joan Stacey.
Father Brown knew that Kalon was guilty even before he entered the building. In spite of the screeching and other disturbances that attended the death of Pauline, Kalon did not even turn his head. He seemed to be expecting a tragedy.
Father Brown wanted Kalon to explain his religion. He wanted to know whether Kalon believed that murder was wrong. He told Kalon that he was speaking like the counsel for the defense. He wanted to know whether there were any extenuating circumstances that could be offered in his favor.
Kalon pompously stated that he would speak for the prosecution. He stated that he and Pauline were in love with one another and he pointed out that love can easily turn to hatred. Moreover, she had made out her will that very morning. She had bequeathed everything to him and his religious organization.
The he struck down his own arguments. He pointed out that he had been praying on the balcony at the time that Pauline died. Many people had heard him. His clerk also could vouch for him.
Pauline believed in levitation. Kalon claimed that Pauline often said that it should be possible to float gently down the elevator shaft instead of using the elevator. He suggested that she walked into the elevator shaft to see whether she could do it.
Father Brown looked miserable. Flambeau thought that Father Brown was dejected because the pompous orator had defeated him. In reality, he was grieving over the seemingly hopeless spiritual sickness of the murderer.
Father Brown suggested that Kalon take Pauline’s will and go. In the ensuing conversation, Father Brown learned that the door was open while Pauline was writing her will. Kalon had not entered her room at the time, but he had seen her through the open door.
The will proved to be worthless. It contained a few introductory words, continued with a few scratches, and finally stopped.
Kalon discontinued the grand act that he had been playing. He no longer spoke in elevated English but even began to curse and swear. He claimed that Joan had dragged Pauline from her desk while she was writing her will and pushed her down the elevator shaft.
Pauline had an ironclad alibi. She was doing business with Kalon’s clerk when Pauline died.
It had become evident that Pauline was alone when she died. This induced Flambeau to think that she must have committed suicide. However, Father Brown said that she was murdered, even though she was alone.
In the ensuing conversation, Kalon complained that the wishes of his beloved were being violated. When he happened to use the words “In Pauline’s eyes,” Father Brown reacted. He urged and implored Kalon to confess his crime. He told him to start with Pauline’s eyes.
Kalon realized that Father Brown knew what he had done. He fled. Flambeau offered to stop him, but Father Brown said: “Let Cain pass by, for he belongs to God.”
Flambeau still did not understand. He asked Father Brown to explain.
Father Brown pointed out that two crimes had been committed. Pauline had a weakness of which even Flambeau was ignorant. Both criminals took advantage of this disability. As he began to explain, Joan evidently knew what Father Brown was going to say. She put her papers away, locked her drawer, and left.
Like Joan, Pauline had a congenital weakness of the eyes. While Joan wanted to correct it with glasses, Pauline refused to admit her weakness. Looking at the sun aggravated it, and she became blind.
When Kalon saw her through the open door, he assured her that he had prepared the elevator and told her to come as soon as she had finished the will. Then he took the elevator up to his own floor and began his public prayers. Since the elevator operated silently, Pauline did not hear it leave.
When she finished, she rushed out to the shaft where the elevator and her lover were supposedly waiting for her. In this way, Kalon took advantage of her blindness to lure her to her death.
Joan also took advantage of her sister’s inability to see. She always had to fill her sister’s fountain pens, but she gave her an unfilled fountain pen to write the will. The fountain pen soon ran out of ink. Pauline continued writing, but no further words appeared on the paper.
Father Brown noticed that two witnesses had signed the will: Joan evidently saw to it that the witnesses put their signature on the paper before the will was written because it would have been awkward to ask the servant to sign as witness to an obviously incomplete document.
There is a flaw in the plot. Since the sonorous voice of Kalon was heard far and wide when he prayed, it is difficult to understand why Pauline did not hear him praying while she was writing her will. If she heard him pray, she would know that he was not waiting in the elevator for her. Of course, we could assume that the building was very well insulated.
Perhaps the casual reader would not notice this inconsistency. Long ago, when I first read this story, I myself did not notice it. I would not be pointing it out now if I had not sharpened my understanding of this mystery by consulting an online version presented by the Project Gutenberg.
Project Gutenberg: The Innocence of Father Brown