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Title: Dr. Thorndyke's Crime File
Author: R. Austin Freeman
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Language: English
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Dr. Thorndyke's Crime File

by

R. Austin Freeman

Cover Image

EDITED BY P.M. STONE

First published by Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1941

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2014



Cover Image

"Dr. Thorndyke's Crime File," Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1941



TABLE OF CONTENTS



I. — MEET DR THORNDYKE

A FASCINATING INSIGHT INTO THE CHARACTER WRITTEN BY THE AUTHOR

MY subject is Dr. John Thorndyke, the hero or central character of most of my detective stories. So I'll give you a short account of his real origin; of the way in which he did in fact come into existence.

To discover the origin of John Thorndyke I have to reach back into the past for at least fifty years, to the time when I was a medical student preparing for my final examination. For reasons which I need not go into I gave rather special attention to the legal aspects of medicine and the medical aspects of law. And as I read my text-books, and especially the illustrative cases, I was profoundly impressed by their dramatic quality. Medical jurisprudence deals with the human body in its relation to all kinds of legal problems. Thus its subject matter includes all sorts of crime against the person and all sorts of violent death and bodily injury: hanging, drowning, poisons and their effects, problems of suicide and homicide, of personal identity and survivorship, and a host of other problems of the highest dramatic possibilities, though not always quite presentable for the purposes of fiction. And the reported cases which were given in illustration were often crime stories of the most thrilling interest. Cases of disputed identity such as the Tichbourne Case, famous poisoning cases such as the Rugeley Case and that of Madeline Smith, cases of mysterious disappearance or the detection of long-forgotten crimes such as that of Eugene Aram; all these, described and analysed with strict scientific accuracy, formed the matter of Medical Jurisprudence which thrilled me as I read and made an indelible impression.

But it produced no immediate results. I had to pass my examinations and get my diploma, and then look out for the means of earning my living. So all this curious lore was put away for the time being in the pigeon-holes of my mind—which Dr. Freud would call the Unconscious—not forgotten, but ready to come to the surface when the need for it should arise. And there it reposed for some twenty years, until failing health compelled me to abandon medical practice and take to literature as a profession.

It was then that my old studies recurred to my mind. A fellow doctor, Conan Doyle, had made a brilliant and well-deserved success by the creation of the immortal Sherlock Holmes. Considering that achievement, I asked myself whether it might not be possible to devise a detective story of a slightly different kind; one based on the science of Medical Jurisprudence, in which, by the sacrifice of a certain amount of dramatic effect, one could keep entirely within the facts of real life, with nothing fictitious excepting the persons and the events. I came to the conclusion that it was, and began to turn the idea over in my mind.

But I think that the influence which finally determined the character of my detective stories, and incidentally the character of John Thorndyke, operated when I was working at the Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital. There I used to take the patients into the dark room, examine their eyes with the ophthalmoscope, estimate the errors of refraction, and construct an experimental pair of spectacles to correct those errors. When a perfect correction had been arrived at, the formula for it was embodied in a prescription which was sent to the optician who made the permanent spectacles.

Now when I was writing those prescriptions it was borne in on me that in many cases, especially the more complex, the formula for the spectacles, and consequently the spectacles themselves, furnished an infallible record of personal identity. If, for instance, such a pair of spectacles should have been found in a railway carriage, and the maker of those spectacles could be found, there would be practically conclusive evidence that a particular person had travelled by that train. About that time I drafted out a story based on a pair of spectacles, which was published some years later under the title of The Mystery of 31 New Inn, and the construction of that story determined, as I have said, not only the general character of my future work but of the hero around whom the plots were to be woven. But that story remained for some years in cold storage. My first published detective novel was The Red Thumb-mark, and in that book we may consider that John Thorndyke was born. And in passing on to describe him I may as well explain how and why he came to be the kind of person that he is.

I may begin by saying that he was not modelled after any real person. He was deliberately created to play a certain part, and the idea that was in my mind was that he should be such a person as would be likely and suitable to occupy such a position in real life. As he was to be a medico-legal expert, he had to be a doctor and a fully trained lawyer. On the physical side I endowed him with every kind of natural advantage. He is exceptionally tall, strong, and athletic because those qualities are useful in his vocation. For the same reason he has acute eyesight and hearing and considerable general manual skill, as every doctor ought to have. In appearance he is handsome and of an imposing presence, with a symmetrical face of the classical type and a Grecian nose. And here I may remark that his distinguished appearance is not merely a concession to my personal taste but is also a protest against the monsters of ugliness whom some detective writers have evolved.

These are quite opposed to natural truth. In real life a first-class man of any kind usually tends to be a good-looking man.

Mentally, Thorndyke is quite normal. He has no gifts of intuition or other supernormal mental qualities. He is just a highly intellectual man of great and varied knowledge with exceptionally acute reasoning powers and endowed with that invaluable asset, a scientific imagination (by a scientific imagination I mean that special faculty which marks the born investigator; the capacity to perceive the essential nature of a problem before the detailed evidence comes into sight). But he arrives at his conclusions by ordinary reasoning, which the reader can follow when he has been supplied with the facts; though the intricacy of the train of reasoning may at times call for an exposition at the end of the investigation.

Thorndyke has no eccentricities or oddities which might detract from the dignity of an eminent professional man, unless one excepts an unnatural liking for Trichinopoly cheroots. In manner he is quiet, reserved and self-contained, and rather markedly secretive, but of a kindly nature, though not sentimental, and addicted to occasional touches of dry humour. That is how Thorndyke appears to me.

As to his age. When he made his first bow to the reading public from the doorway of Number 4 King's Bench Walk he was between thirty-five and forty. As that was thirty years ago, he should now be over sixty-five. But he isn't. If I have to let him "grow old along with me" I need not saddle him with the infirmities of age, and I can (in his case) put the brake on the passing years. Probably he is not more than fifty after all!

Now a few words as to how Thorndyke goes to work. His methods are rather different from those of the detectives of the Sherlock Holmes school. They are more technical and more specialized. He is an investigator of crime but he is not a detective. The technique of Scotland Yard would be neither suitable nor possible to him. He is a medico-legal expert, and his methods are those of medico-legal science. In the investigation of a crime there are two entirely different methods of approach. One consists in the careful and laborious examination of a vast mass of small and commonplace detail: inquiring into the movements of suspected and other persons; interrogating witnesses and checking their statements particularly as to times and places; tracing missing persons, and so forth—the aim being to accumulate a great body of circumstantial evidence which will ultimately disclose the solution of the problem. It is an admirable method, as the success of our police proves, and it is used with brilliant effect by at least one of our contemporary detective writers. But it is essentially a police method.

The other method consists in the search for some fact of high evidential value which can be demonstrated by physical methods and which constitutes conclusive proof of some important point. This method also is used by the police in suitable cases. Finger-prints are examples of this kind of evidence, and another instance is furnished by the Gutteridge murder. Here the microscopical examination of a cartridge-case proved conclusively that the murder had been committed with a particular revolver; a fact which incriminated the owner of that revolver and led to his conviction.

This is Thorndyke's procedure. It consists in the interrogation of things rather than persons; of the ascertainment of physical facts which can be made visible to eyes other than his own. And the facts which he seeks tend to be those which are apparent only to the trained eye of the medical practitioner.

I feel that I ought to say a few words about Thorndyke's two satellites, Jervis and Polton. As to the former, he is just the traditional narrator proper to this type of story. Some of my readers have complained that Dr. Jervis is rather slow in the uptake. But that is precisely his function. He is the expert misunderstander. His job is to observe and record all the facts, and to fail completely to perceive their significance. Thereby he gives the reader all the necessary information, and he affords Thorndyke the opportunity to expound its bearing on the case.

Polton is in a slightly different category. Although he is not drawn from any real person, he is associated in my mind with two actual individuals. One is a Mr. Pollard, who was the laboratory assistant in the hospital museum when I was a student, and who gave me many a valuable tip in matters of technique, and who, I hope, is still to the good. The other was a watch- and clock-maker of the name of Parsons —familiarly known as Uncle Parsons—who had premises in a basement near the Royal Exchange, and who was a man of boundless ingenuity and technical resource. Both of these I regard as collateral relatives, so to speak, of Nathaniel Polton. But his personality is not like either. His crinkly countenance is strictly his own copyright.

To return to Thorndyke, his rather technical methods have, for the purposes of fiction, advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that his facts are demonstrably true, and often they are intrinsically interesting. The disadvantage is that they are frequently not matters of common knowledge, so that the reader may fail to recognize them or grasp their significance until they are explained. But this is the case with all classes of fiction. There is no type of character or story that can be made sympathetic and acceptable to every kind of reader. The personal equation affects the reading as well as the writing of a story.


II. — THE EYE OF OSIRIS

CHAPTER I. THE VANISHING MAN

THE SCHOOL of St Margaret's Hospital was fortunate in its lecturer on Medical Jurisprudence, or Forensic Medicine, as it is sometimes described. At some schools the lecturer on this subject is appointed apparently for the reason that he lacks the qualifications to lecture on any other. But with us it was very different: John Thorndyke was not only an enthusiast, a man of profound learning and great reputation, but he was an exceptional teacher, lively and fascinating in style and of endless resources. Every remarkable case that had ever been reported he appeared to have at his fingers' ends; every fact—chemical, physical, biological, or even historical—that could in any way be twisted into a medico-legal significance, was pressed into his service; and his own varied and curious experiences seemed as inexhaustible as the widow's cruse. One of his favourite devices for giving life and interest to a rather dry subject was that of analysing and commenting upon contemporary cases as reported in the papers (always, of course, with a due regard to the legal and social proprieties); and it was in this way that I first became introduced to the astonishing series of events that was destined to exercise so great an influence on my own life.

The lecture which had just been concluded had dealt with the rather unsatisfactory subject of survivorship. Most of the students had left the theatre, and the remainder had gathered round the lecturer's table to listen to the informal comments that Dr. Thorndyke was wont to deliver on these occasions in an easy, conversational manner, leaning against the edge of the table and apparently addressing his remarks to a stick of blackboard chalk that he held in his fingers.

'The problem of survivorship,' he was saying, in reply to a question put by one of the students, 'ordinarily occurs in cases where the bodies of the parties are producible, or where, at any rate, the occurrence of death and its approximate time are actually known. But an analogous difficulty may arise in a case where the body of one of the parties is not forthcoming, and the fact of death may have to be assumed on collateral evidence.

'Here, of course, the vital question to be settled is, what is the latest instant at which it is certain that this person was alive? And the settlement of that question may turn on some circumstance of the most trivial and insignificant kind. There is a case in this morning's paper which illustrates this. A gentleman has disappeared rather mysteriously. He was last seen by the servant of a relative at whose house he had called. Now, if this gentleman should never reappear, dead or alive, the question as to what was the latest moment at which he was certainly alive will turn upon the further question: "Was he or was he not wearing a particular article of jewellery when he called at the relative's house?"'

He paused with a reflective eye bent upon the stump of chalk he still held; then, noting the expectant interest with which we were regarding him, he resumed:

'The circumstances in this case are very curious; in fact, they are highly mysterious; and if any legal issues should arise in respect of them, they are likely to yield some very remarkable complications. The gentleman who has disappeared, Mr. John Bellingham, is a man well known in archaeological circles. He recently returned from Egypt, bringing with him a very fine collection of antiquities—some of which, by the way, he has presented to the British Museum, where they are now on view—and having made this presentation, he appears to have gone to Paris on business. I may mention that the gift consisted of a very fine mummy and a complete set of tomb-furniture. The latter, however, had not arrived from Egypt at the time when the missing man left for Paris, but the mummy was inspected on the fourteenth of October at Mr. Bellingham's house by Dr. Norbury of the British Museum, in the presence of the donor and his solicitor, and the latter was authorised to hand over the complete collection to the British Museum authorities when the tomb-furniture arrived; which he has since done.

'From Paris he seems to have returned on the twenty-third of November, and to have gone direct to Charing Cross to the house of a relative, a Mr. Hurst, who is a bachelor and lives at Eltham. He appeared at the house at twenty minutes past five, and as Mr. Hurst had not yet come down from town and was not expected until a quarter to six, he explained who he was and said he would wait in the study and write some letters. The housemaid accordingly showed him into the study, furnished him with writing materials, and left him.

'At a quarter to six Mr. Hurst let himself in with his latchkey, and before the housemaid had time to speak to him he had passed through into the study and shut the door.

'At six o'clock, when the dinner bell was rung, Mr. Hurst entered the dining-room alone, and observing the table was laid for two, asked the reason.

'"I thought Mr. Bellingham was staying to dinner, sir," was the housemaid's reply.

'"Mr. Bellingham!" exclaimed the astonished host. "I didn't know he was here. Why was I not told?"

'"I thought he was in the study with you, sir," said the housemaid.

'On this a search was made for the visitor, with the result that he was nowhere to be found. He had disappeared without leaving a trace, and what made the incident more odd was that the housemaid was certain that he had not gone out by the front door. For since neither she nor the cook was acquainted with Mr. John Bellingham, she had remained the whole time either in the kitchen, which commanded a view of the front gate, or in the dining-room, which opened into the hall opposite the study door. The study itself has a French window opening on a narrow grass plot, across which is a side-gate that opens into an alley; and it appears that Mr. Bellingham must have made his exit by this rather eccentric route. At any rate—and this is the important fact—he was not in the house, and no one had seen him leave it.

'After a hasty meal Mr. Hurst returned to town and called at the office of Mr. Bellingham's solicitor and confidential agent, a Mr. Jellicoe, and mentioned the matter to him. Mr. Jellicoe knew nothing of his client's return from Paris, and the two men at once took the train down to Woodford, where the missing man's brother, Mr. Godfrey Bellingham, lives. The servant who admitted them said that Mr. Godfrey was not at home, but that his daughter was in the library, which is a detached building situated in a shrubbery beyond the garden at the back of the house. Here the two men found, not only Miss Bellingham, but also her father, who had come in by the back gate.

'Mr. Godfrey and his daughter listened to Mr. Hurst's story with the greatest surprise, and assured him that they had neither seen nor heard anything of John Bellingham.

'Presently the party left the library to walk up to the house; but only a few feet from the library door Mr. Jellicoe noticed an object lying in the grass and pointed it out to Mr. Godfrey.

'The latter picked it up, and they all recognised it as a scarab which Mr. John Bellingham had been accustomed to wear suspended from his watch-chain. There was no mistaking it. It was a very fine scarab of the eighteenth dynasty fashioned of lapis lazuli and engraved with the cartouche of Amenhotep III. It had been suspended by a gold ring fastened to a wire which passed through the suspension hole, and the ring, though broken, was still in position.

'This discovery of course only added to the mystery, which was still further increased when, on inquiry, a suit-case bearing the initials J. B. was found to be unclaimed in the cloak-room at Charing Cross. Reference to the counterfoil of the ticket-book showed that it had been deposited about the time of the arrival of the Continental express on the twenty-third of November, so that its owner must have gone straight on to Eltham.

'That is how the affair stands at present, and, should the missing man never reappear or should his body never be found, the question, as you see, which will be required to be settled is, "What is the exact time and place, when and where, he was last known to be alive!" As to the place, the importance of the issues involved in that question are obvious and we need not consider them. But the question of time has another kind of significance. Cases have occurred, as I pointed out in the lecture, in which proof of survivorship by less than a minute has secured succession to property. Now, the missing man was last seen alive at Mr. Hurst's house at twenty minutes past five on the twenty-third of November. But he appears to have visited his brother's house at Woodford, and, since nobody saw him at that house, it is at present uncertain whether he went there before calling on Mr. Hurst. If he went there first, then twenty minutes past five on the evening of the twenty-third is the latest moment at which he is known to have been alive; but if he went there after, there would have to be added to this time the shortest time possible in which he could travel from the one house to the other.

'But the question as to which house he visited first hinges on the scarab. If he was wearing the scarab when he arrived at Mr. Hurst's house, it would be certain that he went there first; but if it was not then on his watch-chain, a probability would be established that he went first to Woodford. Thus, you see, a question which may conceivably become of the most vital moment in determining the succession of property turns on the observation or non-observation by this housemaid of an apparently trivial and insignificant fact.'

'Has the servant made any statement on this subject, sir?' I ventured to enquire.

'Apparently not,' replied Dr. Thorndyke; 'at any rate, there is no reference to any such statement in the newspaper report, though otherwise, the case is reported in great detail; indeed, the wealth of detail, including plans of the two houses, is quite remarkable and well worth noting as being in itself a fact of considerable interest.'

'In what respect, sir, is it of interest?' one of the students asked.

'Ah,' replied Dr. Thorndyke, 'I think I must leave you to consider that question yourself. This is an untried case, and we mustn't make free with the actions and motives of individuals.'

'Does the paper give any description of the missing man, sir?' I asked.

'Yes; quite an exhaustive description. Indeed, it is exhaustive to the verge of impropriety, considering that the man may turn up alive and well at any moment. It seems that he has an old Pott's fracture of the left ankle, a linear, longitudinal scar on each knee—origin not stated, but easily guessed at—and that he has tattooed on his chest in vermilion a very finely and distinctly executed representation of the symbolical Eye of Osiris—or Horus or Ra, as the different authorities have it. There certainly ought to be no difficulty in identifying the body. But we hope that it will not come to that.

'And now I must really be running away, and so must you; but I would advise you all to get copies of the paper and file them when you have read the remarkably full details. It is a most curious case, and it is highly probable that we shall hear of it again. Good afternoon, gentlemen.'

Dr Thorndyke's advice appealed to all who heard it, for medical jurisprudence was a live subject at St Margaret's, and all of us were keenly interested in it. As a result, we sallied forth in a body to the nearest newsvendor's, and, having each provided himself with a copy of the Daily Telegraph, adjourned together to the Common Room to devour the report and thereafter to discuss the bearings of the case, unhampered by those considerations of delicacy that afflicted our more squeamish and scrupulous teacher.

CHAPTER II. THE EAVESDROPPER

IT IS one of the canons of correct conduct, scrupulously adhered to (when convenient) by all well-bred persons, that an acquaintance should be initiated by a proper introduction. To this salutary rule, which I have disregarded to the extent of an entire chapter, I now hasten to conform; and the more so inasmuch as nearly two years have passed since my first informal appearance.

Permit me then, to introduce Paul Berkeley, MB, etc., recently—very recently—qualified, faultlessly attired in the professional frock-coat and tall hat, and, at the moment of introduction, navigating with anxious care a perilous strait between a row of well-filled coal-sacks and a colossal tray piled high with kidney potatoes.

The passage of this strait landed me on the terra firma of Fleur-de-Lys Court, where I halted for a moment to consult my visiting list. There was only one more patient for me to see this morning, and he lived at 49, Nevill's Court, wherever that might be. I turned for information to the presiding deity of the coal shop.

'Can you direct me, Mrs. Jablett, to Nevill's Court?'

She could and she did, grasping me confidentially by the arm (the mark remained on my sleeve for weeks) and pointing a shaking forefinger at the dead wall ahead. 'Nevill's Court', said Mrs. Jablett, 'is a alley, and you goes into it through a archway. It turns out on Fetter Lane on the right and as you goes up, oppersight Bream's Buildings.'

I thanked Mrs. Jablett and went on my way, glad that the morning round was nearly finished, and vaguely conscious of a growing appetite and of a desire to wash in hot water.

The practice which I was conducting was not my own. It belonged to poor Dick Barnard, an old St Margaret's man of irrepressible spirits and indifferent physique, who had started only the day before for a trip down the Mediterranean on board a tramp engaged in the currant trade; and this, my second morning's round, was in some sort a voyage of geographical discovery.

I walked on briskly up Fetter Lane until a narrow arched opening, bearing the superscription 'Nevill's Court', arrested my steps, and here I turned to encounter one of those surprises that lie in wait for the traveller in London by-ways. Expecting to find the grey squalor of the ordinary London court, I looked out from under the shadow of the arch past a row of decent little shops through a vista full of light and colour—a vista of ancient, warm-toned roofs and walls relieved by sunlit foliage. In the heart of London a tree is always a delightful surprise; but here were not only trees, but bushes and even flowers. The narrow footway was bordered by little gardens, which, with their wooden palings and well-kept shrubs, gave to the place an air of quaint and sober rusticity; and even as I entered a bevy of workgirls, with gaily-coloured blouses and hair aflame in the sunlight, brightened up the quiet background like the wild flowers that sprangle a summer hedgerow.

In one of the gardens I noticed that the little paths were paved with what looked like circular tiles, but which, on inspection, I found to be old-fashioned stone ink-bottles, buried bottom upwards; and I was meditating upon the quaint conceit of the forgotten scrivener who had thus adorned his habitation—a law-writer perhaps or an author, or perchance even a poet—when I perceived the number that I was seeking inscribed on a shabby door in a high wall. There was no bell or knocker, so, lifting the latch, I pushed the door open and entered.

But if the court itself had been a surprise, this was a positive wonder, a dream. Here, within earshot of the rumble of Fleet Street, I was in an old-fashioned garden enclosed by high walls and, now that the gate was shut, cut off from all sight and knowledge of the urban world that seethed without. I stood and gazed in delighted astonishment. Sun-gilded trees and flower beds gay with blossom; lupins, snapdragons, nasturtiums, spiry foxgloves, and mighty hollyhocks formed the foreground; over which a pair of sulphur-tinted butterflies flitted, unmindful of a buxom and miraculously clean white cat which pursued them, dancing across the borders and clapping her snowy paws fruitlessly in mid-air. And the background was no less wonderful; a grand old house, dark-eaved and venerable, that must have looked down on this garden when ruffled dandies were borne in sedan chairs through the court, and gentle Izaak Walton, stealing forth from his shop in Fleet Street, strolled up Fetter Lane to 'go a-angling' at Temple Mills.

So overpowered was I by this unexpected vision that my hand was on the bottom knob of a row of bell-pulls before I recollected myself; and it was not until a most infernal jangling from within recalled me to my business that I observed underneath it a small brass plate inscribed 'Miss Oman'.

The door opened with some suddenness and a short, middle-aged woman surveyed me hungrily.

'Have I rung the wrong bell?' I asked—foolishly enough, I must admit.

'How can I tell?' she demanded. 'I expect you have. It's the sort of thing a man would do—ring the wrong bell and then say he's sorry.'

'I didn't go as far as that,' I retorted. 'It seems to have had the desired effect, and I've made your acquaintance into the bargain.'

'Whom do you want to see?' she asked.

'Mr. Bellingham.'

'Are you the doctor?'

'I'm a doctor.'

'Follow me upstairs,' said Miss Oman, 'and don't tread on the paint.'

I crossed the spacious hall, and, preceded by my conductress, ascended a noble oak staircase, treading carefully on a ribbon of matting that ran up the middle. On the first-floor landing Miss Oman opened a door and, pointing to the room, said, 'Go in there and wait; I'll tell her you're here.'

'I said Mr. Bellingham—' I began; but the door slammed on me, and Miss Oman's footsteps retreated rapidly down the stairs.

It was at once obvious to me that I was in a very awkward position. The room into which I had been shown communicated with another, and though the door of communication was shut, I was unpleasantly aware of a conversation that was taking place in the adjoining room. At first, indeed, only a vague mutter, with a few disjointed phrases, came through the door, but suddenly an angry voice rang out clear and painfully distinct:

'Yes, I did! And I say it again. Bribery! Collusion! That's what it amounts to. You want to square me!'

'Nothing of the kind, Godfrey,' was the reply in a lower tone; but at this point I coughed emphatically and moved a chair, and the voices subsided once more into an indistinct murmur.

To distract my attention from my unseen neighbours I glanced curiously about the room and speculated upon the personal ties of its occupants. A very curious room it was, with its pathetic suggestion of decayed splendour and old-world dignity; a room full of interest and character and of contrasts and perplexing contradictions. For the most part it spoke of unmistakable though decent poverty. It was nearly bare of furniture, and what little there was was of the cheapest—a small kitchen table and three Windsor chairs (two of them with arms); a threadbare string carpet on the floor, and a cheap cotton cloth on the table; these, with a set of bookshelves, frankly constructed of grocer's boxes, formed the entire suite. And yet, despite its poverty, the place exhaled an air of homely if rather ascetic comfort, and the taste was irreproachable. The quiet russet of the table-cloth struck a pleasant harmony with the subdued bluish green of the worn carpet; the Windsor chairs and the legs of the table had been carefully denuded of their glaring varnish and stained a sober brown; and the austerity of the whole was relieved by a ginger jar filled with fresh-cut flowers and set in the middle of the table.

But the contrasts of which I have spoken were most singular and puzzling. There were the bookshelves, for instance, home made and stained at the cost of a few pence, but filled with recent and costly new works on archaeology and ancient art. There were the objects on the mantelpiece: a facsimile in bronze—not bronze plaster—of the beautiful head of Hypnos and a pair of fine Ushabti figures. There were the decorations of the walls, a number of etchings—signed proofs, every one of them—of Oriental subjects, and a splendid facsimile reproduction of an Egyptian papyrus. It was incongruous in the extreme, this mingling of costly refinements with the barest and shabbiest necessaries of life, of fastidious culture with manifest poverty. I could make nothing of it. What manner of man, I wondered, was this new patient of mine? Was he a miser, hiding himself and his wealth in this obscure court? An eccentric savant? A philosopher? Or—more probably—a crank? But at this point my meditations were interrupted by the voice from the adjoining room, once more raised in anger.

'Tut I say that you are making an accusation! You are implying that I made away with him.'

'Not at all,' was the reply; 'but I repeat that it is your business to ascertain what has become of him. The responsibility rests upon you.'

'Upon me!' rejoined the first voice. 'And what about you? Your position is a pretty fishy one if it comes to that.'

'What!' roared the other. 'Do you insinuate that I murdered my own brother?'

During this amazing colloquy I had stood gaping with sheer astonishment. Suddenly I recollected myself, and dropping into a chair, set my elbows on my knees and clapped my hands over my ears; and thus I must have remained for a full minute when I became aware of the closing of a door behind me.

I sprang to my feet and turned in some embarrassment (for I must have looked unspeakably ridiculous) to confront the sombre figure of a rather tall and strikingly handsome girl, who, as she stood with her hand on the knob of the door, saluted me with a formal bow. In an instantaneous glance I noted how perfectly she matched her strange surroundings. Black-robed, black-haired, with black-grey eyes and a grave sad face of ivory pallor, she stood, like one of old Terboch's portraits, a harmony in tones so low as to be but a step removed from monochrome. Obviously a lady in spite of the worn and rusty dress, and something in the poise of the head and the set of the straight brows hinted at a spirit that adversity had hardened rather than broken.

'I must ask you to forgive me for keeping you waiting,' she said; and as she spoke a certain softening at the corners of the austere mouth reminded me of the absurd position in which she had found me.

I murmured that the trifling delay was of no consequence whatever; that I had, in fact, been rather glad of the rest; and I was beginning somewhat vaguely to approach the subject of the invalid when the voice from the adjoining room again broke forth with hideous distinctness.

'I tell you I'll do nothing of the kind! Why, confound you, it's nothing less than a conspiracy that you're proposing!'

Miss Bellingham—as I assumed her to be—stepped quickly across the floor, flushing angrily, as well she might; but, as she reached the door, it flew open and a small, spruce, middle-aged man burst into the room.

'Your father is mad, Ruth!' he exclaimed; 'absolutely stark mad! And I refuse to hold any further communication with him.'

'The present interview was not of his seeking,' Miss Bellingham replied coldly.

'No, it was not,' was the wrathful rejoinder; 'it was my mistaken generosity. But there—what is the use of talking? I've done my best for you and I'll do no more. Don't trouble to let me out; I can find my way. Good-morning.' With a stiff bow and a quick glance at me, the speaker strode out of the room, banging the door after him.

'I must apologise for this extraordinary reception,' said Miss Bellingham; 'but I believe medical men are not easily astonished. I will introduce you to your patient now.' She opened the door and, as I followed her into the adjoining room, she said: 'Here is another visitor for you, dear. Doctor—'

'Berkeley,' said I. 'I am acting for my friend Doctor Barnard.'

The invalid, a fine-looking man of about fifty-five, who sat propped up in bed with a pile of pillows, held out an excessively shaky hand, which I grasped cordially, making a mental note of the tremor.

'How do you do, sir?' said Mr. Bellingham. 'I hope Doctor Barnard is not ill.'

'Oh, no,' I answered; 'he has gone for a trip down the Mediterranean on a currant ship. The chance occurred rather suddenly, and I bustled him off before he had time to change his mind. Hence my rather unceremonious appearance, which I hope you will forgive.'

'Not at all,' was the hearty response. 'I'm delighted to hear that you sent him off; he wanted a holiday, poor man. And I am delighted to make your acquaintance, too.'

'It is very good of you,' I said; whereupon he bowed as gracefully as a man may who is propped up in bed with a heap of pillows; and having thus exchanged broadsides of civility, so to speak, we—or, at least, I—proceeded to business.

'How long have you been laid up?' I asked cautiously, not wishing to make too evident the fact that my principal had given me no information respecting his case.

'A week to-day,' he replied. 'Thefons et origo mail was a hansom-cab which upset me opposite the Law Courts—sent me sprawling in the middle of the road. My own fault, of course—at least, the cabby said so, and I suppose he knew. But that was no consolation to me.'

'Were you hurt much?'

'No, not really; but the fall bruised my knee rather badly and gave me a deuce of a shake up. I'm too old for that sort of thing, you know.'

'Most people are,' said I.

'True; but you can take a cropper more gracefully at twenty than at fifty-five. However, the knee is getting on quite well—you shall see it presently—and you observe that I am giving it complete rest. But that isn't the whole of the trouble or the worst of it. It's my confounded nerves. I'm as irritable as the devil and as nervous as a cat. And I can't get a decent night's rest.'

I recalled the tremulous hand that he had offered me. He did not look like a drinker, but still—

'Do you smoke much?' I inquired diplomatically.

He looked at me slyly and chuckled. 'That's a very delicate way to approach the subject, Doctor,' he said. 'No, I don't smoke much, and I don't crook my little finger. I saw you look at my shaky hand just now—oh, it's all right; I'm not offended. It's a doctor's business to keep lifting his eyelids. But my hand is steady enough as a rule, when I'm not upset, but the least excitement sets me shaking like a jelly. And the fact is that I have just had a deucedly unpleasant interview—'

'I think,' Miss Bellingham interrupted, 'Doctor Berkeley and, in fact, the neighbourhood at large, are aware of the fact.'

Mr. Bellingham laughed rather shamefacedly. 'I'm afraid I did lose my temper,' he said; 'but I am always an impulsive old fellow, Doctor, and when I'm put out I'm apt to speak my mind—a little too bluntly perhaps.'

'And audibly,' his daughter added. 'Do you know that Doctor Berkeley was reduced to the necessity of stopping his ears?' She glanced at me as she spoke, with something like a twinkle in her solemn grey eyes.

'Did I shout?' Mr. Bellingham asked, not very contritely, I thought, though he added: 'I'm very sorry, my dear; but it won't happen again. I think we've seen the last of that good gentleman.'

'I am sure I hope so,' she rejoined, adding: 'And now I will leave you to your talk; I shall be in the next room if you should want me.'

I opened the door for her, and when she had passed out with a stiff little bow I seated myself by the bedside and resumed the consultation. It was evidently a case of breakdown, to which the cab accident had, no doubt, contributed. As to the other antecedents, they were of no concern of mine, though Mr. Bellingham seemed to think otherwise, for he resumed: 'That cab business was the last straw, you know, and it finished me off, but I have been going down the hill for a long time. I've had a lot of trouble during the last two years. But I suppose I oughtn't to pester you with the details of my personal affairs.'

'Anything that bears on your present state of health is of interest to me if you don't mind telling me it,' I said.

'Mind!' he exclaimed. 'Did you ever meet an invalid who didn't enjoy talking about his own health? It's the listener who minds, as a rule.'

'Well, the present listener doesn't,' I said.

'Then,' said Mr. Bellingham, 'I'll treat myself to the luxury of telling you all my troubles; I don't often get the chance of a confidential grumble to a responsible man of my own class. And I really have some excuses for railing at Fortune, as you will agree when I tell you that, a couple of years ago, I went to bed one night a gentleman of independent means and excellent prospects and woke up in the morning to find myself practically a beggar. Not a cheerful experience that, you know, at my time of life, eh?'

'No,' I agreed, 'not at any other.'

'And that was not all,' he continued; 'For at the same moment I lost my brother, my dearest, kindest friend. He disappeared—vanished off the face of the earth; but perhaps you have heard of the affair. The confounded papers were full of it at the time.'

He paused abruptly, noticing, no doubt, a sudden change in my face. Of course, I recollected the case now. Indeed, ever since I had entered the house some chord of memory had been faintly vibrating, and now his last words had struck out the full note.

'Yes,' I said, 'I remember the incident, though I don't suppose I should but for the fact that our lecturer on medical jurisprudence drew my attention to it.'

'Indeed,' said Mr. Bellingham, rather uneasily, as I fancied. 'What did he say about it?'

'He referred to it as a case that was calculated to give rise to some very pretty legal complications.'

'By Jove!' exclaimed Bellingham, 'that man was a prophet! Legal complications, indeed! But I'll be bound he never guessed at the sort of infernal tangle that has actually gathered round the affair. By the way, what was his name?'

'Thorndyke,' I replied. 'Doctor John Thorndyke.'

'Thorndyke,' Mr. Bellingham repeated in a musing, retrospective tone. 'I seem to remember the name. Yes, of course. I have heard a legal friend of mine, a Mr. Marchmont, speak of him in reference to the case of a man whom I knew slightly years ago—a certain Jeffrey Blackmore, who also disappeared very mysteriously. I remember now that Dr. Thorndyke unravelled that case with most remarkable ingenuity.'

'I daresay he would be very much interested to hear about your case,' I suggested.

'I daresay he would,' was the reply; 'but one can't take up a professional man's time for nothing, and I couldn't afford to pay him. And that reminds me that I'm taking up your time by gossiping about purely personal affairs.'

'My morning round is finished,' said I, 'and, moreover, your personal affairs are highly interesting. I suppose I mustn't ask what is the nature of the legal entanglement?'

'Not unless you are prepared to stay here for the rest of the day and go home a raving lunatic. But I'll tell you this much: the trouble is about my poor brother's will. In the first place it can't be administered because there is not sufficient evidence that my brother is dead; and in the second place, if it could, all the property would go to people who were never intended to benefit. The will itself is the most diabolically exasperating document that was ever produced by the perverted ingenuity of a wrong-headed man. That's all. Will you have a look at my knee?'

As Mr. Bellingham's explanation (delivered in a rapid crescendo and ending almost in a shout) had left him purple-faced and trembling, I thought it best to bring our talk to an end. Accordingly I proceeded to inspect the injured knee, which was now nearly well, and to overhaul my patient generally; and having given him detailed instructions as to his general conduct, I rose and took my leave.

'And remember,' I said as I shook his hand, 'no tobacco, no coffee, no excitement of any kind. Lead a quiet, bovine life.'

'That's all very well,' he grumbled, 'but supposing people come here and excite me?'

'Disregard them,' said I, 'and read Whitaker's Almanack.' And with this parting advice I passed out into the other room.

Miss Bellingham was seated at the table with a pile of blue-covered notebooks before her, two of which were open, displaying pages closely written in a small, neat handwriting. She rose as I entered and looked at me inquiringly.

'I heard you advising my father to read Whitaker's Almanack,' she said. 'Was that a curative measure?'

'Entirely,' I replied. 'I recommended it for its medicinal virtues, as an antidote to mental excitement.'

She smiled faintly. 'It certainly is not a highly emotional book,' she said, and then asked: 'Have you any other instructions to give?'

'Well, I might give the conventional advice—to maintain a cheerful outlook and avoid worry; but I don't suppose you would find it very helpful.'

'No,' she answered bitterly; 'it is a counsel of perfection. People in our position are not a very cheerful class, I'm afraid; but still they don't seek out worries from sheer perverseness. The worries come unsought. But, of course, you can't enter into that.'

'I can't give you any practical help, I fear, though I do sincerely hope that your father's affairs will straighten themselves out soon.'

She thanked me for my good wishes and accompanied me down to the street door, where, with a bow and a rather stiff handshake, she gave me my conge.

Very ungratefully the noise of Fetter Lane smote on my ears as I came out through the archway, and very squalid and unrestful the little street looked when contrasted with the dignity and monastic quiet of the old garden. As to the surgery, with its oilcloth floor and walls made hideous with gaudy insurance show-cards in sham gilt frailties, its aspect was so revolting that I flew to the day-book for distraction, and was still busily entering the morning's visits when the bottle-boy, Adolphus, entered stealthily to announce lunch.

CHAPTER III. JOHN THORNDYKE

THAT THE character of an individual tends to be reflected in his dress is a fact familiar to the least observant. That the observation is equally applicable to aggregates of men is less familiar, but equally true. Do not the members of the fighting professions, even to this day, deck themselves in feathers, in gaudy colours and gilded ornaments, after the manner of the African war-chief or the Redskin 'brave', and thereby indicate the place of war in modern civilisation? Does not the Church of Rome send her priests to the altar in habiliments that were fashionable before the fall of the Roman Empire, in token of her immovable conservatism? And, lastly, does not the Law, lumbering on in the wake of progress, symbolise its subjection to precedent by head-gear reminiscent of the good days of Queen Anne?

I should apologise for obtruding upon the reader these somewhat trite reflections; which were set going by the quaint stock-in-trade of the wig-maker's shop in the cloisters of the Inner Temple, whither I strayed on a sultry afternoon in quest of shade and quiet. I had halted opposite the little shop window, and, with my eyes bent dreamily on the row of wigs, was pursuing the above train of thought when I was startled by a deep voice saying softly in my ear: 'I'd have the full-bottomed one if I were you.'

I turned swiftly and rather fiercely, and looked into the face of my old friend and fellow-student, Jervis, behind whom, regarding us with a sedate smile, stood my former teacher, Dr. John Thorndyke. Both men greeted me with a warmth that I felt to be very flattering, for Thorndyke was quite a great personage, and even Jervis was several years my academic senior.

'You are coming in to have a cup of tea with us, I hope,' said Thorndyke; and as I assented gladly, he took my arm and led me across the court in the direction of the Treasury.

'But why that hungry gaze at those forensic vanities, Berkeley?' he asked. 'Are you thinking of following my example and Jervis's—deserting the bedside for the Bar?'

'What! Has Jervis gone in for the law?' I exclaimed.

'Bless you, yes!' replied Jervis. 'I have become parasitical on Thorndyke! "The big fleas have little fleas", you know. I am the additional fraction trailing after the whole number in the rear of a decimal point.'

'Don't you believe him, Berkeley,' interposed Thorndyke. 'He is the brains of the firm. I supply the respectability and moral worth. But you haven't answered my question. What are you doing here on a summer afternoon staring into a wig-maker's window?'

'I am Barnard's locum; he is in practice in Fetter Lane.'

'I know,' said Thorndyke; 'we meet him occasionally, and very pale and peaky he has been looking of late. Is he taking a holiday?'

'Yes. He has gone for a trip to the Isles of Greece in a currant ship.'

'Then,' said Jervis, 'you are actually a local GP. I thought you were looking beastly respectable.'

'And judging from your leisured manner when we encountered you,' added Thorndyke, 'the practice is not a strenuous one. I suppose it is entirely local?'

'Yes,' I replied. 'The patients mostly live in the small streets and courts within a half-mile radius of the surgery, and the abodes of some of them are pretty squalid. Oh! and that reminds me of a very strange coincidence. It will interest you, I think.'

'Life is made up of strange coincidences,' said Thorndyke. 'Nobody but a reviewer of novels is ever really surprised at a coincidence. But what is yours?'

'It is connected with a case that you mentioned to us at the hospital about two years ago, the case of a man who disappeared under rather mysterious circumstances. Do you remember it? The man's name was Bellingham.'

'The Egyptologist? Yes, I remember the case quite well. What about it?'

'The brother is a patient of mine. He is living in Nevill's Court with his daughter, and they seem to be as poor as church mice.'

'Really,' said Thorndyke, 'this is quite interesting. They must have come down in the world rather suddenly. If I remember rightly, the brother was living in a house of some pretensions standing in its own grounds.'

'Yes, that is so. I see you recollect all about the case.'

'My dear fellow,' said Jervis, 'Thorndyke never forgets a likely case. He is a sort of medico-legal camel. He gulps down the raw facts from the newspapers or elsewhere, and then, in his leisure moments, he calmly regurgitates them and has a quiet chew at them. It is a quaint habit. A case crops up in the papers or in one of the courts, and Thorndyke swallows it whole. Then it lapses and every one forgets it. A year or two later it crops up in a new form, and, to your astonishment, you find that Thorndyke has got it all cut and dried. He has been ruminating on it periodically in the interval.'

'You notice,' said Thorndyke, 'that my learned friend is pleased to indulge in mixed metaphors. But his statement is substantially true, though obscurely worded. You must tell us more about the Bellinghams when we have fortified you with a cup of tea.'

Our talk had brought us to Thorndyke's chambers, which were on the first floor of No. 5A, King's Bench Walk, and as we entered the fine, spacious, panelled room we found a small, elderly man, neatly dressed in black, setting out the tea-service on the table. I glanced at him with some curiosity. He hardly looked like a servant, in spite of his neat, black clothes: in fact, his appearance was rather puzzling, for while his quiet dignity and his serious, intelligent face suggested some kind of professional man, his neat, capable hands were those of a skilled mechanic.

Thorndyke surveyed the tea-tray thoughtfully and then looked at his retainer. 'I see you have put three tea-cups, Polton,' he said. 'Now, how did you know I was bringing some one in to tea?'

The little man smiled a quaint, crinkly smile of gratification as he explained:

'I happened to look out of the laboratory window as you turned the corner, sir.'

'How disappointingly simple,' said Jervis. 'We were hoping for something abstruse and telepathic.'

'Simplicity is the soul of efficiency, sir,' replied Polton as he checked the tea-service to make sure that nothing was forgotten, and with this remarkable aphorism he silently evaporated.

'To return to the Bellingham case,' said Thorndyke, when he had poured out the tea. 'Have you picked up any facts relating to the parties—and facts, I mean, of course, that it would be proper for you to mention?'

'I have learned one or two things that there is no harm in repeating. For instance, I gather that Godfrey Bellingham—my patient—lost all his property quite suddenly about the time of the disappearance.'

'That is really odd,' said Thorndyke. 'The opposite condition would be quite understandable, but one doesn't see exactly how this can have happened, unless there was an allowance of some sort.'

'No, that was what struck me. But there seem to be some queer features in the case, and the legal position is evidently getting complicated. There is a will, for example, which is giving trouble.'

'They will be hardly able to administer the will without either proof or presumption of death,' Thorndyke remarked.

'Exactly. That's one of the difficulties. Another is that there seems to be some fatal drafting of the will itself. I don't know what it is, but I expect I shall hear sooner or later. By the way, I mentioned the interest that you have taken in the case, and I think Bellingham would have liked to consult you, but, of course, the poor devil has no money.'

'That is awkward for him if the other interested parties have, There will probably be legal proceedings of some kind, and as the law takes no account of poverty, he is likely to go to the wall. He ought to have advice of some sort.'

'I don't see how he is to get it,' said I.

'Neither do I,' Thorndyke admitted. 'There are no hospitals for impecunious litigants; it is assumed that only persons of means have a right to go to law. Of course, if we knew the man and the circumstances we might be able to help him; but for all we know to the contrary, he may be an arrant scoundrel.'

I had recalled the strange conversation that I had overheard, and wondered what Thorndyke would have thought of it if it had been allowable for me to repeat it. Obviously it was not, however, and I could only give my own impressions.

'He doesn't strike me as that,' I said; 'but, of course, one never knows. Personally, he impressed me rather favourably, which is more than the other man did.'

'What other man?' asked Thorndyke.

'There was another man in the case, wasn't there? I forget his name. I saw him at the house and didn't much like the look of him. I suspect he's putting some sort of pressure on Bellingham.'

'Berkeley knows more about this than he's telling us,' said Jervis. 'Let us look up the report and see who this stranger is.' He took down from a shelf a large volume of newspaper cuttings and laid it on the table.

'You see,' said he, as he ran his finger down the index. 'Thorndyke files all the cases that are likely to come to something, and I know he had expectations regarding this one. I fancy he had some ghoulish hope that the missing gentleman's head might turn up in somebody's dust-bin. Here we are; the other man's name is Hurst. He is apparently a cousin, and it was at his house the missing man was last seen alive.'

'So you think Mr. Hurst is moving in the matter?' said Thorndyke, when he had glanced over the report.

'That is my impression,' I replied, 'though I really know nothing about it.'

'Well,' said Thorndyke, 'if you should learn what is being done and should have permission to speak of it, I shall be very interested to hear how the case progresses; and if an unofficial opinion on any point would be of service, I think there would be no harm in giving it.'

'It would certainly be of great value if the other parties are taking professional advice,' I said; and then, after a pause, I asked: 'Have you given this case much consideration?'

Thorndyke reflected. 'No,' he said, 'I can't say that I have. I turned it over rather carefully when the report first appeared, and I have speculated on it occasionally since. It is my habit, as Jervis was telling you, to utilise odd moments of leisure (such as a railway journey, for instance) by constructing theories to account for the facts of such obscure cases as have come to my notice. It is a useful habit, I think, for, apart from the mental exercise and experience that one gains from it, an appreciable portion of these cases ultimately comes into my hands, and then the previous consideration of them is so much time gained.'

'Have you formed any theory to account for the facts in this case?' I asked.

'Yes; I have several theories, one of which I especially favour, and I am awaiting with great interest such new facts as may indicate to me which of these theories is probably the correct one.'

'It's no use your trying to pump him, Berkeley,' said Jervis. 'He is fitted with an information valve that opens inwards. You can pour in as much as you like, but you can't get any out.'

Thorndyke chuckled. 'My learned friend is, in the main, correct,' he said. 'You see, I may be called upon any day to advise on this case, in which event I should feel remarkably foolish if I had already expounded my views in detail. But I should like to hear what you and Jervis make of the case as reported in the newspapers.'

'There now,' exclaimed Jervis, 'what did I tell you? He wants to suck your brains.'

'As far as my brain is concerned,' I said, 'the process of suction isn't likely to yield much except vacuum, so I will resign in favour of you. You are a full-blown lawyer, whereas I am only a simple GP.'

Jervis filled his pipe with deliberate care and lighted it. Then, blowing a slender stream of smoke into the air, he said:

'If you want to know what I make of the case from that report, I can tell you in one word—nothing. Every road seems to end in a cul-de-sac.'

'Oh, come!' said Thorndyke, 'this is mere laziness. Berkeley wants to witness a display of your forensic wisdom. A learned counsel may be in a fog—he very often is—but he doesn't state the fact baldly; he wraps it up in a decent verbal disguise. Tell us how you arrive at your conclusion. Show us that you have really weighed the facts.'

'Very well,' said Jervis, 'I will give you a masterly analysis of the case—leading to nothing.' He continued to puff at his pipe for a time with slight embarrassment, as I thought—and I fully sympathised with him. Finally he blew a little cloud and commenced:

'The position appears to be this: Here is a man seen to enter a certain house, who is shown into a certain room, and shut in. He is not seen to come out, and yet, when the room is next entered, it is found to be empty; and that man is never seen again, alive or dead. That is a pretty tough beginning.

'Now, it is evident that one of three things must have happened. Either he must have remained in that room, or at least in that house, alive; or he must have died, naturally or otherwise, and his body have been concealed; or he must have left the house unobserved. Let us take the first case. Now, he couldn't have remained alive in the house for two years. This affair happened nearly two years ago. He would have been noticed. The servants, for instance, when cleaning out the rooms, would have observed him.'

Here Thorndyke interposed with an indulgent smile at his junior: 'My learned friend is treating the inquiry with unbecoming levity. We accept the conclusion that the man did not remain in the house alive.'

'Very well. Then did he remain in it dead? Apparently not. The report says that as soon as the man was missed, Hurst and the servants together searched the house thoroughly. But there had been no time or opportunity to dispose of the body, whence the only possible conclusion is that the body was not there. Moreover, if we admit the possibility of his having been murdered—for that is what concealment of the body would imply—there is the question: Who could have murdered him? Not the servants, obviously, and as to Hurst—well, of course, we don't know what his relations with the missing man may have been—at least, I don't.'—

'Neither do I,' said Thorndyke. 'I know nothing beyond what is in the newspaper report and what Berkeley has told us.'

'Then we know nothing. He may have had a motive for murdering the man or he may not. The point is that he doesn't seem to have had the opportunity. Even if we suppose that he managed to conceal the body temporarily, still there was the final disposal of it. He couldn't have buried it in the garden with the servants about; neither could he have burned it. The only conceivable method by which he could have got rid of it would have been that of cutting it up into fragments and burying the dismembered parts in some secluded spots or dropping them into ponds or rivers. But no remains of the kind have been found, as some of them probably would have been by now, so that there is nothing to support this suggestion; indeed, the idea of murder, in this house at least, seems to be excluded by the search that was made the instant the man was missed.

'Then to take the third alternative: Did he leave the house unobserved? Well, it is not impossible, but it would be a queer thing to do. He may have been an impulsive or eccentric man. We can't say. We know nothing about him. But two years have clasped and he has never turned up, so that if he left the house secretly he must have gone into hiding and be hiding still. Of course, he may have been the sort of lunatic who would behave in that manner or he may not. We have no information as to his personal character.

'Then there is the complication of the scarab that was picked up in the grounds of his brother's house at Woodford. That seems to show that he visited that house at some time. But no one admits having seen him there; and it is uncertain, therefore, whether he went first to his brother's house or to Hurst's. If he was wearing the scarab when he arrived at the Eltham house, he must have left that house unobserved and gone to Woodford; but if he was not wearing it he probably went from Woodford to Eltham, and there finally disappeared. As to whether he was or was not wearing the scarab when he was last seen alive by Hurst's housemaid, there is at present no evidence.

'If he went to his brother's house after his visit to Hurst, the disappearance is more understandable if we don't mind flinging accusations of murder about rather casually; for the disposal of the body would be much less difficult in that case. Apparently no one saw him enter the house, and, if he did enter, it was by a back gate which communicated with the library—a separate building some distance from the house. In that case it would have been physically possible for the Bellinghams to have made away with him. There was plenty of time to dispose of the body unobserved—temporarily, at any rate. Nobody had seen him come to the house, and nobody knew that he was there—if he was there; and apparently no search was made either at the time or afterwards. In fact, if it could be shown that the missing man left Hurst's house alive, or that he was wearing the scarab when he arrived there, things would look rather fishy for the Bellinghams—for, of course, the girl must have been in it if the father was. But there's the crux: there is no proof that the man ever did leave Hurst's house alive. And if he didn't—but there! as I said at first, whichever turning you take, you find that it ends in a blind alley.'—

'A lame ending to a masterly exposition,' was Thorndyke's comment.

'I know,' said Jervis. 'But what would you have? There are quite a number of possible solutions, and one of them must be the true one. But how are we to judge which it is? I maintain that until we know something of the parties and the financial and other interests involved we have no data.'

'There,' said Thorndyke, 'I disagree with you entirely. I maintain that we have ample data. You say that we have no means of judging which of the various possible solutions is the true one; but I think that if you read the report carefully and thoughtfully you will find that the facts now known point clearly to one explanation, and one only. It may not be the true explanation, and I don't suppose it is. But we are now dealing with the matter speculatively, academically, and I contend that our data yield a definite conclusion. What do you say, Berkeley?'

'I say that it is time for me to be off; the evening consultations begin at half-past six.'

'Well,' said Thorndyke, 'don't let us keep you from your duties, with poor Barnard currant-picking in the Grecian Isles. But come in and see us again. Drop in when you like after your work is done. You won't be in our way even if we are busy, which we very seldom are after eight o'clock.'

I thanked Dr. Thorndyke most heartily for making me free of his chambers in this hospitable fashion and took my leave, setting forth homewards by way of Middle Temple Lane and the Embankment; not a very direct route for Fetter Lane, it must be confessed; but our talk had revived my interest in the Bellingham household and put me in a reflective vein.

From the remarkable conversation that I had overheard it was evident that the plot was thickening. Not that I supposed that these two respectable gentlemen really suspected one another of having made away with the missing man; but still, their unguarded words, spoken in anger, made it clear that each had allowed the thought of sinister possibilities to enter his mind—a dangerous condition that might easily grow into actual suspicion. And then the circumstances really were highly mysterious, as I realised with especial vividness now after listening to my friend's analysis of the evidence.

From the problem itself my mind travelled, not for the first time during the last few days, to the handsome girl, who had seemed in my eyes the high-priestess of this temple of mystery in the quaint little court. What a strange figure she had made against this strange background, with her quiet, chilly, self-contained manner, her pale face, so sad and worn, her black, straight brows and solemn grey eyes, so inscrutable, mysterious, Sibylline. A striking, even impressive, personality this, I reflected, with something in it sombre and enigmatic that attracted and yet repelled.

And here I recalled Jervis's words: 'The girl must have been in it if the father was.' It was a dreadful thought, even though only speculatively uttered, and my heart rejected it; rejected it with indignation that rather surprised me. And this notwithstanding that the sombre black-robed figure that my memory conjured up was one that associated itself with the idea of mystery and tragedy.

CHAPTER IV. LEGAL COMPLICATIONS AND A JACKAL

MY MEDITATIONS brought me by a circuitous route, and ten minutes late, to the end of Fetter Lane, where, exchanging my rather abstracted air for the alert manner of a busy practitioner, I strode briskly forward and darted into the surgery with knitted brows, as though just released from an anxious case. But there was only one patient waiting, and she saluted me as I entered with a snort of defiance.

'Here you are, then?' said she.

'You are perfectly correct, Miss Oman,' I replied; 'in fact, you have put the case in a nutshell. What can I have the pleasure of doing for you?'

'Nothing,' was the answer. 'My medical adviser is a lady; but I've brought a note from Mr. Bellingham. Here it is,' and she thrust the envelope into my hand.

I glanced through the note and learned that my patient had had a couple of bad nights and a very harassing day. 'Could I have something to give me a night's rest?' it concluded.

I reflected for a few moments. One is not very ready to prescribe sleeping draughts for unknown patients, but still, insomnia is a very distressing condition. In the end I temporised with a moderate dose of bromide, deciding to call and see if more energetic measures were necessary.

'He had better take a dose of this at once, Miss Oman,' said I, as I handed her the bottle, 'and I will look in later and see how he is.'

'I expect he will be glad to see you,' she answered, 'for he is all alone to-night and very dumpy. Miss Bellingham is out. But I must remind you that he's a poor man and pays his way. You must excuse my mentioning it.'

'I am much obliged to you for the hint, Miss Oman,' I rejoined. 'It isn't necessary for me to see him, but I should like just to look in and have a chat.'

'Yes, it will do him good. You have your points, though punctuality doesn't seem to be one of them,' and with this parting shot Miss Oman bustled away.

Half-past eight found me ascending the great, dim staircase the house in Nevill's Court preceded by Miss Oman, by whom I was ushered into the room. Mr. Bellingham, who had just finished some sort of meal, was sitting hunched up in his chair gazing gloomily into the empty grate. He brightened up as I entered, but was evidently in very low spirits.

'I didn't mean to drag you out after your day's work was finished,' he said, 'though I am very glad to see you.'

'You haven't dragged me out. I heard you were alone, so I just dropped in for a few minutes' gossip.'

'That is really kind of you,' he said heartily. 'But I'm afraid you'll find me rather poor company. A man who is full of his own highly disagreeable affairs is not a desirable companion.'

'You mustn't let me disturb you if you'd rather be alone,' said I, with a sudden fear that I was intruding.

'Oh, you won't disturb me,' he replied; adding, with a laugh: 'It's more likely to be the other way about. In fact, if I were not afraid of boring you to death I would ask you to let me talk my difficulties over with you.'

'You won't bore me,' I said. 'It is generally interesting to share another man's experiences without their inconveniences. "The proper study of mankind is—man," you know, especially to a doctor.'

Mr. Bellingham chuckled grimly. 'You make me feel like a microbe,' he said. 'However, if you would care to take a peep at me through your microscope, I will crawl on to the stage for your inspection, though it is not my actions that furnish the materials for your psychological studies. It is my poor brother who is the Deus ex machina, who, from his unknown grave, as I fear, pulls the strings of this infernal puppet-show.'

He paused and for a space gazed thoughtfully into the grate as if he had forgotten my presence. At length he looked up and resumed:

'It is a curious story, Doctor—a very curious story. Part of it you know—the middle part. I will tell you it from the beginning, and then you will know as much as I do; for, as to the end, that is known to no one. It is written, no doubt, in the book of destiny, but the page has yet to be turned.

'The mischief began with my father's death. He was a country clergyman of very moderate means, a widower with two children, my brother John and me. He managed to send us both to Oxford, after which John went into the Foreign Office and I was to have gone into the Church. But I suddenly discovered that my views on religion had undergone a change that made this impossible, and just about this time my father came into a quite considerable property. Now, as it was his expressed intention to leave the estate equally divided between my brother and me, there was no need for me to take up any profession for a livelihood. Archaeology was already the passion of my life, and I determined to devote myself henceforth to my favourite study, in which, by the way, I was following a family tendency; for my father was an enthusiastic student of ancient Oriental history, and John was, as you know, an ardent Egyptologist.

'Then my father died quite suddenly, and left no will. He had intended to have one drawn up, but had put it off until it was too late. And since nearly all the property was in the form of real estate, my brother inherited practically the whole of it. However, in deference to the known wishes of my father, he made me an allowance of five hundred a year, which was about a quarter of the annual income. I urged him to assign me a lump sum, but he refused to do this. Instead, he instructed his solicitor to pay me an allowance in quarterly instalments during the rest of his life; and it was understood that, on his death, the entire estate should devolve on me, or if I died first, on my daughter, Ruth. Then, as you know, he disappeared suddenly, and as the circumstances suggested that he was dead, and there was no evidence that he was alive, his solicitor—a Mr. Jellicoe—found himself unable to continue the payment of the allowance. On the other hand, as there was no positive evidence that my brother was dead, it was impossible to administer the will.'

'You say the circumstances suggested that your brother was dead. What circumstances were they?'

'Principally the suddenness and completeness of the disappearance. His luggage, as you may remember, was found lying unclaimed at the railway station; and there was another circumstance even more suggestive. My brother drew a pension from the Foreign Office, for which he had to apply in person, or, if abroad, produce proof that he was alive on the date when the payment became due. Now, he was exceedingly regular in this respect; in fact, he had never been known to fail, either to appear in person or to transmit the necessary documents to his agent, Mr. Jellicoe. But from the moment when he vanished so mysteriously to the present day, nothing whatever has been heard of him.'

'It's a very awkward position for you,' I said, 'but I should think there will not be much difficulty in obtaining the permission of the Court to presume death and to proceed to prove the will.'

Mr. Bellingham made a wry face. 'I expect you are right,' he said, 'but that doesn't help me much. You see, Mr. Jellicoe, having waited a reasonable time for my brother to reappear, took a very unusual but, I think, in the special circumstances, a very proper step: he summoned me and the other interested party to his office and communicated to us the provisions of the will. And very extraordinary provisions they turned out to be. I was thunderstruck when I heard them. And the exasperating thing is that I feel sure my poor brother imagined that he had made everything perfectly safe and simple.'

'They generally do,' I said, rather vaguely.

'I suppose they do,' said Mr. Bellingham; 'but poor John has made the most infernal hash of his will, and I am certain that he has utterly defeated his own intentions. You see, we are an old London family. The house in Queen Square where my brother nominally lived, but actually kept his collection, has been occupied by us for generations, and most of the Bellinghams are buried in St George's burial-ground close by, though some members of the family are buried in other churchyards in the neighbourhood. Now, my brother—who, by the way, was a bachelor—had a strong feeling for the family traditions, and he stipulated, not unnaturally, in his will that he should be buried in St George's burial-ground among his ancestors, or, at least, in one of the places of burial appertaining to his native parish. But instead of simply expressing the wish and directing his executors to carry it out, he made it a condition affecting the operation of the will.'

'Affecting it in what respect?' I asked.

'In a very vital respect,' answered Mr. Bellingham. 'The bulk of the property he bequeathed to me, or if I predeceased him, to my daughter Ruth. But the bequest was subject to the condition I have mentioned—that he should be buried in a certain place—and if that condition was not fulfilled, the bulk of the property was to go to my cousin, George Hurst.'

'But in that case,' said I, 'as you can't produce the body, neither of you can get the property.'

'I am not so sure of that,' he replied. 'If my brother is dead, it is pretty certain that he is not buried in St George's or any of the other places mentioned, and the fact can easily be proved by; production of the registers. So that a permission to presume death would result in the handing over to Hurst of almost the entire estate.'

'Who is the executor?' I asked.

'Ah!' he exclaimed, 'there is another muddle. There are two executors; Jellicoe is one, and the other is the principal beneficiary—Hurst or myself, as the case may be. But, you see, neither of us can become an executor until the Court has decided which of us is the principal beneficiary.'

'But who is to apply to the Court? I thought that was the business of the executors.'

'Exactly, that is Hurst's difficulty. We were discussing it when you called the other day, and a very animated discussion it was,' he '. added, with a grim smile. 'You see, Jellicoe naturally refuses to move in the matter alone. He says he must have the support of the other executor. But Hurst is not at present the other executor; neither am I. But the two of us together are the co-executor, since the duty devolves upon one or other of us, in any case.'

'It's a complicated position,' I said.

'It is; and the complication has elicited a very curious proposal from Hurst. He points out—quite correctly, I am afraid—that as the conditions as to burial have not been complied with, the property must come to him, and he proposes a very neat little arrangement, which is this: That I shall support him and Jellicoe in their application for permission to presume death and to administer the will, and that he shall pay me four hundred a year for life; the arrangement to hold good in all eventualities.'

'What does he mean by that?'

'He means,' said Bellingham, fixing me with a ferocious scowl, 'that if the body should turn up at any future time, so that the conditions as to burial should be able to be carried out, he should still retain the property and pay me the four hundred a year.'—

'The deuce!' said I. 'He seems to know how to drive a bargain.'

'His position is that he stands to lose four hundred a year for the term of my life if the body is never found, and he ought to stand to win if it is.'

'And I gather that you have refused this offer?'

'Yes; very emphatically, and my daughter agrees with me; but I am not sure that I have done the right thing. A man should think twice, I suppose, before he burns his boats.'

'Have you spoken to Mr. Jellicoe about the matter?'

'Yes, I have been to see him to-day. He is a cautious man, and he doesn't advise me one way or the other. But I think he disapproves of my refusal; in fact, he remarked that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, especially when the whereabouts of the bush is unknown.'

'Do you think he will apply to the Court without your sanction?'

'He doesn't want to; but I suppose, if Hurst puts pressure on him, he will have to. Besides, Hurst, as an interested party, could apply on his own account, and after my refusal he probably will; at least, that is Jellicoe's opinion.'

'The whole thing is a most astonishing muddle,' I said, 'especially when one remembers that your brother had a lawyer to advise him. Didn't Mr. Jellicoe point out to him how absurd the provisions were?'

'Yes, he did. He tells me that he implored my brother to let him draw up a will embodying the matter in a reasonable form. But John wouldn't listen to him. Poor old fellow! he could be very pigheaded when he chose.'

'And is Hurst's proposal still open?'

'No, thanks to my peppery temper. I refused it very definitely, and sent him off with a flea in his ear. I hope I have not made a false step; I was quite taken by surprise when Hurst made the proposal and got rather angry. You remember, my brother was last seen alive at Hurst's house—but there, I oughtn't to talk like that, and I oughtn't to pester you with my confounded affairs when you come in for a friendly chat, though I gave you fair warning, you remember.'

'Oh, but you have been highly entertaining. You don't realise what an interest I take in your case.'

Mr. Bellingham laughed somewhat grimly. 'My case!' he repeated. 'You speak as if I were some rare and curious sort of criminal lunatic. However, I'm glad you find me amusing. It's more than I find myself.'

'I didn't say amusing; I said interesting. I view you with deep respect as the central figure of a stirring drama. And I am not the only person who regards you in that light. Do you remember my speaking to you of Doctor Thorndyke?'

'Yes, of course I do.'

'Well, oddly enough, I met him this afternoon and we had a long talk at his chambers. I took the liberty of mentioning that I had made your acquaintance. Did I do wrong?'

'No. Certainly not. Why shouldn't you tell him? Did he remember my infernal case, as you call it?'

'Perfectly, in all its details. He is quite an enthusiast, you know, and uncommonly keen to hear how the case develops.'

'So am I, for that matter,' said Mr. Bellingham.

'I wonder,' said I, 'if you would mind my telling him what you have told me to-night? It would interest him enormously.'

Mr. Bellingham reflected for a while with his eyes fixed on the empty grate. Presently he looked up, and said slowly:

'I don't know why I should. It's no secret; and if it were, I hold no monopoly on it. No; tell him, if you think he'd care to hear about it.'

'You needn't be afraid of his talking,' I said. 'He's as close as an oyster; and the facts may mean more to him than they do to us. He may be able to give a useful hint or two.'

'Oh, I'm not going to pick his brains,' Mr. Bellingham said quickly and with some wrath. 'I'm not the sort of man who goes round cadging for free professional advice. Understand that, Doctor?'

'I do,' I answered hastily. 'That wasn't what I meant at all. Is that Miss Bellingham coming in? I heard the front door shut.'

'Yes, that will be my girl, I expect; but don't run away. You're not afraid of her, are you?' he added as I hurriedly picked up my hat.

'I'm not sure that I'm not,' I answered. 'She is rather a majestic young lady.'

Mr. Bellingham chuckled and smothered a yawn, and at that moment his daughter entered the room; and, in spite of her shabby black dress and a shabbier handbag that she carried, I thought her appearance and manner fully justified my description.

'You come in, Miss Bellingham,' I said as she shook my hand with cool civility, 'to find your father yawning and me taking my departure. So I have my uses, you see. My conversation is the infallible cure for insomnia.'

Miss Bellingham smiled. 'I believe I am driving you away,' she said.

'Not at all,' I replied hastily. 'My mission was accomplished, that was all.'

'Sit down for a few moments, Doctor,' urged Mr. Bellingham, 'and let Ruth sample the remedy. She will be affronted if you run away as soon as she comes in.'

'Well, you mustn't let me keep you up,' I said.

'Oh, I'll let you know when I fall asleep,' he replied, with a chuckle; and with this understanding I sat down again—not at all unwillingly.

At this moment Miss Oman entered with a small tray and a smile of which I should not have supposed her capable.

'You'll take your toast and cocoa while they're hot, dear, won't you?' she said coaxingly.

'Yes, I will, Phyllis, thank you,' Miss Bellingham answered. 'I am only just going to take off my hat,' and she left the room, followed by the astonishingly transfigured spinster.

She returned almost immediately as Mr. Bellingham was in the midst of a profound yawn, and sat down to her frugal meal, when her father mystified me considerably by remarking:

'You're late to-night, chick. Have the Shepherd Kings been giving trouble?'

'No,' she replied; 'but I thought I might as well get them done. So I dropped in at the Ormond Street library on my way home and finished them.'

'Then they are ready for stuffing now?'

'Yes.' As she answered she caught my astonished eye (for a stuffed Shepherd King is undoubtedly a somewhat surprising phenomenon) and laughed softly.

'We mustn't talk in riddles like this,' she said, 'before Doctor Berkeley, or he will turn us both into pillars of salt. My father is referring to my work,' she explained to me.

'Are you a taxidermist, then?' I asked.

She hastily set down the cup that she was raising to her lips and broke into a ripple of quiet laughter.

'I am afraid my father has misled you with his irreverent expressions. He will have to atone by explaining.'

'You see, Doctor,' said Mr. Bellingham, 'Ruth is a literary searcher—'

'Oh, don't call me a searcher!' Miss Bellingham protested. 'It suggests the female searcher at a police-station. Say investigator.'

'Very well, investigator or investigatrix, if you like. She hunts up references and bibliographies at the Museum for people who are writing books. She looks up everything that has been written on a given subject, and then, when she has crammed herself to a bursting-point with facts, she goes to her client and disgorges and crams him or her, and he or she finally disgorges into the Press.'

'What a disgusting way to put it!' said his daughter. 'However, that is what it amounts to. I am a literary jackal, a collector of provender for the literary lions. Is that quite clear?'

'Perfectly. But I don't think that, even now, I quite understand about the stuffed Shepherd Kings.'

'Oh, it was not the Shepherd Kings who were to be stuffed. It was the author! That was mere obscurity of speech on the part of my father. The position is this: A venerable Archdeacon wrote an article on the patriarch Joseph—'

'And didn't know anything about him,' interrupted Mr. Bellingham, 'and got tripped up by a specialist who did, and then got shirty—'

'Nothing of the kind,' said Miss Bellingham. 'He knew as much as venerable archdeacons ought to know; but the expert knew more. So the archdeacon commissioned me to collect the literature on the state of Egypt at the end of the seventeenth dynasty, which I have done; and to-morrow I shall go and stuff him, as my father expresses it, and then—'

'And then,' Mr. Bellingham interrupted, 'the archdeacon will rush forth and pelt that expert with Shepherd Kings and Sequenen-Ra and the whole tag-rag and bobtail of the seventeenth dynasty. Oh, there'll be wigs on the green, I can tell you.'

'Yes, I expect there will be quite a skirmish,' said Miss Bellingham. And thus dismissing the subject she made an energetic attack on the toast while her father refreshed himself with a colossal yawn.

I watched her with furtive admiration and deep and growing interest. In spite of her pallor, her weary eyes, and her drawn and almost haggard face, she was an exceedingly handsome girl; and there was in her aspect a suggestion of purpose, of strength and character that marked her off from the rank and file of womanhood. I noted this as I stole an occasional glance at her or turned to answer some remark addressed to me; and I noted, too, that her speech, despite a general undertone of depression, was yet not without a certain caustic, ironical humour. She was certainly a rather enigmatical young person, but very decidedly interesting.

When she had finished her repast she put aside the tray and, opening the shabby handbag, asked:

'Do you take any interest in Egyptian history? We are as mad as hatters on the subject. It seems to be a family complaint.'

'I don't know much about it,' I answered. 'Medical studies are rather engrossing and don't leave much time for general reading.'

'Naturally,' she said. 'You can't specialise in everything. But if you would care to see how the business of a literary jackal is conducted, I will show you my notes.'

I accepted the offer eagerly (not, I fear, from pure enthusiasm for the subject), and she brought forth from the bag four blue-covered, quarto notebooks, each dealing with one of the four dynasties from the fourteenth to the seventeenth. As I glanced through the neat and orderly extracts with which they were filled we discussed the intricacies of the peculiarly difficult and confused period that they covered, gradually lowering our voices as Mr. Bellingham's eyes closed and his head fell against the back of his chair. We had just reached the critical reign of Apepa II when a resounding snore broke in upon the studious quiet of the room and sent us both into a fit of silent laughter.

'Your conversation has done its work,' she whispered as I stealthily picked up my hat, and together we stole on tiptoe to the door, which she opened without a sound. Once outside, she suddenly dropped her bantering manner and said quite earnestly:

'How kind it was of you to come and see him to-night! You have done him a world of good, and I am most grateful. Good-night!'

She shook hands with me really cordially, and I took my way down the creaking stairs in a whirl of happiness that I was quite at a loss to account for.

CHAPTER V. THE WATERCRESS-BED

BARNARD'S PRACTICE, like most others, was subject to those fluctuations that fill the struggling practitioner alternately with hope and despair. The work came in paroxysms with intervals of almost complete stagnation. One of these intermissions occurred on the day after my visit to Nevill's Court, with the result that by half-past eleven I found myself wondering what I should do with the remainder of the day. The better to consider this weighty problem, I strolled down to the Embankment, and, leaning on the parapet, contemplated the view across the river; the grey stone bridge with its perspective of arches, the picturesque pile of the shot-towers, and beyond, the shadowy shapes of the Abbey and St Stephen's.

It was a pleasant scene, restful and quiet, with a touch of life and a hint of sober romance, when a barge swept down through the—middle arch of the bridge with a lugsail hoisted to a jury mast and a white-aproned woman at the tiller. Dreamily I watched the craft creep by upon the moving tide, noted the low freeboard, almost awash, the careful helmswoman, and the dog on the forecastle yapping at the distant shore—and thought of Ruth Bellingham.

What was there about this strange girl that had made so deep an impression on me? That was the question that I propounded to myself, and not for the first time. Of the fact itself there was no doubt. But what was the explanation? Was it her unusual surroundings? Her occupation and rather recondite learning? Her striking personality and exceptional good looks? Or her connection with the dramatic mystery of her lost uncle?

I concluded that it was all of these. Everything connected with her was unusual and arresting; but over and above these circumstances there was a certain sympathy and personal affinity of which I was strongly conscious and of which I dimly hoped that she, perhaps, was a little conscious too. At any rate, I was deeply interested in her; of that there was no doubt whatever. Short as our acquaintance had been, she held a place in my thoughts that had never been held by any other woman.

From Ruth Bellingham my reflections passed by a natural transition to the curious story that her father had told me. It was a queer affair, that ill-drawn will, with the baffled lawyer protesting in the background. It almost seemed as if there must be something behind it all, especially when I remembered Mr. Hurst's very singular proposal. But it was out of my depth; it was a case for a lawyer, and to a lawyer it should go. This very night, I resolved, I would go to Thorndyke and give him the whole story as it had been told to me.

And then there happened one of those coincidences at which we all wonder when they occur, but which are so frequent as to have become enshrined in a proverb. For even as I formed the resolution, I observed two men approaching from the direction of Blackfriars, and recognised in them my quondam teacher and his junior.

'I was just thinking about you,' I said as they came up.

'Very flattering,' replied Jervis; 'but I thought you had to talk of the devil.'

'Perhaps,' suggested Thorndyke, 'he was talking to himself. But why were you thinking of us, and what was the nature of your thoughts?'

'My thoughts had reference to the Bellingham case. I spent the whole of last evening at Nevill's Court.'

'Ha! And are there any fresh developments?'

'Yes, by Jove! there are. Bellingham gave me a full detailed description of the will; and a pretty document it seems to be.'

'Did he give you permission to repeat the details to me?'

'Yes. I asked specifically if I might, and he had no objection whatever.'

'Good. We are lunching at Soho to-day as Polton has his hands full. Come with us and share our table and tell us your story as we go. Will that suit you?'

It suited me admirably in the present state of the practice, and I accepted the invitation with undissembled glee.

'Very well,' said Thorndyke; 'then let us walk slowly and finish with matters confidential before we plunge into the madding crowd.'

We set forth at a leisurely pace along the broad pavement and I commenced my narration. As well as I could remember, I related the circumstances that had led up to the present disposition of the property and then proceeded to the actual provisions of the will; to all of which my two friends listened with rapt interest, Thorndyke occasionally stopping me to jot down a memorandum in his pocket-book.

'Why, the fellow must have been a stark lunatic!' Jervis exclaimed, when I had finished. 'He seems to have laid himself out with the most devilish ingenuity to defeat his own ends.'

'That is not an uncommon peculiarity with testators,' Thorndyke remarked. 'A direct and perfectly intelligible will is rather the exception. But we can hardly judge until we have seen the actual document. I suppose Bellingham hasn't a copy?'

'I don't know,' said I; 'but I will ask him.'

'If he has one, I should like to look through it,' said Thorndyke. 'The provisions are very peculiar, and, as Jervis says, admirably calculated to defeat the testator's wishes if they have been correctly reported. And, apart from that, they have a remarkable bearing on the circumstances of the disappearance. I daresay you noticed that.'

'I noticed that it is very much to Hurst's advantage that the body has not been found.'

'Yes, of course. But there are some other points that are very significant. However, it would be premature to discuss the terms of the will until we have seen the actual document or a certified copy.'

'If there is a copy extant,' I said, 'I will try to get hold of it. But Bellingham is terribly afraid of being suspected of a desire to get professional advice gratis.'

'That,' said Thorndyke, 'is natural enough, and not discreditable. But you must overcome his scruples somehow. I expect you will be able to. You are a plausible young gentleman, as I remember of old, and you seem to have established yourself as quite the friend of the family.'

'They are rather interesting people,' I explained; 'very cultivated and with a strong leaning towards archaeology. It seems to be in the blood.'

'Yes,' said Thorndyke; 'a family tendency, probably due to contact and common surroundings rather than heredity. So you like Godfrey Bellingham?'

'Yes. He is a trifle peppery and impulsive, but quite an agreeable, genial old butler.'

'And the daughter,' said Jervis, 'what is she like?'

'Oh, she is a learned lady; works up bibliographies and references at the Museum.'

'Ah!' Jervis exclaimed with disfavour, 'I know the breed. Inky fingers; no chest to speak of; all side and spectacles.'

'You're quite wrong,' I exclaimed indignantly, contrasting Jervis's hideous presentment with the comely original. 'She is an exceedingly good-looking girl, and her manners all that a lady's should be. A little stiff, perhaps, but then I am only an acquaintance—almost a stranger.'

'But,' Jervis persisted, 'what is she like, in appearance I mean. Short? fat? sandy? Give us intelligible details.'

I made a rapid mental inventory, assisted by my recent cogitations.

'She is about five feet seven, slim but rather plump, very erect in carriage and graceful in movements; black hair, loosely parted in the middle and falling very prettily away from the forehead; pale, clear complexion, dark grey eyes, straight eyebrows, straight, well-shaped nose, short mouth, rather full; round chin—what the deuce are you grinning at, Jervis?' For my friend had suddenly unmasked his batteries and now threatened, like the Cheshire cat, to dissolve into a mere abstraction of amusement.

'If there is a copy of that will, Thorndyke,' he said, 'we shall get it. I think you agree with me, reverend senior?'

'I have already said,' was the reply, 'that I put my trust in Berkeley. And now let us dismiss professional topics. This is our hostelry.'

He pushed open an unpretentious glazed door, and we followed him into the restaurant, whereof the atmosphere was pervaded by an appetising mealiness mingled with less agreeable suggestions of the destructive distillation of fat.

It was some two hours later when I wished my friends adieu under the golden-leaved plane trees of King's Bench Walk.

'I won't ask you to come in now,' said Thorndyke, 'as we have some consultations this afternoon. But come in and see us soon; don't wait for that copy of the will.'

'No,' said Jervis. 'Drop in in the evening when your work is done; unless, of course, there is more attractive society elsewhere. Oh, you needn't turn that colour, my dear child; we have all been young once; there is even a tradition that Thorndyke was young some time back in the pre-dynastic period.'

'Don't take any notice of him, Berkeley,' said Thorndyke. 'The egg-shell is sticking to his head still. He'll know better when he is my age.'

'Methuselah!' exclaimed Jervis; 'I hope I shan't have to wait as long as that!'

Thorndyke smiled benevolently at his irrepressible junior, and, shaking my hand cordially, turned into the entry.

From the Temple I wended northward, to the adjacent College of Surgeons, where I spent a couple of profitable hours examining the 'pickles' and refreshing my memory on the subjects of pathology and anatomy; marvelling afresh (as every practical anatomist must marvel) at the incredibly perfect technique of the dissections, and inwardly paying tribute to the founder of the collection. At length the warning of the clock, combined with an increasing craving for tea, drove me forth and bore me towards the scene of my not very strenuous labours. My mind was still occupied with the contents of the cases and the great glass jars, so that I found myself at the corner of Fetter Lane without a very clear idea of how I had got there. But at that point I was aroused from my reflections rather abruptly by a raucous voice in my ear.

'Orrible discovery at Sidcup!'

I turned wrathfully—for a London street-boy's yell, let off at point-blank range, is, in effect, like the smack of an open hand—but the inscription on the staring yellow poster that was held up for my inspection changed my anger to curiosity.

'Horrible discovery in a watercress-bed!'

Now, let prigs deny it if they will, but there is something very attractive in a 'horrible discovery'. It hints at tragedy, at mystery, at romance. It promises to bring into our grey and commonplace life that element of the dramatic which is the salt that our existence is savoured withal. 'In a watercress-bed,' too! The rusticity of the background seemed to emphasise the horror of the discovery, whatever it might be.

I bought a copy of the paper, and, tucking it under my arm, hurried on to the surgery, promising myself a mental feast of watercress; but as I opened the door I found myself confronted by a corpulent woman of piebald and pimply aspect who saluted me with a deep groan. It was the lady from the coal shop in Fleur-de-Lys Court.

'Good-evening, Mrs. Jablett,' I said briskly; 'not come about yourself, I hope.'

'Yes, I have,' she answered, rising and following me gloomily into the consulting-room; and then, when I had seated her in the patient's chair and myself at the writing table, she continued: 'It's my inside, you know, doctor.'

The statement lacked anatomical precision and merely excluded the domain of the skin specialist. I accordingly waited for enlightenment and speculated on the watercress-beds, while Mrs. Jablett regarded me expectantly with a dim and watery eye.

'Ah!' I said at length; 'it's your—your inside, is it, Mrs. Jablett?'

'Yus. And my 'ead,' she added, with a voluminous sigh that filled the apartment with odorous reminiscences of 'unsweetened'.

'Your head aches, does it?'

'Something chronic!' said Mrs. Jablett. 'Feels as if it was a-opening and a-shutting, a-opening and a-shutting, and when I sit down I feel as if I should bust.'

This picturesque description of her sensations—not wholly inconsistent with her figure—gave the clue to Mrs. Jablett's sufferings. Resisting a frivolous impulse to reassure her as to the elasticity of the human integument, I considered her case in exhaustive detail, coasting delicately round the subject of 'unsweetened' and finally sent her away, revived in spirits and grasping a bottle of Mist. Sodae cum Bismutho from Barnard's big stock-jar. Then I went back to investigate the Horrible Discovery; but before I could open the paper, another patient arrived (Impetigo contagiosa, this time, affecting the 'wide and arched-front sublime' of a juvenile Fetter Laner), and then yet another, and so on through the evening, until at last I forgot the watercress-beds altogether. It was only when I had purified myself from the evening consultations with hot water and a nail-brush and was about to sit down to a frugal supper, that I remembered the newspaper and fetched it from the drawer of the consulting-room table, where it had been hastily thrust out of sight. I folded it into a convenient form, and, standing it upright against the water-jug, read the report at my ease as I supped.

There was plenty of it. Evidently the reporter had regarded it as a 'scoop', and the editor had backed him up with ample space and hair-raising head-lines.

'HORRIBLE DISCOVERY
IN A WATERCRESS-BED
AT SIDCUP!'

'A startling discovery was made yesterday afternoon in the course of clearing out a watercress-bed near the erstwhile rural village of Sidcup in Kent; a discovery that will occasion many a disagreeable qualm to those persons who have been in the habit of regaling themselves with this refreshing esculent. But before proceeding to a description of the circumstances of the actual discovery or of the objects found—which, however, it may be stated at once, are nothing more or less than the fragments of a dismembered human body—it will be interesting to trace the remarkable chain of coincidences by virtue of which the discovery was made.

'The beds in question have been laid out in a small artificial lake fed by a tiny streamlet which forms one of the numerous tributaries of the River Cray. Its depth is greater than usual in the watercress-beds, otherwise the gruesome relics could never have been concealed beneath its surface, and the flow of water through it, though continuous, is slow. The tributary streamlet meanders through a succession of pasture meadows, in one of which the beds themselves are situated, and here throughout most of the year the fleecy victims of the human carnivore carry on the industry of converting grass into mutton. Now it happened some years ago that the sheep frequenting these pastures became affected with the disease known as "liver-rot"; and here we must make a short digression into the domain of pathology.

'"Liver-rot" is a disease of quite romantic antecedents. Its cause is a small flat worm—the liver-fluke—which infests the liver and bile-ducts of the affected sheep.

'Now how does the worm get into the sheep's liver? That is where the romance comes in. Let us see.

'The cycle of transformations begins with the deposit of the eggs of the fluke in some shallow stream or ditch running through pasture lands. Now each egg has a sort of lid, which presently opens and lets out a minute, hairy creature who swims away in search of a particular kind of water-snail—the kind called by naturalists Limnosa truncatula. If he finds a snail, he bores his way into its flesh and soon begins to grow and wax fat. Then he brings forth a family—of tiny worms quite unlike himself, little creatures called rediae, which soon give birth to families of young redice. So they go on for several generations, but at last there comes a generation of redia which, instead of giving birth to fresh redia, produce families of totally different offspring; big-headed, long-tailed creatures like miniature tadpoles, called by the learned cercarice. The cercarice soon wriggle their way out of the body of the snail, and then complications arise: for it is the habit of this particular snail to leave the water occasionally and take a stroll in the fields. Thus the cercarice, escaping from the snail, find themselves on the grass, whereupon they promptly drop their tails and stick themselves to the grass-blades. Then comes the unsuspecting sheep to take his frugal meal, and, cropping the grass, swallows it, cercarice and all. But the latter, when they find themselves in the sheep's stomach, make their way straight to the bile-ducts, up which they travel to the liver. Here, in a few weeks, they grow up into full-blown flukes and begin the important business of producing eggs.

'Such is the pathological romance of the "liver-rot"; and now what is its connection with this mysterious discovery? It is this. After the outbreak of "liver-rot" above referred to, the ground landlord, a Mr. John Bellingham, instructed his solicitor to insert a clause in the lease of the beds directing that the latter should be periodically cleared and examined by an expert to make sure that they were free from the noxious water-snails. The last lease expired about two years ago, and since then the beds have been out of cultivation; but, for the safety of the adjacent pastures, it was considered necessary to make the customary periodical inspection, and it was in the course of cleaning the beds for this purpose that r the present discovery was made.

'The operation began two days ago. A gang of three men proceeded systematically to grub up the plants and collect the multitudes of water-snails that they might be examined by the expert to see if any obnoxious species were present. They had cleared nearly half of the beds when, yesterday afternoon, one of the men working in the deepest part came upon some bones, the appearance of which excited his suspicion. Thereupon he called his mates, and they carefully picked away the plants piece-meal, a process that soon laid bare an unmistakable human hand lying on the mud amongst the roots. Fortunately they had the wisdom not to disturb the remains, but at once sent off a message to the police. Very soon, an inspector and a sergeant, accompanied by the divisional surgeon, arrived on the scene, and were able to view the remains lying as they had been found. And now another very strange fact came to light; for it was seen that the hand—a left one—lying on the mud was minus its third finger. This is regarded by the police as a very important fact as bearing on the question of identification, seeing that the number of persons having the third finger of the left hand missing must be quite small. After a thorough examination on the spot, the bones were carefully collected and conveyed to the mortuary, where they now lie awaiting further inquiries.

'The divisional surgeon, Dr. Brandon, in an interview with our representative, made the following statements:

'"The bones are those of the left arm of a middle-aged or elderly man about five feet eight inches in height. All the bones of the arm are present, including the scapula, or shoulder-blade, and the clavicle, or collar-bone, but the three bones of the third finger are missing."

'"Is this a deformity or has the finger been cut off?" our correspondent asked.

'"The finger has been amputated," was the reply. "If it had been absent from birth, the corresponding hand bone, or metacarpal, would have been wanting or deformed, whereas it is present and quite normal."

'"How long have the bones been in the water?" was the next question.

'"More than a year, I should say. They are quite clean; there is not a vestige of the soft structures left."

'"Have you any theory as to how the arm came to be deposited where it was found?"

'"I should rather not answer that question," was the guarded response.

'"One more question," our correspondent urged. "The ground landlord, Mr. John Bellingham; is he not the gentleman who disappeared so mysteriously some time ago?"

'"So I understand," Dr. Brandon replied.

'"Can you tell me if Mr. Bellingham had lost the third finger of his left hand?"

'"I cannot say," said Dr. Brandon; and he added with a smile, "you had better ask the police."

'That is how the matter stands at present. But we understand that the police are making active inquiries for any missing man who has lost the third finger of his left hand, and if any of our readers know of such a person, they are earnestly requested to communicate at once, either with us or with the authorities.

'Also we believe that a systematic search is to be made for further remains.'

I laid the newspaper down and fell into a train of reflection. It was certainly a most mysterious affair. The thought that had evidently come to the reporter's mind stole naturally into mine. Could these remains be those of John Bellingham? It was obviously possible, though I could not but see that the fact of the bones having been found on his land, while it undoubtedly furnished the suggestion, did not in any way add to its probability. The connection was accidental and in nowise relevant.

Then, too, there was the missing finger. No reference to any such deformity had been made in the original report of the disappearance, though it could hardly have been overlooked. I should be seeing Thorndyke in the course of the next few days, and, undoubtedly, if the discovery had any bearing upon the disappearance of John Bellingham, I should hear of it. With such a reflection I rose from the table, and, adopting the advice contained in the spurious Johnsonian quotation, proceeded to 'take a walk in Fleet Street' before settling down for the evening.

CHAPTER VI. SIDELIGHTS

THE association of coal with potatoes is one upon which I have frequently speculated, without arriving at any more satisfactory explanation than that both products are of the earth, earthy. Of the connection itself Barnard's practice furnished several instances besides Mrs. Jablett's establishment in Fleur-de-Lys Court, one of which was a dark and mysterious cavern a foot below the level of the street, that burrowed under an ancient house on the west side of Fetter Lane—a crinkly, timber house of the three-decker type that leaned back drunkenly from the road as if about to sit down in its own back yard.

Passing this repository of the associated products about ten o'clock in the morning, I perceived in the shadows of the cavern no less a person than Miss Oman. She saw me at the same moment, and beckoned peremptorily with a hand that held a large Spanish onion. I approached with a deferential smile.

'What a magnificent onion, Miss Oman! and how generous of you to offer it to me—'

'I wasn't offering it to you. But there! Isn't it just like a man—'

'Isn't what just like a man?' I interrupted. 'If you mean the onion—'

'I don't!' she snapped; 'and I wish you wouldn't talk such a parcel of nonsense. A grown man and a member of a serious profession, too! You ought to know better.'

'I suppose I ought,' I said reflectively. And she continued:

'I called in at the surgery just now.'—

'To see me?'—

'What else should I come for? Do you suppose that I called to consult the bottle-boy?'

'Certainly not, Miss Oman. So you find the lady doctor no use, after all?'

Miss Oman gnashed her teeth at me (and very fine teeth they were too).

'I called,' she said majestically, 'on behalf of Miss Bellingham.'

My facetiousness evaporated instantly. 'I hope Miss Bellingham is not ill,' I said with a sudden anxiety that elicited a sardonic smile from Miss Oman.

'No,' was the reply, 'she is not ill, but she has cut her hand rather badly. It's her right hand too, and she can't afford to lose the use of it, not being a great, hulky, lazy, lolloping man. So you had better go and put some stuff on it.'

With this advice, Miss Oman whisked to the right-about and vanished into the depths of the cavern like the witch of Wokey, while I hurried on to the surgery to provide myself with the necessary instruments and materials, and thence proceeded to Nevill's Court.

Miss Oman's juvenile maidservant, who opened the door to me, stated the existing conditions with epigrammatic conciseness.

'Mr. Bellingham is hout, sir; but Miss Bellingham is hin.'

Having thus delivered herself she retreated towards the kitchen and I ascended the stairs, at the head of which I found Miss Bellingham awaiting me with her right hand encased in what looked like a white boxing-glove.

'I'm glad you have come,' she said. 'Phyllis—Miss Oman, you know—has kindly bound up my hand, but I should like you to see that it is all right.'

We went into the sitting-room, where I laid out my paraphernalia on the table while I inquired into the particulars of the accident.

'It is most unfortunate that it should have happened just now,' she said, as I wrestled with one of those remarkable feminine knots that, while they seem to defy the utmost efforts of human ingenuity to untie, yet have a singular habit of untying themselves at inopportune moments.

'Why just now in particular?' I asked.

'Because I have some specially important work to do. A very learned lady who is writing an historical book has commissioned me to collect all the literature relating to the Tell el Amarna letters—the cuneiform tablets, you know, of Amenhotep the Fourth.'

'Well,' I said soothingly, 'I expect your hand will soon be well.'

'Yes, but that won't do. The work has to be done immediately. I have to send in completed notes not later than this day week, and it will be quite impossible. I am dreadfully disappointed.'

By this time I had unwound the voluminous wrappings and exposed the injury—a deep gash in the palm that must have narrowly missed a good-sized artery. Obviously the hand would be useless for fully a week.

'I suppose,' she said, 'you couldn't patch it up so that I could write with it?'

I shook my head.

'No, Miss Bellingham. I shall have to put it on a splint. We can't run any risks with a deep wound like this.'

'Then I shall have to give up the commission, and I don't know how my client will get the work done in the time. You see, I am pretty well up in the literature of Ancient Egypt; in fact, I was to receive special payment on that account. And it would have been such an interesting task, too. However, it can't be helped.'

I proceeded methodically with the application of the dressings, and meanwhile reflected. It was evident that she was deeply disappointed. Loss of work meant loss of money, and it needed but a glance at her rusty black dress to see that there was little margin for that. Possibly, too, there was some special need to be met. Her manner seemed almost to imply that there was. And at this point I had a brilliant idea.

'I'm not sure that it can't be helped,' said I.

She looked at me inquiringly, and I continued: 'I am going to make a proposition, and I shall ask you to consider it with an open mind.'

'That sounds rather portentous,' said she; 'but I promise. What is it?'

'It is this: When I was a student I acquired the useful art of writing shorthand. I am not a lightning reporter, you understand, but I can take matter down from dictation at quite respectable speed.'

'Yes.'

'Well, I have several hours free every day—usually the whole afternoon up to six or half-past—and it occurs to me that if you were to go to the Museum in the mornings you could get out your book, look up passages (you could do that without using your right hand), and put in bookmarks. Then I could come along in the afternoon and you could read out the selected passages to me, and I could take them down in shorthand. We should get through as much in a couple of hours as you could in a day using long-hand.'

'Oh, but how kind of you, Dr. Berkeley!' she exclaimed. 'How very kind! Of course, I couldn't think of taking up all your leisure in that way; but I do appreciate your kindness very much.'

I was rather chapfallen at this very definite refusal, but persisted feebly:

'I wish you would. It may seem rather a cheek for a comparative stranger like me to make such a proposal to a lady: but if you'd been a man—in those special circumstances—I should have made it all the same, and you would have accepted as a matter of course.'

'I doubt that. At any rate, I am not a man. I sometimes wish I were.'

'Oh, I am sure you are much better as you are!' I exclaimed, with such earnestness that we both laughed. And at this moment Mr. Bellingham entered the room carrying several large brand-new books in a strap.

'Well, I'm sure!' he exclaimed genially; 'here are pretty goings on. Doctor and patient giggling like a pair of schoolgirls! What's the joke?'

He thumped his parcel of books down on the table and listened smilingly while my unconscious witticism was expounded.

'The doctor's quite right,' he said. 'You'll do as you are, chick; but the Lord knows what sort of man you would make. You take his advice and let well alone.'

Finding him in this genial frame of mind, I ventured to explain my proposition to him and to enlist his support. He considered it with attentive approval, and when I had finished turned to his daughter.

'What is your objection, chick?' he asked.

'It would give Doctor Berkeley such a fearful lot of work,' she answered.

'It would give him a fearful lot of pleasure,' I said. 'It would really.'

'Then why not?' said Mr. Bellingham. 'We don't mind being under an obligation to the Doctor, do we?'

'Oh, it isn't that!' she exclaimed hastily.

'Then take him at his word. He means it. It is a kind action and he'll like doing it, I'm sure. That's all right, Doctor; she accepts, don't you, chick?'

'Yes, if you say so, I do; and most thankfully.'

She accompanied the acceptance with a gracious smile that was in itself a large repayment on account, and when we had made the necessary arrangements, I hurried away in a state of the most perfect satisfaction to finish my morning's work and order an early lunch.

When I called for her a couple of hours later I found her waiting in the garden with the shabby handbag, of which I relieved her, and we set forth together, watched jealously by Miss Oman, who had accompanied her to the gate.

As I walked up the court with this wonderful maid by my side I could hardly believe in my good fortune. By her presence and my own resulting happiness the mean surroundings became glorified and the commonest objects transfigured into things of beauty. What a delightful thoroughfare, for instance, was Fetter Lane, with its quaint charm and mediaeval grace! I snuffed the cabbage-laden atmosphere and seemed to breathe the scent of the asphodel. Holborn was even as the Elysian Fields; the omnibus that bore us westward was a chariot of glory; and the people who swarmed verminously on the pavements bore the semblance of the children of light.

Love is a foolish thing judged by workaday standards, and the thoughts and actions of lovers foolish beyond measure. But the workaday standard is the wrong one, after all; for the utilitarian mind does but busy itself with the trivial and transitory interests of life, behind which looms the great and everlasting reality of the love of man and woman. There is more significance in a nightingale's song in the hush of a summer night than in all the wisdom of Solomon (who, by the way, was not without his little experiences of the tender passion).

The janitor in the little glass box by the entrance to the library inspected us and passed us on, with a silent benediction, to the lobby, whence (when I had handed my stick to a bald-headed demigod and received a talismanic disc in exchange) we entered the enormous rotunda of the reading-room.

I have often thought that, if some lethal vapour of highly preservative properties—such as formaldehyde, for instance—could be shed into the atmosphere of this apartment, the entire and complete collection of books and book-worms would be well worth preserving, for the enlightenment of posterity, as a sort of anthropological appendix to the main collection of the Museum. For, surely, nowhere else in the world are so many strange and abnormal human beings gathered together in one place. And a curious question that must have occurred to many observers is: Whence do these singular creatures come, and whither do they go when the very distinct-faced clock (adjusted to literary eyesight) proclaims closing time? The tragic-faced gentleman, for instance, with the corkscrew ringlets that bob up and down like spiral springs as he walks? Or the short, elderly gentleman in the black cassock and bowler hat, who shatters your nerves by turning suddenly and revealing himself as a middle-aged woman? Whither do they go? One never sees them elsewhere. Do they steal away at closing time into the depths of the Museum and hide themselves until morning in sarcophagi or mummy cases? Or do they creep through spaces in the book-shelves and spend the night behind the volumes in a congenial atmosphere of leather and antique paper? Who can say? What I do know is that when Ruth Bellingham entered the reading-room she appeared in comparison with these like a creature of another order; even as the head of Antinous, which formerly stood (it has since been moved) amidst the portrait-busts of the Roman Emperors, seemed like the head of a god set in a portrait gallery of illustrious baboons.

'What have we got to do?' I asked when we had found a vacant seat. 'Do you want to look up the catalogue?'

'No, I have the tickets in my bag. The books are waiting in the "kept books" department.'

I placed my hat on the leather-covered shelf, dropped her gloves into it—how delightfully intimate and companionable it seemed!—altered the numbers on the tickets, and then we proceeded together to the 'kept books' desk to collect the volumes that contained the material for our day's work.

It was a blissful afternoon. Two and a half hours of happiness unalloyed did I spend at that shiny, leather-clad desk, guiding my nimble pen across the pages of the notebook. It introduced me to a newt world—a world in which love and learning, sweet intimacy and crusted archaeology, were mingled into the oddest, most whimsical and most delicious confection that the mind of man can conceive. Hitherto, these recondite histories had been far beyond my ken. Of the wonderful heretic, Amenhotep the Fourth, I had already heard—at the most he had been a mere name; the Hittites a mythical race of undetermined habitat; while cuneiform tablets had presented themselves to my mind merely as an uncouth kind of fossil biscuit suited to the digestion of a prehistoric ostrich.

Now all this was changed. As we sat with our chairs creaking together and she whispered the story of those stirring times into my receptive ear—talking is strictly forbidden in the reading-room—the disjointed fragments arranged themselves into a romance of supreme fascination. Egyptian, Babylonian, Aramaean, Hittite, Memphis, Babylon, Hamath, Megiddo—I swallowed them all thankfully, wrote them down, and asked for more. Only once did I disgrace myself. An elderly clergyman of ascetic and acidulous aspect had passed us with a glance of evident disapproval, clearly setting us down as intruding philanderers; and when I contrasted the parson's probable conception of the whispered communications that were being poured into my ear so tenderly and confidentially with the dry reality, I chuckled aloud. But my fair taskmistress only paused, with her finger on the page, smilingly to rebuke me, and then went on with the dictation. She was certainly a Tartar for work.

It was a proud moment for me when, in response to my interrogative 'Yes?' my companion said 'That is all' and closed the book. We had extracted the pith and marrow of six considerable volumes in two and a half hours.

'You have been better than your word,' she said. 'It would have taken me two full days of really hard work to make the notes that you have written down since we commenced. I don't know how to thank you.'

'There's no need to. I've enjoyed myself and polished up my shorthand. What is the next thing? We shall want some books for to-morrow, shan't we?'

'Yes. I have made out a list, so if you will come with me to the catalogue desk I will look out the numbers and ask you to write the tickets.'

The selection of a fresh batch of authorities occupied us for another quarter of an hour, and then, having handed in the volumes that we had squeezed dry, we took our way out of the reading-room.

'Which way shall we go?' she asked as we passed out of the gate, where stood a massive policeman, like the guardian angel at the gate of Paradise (only, thank Heaven! he bore no flaming sword forbidding re-entry).

'We are going,' I replied, 'to Museum Street, where is a milkshop in which one can get an excellent cup of tea.'

She looked as if she would have demurred, but eventually followed obediently, and we were soon settled side by side at the little marble-topped table, retracing the ground we had covered in the afternoon's work and discussing various points of interest over a joint teapot.

'Have you been doing this sort of work long?' I asked, as she handed me my second cup of tea.

'Professionally,' she answered, 'only about two years; since we broke up our home, in fact. But long before that I used to come to the Museum with my Uncle John—the one who disappeared, you know, in that dreadfully mysterious way—and help him to look up references. We were good friends, he and I.'

'I suppose he was a very learned man?' I suggested.

'Yes, in a certain way; in the way of the better-class collector he was very learned indeed. He knew the contents of every museum in the world, in so far as they were connected with Egyptian antiquities, and had studied them specimen by specimen. Consequently, as Egyptology is largely a museum science, he was a learned Egyptologist. But his real interest was in things rather than events. Of course, he knew a great deal—a very great deal—about Egyptian history, but still he was, before all, a collector.'

'And what will happen to his collection if he is really dead?'

'The greater part of it goes to the British Museum by his will, and the remainder he has left to his solicitor, Mr. Jellicoe.'

'To Mr. Jellicoe! Why, what will Mr. Jellicoe do with Egyptian antiquities?'

'Oh, he is an Egyptologist too, and quite an enthusiast. He has really a fine collection of scarabs and other small objects such as it is possible to keep in a private house. I have always thought that it was his enthusiasm for everything Egyptian that brought him and my uncle together on terms of such intimacy; though I believe he is an excellent lawyer, and he is certainly a very discreet, cautious man.'

'Is he? I shouldn't have thought so, judging by your uncle's will.'

'Oh, but that was not Mr. Jellicoe's fault. He assures us that he entreated my uncle to let him draw up a fresh document with more reasonable provisions. But he says Uncle John was immovable; and he really was a rather obstinate man. Mr. Jellicoe repudiates any responsibility in the matter. He washes his hands of the whole affair, and says that it is the will of a lunatic. And so it is. I was glancing through it only a night or two ago, and really I cannot conceive how a sane man could have written such nonsense.'

'You have a copy then?' I asked eagerly, remembering Thorndyke's parting instructions.

'Yes. Would you like to see it? I know my father has told you about it, and it is worth reading as a curiosity of perverseness.'

'I should very much like to show it to my friend, Doctor Thorndyke,' I replied. 'He said he would be interested to read it and learn the exact provisions; and it might be well to let him, and hear what he has to say about it.'

'I see no objection,' she rejoined; 'but you know what my father is: his horror, I mean, of what he calls "cadging for advice gratis".'

'Oh, but he need have no scruples on that score. Doctor Thorndyke wants to see the will because the case interests him. He is an enthusiast, you know, and he put the request as a personal favour to himself.'

'That is very nice and delicate of him, and I will explain the position to my father. If he is willing for Doctor Thorndyke to see the copy, I will send or bring it over this evening. Have we finished?'

I regretfully admitted that we had, and, when I had paid the modest reckoning, we sallied forth, turning back with one accord into Great Russell Street to avoid the noise and bustle of the larger thoroughfares.

'What sort of man was your uncle?' I asked presently, as we walked along the quiet, dignified street. And then I added hastily: 'I hope you don't think me inquisitive, but, to my mind, he presents himself as a kind of mysterious abstraction; the unknown quantity of a legal problem.'

'My Uncle John,' she answered reflectively, 'was a very peculiar man, rather obstinate, very self-willed, what people call "masterful", and decidedly wrong-headed and unreasonable.'

'That is certainly the impression that the terms of his will convey,' I said.

'Yes, and not the will only. There was the absurd allowance that he made to my father. That was a ridiculous arrangement, and very unfair too. He ought to have divided the property up as my grandfather intended. And yet he was by no means ungenerous, only he would have his own way, and his own way was very commonly the wrong way.'

'I remember,' she continued, after a short pause, 'a very odd instance of his wrong-headedness and obstinacy. It was a small matter, but very typical of him. He had in his collection a beautiful little ring of the eighteenth dynasty. It was said to have belonged to Queen Ti, the mother of our friend Amenhotep the Fourth; but I don't think that could have been so, because the device on it was the Eye of Osiris, and Ti, as you know, was an Aten-worshipper. However, it was a very charming ring, and Uncle John, who had a queer sort of devotion to the mystical eye of Osiris, commissioned a very clever goldsmith to make two exact copies of it, one for himself and one for me. The goldsmith naturally wanted to take the measurements of our fingers, but this Uncle John would not hear of; the rings were to be exact copies, and an exact copy must be the same size as the original. You can imagine the result; my ring was so loose that I couldn't keep it on my finger, and Uncle John's was so tight that though he did manage to get it on, he was never able to get it off. And it was only the circumstance that his left hand was decidedly smaller than his right that made it possible for him to wear it at all.'

'So you never wore your copy?'

'No. I wanted to have it altered to make it fit, but he objected strongly; so I put it away, and have it in a box still.'

'He must have been an extraordinarily pig-headed old fellow,' I remarked.

'Yes; he was very tenacious. He annoyed my father a good deal, too, by making unnecessary alterations in the house in Queen Square when he fitted up his museum. We have a certain sentiment with regard to that house. Our people have lived in it ever since it was built, when the square was first laid out in the reign of Queen Anne, after whom it was named. It is a dear old house. Would you like to see it? We are quite near it now.'

I assented eagerly. If it had been a coal-shed or a fried-fish shop I would still have visited it with pleasure, for the sake of prolonging our walk; but I was also really interested in this old house as a part of the background of the mystery of the vanished John Bellingham.

We crossed into Cosmo Place, with its quaint row of the now rare, cannon-shaped iron posts, and passing through stood for a few moments looking into the peaceful, stately old square. A party of boys disported themselves noisily on the range of stone posts that form a bodyguard round the ancient lamp-surmounted pump, but otherwise the place was wrapped in dignified repose suited to its age and station. And very pleasant it looked on this summer afternoon with the sunlight gilding the foliage of its widespreading plane trees and lighting up the warm-toned brick of the house-fronts. We walked slowly down the shady west side, near the middle of which my companion halted.

'This is the house,' she said. 'It looks gloomy and forsaken now; but it must have been a delightful house in the days when my ancestors could look out of the windows through the open end of the square across the fields of meadows to the heights of Hampstead and Highgate.'

She stood at the edge of the pavement looking up with a curious wistfulness at the old house; a very pathetic figure, I thought, with her handsome face and proud carriage, her threadbare dress and shabby gloves, standing at the threshold of the home that had been her family's for generations, that should now have been hers, and that was shortly to pass away into the hands of strangers.

I, too, looked up at it with a strange interest, impressed by something gloomy and forbidding in its aspect. The windows were shuttered from basement to attic, and no sign of life was visible. Silent, neglected, desolate, it breathed an air of tragedy. It seemed to mourn in sackcloth and ashes for its lost master. The massive door within the splendid carven portico was crusted with grime, and seemed to have passed out of use as completely as the ancient lamp-irons or the rusted extinguishers wherein the footmen were wont to quench their torches when some Bellingham dame was borne up the steps in her gilded chair, in the days of good Queen Anne.

It was in a somewhat sobered frame of mind that we presently turned away and started homeward by way of Great Ormond Street. My companion was deeply thoughtful, relapsing for a while into that sombreness of manner that had so impressed me when I first met her. Nor was I without a certain sympathetic pensiveness; as if, from the great, silent house, the spirit of the vanished man had issued forth to bear us company.

But still it was a delightful walk, and I was sorry when at last we arrived at the entrance to Nevill's Court, and Miss Bellingham halted and held out her hand.

'Good-bye,' she said; 'and many, many thanks for your invaluable help. Shall I take the bag?'

'If you want it. But I must take out the note-books.'

'Why must you take them?' she asked.

'Why, haven't I got to copy the notes out into long-hand?'

An expression of utter consternation spread over her face; in fact, she was so completely taken aback that she forgot to release my hand.

'Heavens!' she exclaimed. 'How idiotic of me! But it is impossible, Doctor Berkeley! It will take you hours!'

'It is perfectly possible, and it is going to be done; otherwise the notes would be useless. Do you want the bag?'

'No, of course not. But I am positively appalled. Hadn't you better give up the idea?'

'And this is the end of our collaboration?' I exclaimed tragically, giving her hand a final squeeze (whereby she became suddenly aware of its position, and withdrew it rather hastily). 'Would you throw away a whole afternoon's work? I won't certainly; so, goodbye until to-morrow. I shall turn up in the reading-room as early as I can. You had better take the tickets. Oh, and you won't forget a bin t the copy of the will for Doctor Thorndyke, will you?'

'No; if my father agrees, you shall have it this evening.'

She took the tickets from me, and, thanking me yet again, retired into the court.

CHAPTER VII. JOHN BELLINGHAM'S WILL

THE task upon which I had embarked so light-heartedly, when considered in cold blood, did certainly appear, as Miss Bellingham had said, rather appalling. The result of two and a half hours' pretty steady work at an average speed of nearly a hundred words a minute, would take some time to transcribe into long-hand; and if the notes were to be delivered punctually on the morrow, the sooner I got to work the better.

Recognising this truth, I lost no time, but, within five minutes of my arrival at the surgery, was seated at the writing-table with my copy before me busily converting the sprawling, inexpressive characters into good, legible round-hand.

The occupation was by no means unpleasant, apart from the fact that it was a labour of love; for the sentences, as I picked them up, were fragrant with the reminiscences of the gracious whisper in which they had first come to me. And then the matter itself was full of interest. I was gaining a fresh outlook on life, was crossing the threshold of a new world (which was her world); and so the occasional interruptions from the patients, while they gave me intervals of enforced rest, were far from welcome.

The evening wore on without any sign from Nevill's Court, and I began to fear that Mr. Bellingham's scruples had proved insurmountable. Not, I am afraid, that I was so much concerned for the copy of the will as for the possibility of a visit, no matter howsoever brief, from my fair employer; and when, on the stroke of half-past seven, the surgery door flew open with startling abruptness, my fears were allayed and my hopes shattered simultaneously. For it was Miss Oman who stalked in, holding out a blue foolscap envelope with a warlike air as if it were an ultimatum.

'I've brought you this from Mr. Bellingham,' she said. 'There's a note inside.'

'May I read the note, Miss Oman?' I asked.

'Bless the man!' she exclaimed. 'What else would you do with it? Isn't that what it's brought for?'

I supposed it was; and, thanking her for her gracious permission, I glanced through the note—a few lines authorising me to show the copy of the will to Dr. Thorndyke. When I looked up from the paper I found her eyes fixed on me with an expression critical and rather disapproving.

'You seem to be making yourself mighty agreeable in a certain quarter,' she remarked.

'I make myself universally agreeable. It is my nature to.'

'Ha!' she snorted.

'Don't you find me rather agreeable?' I asked.

'Oily,' said Miss Oman. And then with a sour smile at the open notebooks, she remarked:

'You've got some work to do now; quite a change for you.'

'A delightful change, Miss Oman. "For Satan findeth"—but no doubt you are acquainted with the philosophical works of Dr. Watts?'

'If you are referring to "idle hands",' she replied, 'I'll give you a bit of advice. Don't you keep that hand idle any longer than is really necessary. I have my suspicions about that splint—oh, you know what I mean,' and before I had time to reply, she had taken advantage of the entrance of a couple of patients to whisk out of the surgery with the abruptness that had distinguished her arrival.

The evening consultations were considered to be over by half-past eight; at which time Adolphus was wont with exemplary punctuality to close the outer door of the surgery. To-night he was not less prompt than usual; and having performed this, his last daily office, and turned down the surgery gas, he reported the fact and took his departure.

As his retreating footsteps died away and the slamming of the outer door announced his final disappearance, I sat up and stretched myself. The envelope containing the copy of the will lay on the table, and I considered it thoughtfully. It ought to be conveyed to Thorndyke with as little delay as possible, and, as it certainly could not be trusted out of my hands, it ought to be conveyed by me.

I looked at the notebooks. Nearly two hours' work had made a considerable impression on the matter that I had to transcribe, but still, a great deal of the task yet remained to be done. However, I reflected, I could put in a couple of hours or more before going to bed and there would be an hour or two to spare in the morning. Finally I locked the notebooks, open as they were, in the writing-table drawer, and slipping the envelope into my pocket, set out for the Temple.

The soft chime of the Treasury clock was telling out, in confidential tones, the third quarter as I rapped with my stick on the forbidding 'oak' of my friends' chambers. There was no response, nor had I perceived any gleam of light from the windows as I approached, and I was considering the advisability of trying the laboratory on the next floor, when footsteps on the stone stairs and familiar voices gladdened my ear.

'Hallo, Berkeley!' said Thorndyke, 'do we find you waiting like a Peri at the gates of Paradise? Polton is upstairs, you know, tinkering at one of his inventions. If you ever find the nest empty, you had better go up and bang at the laboratory door. He's always there in the evenings.'

'I haven't been waiting long,' said I, 'and I was just thinking of rousing him up when you came.'

'That was right,' said Thorndyke, turning up the gas. 'And what news do you bring? Do I see a blue envelope sticking out of your pocket?'

'You do.'

'Is it a copy of the will?' he asked.

I answered 'yes', and added that I had full permission to show it to him.

'What did I tell you?' exclaimed Jervis. 'Didn't I say that he would get the copy for us if it existed?'

'We admit the excellence of your prognosis,' said Thorndyke, 'but there is no need to be boastful. Have you read through the document, Berkeley?'

'No, I haven't taken it out of the envelope.'

'Then it will be equally new to us all, and we shall see if it tallies with your description.'

He placed three easy chairs at a convenient distance from the light, and Jervis, watching him with a smile, remarked:

'Now Thorndyke is going to enjoy himself. To him, a perfectly unintelligible will is a thing of beauty and a joy for ever; especially if associated with some kind of recondite knavery.'

'I don't know,' said I, 'that this will is particularly unintelligible. The mischief seems to be that it is rather too intelligible. However, here it is,' and I handed it over to Thorndyke.

'I suppose that we can depend on this copy,' said the latter, as he drew out the document and glanced at it. 'Oh, yes,' he added, 'I see it is copied by Godfrey Bellingham, compared with the original and certified correct. In that case I will get you to read it out slowly, Jervis, and I will make a rough copy for reference. Let us make ourselves comfortable and light our pipes before we begin.'

He provided himself with a writing-pad, and, when we had seated ourselves and got our pipes well alight, Jervis opened the document, and with a premonitory 'hem!' commenced the reading.

'In the name of God, Amen. This is the last will and testament of me John Bellingham of number 141 Queen Square in the parish of St George Bloomsbury London in the county of Middlesex Gentleman made this twenty-first day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety-two.

'1. I give and bequeath unto Arthur Jellicoe of number 184 New Square Lincoln's Inn London in the county of Middlesex Attorney-at-law the whole of my collection of seals and scarabs and those in my cabinets marked A, B, and D together with the contents thereof and the sum of two thousand pounds sterling free of legacy duty.

'Unto the trustees of the British Museum the residue of my collection of antiquities.

'Unto my cousin George Hurst of The Poplars Eltham in the county of Kent the sum of five thousand pounds free of legacy duty and unto my brother Godfrey Bellingham or if he should die before the occurrence of my death unto his daughter Ruth Bellingham the residue of my estate and effects real and personal subject to the conditions set forth hereinafter namely:

'2. That my body shall be deposited with those of my ancestors in the churchyard appertaining to the church and parish of St George the Martyr or if that shall not be possible in some other churchyard cemetery burial ground church or chapel or other authorised place for the reception of bodies of the dead situate within or appertaining to the parishes of St Andrew above the Bars and St George the Martyr or St George Bloomsbury and St Giles in the Fields. But if the condition in this clause be not carried out then:

'3. I give and devise the said residue of my estate and effects unto my cousin George Hurst aforesaid and I hereby revoke all wills and codicils made by me at any time heretofore and I appoint Arthur Jellicoe aforesaid to be the executor of this my will jointly with the principal beneficiary and residuary legatee that is to say with the aforesaid Godfrey Bellingham if the conditions set forth hereinbefore in clause 2 shall be duly carried out but with the aforesaid George Hurst if the said conditions in the said clause 2 be not carried out.

'john bellingham

'Signed by the said testator John Bellingham in the presence of us present at the same time who at his request and in his presence and in the presence of each other have subscribed our names as witnesses.

'Frederick Wilton, 16 Medford Road, London, N, clerk.

'James Barber, 32 Wadbury Crescent, London, SW, clerk.'

'Well,' said Jervis, laying down the document as Thorndyke detached the last sheet from his writing-pad, 'I have met with a good many idiotic wills, but this one can give them all points. I don't see how it is ever going to be administered. One of the two executors is a mere abstraction—a sort of algebraical problem with no answer.'

'I think that difficulty could be overcome,' said Thorndyke.

'I don't see how,' retorted Jervis. 'If the body is deposited in a certain place, A is the executor; if it is somewhere else, B is the executor. But as you cannot produce the body, and no one has the least idea where it is, it is impossible to prove either that it is or that it is not in any specified place.'

'You are magnifying the difficulty, Jervis,' said Thorndyke. 'The body may, of course, be anywhere in the entire world, but the place where it is lying is either inside or out the general boundary of those two parishes. If it has been deposited within the boundary of those two parishes, the fact must be ascertainable by examining the burial certificates issued since the date when the missing man was last seen alive and by consulting the registers of those specified places of burial. I think that if no record can be found of any such interment within the boundary of those two parishes, that fact will be taken by the Court as proof that no such interment has taken place, and that therefore the body must have been deposited somewhere else. Such a decision would constitute George Hurst the co-executor and residuary legatee.'

'That is cheerful for your friends, Berkeley,' Jervis remarked, 'for we may take it as pretty certain that the body has not been deposited in any of the places named.'

'Yes,' I agreed gloomily, 'I'm afraid there is very little doubt of that. But what an ass the fellow must have been to make such a to-do about his beastly carcass! What the deuce could it have mattered to him where it was dumped, when he had done with it?'

Thorndyke chuckled softly. 'Thus the irreverent youth of to-day,' said he. 'But yours is hardly a fair comment, Berkeley. Our training makes us materialists, and puts us a little out of sympathy with those in whom primitive beliefs and emotions survive. A worthy priest who came to look at our dissecting-room expressed surprise to me that the students, thus constantly in the presence of relics of mortality, should be able to think of anything but the resurrection and the life hereafter. He was a bad psychologist. There is nothing so dead as a dissecting-room "subject"; and the contemplation of the human body in the process of being quietly taken to pieces—being resolved into its structural units like a worn-out clock or an old engine in the scrapper's yard—is certainly not conducive to a vivid realisation of the doctrine of the resurrection.'

'No; but this absurd anxiety to be buried in some particular place has nothing to do with religious belief; it is merely silly sentiment.'

'It is sentiment, I admit,' said Thorndyke, 'but I wouldn't call it silly. The feeling is so widespread in time and space that we must look on it with respect as something inherent in human nature. Think—as doubtless John Bellingham did—of the ancient Egyptians, whose chief aspiration was that of everlasting repose for the dead. See the trouble they took to achieve it. Think of the great Pyramid, or that of Amenemhat the Fourth with its labyrinth of false passages and its sealed and hidden sepulchral chambers. Think of Jacob, borne after death all those hundreds of weary miles in order that he might sleep with his fathers, and then remember Shakespeare and his solemn adjuration to posterity to let him rest undisturbed in his grave. No, Berkeley, it is not a silly sentiment. I am as indifferent as you as to what becomes of my body "when I have done with it," to use your irreverent phrase; but I recognise the solicitude that some other men display on the subject as a natural feeling that has to be taken seriously.'

'But even so,' I said, 'if this man had a hankering for a freehold residence in some particular bone-yard, he might have gone about the business in a. more reasonable way.'

'There I am entirely with you,' Thorndyke replied. 'It is the absurd way in which this provision is worded that not only creates all the trouble but also makes the whole document so curiously significant in view of the testator's disappearance.'

'How significant?' Jervis demanded eagerly.

'Let us consider the provisions of the will point by point,' said Thorndyke; 'and first note that the testator commanded the services of a very capable lawyer.'

'But Mr. Jellicoe disapproved of the will,' said I; 'in fact, he protested strongly against the form of it.'

'We will bear that in mind too,' Thorndyke replied. 'And now with reference to what we may call the contentious clauses: the first thing that strikes us is their preposterous injustice. Godfrey's inheritance is made conditional on a particular disposal of the testator's body. But this is a matter not necessarily under Godfrey's control. The testator might have been lost at sea, or killed in a fire or explosion, or have died abroad and been buried where his grave could not have been identified. There are numerous probable contingencies besides the improbable one that has happened that might prevent the body from being recovered.

'But even if the body had been recovered, there is another difficulty. The places of burial in the parishes have all been closed for many years. It would be impossible to reopen any of them without a special faculty, and I doubt whether such a faculty would be granted. Possibly cremation might meet the difficulty, but even that is doubtful; and, in any case, the matter would not be in the control of Godfrey Bellingham. Yet, if the required interment should prove impossible, he is to be deprived of his legacy.'

'It is a monstrous and absurd injustice,' I exclaimed.

'It is,' Thorndyke agreed; 'but this is nothing to the absurdity that comes to light when we consider clauses two and three in detail. Observe that the testator presumably wished to be buried in a certain place; also he wished his brother should benefit under the will. Let us take the first point and see how he has set about securing the accomplishment of what he desired. Now if we read clauses two and three carefully, we shall see that he has rendered it virtually impossible that his wishes can be carried out. He desires to be buried in a certain place and makes Godfrey responsible for his being so buried. But he gives Godfrey no power or authority to carry out the provision, and places insuperable obstacles in his way. For until Godfrey is an executor, he has no power or authority to carry out the provisions; and until the provisions are carried out, he does not become an executor.'

'It is a preposterous muddle,' exclaimed Jervis.

'Yes, but that is not the worst of it,' Thorndyke continued. 'The moment John Bellingham dies, his dead body has come into existence; and it is "deposited", for the time being, wherever he happens to have died. But unless he should happen to have died in one of the places of burial mentioned—which is in the highest degree unlikely—his body will be, for the time being, "deposited" in some place other than those specified. In that case clause two is—for the time being—not complied with, and consequently George Hurst becomes, automatically, the co-executor.

'But will George Hurst carry out the provisions of clause two? Probably not. Why should he? The will contains no instructions to that effect. It throws the whole duty on Godfrey. On the other hand, if he should carry out clause two, what happens? He ceases to be an executor and he loses some seventy thousand pounds. We may be pretty certain that he will do nothing of the kind. So that, on considering the two clauses, we see that the wishes of the testator could only be carried out in the unlikely event of his dying in one of the burial-places mentioned, or his body being conveyed immediately after death to p. public mortuary in one of the said parishes. In any other event, it is virtually certain that he will be buried in some place other than that which he desired, and that his brother will be left absolutely without provision or recognition.'

'John Bellingham could never have intended that,' I said.

'Clearly not,' agreed Thorndyke; 'the provisions of the will furnish internal evidence that he did not. You note that he bequeathed five thousand pounds to George Hurst, in the event of clause two being carried out; but he has made no bequest to his brother in the event of its not being carried out. Obviously, he had not entertained the possibility of this contingency at all. He assumed, as a matter of course, that the conditions of clause two would be fulfilled, and regarded the conditions themselves as a mere formality.'

'But,' Jervis objected, 'Jellicoe must have seen the danger of a miscarriage and pointed it out to his client.'

'Exactly,' said Thorndyke. 'There is the mystery. We understand that he objected strenuously, and that John Bellingham was obdurate. Now it is perfectly understandable that a man should adhere obstinately to the most stupid and perverse disposition of his property; but that a man should persist in retaining a particular form of words after it has been proved to him that the use of such form will almost certainly result in the defeat of his own wishes; that, I say, is a mystery that calls for very careful consideration.'

'If Jellicoe had been an interested party,' said Jervis, 'one would have suspected him of lying low. But the form of clause two doesn't affect him at all.'

'No,' said Thorndyke; 'the person who stands to profit by the muddle is George Hurst. But we understand that he was unacquainted with the terms of the will, and there is certainly nothing to suggest that he is in any way responsible for it.'

'The practical question is,' said I, 'what is going to happen? and what can be done for the Bellinghams?'

'The probability is,' Thorndyke replied, 'that the next move will be made by Hurst. He is the party immediately interested. He will probably apply to the Court for permission to presume death and administer the will.'

'And what will the Court do?'

Thorndyke smiled dryly. 'Now you are asking a very pretty conundrum. The decisions of Courts depend on idiosyncrasies of temperament that no one can foresee. But one may say that a Court does not lightly grant permission to presume death. There will be a rigorous inquiry—and a decidedly unpleasant one, I suspect—and the evidence will be reviewed by the judge with a strong predisposition to regard the testator as being still alive. On the other hand, the known facts point very distinctly to the probability that he is dead; and, if the will were less complicated and all the parties interested were unanimous in supporting the application, I don't see why it might not be granted. But it will clearly be to the interest of Godfrey to oppose the application, unless he can show that the conditions of clause two have been complied with—which it is virtually certain he cannot; and he may be able to bring forward reasons for believing John to be still alive. But even if he is unable to do this, inasmuch as it is pretty clear that he was intended to be the chief beneficiary, his opposition is likely to have considerable weight with the Court.'

'Oh, is it?' I exclaimed eagerly. 'Then that accounts for a very peculiar proceeding on the part of Hurst. I have stupidly forgotten to tell you about it. He has been trying to come to a private agreement with Godfrey Bellingham.'

'Indeed!' said Thorndyke. 'What sort of agreement?'

'His proposal was this: that Godfrey should support him and Jellicoe in an application to the Court for permission to presume death and to administer the will, that if it was successful, Hurst should pay him four hundred pounds a year for life: the arrangement to hold good in all eventualities.'

'By which he means?'

'That if the body should be discovered at any future time, so that the conditions of clause two could be carried out, Hurst should still retain the property and continue to pay Godfrey the four hundred a year for life.'

'Hey, ho!' exclaimed Thorndyke; 'that is a queer proposal; a very queer proposal indeed.'

'Not to say fishy,' added Jervis. 'I don't fancy the Court would look with approval on that little arrangement.'

'The law does not look with much favour on any little arrangements that aim at getting behind the provisions of a will,' Thorndyke replied; 'though there would be nothing to complain of in this proposal if it were not for the reference to "all eventualities". If a will is hopelessly impracticable, it is not unreasonable or improper for the various beneficiaries to make such private arrangements among themselves as may seem necessary to avoid useless litigation and delay in administering the will. If, for instance, Hurst had proposed to pay four hundred a year to Godfrey so long as the body remained undiscovered on condition that, in the event of its discovery, Godfrey should pay him a like sum for life, there would have been nothing to comment upon. It would have been an ordinary sporting chance. But the reference to "all eventualities" is an entirely different matter. Of course, it may be mere greediness, but all the same it suggests some very curious reflections.'

'Yes, it does,' said Jervis. 'I wonder if he has any reason to expect that the body will be found? Of course it doesn't follow that he has. He may be merely taking the opportunity offered by the other man's poverty to make sure of the bulk of the property whatever happens. But it is uncommonly sharp practice, to say the least.'

'Do I understand that Godfrey declined the proposal?' Thorndyke asked.

'Yes, he did, very emphatically; and I fancy the two gentlemen proceeded to exchange opinions on the circumstances of the disappearance with more frankness than delicacy.'

'Ah,' said Thorndyke, 'that is a pity. If the case comes into Court, there is bound to be a good deal of unpleasant discussion and still more unpleasant comment in the newspapers. But if the parties themselves begin to express suspicions of one another there is no telling where the matter will end.'

'No, by Jove!' said Jervis. 'If they begin flinging accusations of murder about, the fat will be in the fire with a vengeance. That way lies the Old Bailey.'

'We must try to prevent them from making an unnecessary scandal,' said Thorndyke. 'It may be that an exposure will be unavoidable, and that must be ascertained in advance. But to return to your question, Berkeley, as to what is to be done. Hurst will probably make some move pretty soon. Do you know if Jellicoe will act with him?'

'No, he won't. He declines to take any steps without Godfrey's assent—at least, that is what he says at present. His attitude is one of correct neutrality.'

'That is satisfactory so far,' said Thorndyke, 'though he may alter his tone when the case comes into Court. From what you said just now I gathered that Jellicoe would prefer to have the will administered and be quit of the whole business; which is natural enough, especially as he benefits under the will to the extent of two thousand pounds and a valuable collection. Consequently, we may fairly assume that, even if he maintains an apparent neutrality, his influence will be exerted in favour of Hurst rather than of Bellingham; from which it follows that Bellingham ought certainly to be properly advised, and, when the case goes into Court, properly represented.'

'He can't afford either the one or the other,' said I. 'He's as poor as an insolvent church mouse and as proud as the devil. He wouldn't accept professional aid that he couldn't pay for.'

'H'm,' grunted Thorndyke, 'that's awkward. But we can't allow the case to go "by default", so to speak—to fail for the mere lack of technical assistance. Besides, it is one of the most interesting cases that I have ever met with, and I am not going to see it bungled. He couldn't object to a little general advice in a friendly, informal way—amicus curia, as old Brodribb is so fond of saying; and there is nothing to prevent us from pushing forward the preliminary inquiries.'

'Of what nature would they be?'

'Well, to begin with, we have to satisfy ourselves that the conditions of clause two have not been complied with: that John Bellingham has not been buried within the parish boundaries mentioned. Of course he has not, but we must not take anything for granted. Then we have to satisfy ourselves that he is not still alive and accessible. It is perfectly possible that he is, after all, and it is our business to trace him, if he is still in the land of the living. Jervis and I can carry out these investigations without saying anything to Bellingham; my learned brother will look through the register of burials—not forgetting the cremations—in the metropolitan area, and I will take the other matter in hand.'

'You really think that John Bellingham may still be alive?' said I.

'Since his body has not been found, it is obviously a possibility. I think it in the highest degree improbable, but the improbable has to be investigated before it can be excluded.'

'It sounds rather a hopeless quest,' I remarked. 'How do you propose to begin?'

'I think of beginning at the British Museum. The people there may be able to throw some light on his movements. I know that there are some important evacuations in progress at Heliopolis—in fact, the Director of the Egyptian Department is out there at the present moment; and Doctor Norbury, who is taking his place temporarily, is an old friend of Bellingham's. I shall call on him and try to discover if there is anything that might have induced Bellingham suddenly to go abroad—to Heliopolis, for instance. Also he may be able to tell me what it was that took the missing man to Paris on that last, rather mysterious journey. That might turn out to be an important clue. And meanwhile, Berkeley, you must endeavour tactfully to reconcile your friend to the idea of letting us give an eye to the case. Make it clear to him that I am doing this entirely for the enlargement of my own knowledge.'

'But won't you have to be instructed by a solicitor?' I asked.

'Yes, nominally; but only as a matter of etiquette. We shall do all the actual work. Why do you ask?'

'I was thinking of the solicitor's costs, and I was going to mention that I have a little money of my own—'

'Then you keep it, my dear fellow. You'll want it when you go into practice. There will be no difficulty about the solicitor; I shall ask one of my friends to act nominally as a personal favour to me—Marchmont would take the case for us, Jervis, I am sure.'

'Yes,' said Jervis. 'Or old Brodribb, if we put it to him amicus curia.'

'It is excessively kind of both of you to take this benevolent interest in the case of my friends,' I said; 'and it is to be hoped that they won't be foolishly proud and stiff-necked about it. It's rather the way with poor gentlefolk.'

'I'll tell you what!' exclaimed Jervis. 'I have a most brilliant idea. You shall give us a little supper at your rooms and invite the Bellinghams to meet us. Then you and I will attack the old gentleman, and Thorndyke shall exercise his persuasive powers on the lady. These chronic incurable old bachelors, you know, are quite irresistible.'

'You observe that my respected junior condemns me to lifelong celibacy,' Thorndyke remarked. 'But,' he added, 'his suggestion is quite a good one. Of course, we mustn't put any sort of pressure on Bellingham to employ us—for that is what it amounts to, even if we accept no payment—but a friendly talk over the supper-table would enable us to put the matter delicately and yet convincingly.'

'Yes,' said I, 'I see that, and I like the idea immensely. But it won't be possible for several days, because I've got a job that takes up all my spare time—and that I ought to be at work on now,' I added, with a sudden qualm at the way in which I had forgotten the passage of time in the interest of Thorndyke's analysis.

My two friends looked at me inquiringly and I felt it necessary to explain about the injured hand and the Tell el Amarna tablets; which I accordingly did rather shyly and with a nervous eye upon Jervis. The slow grin, however, for which I was watching, never came; on the contrary, he not only heard me through quite gravely, but when I had finished said with some warmth, and using my old hospital pet name:

'I'll say one thing for you, Polly; you're a good chum, and you always were. I hope your Nevill's Court friends appreciate the fact.'

They are far more appreciative than the occasion warrants,' I answered. 'But to return to this question: how will this day week suit you?'

'It will suit me,' Thorndyke answered, with a glance at his junior.

'And me too,' said the latter; 'so, if it will do for the Bellinghams, we will consider it settled; but if they can't come, you must fix another night.'

'Very well,' I said, rising and knocking out my pipe, 'I will issue the invitation to-morrow. And now I must be off to have another slog at those notes.'

As I walked homewards I speculated cheerfully on the prospect of entertaining my friends under my own (or rather Barnard's) roof, if they could be lured out of their eremitical retirement. The idea had, in fact, occurred to me already, but I had been deterred by the peculiarities of Barnard's housekeeper. For Mrs. Gummer was one of those housewives who make up for an archaic simplicity of production by preparations on the most portentous and alarming scale. But this time I would not be deterred. If only the guests could be enticed into my humble lair it would be easy to furnish the raw materials of the feast from outside; and the consideration of ways and means occupied me pleasantly until I found myself once more at my writing-table, confronted by my voluminous notes on the incidents of the North Syrian War.

CHAPTER VIII. A MUSEUM IDYLL

WHETHER it was that practice revived a forgotten skill on my part, or that Miss Bellingham had over-estimated the amount of work to be done, I am unable to say. But whichever may have been the explanation, the fact is that the fourth afternoon saw our task so nearly completed that I was fain to plead that a small remainder might be left over to form an excuse for yet one more visit to the reading-room.

Short, however, as had been the period of our collaboration, it had been long enough to produce a great change in our relations to one another. For there is no friendship so intimate and satisfying as that engendered by community of work, and none—between man and woman, at any rate—so frank and wholesome.

Every day had arrived to find a pile of books with the places duly marked and the blue-covered quarto notebooks in readiness. Every day we had worked steadily at the allotted task, had then handed in the books and gone forth together to enjoy a most companionable tea in the milk-shop; thereafter to walk home by way of Queen Square, talking over the day's work and discussing the state of the world in the far-off days when Ahkhenaten was king and the Tell el Amarna tablets were a-writing.

It had been a pleasant time, so pleasant, that as I handed in the books for the last time, I sighed to think that it was over; that not only was the task finished, but that the recovery of my fair patient's hand, from which I had that morning removed the splint, had put an end to the need of my help.

'What shall we do?' I asked, as we came out into the central hall. 'It is too early for tea. Shall we go and look at some of the galleries?'

'Why not?' she answered. 'We might look over some of the things connected with what we have been doing. For instance, there is a relief of Ahkhenaten upstairs in the Third Egyptian Room; we might go and look at it.'

I fell in eagerly with the suggestion, placing myself under her experienced guidance, and we started by way of the Roman Gallery, past the long row of extremely commonplace and modern-looking Roman Emperors.

'I don't know,' she said, pausing for a moment opposite a bust labelled 'Trajan' (but obviously a portrait of Phil May), 'how I am ever even to thank you for all that you have done, to say nothing of repayment.'

'There is no need to do either,' I replied. 'I have enjoyed working with you so I have had my reward. But still,' I added, 'if you want to do me a great kindness, you have it in your power.'

'How?'

'In connection with my friend, Doctor Thorndyke. I told you he was an enthusiast. Now he is, for some reason, most keenly interested in everything relating to your uncle, and I happen to know that, if any legal proceedings should take place, he would very much like to keep a friendly eye on the case.'

'And what do you want me to do?'

'I want you, if an opportunity should occur for him to give your father advice or help of any kind, to use your influence with your father in favour of, rather than in opposition to, his accepting it—always assuming that you have no real feeling against his doing so.'

Miss Bellingham looked at me thoughtfully for a few moments, and then laughed softly.

'So the great kindness that I am to do you is to let you do me a further kindness through your friend!'

'No,' I protested; 'that is where you are mistaken. It isn't benevolence on Doctor Thorndyke's part; it's professional enthusiasm.'

She smiled sceptically.

'You don't believe in it,' I said; 'but consider other cases. Why does a surgeon get out of bed on a winter's night to do an emergency operation at a hospital? He doesn't get paid for it. Do you think it is altruism?'

'Yes, of course. Isn't it?'

'Certainly not. He does it because it is his job, because it is his business to fight with disease—and win.'

'I don't see much difference,' she said. 'It's work done for love instead of for payment. However, I will do as you ask if the opportunity arises; but I shan't suppose that I am repaying your kindness to me.'

'I don't mind so long as you do it,' I said, and we walked on for some time in silence.

'Isn't it odd,' she said presently, 'how our talk always seems to come back to my uncle? Oh, and that reminds me that the things he gave to the Museum are in the same room as the Ahkhenaten relief. Would you like to see them?'

'Of course I should.'

'Then we will go and look at them first.' She paused, and then, rather shyly and with a rising colour, she continued: 'And I think I should like to introduce you to a very dear friend of mine—with your permission, of course.'

This last addition she made hastily, seeing, I suppose, that I looked rather glum at the suggestion. Inwardly I consigned her friend to the devil, especially if of the masculine gender; outwardly I expressed my felicity at making the acquaintance of any person whom she should honour with her friendship. Whereat, to my discomfiture, she laughed enigmatically; a very soft laugh, low-pitched and musical, like the cooing of a glorified pigeon.

I strolled on by her side, speculating a little anxiously on the coming introduction. Was I being conducted to the lair of one of the servants attached to the establishment? and would he add a superfluous third to our little party of two, so complete and companionable, solus cum sola, in this populated wilderness? Above all, would he turn out to be a young man, and bring my aerial castles tumbling about my ears. The shy look and the blush with which she had suggested the introduction were ominous indications, upon which I mused gloomily as we ascended the stairs and passed through the wide doorway. I glanced apprehensively at my companion, and met a quiet, inscrutable smile; and at that moment she halted opposite a wall-case and faced me.

'This is my friend,' she said. 'Let me present you to Artemidorus, late of the Fayyum. Oh, don't smile!' she pleaded. 'I am quite serious. Have you never heard of pious Catholics who cherish a devotion to some long-departed saint? That is my feeling towards Artemidorus, and if you only knew what comfort he has shed into the heart of a lonely woman; what a quiet, unobtrusive friend he has been to me in my solitary, friendless days, always ready with a kindly greeting on his gentle, thoughtful face, you would like him for that alone. And I want you to like him and to share our silent friendship. Am I very silly, very sentimental?'

A wave of relief swept over me, and the mercury of my emotional thermometer, which had shrunk almost into the bulb, leaped up to summer heat. How charming it was of her and how sweetly intimate, to wish to share this mystical friendship with me! And what a pretty conceit it was, too, and how like this strange, inscrutable maiden, to come here and hold silent converse with this long-departed Greek. And the pathos of it all touched me deeply amidst the joy of this new-born intimacy.

'Are you scornful?' she asked, with a shade of disappointment, as I made no reply.

'No, indeed I am not,' I answered earnestly. 'I want to make you aware of my sympathy and my appreciation without offending you by seeming to exaggerate, and I don't know how to express it.' Oh, never mind about the expression, so long as you feel it. I thought you would understand,' and she gave me a smile that made me tingle to my finger-tips.

We stood awhile gazing in silence at the mummy—for such, indeed, was her friend Artemidorus. But not an ordinary mummy. Egyptian in form, it was entirely Greek in feeling; and brightly coloured as it was, in accordance with the racial love of colour, the tasteful refinement with which the decoration of the case was treated made those around look garish and barbaric. But the most striking feature was a charming panel picture which occupied the place of the usual mask. This painting was a revelation to me. Except that it was executed in tempera instead of oil, it differed in no respect from modern work. There was nothing archaic or ancient about it. With its freedom of handling and its correct rendering of light and shade, it might have been painted yesterday; indeed, enclosed in an ordinary gilt frame, it might have passed without remark in an exhibition of modern portraits.

Miss Bellingham observed my admiration and smiled approvingly.

'It is a charming little portrait, isn't it?' she said; 'and such a sweet face too; so thoughtful and human, with a shade of melancholy. But the whole thing is full of charm. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. And it is so Greek!'

'Yes, it is, in spite of the Egyptian gods and symbols.'

'Rather because of them, I think,' said she. 'There we have the typical Greek attitude, the genial, cultivated electicism that appreciated the fitness of even the most alien forms of art. There is Anubis standing beside the bier; there are Isis and Nephthys, and there below Horus and Tahuti. But we can't suppose Artemidorus worshipped or believed in those gods. They are there because they are splendid decoration and perfectly appropriate in character. The real feeling of those who loved the dead man breaks out in the inscription.' She pointed to a band below the pectoral, where, in gilt capital letters, was written the two words, (Greek).'

'Yes,' I said, 'it is very dignified and very human.'

'And so sincere and full of real emotion,' she added. 'I find it unspeakably touching. "O Artemidorus, farewell!" There is the real note of human grief, the sorrow of eternal parting. How much finer it is than the vulgar boastfulness of the Semitic epitaphs, or our own miserable, insincere make-believe of the "Not lost but gone before" type. He has gone from them for ever; they would look on his face and hear his voice no more; they realised that this was their last farewell. Oh, there is a world of love and sorrow in those two simple words!'

For some time neither of us spoke. The glamour of this touching memorial of a long-buried grief had stolen over me, and I was content to stand silent by my beloved companion and revive, with a certain pensive pleasure, the ghosts of human emotions over which the many centuries had rolled. Presently she turned to me with a frank smile. 'You have been weighed in the balance of friendship,' she said, 'and not found wanting. You have the gift of sympathy, even with a woman's sentimental fancies.'

I suspected that a good many men would have developed this precious quality under the circumstances, but I refrained from saying so. There is no use in crying down one's own wares. I was glad enough to have earned her good opinion so easily, and when she at length turned away from the case and passed through into the adjoining room, it was a very complacent young man who bore her company.

'Here is Ahkhenaten—or Khu-en-aten, as the authorities here render the hieroglyphics. She indicated a fragment of a coloured relief labelled: 'Portion of a painted stone tablet with a portrait figure of Amenhotep IV, and we stopped to look at the frail, effeminate figure of the great king, with his large cranium, his queer, pointed chin, and the Aten rays stretching out their weird hands as if caressing him.

'We mustn't stay here if you want to see my uncle's gift, because this room closes at four to-day.' With this admonition she moved on to the other end of the room, where she halted before a large floor-case containing a mummy and a large number of other objects. A black label with white lettering set forth the various contents with a brief explanation as follows:


'Mummy of Sebekhotep, a scribe of the twenty-second dynasty, together with the objects found in the tomb. These include the four Canopic jars, in which the internal organs were deposited, the Ushabti figures, tomb provisions and various articles that had belonged to the deceased; his favourite chair, his head-rest, his ink-palette, inscribed with his name and the name of the king, Osorkon I, in whose reign he lived, and other smaller articles. Presented by John Bellingham, Esq.'


'They have put all the objects together in one case,' Miss Bellingham explained, 'to show the contents of an ordinary tomb of the better class. You see that the dead man was provided with all his ordinary comforts: provisions, furniture, the ink-palette that he had been accustomed to use in writing on papyri, and a staff of servants to wait on him.'

'Where are the servants?' I asked.

'The little Ushabti figures,' she answered; 'they were the attendants of the dead, you know, his servants in the under-world. It was a quaint idea, wasn't it? But it was all very complete and consistent, and quite reasonable, too, if one once accepts the belief in the persistence of the individual apart from the body.'

'Yes,' I agreed, 'and that is the only fair way to judge a religious system, by taking the main beliefs for granted. But what a business it must have been, bringing all these things from Egypt to London.'

'It was worth the trouble, though, for it is a fine and instructive collection. And the work is all very good of its kind. You notice that the Ushabti figures and the heads that form the stoppers of the Canopic jars are quite finely modelled. The mummy itself, too, is rather handsome, though that coat of bitumen on the back doesn't improve it. But Sebekhotep must have been a fine-looking man.'

'The mask on the face is a portrait, I suppose?'

'Yes; in fact, it's rather more. To some extent it is the actual face of the man himself. This mummy is enclosed in what is called a cartonnage, that is a case moulded on the figure. The cartonnage was formed of a number of layers of linen or papyrus united by glue or cement, and when the case had been fitted to a mummy it was moulded to the body, so that the general form of the features and limbs was often apparent. After the cement was dry the case was covered with a thin layer of stucco and the face modelled more completely, and then decorations and inscriptions were painted on. So that, you see, in a cartonnage, the body was sealed up like a nut in its shell, unlike the more ancient forms in which the mummy was merely rolled up and enclosed in a wooden coffin.'

At this moment there smote upon our ears a politely protesting voice announcing in sing-song tones that it was closing time; and simultaneously a desire for tea suggested the hospitable milk-shop. With leisurely dignity that ignored the official who shepherded us along the galleries, we made our way to the entrance, still immersed in conversation on matters sepulchral.

It was rather earlier than our usual hour for leaving the Museum and, moreover, it was our last day—for the present. Wherefore we lingered over our tea to an extent that caused the milk-shop lady to view us with some disfavour, and when at length we started homeward, we took so many short cuts that six o'clock found us no nearer our destination than Lincoln's Inn Fields; whither we had journeyed by a slightly indirect route that traversed (among other places) Russell Square, Red Lion Square, with the quaint passage of the same name, Bedford Row, Jockey's Fields, Hand Court, and Great Turnstile.

It was in the latter thoroughfare that our attention was attracted by a flaming poster outside a newsvendor's bearing the startling inscription:

MORE MEMENTOES

OF MURDERED MAN

Miss Bellingham glanced at the poster and shuddered.

'Horrible, isn't it?' she said. 'Have you read about them?'

'I haven't been noticing the papers the last few days,' I replied.

'No, of course you haven't. You've been slaving at those wretched notes. We don't very often see the papers, at least we don't take them in, but Miss Oman has kept us supplied during the last day or two. She is a perfect little ghoul; she delights in horrors of every kind, and the more horrible the better.'

'But,' I asked, 'what is it they have found?'

'Oh, they are the remains of some poor creature who seems to have been murdered and cut into pieces. It is dreadful. It made me shudder to read of it, for I couldn't help thinking of poor Uncle John, and, as for my father, he was really quite upset.'

'Are these the bones that were found in a watercress-bed at Sidcup?'

'Yes, but they have found several more. The police have been most energetic. They seem to have been making a systematic search, and the result has been that they have discovered several portions of the body, scattered about in very widely separated places—Sidcup, Lee, St Mary Cray; and yesterday it was reported that an arm had been found in one of the ponds called "the Cuckoo Pits," close to our old home.'

'What! in Essex?' I exclaimed.

'Yes, in Epping Forest, quite near Woodford. Isn't it dreadful to think of it? They were probably hidden when we were living there. I think it was that that horrified my father so much. When he read it he was so upset that he gathered up the whole bundle of newspapers and tossed them out of the window; and they blew over the wall, and poor Miss Oman had to rush and pursue them up the court.'

'Do you think he suspects that these remains may be those of your uncle?'

'I think so, though he has said nothing to that effect, and, of course, I have not made any suggestion to him. We always preserve the fiction between ourselves of believing that Uncle John is still alive.'

'But you don't think he is, do you?'

'No, I'm afraid I don't; and I feel pretty sure that my father doesn't think so either, but he doesn't like to admit it to me.'

'Do you happen to remember what bones have been found?'

'No, I don't. I know that an arm was found in the Cuckoo Pits, and I think a thigh-bone was dredged up out of a pond near St Mary Cray. But Miss Oman will be able to tell you all about it, if you are interested. She will be delighted to meet a kindred spirit,' Miss Bellingham added, with a smile.

'I don't know that I claim spiritual kinship with a ghoul,' said I; 'especially such a very sharp-tempered ghoul.'

'Oh, don't disparage her, Doctor Berkeley!' Miss Bellingham pleaded. 'She isn't really bad-tempered; only a little prickly on the surface. I oughtn't to have called her a ghoul; she is just the sweetest, most affectionate, most unselfish little angelic human hedgehog that you could find if you travelled the wide world through. Do you know that she has been working her fingers to the bone making an old dress of mine presentable because she is so anxious that I shall look nice at your little supper party.'

'You are sure to do that, in any case,' I said; 'but I withdraw my remark as to her temper unreservedly. And I really didn't mean it, you know; I have always liked the little lady.'

'That's right; and now won't you come in and have a few minutes' chat with my father? We are quite early in spite of the short cuts.'

I accepted readily, and the more so inasmuch as I wanted a few words with Miss Oman on the subject of catering and did not want to discuss it before my friends. Accordingly I went and gossiped with Mr. Bellingham, chiefly about the work we had done at the Museum, until it was time for me to return to the surgery.

Having taken my leave, I walked down the stairs with reflective slowness and as much creaking of my boots as I could manage; with the result, hopefully anticipated, that as I approached the door of Miss Oman's room it opened and the lady's head protruded.

'I'd change my cobbler if I were you,' she said.

I thought of the 'angelic human hedgehog', and nearly sniggered in her face.

'I am sure you would, Miss Oman, instantly; though, mind you, the poor fellow can't help his looks.'

'You are a very flippant young man,' she said severely. Whereat I grinned, and she regarded me silently with a baleful glare. Suddenly I remembered my mission and became serious and sober.

'Miss Oman,' I said, 'I very much want to take your advice on a matter of some importance—to me, at least.' (That ought to fetch her, I thought. The 'advice fly'—strangely neglected by Izaak Walton—is guaranteed to kill in any weather.) And it did fetch her. She rose in a flash and gorged it, cock's feathers, worsted body and all.

'What is it about?' she asked eagerly. 'But don't stand out here where everybody can hear but me. Come in and sit down.'

Now I didn't want to discuss the matter here, and, besides, there was not time. I therefore assumed an air of mystery.

'I can't, Miss Oman. I'm due at the surgery now. But if you should be passing and should have a few minutes to spare, I should be greatly obliged if you would look in. I really don't quite know how to act.'

'No, I expect not. Men very seldom do. But you're better than most, for you know when you are in difficulties and have the sense to consult a woman. But what is it about? Perhaps I might be thinking it over.'

'Well, you know,' I began evasively, 'it's a simple matter, but I can't very well—no, by Jove!' I added, looking at my watch, 'I must run, or I shall keep the multitude waiting.' And with this I bustled away, leaving her literally dancing with curiosity.

CHAPTER IX. THE SPHINX OF LINCOLN'S INN

AT the age of twenty-six one cannot claim to have attained to the position of a person of experience. Nevertheless, the knowledge of human nature accumulated in that brief period sufficed to make me feel confident that, at some time during the evening, I should receive a visit from Miss Oman. And circumstances justified my confidence; for the clock yet stood at two minutes to seven when a premonitory tap at the surgery door heralded her arrival.

'I happened to be passing,' she explained, and I forbore to smile at the coincidence, 'so I thought I might as well drop in and hear what you wanted to ask me about.'

She seated herself in the patients' chair and laying a bundle of newspapers on the table, glared at me expectantly.

'Thank you, Miss Oman,' said I. 'It is very good of you to look in on me. I am ashamed to give you all this trouble about such a trifling matter.'

She rapped her knuckles impatiently on the table.

'Never mind about the trouble,' she exclaimed tartly. 'What—is—it—that—you—want—to—ask—me about?'

I stated my difficulties in respect of the supper-party, and, as I proceeded, an expression of disgust and disappointment spread over her countenance.

'I don't see why you need have been so mysterious about it,' she said glumly.

'I didn't mean to be mysterious; I was only anxious not to make a mess of the affair. It's all very fine to assume a lofty scorn of the pleasures of the table, but there is great virtue in a really good feed, especially when low-living and high-thinking have been the order of the day.'

'Coarsely put,' said Miss Oman, 'but perfectly true.'

'Very well. Now, if I leave the management to Mrs. Gummer, she will probably provide a tepid Irish stew with flakes of congealed fat on it, and a plastic suet-pudding or something of that kind, and turn the house upside down in getting it ready. So I thought of having a cold spread and getting the things from outside. But I don't want it to look as if I had been making enormous preparations.'

'They won't think the things came down from heaven,' said Miss Oman.

'No, I suppose they won't. But you know what I mean. Now, where do you advise me to go for the raw materials of conviviality?'

Miss Oman reflected. 'You had better let me do your shopping and manage the whole business,' was her final verdict.

This was precisely what I wanted, and I accepted thankfully, regardless of the feelings of Mrs. Gummer. I handed her two pounds, and, after some protests at my extravagance, she bestowed them in her purse; a process that occupied time, since that receptacle, besides being a sort of miniature Record Office of frayed and time-stained bills, already bulged with a lading of draper's samples, ends of tape, a card of linen buttons, another of hooks and eyes, a lump of beeswax, a rat-eaten stump of lead-pencil, and other trifles that I have forgotten. As she closed the purse at the imminent risk of wrenching off its fastenings she looked at me severely and pursed her lips.

'You're a very plausible young man,' she remarked.

'What makes you say that?' I asked.

'Philandering about museums,' she continued, 'with handsome young ladies on the pretence of work. Work, indeed! Oh, I heard her telling her father about it. She thinks you were perfectly enthralled by the mummies and dried cats and chunks of stone and all the other trash. She doesn't know what humbugs men are.'

'Really, Miss Oman—' I began.

'Oh, don't talk to me!' she snapped. 'I can see it all. You can't impose upon me. I can see you staring into those glass cases, egging her on to talk and listening open-mouthed and bulging-eyed and sitting at her feet—now, didn't you?'

'I don't know about sitting at her feet,' I said, 'though it might easily have come to that with those infernal slippery floors; but I had a very jolly time, and I mean to go again if I can. Miss Bellingham is the cleverest and most accomplished woman I have ever spoken to.'

This was a poser for Miss Oman, whose admiration and loyalty, I knew, were only equalled by my own. She would have liked to contradict me, but the thing was impossible. To cover her defeat she snatched up the bundle of newspapers and began to open them out.

'What sort of stuff is "hibernation"?' she demanded suddenly.

'Hibernation!' I exclaimed.

'Yes. They found a patch of it on a bone that was discovered in a pond at St Mary Cray, and a similar patch on one that was found at some other place in Essex. Now, I want to know what "hibernation" is.'

'You must mean "eburnation,"' I said, after a moment's reflection.

'The newspapers say "hibernation," and I suppose they know what they are talking about. If you don't know what it is, don't be ashamed to say so.'

'Well, then, I don't.'

'In that case you had better read the papers and find out,' she said, a little illogically. And then: 'Are you fond of murders? I am, awfully.'

'What a shocking little ghoul you must be!' I exclaimed.

She stuck out her chin at me. I'll trouble you,' she said, 'to be a little more respectful in your language. Do you realise that I am old enough to be your mother?'

'Impossible!' I ejaculated.

'Fact,' said Miss Oman.

'Well, anyhow,' said I, 'age is not the only qualification. And besides, you are too late for the billet. The vacancy's filled.'

Miss Oman slapped the papers down on the table and rose abruptly.

'You had better read the papers and see if you can learn a little sense,' she said severely as she turned to go. 'Oh, and don't forget the finger!' she added eagerly. 'That is really thrilling.'

'The finger?' I repeated.

'Yes. They found a hand with one missing. The police think it is an important clue. I don't know what they mean; but you read the account and tell me what you think.'

With this parting injunction she bustled out through the surgery, and I followed to bid her a ceremonious adieu on the doorstep. I watched her little figure tripping with quick, bird-like steps down Fetter Lane, and was about to turn back into the surgery when my attention was attracted by the evolutions of an elderly gentleman on the opposite side of the street. He was a somewhat peculiar-looking man, tall, gaunt, and bony, and the way in which he carried his head suggested to the medical mind a pronounced degree of near sight and a pair of deep spectacle glasses. Suddenly he espied me and crossed the road with his chin thrust forward and a pair of keen blue eyes directed at me through the centres of his spectacles.

'I wonder if you can and will help me,' said he, with a courteous salute. 'I wish to call on an acquaintance, and I have forgotten his address. It is in some court, but the name of that court has escaped me for the moment. My friend's name is Bellingham. I suppose you don't chance to know it? Doctors know a great many people, as a rule.'

'Do you mean Mr. Godfrey Bellingham?'

'Ah! Then you do know him. I have not consulted the oracle in vain. He is a patient of yours, no doubt?'

'A patient and personal friend. His address is Forty-nine Nevill's Court.'

'Thank you, thank you. Oh, and as you are a friend, perhaps you can inform me as to the customs of the household. I am not expected, and I do not wish to make an untimely visit. What are Mr. Bellingham's habits as to his evening meal? Would this be a convenient time to call?'

'I generally make my evening visits a little later than this—say about half-past eight; they have finished their meal by then.'

'Ah! Half-past eight, then? Then I suppose I had better take a walk until that time. I don't want to disturb them.'

'Would you care to come in and smoke a cigar until it is time to make your call? If you would, I could walk over with you and show you the house.'

'That is very kind of you,' said my new acquaintance, with an inquisitive glance at me through his spectacles. 'I think I should like to sit down. It's a dull affair, mooning about the streets, and there isn't time to go back to my chambers—in Lincoln's Inn.'

'I wonder,' said I, as I ushered him into the room lately vacated by Miss Oman, 'if you happen to be Mr. Jellicoe?'

He turned his spectacles full on me with a keen, suspicious glance. 'What makes you think I am Mr. Jellicoe?' he asked.

'Oh, only that you live in Lincoln's Inn.'

'Ha! I see. I live in Lincoln's Inn; Mr. Jellicoe lives in Lincoln's Inn; therefore I am Mr. Jellicoe. Ha! ha! Bad logic, but a correct conclusion. Yes, I am Mr. Jellicoe. What do you know about me?'

'Mighty little, excepting that you were the late John Bellingham's man of business.'

'The "late John Bellingham," hey! How do you know he is the late John Bellingham?'

'As a matter of fact, I don't; only I rather understood that that was your own belief.'

'You understood! Now from whom did you "understand" that? From Godfrey Bellingham? H'm! And how did he know what I believe? I never told him. It is a very unsafe thing, my dear sir, to expound another man's beliefs.'

'Then you think that John Bellingham is alive?'

'Do I? Who said so? I did not, you know.'

'But he must be either dead or alive.'

'There,' said Mr. Jellicoe, 'I am entirely with you. You have stated an undeniable truth.'

'It is not a very illuminating one, however,' I replied, laughing.

'Undeniable truths often are not,' he retorted. 'They are apt to be extremely general. In fact, I would affirm that the certainty of the truth of a given proposition is directly proportional to its generality.'

'I suppose that is so,' said I.

'Undoubtedly. Take an instance from your own profession. Given a million normal human beings under twenty, and you can say with certainty that a majority of them will die before reaching a certain age, that they will die in certain circumstances and of certain diseases. Then take a single unit from that million, and what can you predict concerning him? Nothing. He may die to-morrow; he may live to be a couple of hundred. He may die of a cold in the head or a cut finger, or from falling off the cross of St Paul's. In a particular case you can predict nothing.'

'That is perfectly true,' said I. And then realising that I had been led away from the topic of John Bellingham, I ventured to return to it.

'That was a very mysterious affair—the disappearance of John Bellingham, I mean.'

'Why mysterious?' asked Mr. Jellicoe. 'Men disappear from time to time, and when they reappear, the explanations that they give (when they give any) seem more or less adequate.'

'But the circumstances were surely rather mysterious.'

'What circumstances?' asked Mr. Jellicoe.

'I mean the way in which he vanished from Mr. Hurst's house.'

'In what way did he vanish from it?'

'Well, of course, I don't know.'

'Precisely. Neither do I. Therefore I can't say whether that way was a mysterious one or not.'

'It is not even certain that he did leave it,' I remarked, rather recklessly.

'Exactly,' said Mr. Jellicoe. 'And if he did not, he is there still. And if he is there still, he has not disappeared—in the sense understood. And if he has not disappeared, there is no mystery.'

I laughed heartily, but Mr. Jellicoe preserved a wooden solemnity and continued to examine me through his spectacles (which I, in my turn, inspected and estimated at about minus five dioptres). There was something highly diverting about this grim lawyer, with his dry contentiousness and almost farcical caution. His ostentatious reserve encouraged me to ply him with fresh questions, the more indiscreet the better.

'I suppose,' said I, 'that, under these circumstances, you would hardly favour Mr. Hurst's proposal to apply for permission to presume death?'

'Under what circumstances?' he inquired.

'I was referring to the doubt you have expressed as to whether John Bellingham is, after all, really dead.'

'My dear sir,' said he, 'I fail to see your point. If it were certain that the man was alive, it would be impossible to presume that he was dead; and if it were certain that he was dead, presumption of death would still be impossible. You do not presume a certainty. The uncertainty is of the essence of the transaction.'

'But,' I persisted, 'if you really believe that he may be alive, I should hardly have thought that you would take the responsibility of presuming his death and dispersing his property.'

'I don't,' said Mr. Jellicoe. 'I take no responsibility. I act in accordance with the decision of the Court and have no choice in the matter.'

'But the Court may decide that he is dead and he may nevertheless be alive.'

'Not at all. If the Court decides that he is presumably dead, then he is presumably dead. As a mere irrelevant, physical circumstance he may, it is true, be alive. But legally speaking, and for testamentary purposes, he is dead. You fail to perceive the distinction, no doubt?'

'I am afraid I do,' I admitted.

'Yes; the members of your profession usually do. That is what makes them such bad witnesses in a court of law. The scientific outlook is radically different from the legal. The man of science relies on his own knowledge and observation and judgment, and disregards testimony. A man comes to you and tells you he is blind in one eye. Do you accept his statement? Not in the least. You proceed to test his eyesight with some infernal apparatus of coloured glasses, and you find that he can see perfectly well with both eyes. Then you decide that he is not blind in one eye; that is to say, you reject his testimony in favour of facts of your own ascertaining.'

'But surely that is the rational method of coming to a conclusion?'

'In science, no doubt. Not in law. A court of law must decide according to the evidence which is before it; and that evidence is of the nature of sworn testimony. If a witness is prepared to swear that black is white and no evidence to the contrary is offered, the evidence before the Court is that black is white, and the Court must decide accordingly. The judge and the jury may think otherwise—they may even have private knowledge to the contrary—but they have to decide according to the evidence.'

'Do you mean to say that a judge would be justified in giving a decision which he knew to be contrary to the facts? Or that he might sentence a man whom he knew to be innocent?'

'Certainly. It has been done. There is a case of a judge who sentenced a man to death and allowed the execution to take place, notwithstanding that he—the judge—had actually seen the murder committed by another man. But that was carrying correctness of procedure to the verge of pedantry.'

'It was, with a vengeance,' I agreed. 'But to return to the case of John Bellingham. Supposing that after the Court has decided that he is dead he should return alive? What then?'

'Ah! It would then be his turn to make an application, and the Court, having fresh evidence laid before it, would probably decide that he was alive.'

'And meantime his property would have been dispersed?'

'Probably. But you will observe that the presumption of death would have arisen out of his own proceedings. If a man acts in such a way as to create a belief that he is dead, he must put up with the consequences.'

'Yes, that is reasonable enough,' said I. And then, after a pause, I asked: 'Is there any immediate likelihood of proceedings of the kind being commenced?'

'I understood from what you said just now that Mr. Hurst was contemplating some action of the kind. No doubt you had your information from a reliable quarter.' This answer Mr. Jellicoe delivered without moving a muscle, regarding me with the fixity of a spectacled figurehead.

I smiled feebly. The operation of pumping Mr. Jellicoe was rather like the sport of boxing with a porcupine, being chiefly remarkable as a demonstration of the power of passive resistance. I determined, however, to make one more effort, rather, I think, for the pleasure of witnessing his defensive manoeuvres than with the expectation of getting anything out of him. I accordingly 'opened out' on the subject of the 'remains.'

'Have you been following these remarkable discoveries of human bones that have been appearing in the papers?' I asked.

He looked at me stonily for some moments, and then replied:

'Human bones are rather more within your province than mine, but, now that you mention it, I think I recall having read of some such discoveries. They were disconnected bones, I believe.'

'Yes; evidently parts of a dismembered body.'

'So I should suppose. No, I have not followed the accounts. As we get on in life our interests tend to settle into grooves, and my groove is chiefly connected with conveyancing. These discoveries would be of more interest to a criminal lawyer.'

'I thought you might, perhaps, have connected them with the disappearance of your client?'

'Why should I? What could be the nature of the connection?'

'Well,' I said, 'these are the bones of a man—'

'Yes; and my client was a man with bones. That is a connection, certainly, though not a very specific or distinctive one. But perhaps you had something more particular in your mind?'

'I had,' I replied. 'The fact that some of the bones were actually found on land belonging to your client seemed to me rather significant.'

'Did it, indeed?' said Mr. Jellicoe. He reflected for a few moments, gazing steadily at me the while, and then continued: 'In that I am unable to follow you. It would have seemed to me that the finding of human remains upon a certain piece of land might conceivably throw a prima fade suspicion upon the owner or occupant of the land as being the person who deposited them. But the case that you suggest is the one case in which this would be impossible. A man cannot deposit his own dismembered remains.'

'No, of course not. I was not suggesting that he deposited them himself, but merely that the fact of their being deposited on his land, in a way, connected these remains with him.'

'Again,' said Mr. Jellicoe, 'I fail to follow you, unless you are suggesting that it is customary for murderers who mutilate bodies to be punctilious in depositing the dismembered remains upon land belonging to their victims. In which case I am sceptical as to your facts. I am not aware of the existence of any such custom. Moreover, it appears that only a portion of the body was deposited on Mr. Bellingham's land, the remaining portions having been scattered broadcast over a wide area. How does that agree with your suggestion?'

'It doesn't, of course,' I admitted. 'But there is another fact that I think you will admit to be more significant. The first remains that were discovered were found at Sidcup. Now, Sidcup is close to Eltham; and Eltham is the place where Mr. Bellingham was last seen alive.'

'And what is the significance of this? Why do you connect the remains with one locality rather than the various other localities in which other portions of the body were found?'

'Well,' I replied, rather gravelled by this very pertinent question, 'the appearances seem to suggest that the person who deposited these remains started from the neighbourhood of Eltham, where the missing man was last seen.'

Mr. Jellicoe shook his head. 'You appear,' said he, 'to be confusing the order of deposition with the order of discovery. What evidence is there that the remains found at Sidcup were deposited before those found elsewhere?'

'I don't know that there is any,' I admitted.

'Then,' said he, 'I don't see how you support your suggestion that the person started from the neighbourhood of Eltham.'

On consideration, I had to admit that I had nothing to offer in support of my theory; and having thus shot my last arrow in this very unequal contest, I thought it time to change the subject.

'I called in at the British Museum the other day,' said I, 'and had a look at Mr. Bellingham's last gift to the nation. The things are very well shown in that central case.'

'Yes. I was very pleased with the position they have given to the exhibit, and so would my poor old friend have been. I wished, as I looked at the case, that he could have seen it. But perhaps he may, after all.'

'I am sure I hope he will,' said I, with more sincerity, perhaps, than the lawyer gave me credit for. For the return of John Bellingham would most effectually have cut the Gordian knot of my friend Godfrey's difficulties. 'You are a good deal interested in Egyptology yourself, aren't you?' I added.

'Greatly interested,' replied Mr. Jellicoe, with more animation than I had thought possible in his wooden face. 'It is a fascinating subject, the study of this venerable civilisation, extending back to the childhood of the human race, preserved for ever for our instruction in its own unchanging monuments like a fly in a block of amber. Everything connected with Egypt is full of an impressive solemnity. A feeling of permanence, of stability, defying time and change, pervades it. The place, the people, and the monuments alike breathe of eternity.'

I was mightily surprised at this rhetorical outburst on the part of this dry, taciturn lawyer. But I liked him the better for the touch of enthusiasm that made him human, and determined to keep him astride of his hobby.

'Yet,' said I, 'the people must have changed in the course of centuries.'

'Yes, that is so. The people who fought against Cambyses were not the race who marched into Egypt five thousand years before—the dynastic people whose portraits we see on the early monuments. In those fifty centuries the blood of Hyksos and Syrians and Ethiopians and Hittites, and who can say how many more races, must have mingled with that of the old Egyptians. But still the national life went on without a break; the old culture leavened the new peoples, and the immigrant strangers ended by becoming Egyptians. It is a wonderful phenomenon. Looking back on it from our own time, it seems more like a geological period than the life history of a single nation. Are you at all interested in the subject?'

'Yes, decidedly, though I am completely ignorant of it. The fact is that my interest is of quite recent growth. It is only of late that I have been sensible of the glamour of things Egyptian.'

'Since you made Miss Bellingham's acquaintance, perhaps?' suggested Mr. Jellicoe, himself as unchanging in aspect as an Egyptian effigy.

I suppose I must have reddened—I certainly resented the remark—for he continued in the same even tone: 'I made the suggestion because I know that she takes an intelligent interest in the subject and is, in fact, quite well informed on it.'

'Yes; she seems to know a great deal about the antiquities of Egypt, and I may as well admit that your surmise was correct. It was she who showed me her uncle's collection.'

'So I had supposed,' said Mr. Jellicoe. 'And a very instructive collection it is, in a popular sense; very suitable for exhibition in a public museum, though there is nothing in it of unusual interest to the expert. The tomb furniture is excellent of its kind and the cartonnage case of the mummy is well made and rather finely decorated.'

'Yes, I thought it quite handsome. But can you explain to me why, after taking all that trouble to decorate it, they should have disfigured it with those great smears of bitumen?'

'Ah!' said Mr. Jellicoe, 'that is quite an interesting question. It is not unusual to find mummy cases smeared with bitumen; there is a mummy of a priestess in the next gallery which is completely coated with bitumen except the gilded face. Now, this bitumen was put on for a purpose—for the purpose of obliterating the inscriptions and thus concealing the identity of the deceased from the robbers and desecrators of tombs. And there is the oddity of this mummy of Sebekhotep. Evidently there was an intention of obliterating the inscriptions. The whole of the back is covered thickly with bitumen, and so are the feet. Then the workers seem to have changed their minds and left the inscriptions and decoration untouched. Why they intended to cover it, and why, having commenced, they left it partially covered only, is a mystery. The mummy was found in its original tomb and quite undisturbed, so far as tomb-robbers are concerned. Poor Bellingham was greatly puzzled as to what the explanation could be.'

'Speaking of bitumen,' said I, 'reminds me of a question that has occurred to me. You know that this substance has been used a good deal by modern painters and that it has a very dangerous peculiarity; I mean its tendency to liquefy, without any obvious reason, long after it has dried.'

'Yes, I know. Isn't there some story about a picture of Reynolds' in which bitumen had been used? A portrait of a lady, I think. The bitumen softened, and one of the lady's eyes slipped down on to her cheek; and they had to hang the portrait upside down and keep it warm until the eye slipped back again into its place. But what was your question?'

'I was wondering whether the bitumen used by the Egyptian artists has ever been known to soften after this great lapse of time.'

'Yes, I think it has. I have heard of instances in which the bitumen coatings have softened under certain circumstances and become quite "tacky". But, bless my soul! here am I gossiping with you and wasting your time, and it is nearly a quarter to nine!'

My guest rose hastily, and I, with many apologies for having detained him, proceeded to fulfil my promise to guide him to his destination. As we sallied forth together the glamour of Egypt faded by degrees, and when he shook my hand stiffly at the gate of the Bellinghams' house, all his vivacity and enthusiasm had vanished, leaving the taciturn lawyer, dry, uncommunicative, and not a little suspicious.

CHAPTER X. THE NEW ALLIANCE

THE 'Great Lexicographer'—tutelary deity of my adopted habitat—has handed down to shuddering posterity a definition of the act of eating which might have been framed by a dyspeptic ghoul, 'Eat: to devour with the mouth.' It is a shocking view to take of so genial a function: cynical, indelicate, and finally unforgivable by reason of its very accuracy. For, after all, that is what eating amounts to, if one must needs express it with such crude brutality. But if 'the ingestion of alimentary substances'—to ring a modern change upon the older formula—is in itself a process material even unto carnality, it is undeniable that it forms a highly agreeable accompaniment to more psychic manifestations.

And so, as the lamplight, reinforced by accessory candles, falls on the little first-floor room looking on Fetter Lane—only now the curtains are drawn—the conversation is not the less friendly and bright for a running accompaniment executed with knives and forks, for clink of goblet, and jovial gurgle of wine-flask. On the contrary, to one of us, at least—to wit, Godfrey Bellingham—the occasion is one of uncommon festivity, and his boyish enjoyment of the simple feast makes pathetic suggestions of hard times, faced uncomplainingly, but keenly felt nevertheless.

The talk flitted from topic to topic, mainly concerning itself with matters artistic, and never for one moment approaching the critical subject of John Bellingham's will. From the stepped pyramid of Sakkara with its encaustic tiles to mediaeval church floors; from Elizabethan woodwork to Mycenaean pottery, and thence to the industrial arts of the Stone age and the civilisation of the Aztecs, began to suspect that my two legal friends were so carried away by the interest of the conversation that they had forgotten the secret purpose of the meeting, for the dessert had been placed on the table (by Mrs. Gummer with the manner of a bereaved dependant dispensing funeral bakemeats), and still no reference had been made to the 'case'. But it seemed that Thorndyke was but playing a waiting game; was only allowing the intimacy to ripen while he watched for the opportunity. And that opportunity came, even as Mrs. Gummer vanished spectrally with a tray of plates and glasses.

'So you had a visitor last night, Doctor,' said Mr. Bellingham. 'I mean my friend Jellicoe. He told us he had seen you, and mighty curious he was about you. I have never known Jellicoe to be so inquisitive before. What did you think of him?'

'A quaint old cock. I found him highly amusing. We entertained one another for quite a long time with questions and crooked answers; I affecting eager curiosity, he replying with a defensive attitude of universal ignorance. It was a most diverting encounter.'

'He needn't have been so close,' Miss Bellingham remarked, 'seeing that all the world will be regaled with our affairs before long.'

'They are proposing to take the case into Court, then?' said Thorndyke.

'Yes,' said Mr. Bellingham. 'Jellicoe came to tell me that my cousin, Hurst, has instructed his solicitors to make the application and to invite me to join him. Actually he came to deliver an ultimatum from Hurst—but I mustn't disturb the harmony of this festive gathering with litigious discords.'

'Now, why mustn't you?' asked Thorndyke. 'Why is a subject in which we are all keenly interested to be taboo? You don't mind telling us about it, do you?'

'No, of course not. But what do you think of a man who buttonholes a doctor at a dinner-party to retail a list of ailments?'

'It depends on what his ailments are,' replied Thorndyke. 'If he is a chronic dyspeptic and wishes to expound the virtues of Doctor Snaffler's Purple Pills for Pimply People, he is merely a bore. But if he chances to suffer from some rare and choice disease, such as Trypanosomiasis or Acromegaly, the doctor will be delighted to listen.'

'Then are we to understand,' Miss Bellingham asked, 'that we are rare and choice products, in a legal sense?'

'Undoubtedly,' replied Thorndyke. 'The case of John Bellingham is, in many respects, unique. It will be followed with the deepest interest by the profession at large, and especially by medical jurists.'

'How gratifying that should be to us!' said Miss Bellingham. 'We may even attain undying fame in textbooks and treatises; and yet we are not so very much puffed up with our importance.'

'No,' said her father; 'we could do without the fame quite well, and so, I think, could Hurst. Did Berkeley tell you of the proposal that he made?'

'Yes,' said Thorndyke; 'and I gather from what you say that he has repeated it.'

'Yes. He sent Jellicoe to give me another chance, and I was tempted to take it; but my daughter was strongly against any compromise, and probably she is right. At any rate, she is more concerned than I am.'

'What view did Mr. Jellicoe take?' Thorndyke asked.

'Oh, he was very cautious and reserved, but he didn't disguise his feeling that I should be wise to take a certainty in lieu of a very problematical fortune. He would certainly like me to agree, for he naturally wishes to get the affair settled and pocket his legacy.'

'And have you definitely refused?'

'Yes; quite definitely. So Hurst will apply for permission to presume death and prove the will, and Jellicoe will support him; he says he has no choice.'

'And you?'

'I suppose I shall oppose the application, though I don't quite know on what grounds.'

'Before you take definite steps,' said Thorndyke, 'you ought to give the matter very careful consideration. I take it that you have very little doubt that your brother is dead. And if he is dead, any benefit that you may receive under the will must be conditional on the previous presumption or proof of death. But perhaps you have taken advice?'

'No, I have not. As our friend the Doctor has probably told you, my means—or rather, the lack of them—do not admit of my getting professional advice. Hence my delicacy about discussing the case with you.'

'Then do you propose to conduct your case in person?'

'Yes; if it is necessary for me to appear in Court, as I suppose it will be, if I oppose the application.'

Thorndyke reflected for a few moments and then said gravely:

'You had much better not appear in person to conduct your case, Mr. Bellingham, for several reasons. To begin with, Mr. Hurst is sure to be represented by a capable counsel, and you will find yourself quite unable to meet the sudden exigencies of a contest in Court. You will be out-maneuvered. Then there is the judge to be considered.'

'But surely one can rely on the judge dealing fairly with a man who is unable to afford a solicitor and counsel?'

'Undoubtedly, as a rule, a judge will give an unrepresented litigant every assistance and consideration. English judges in general are high-minded men with a deep sense of their great responsibilities. But you cannot afford to take any chances. You must consider the exceptions. A judge has been a counsel, and he may carry to the bench some of the professional prejudices of the bar. Indeed, if you consider the absurd licence permitted to counsel in their treatment of witnesses, and the hostile attitude adopted by some judges towards medical and other scientific men who have to give their evidence, you will see that the judicial mind is not always quite as judicial as one would wish, especially when the privileges and immunities of the profession are concerned. Now, your appearance in person to conduct your case must unavoidably, cause some inconvenience to the Court. Your ignorance of procedure and legal details must occasion some delay; and if the judge should happen to be an irritable man he might resent the inconvenience and delay. I don't say that would affect his decision—I don't think it would—but I am sure it would be wise to avoid giving offence to the judge. And, above all, it is most desirable to be able to detect and reply to any manoeuvres on the part of the opposing counsel, which you certainly would not be able to do.'

'This is excellent advice, Doctor Thorndyke,' said Bellingham, with a grim smile; 'but I'm afraid I shall have to take my chance.'

'Not necessarily,' said Thorndyke. 'I am going to make a little proposal, which I will ask you to consider without prejudice as a mutual accommodation. You see, your case is one of exceptional interest—it will become a textbook case, as Miss Bellingham prophesied; and, since it lies within my speciality, it will be necessary for me to follow it in the closest detail. Now, it would be much more satisfactory for me to study it from within than from without, to say nothing of the credit which would accrue to me if I should be able to conduct it to a successful issue. I am therefore going to ask you to put your case in my hands and let me see what can be done with it. I know this is an unusual course for a professional man to take, but I think it is not improper under the circumstances.'

Mr. Bellingham pondered in silence for a few moments, and then, after a glance at his daughter, began rather hesitatingly: 'It's very generous of you, Doctor Thorndyke—'

'Pardon me,' interrupted Thorndyke, 'it is not. My motives, as I have explained, are purely egoistic.'

Mr. Bellingham laughed uneasily and again glanced at his daughter, who, however, pursued her occupation of peeling a pear with calm deliberation and without lifting her eyes. Getting no help from her he asked: 'Do you think that there is any possibility whatever of a successful issue?'

'Yes, a remote possibility—very remote, I fear, as things look at present; but if I thought the case absolutely hopeless I should advise you to stand aside and let events take their course.'

'Supposing the case should come to a favourable termination, would you allow me to settle your fees in the ordinary way?'

'If the choice lay with me,' replied Thorndyke, 'I should say "yes" with pleasure. But it does not. The attitude of the profession is very definitely unfavourable to "speculative" practice. You may remember the well-known firm of Dodson and Fogg, who gained thereby much profit, but little credit. But why discuss contingencies of this kind? If I bring your case to a successful issue I shall have done very well for myself. We shall have benefited one another mutually. Come now, Miss Bellingham, I appeal to you. We have eaten salt together, to say nothing of pigeon pie and other cakes. Won't you back me up, and at the same time do a kindness to Doctor Berkeley?'

'Why, is Doctor Berkeley interested in our decision?'

'Certainly he is, as you will appreciate when I tell you that he actually tried to bribe me secretly out of his own pocket.'

'Did you?' she asked, looking at me with an expression that rather alarmed me.

'Well, not exactly,' I replied, mighty hot and uncomfortable, and wishing Thorndyke at the devil with his confidences. 'I merely mentioned that the—the—solicitor's costs, you know, and that sort of thing—but you needn't jump on me, Miss Bellingham; Doctor Thorndyke did all that was necessary in that way.'

She continued to look at me thoughtfully as I stammered out my excuses, and then said: 'I wasn't going to. I was only thinking that poverty has its compensations. You are all so very good to us; and, for my part, I should accept Doctor Thorndyke's generous offer most gratefully, and thank him for making it so easy for us.'

'Very well, my dear,' said Mr. Bellingham; 'we will enjoy thesweets of poverty, as you say—we have sampled the other kind of I thing pretty freely—and do ourselves the pleasure of accepting a | great kindness, most delicately offered.'

'Thank you,' said Thorndyke. 'You have justified my faith in you, Miss Bellingham, and in the power of Dr. Berkeley's salt. I understand that you place your affairs in my hands?'

'Entirely and thankfully,' replied Mr. Bellingham. 'Whatever you think best to be done we agree to beforehand.'

'Then,' said I, 'let us drink success to the cause. Port, if you please, Miss Bellingham; the vintage is not recorded, but it is quite wholesome, and a suitable medium for the sodium chloride of friendship.' I filled her glass, and when the bottle had made its circuit, we stood up and solemnly pledged the new alliance.

There is just one thing I would say before we dismiss the subject for the present,' said Thorndyke. 'It is a good thing to keep one's own counsel. When you get formal notice from Mr. Hurst's solicitors that proceedings are being commenced, you may refer them to Mr. Marchmont of Gray's Inn, who will nominally act for you. He will actually have nothing to do, but we must preserve the fiction that I am instructed by a solicitor. Meanwhile, and until the case goes into Court, I think it very necessary that neither Mr. Jellicoe nor anyone else should know that I am connected with it. We must keep the other side in the dark, if we can.'

'We will be as secret as the grave,' said Mr. Bellingham; 'and, as a matter of fact, it will be quite easy, since it happens, by a curious coincidence, that I am already acquainted with Mr. Marchmont. He acted for Stephen Blackmore, you remember, in that case that you unravelled so wonderfully well. I knew the Blackmores.'

'Did you?' said Thorndyke. 'What a small world it is. And what a remarkable affair that was! The intricacies and cross-issues made it quite absorbingly interesting; and it is noteworthy for me in another respect, for it was one of the first cases in which I was associated with Doctor Jervis.'

'Yes, and a mighty useful associate I was,' remarked Jervis, 'though I did pick up one or two facts by accident. And, by the way, the Blackmore case had certain points in common with your case, Mr. Bellingham. There was a disappearance and a disputed will, and the man who vanished was a scholar and an antiquarian.'

'Cases in our speciality are apt to have certain general resemblances,' Thorndyke said; and as he spoke he directed a keen glance at his junior, the significance of which I partly understood when he abruptly changed the subject.

'The newspaper reports of your brother's disappearance, Mr. Bellingham, were remarkably full of detail. There were even plans of your house and that of Mr. Hurst. Do you know who supplied the information?'

'No, I don't,' replied Mr. Bellingham. 'I know that I didn't. Some newspaper men came to me for information, but I sent them packing. So, I understand, did Hurst; and as for Jellicoe, you might as well cross-examine an oyster.'

'Well,' said Thorndyke, 'the pressmen have queer methods of getting "copy"; but still, some one must have given them that description of your brother and those plans. It would be interesting to know who it was. However, we don't know; and now let us dismiss these legal topics, with suitable apologies for having introduced them.'

'And perhaps,' said I, 'we may as well adjourn to what we call the drawing-room—it is really Barnard's den—and leave the housekeeper to wrestle with the debris.'

We migrated to the cheerfully shabby little apartment, and, when Mrs. Gummer had served coffee, with gloomy resignation (as who should say: 'If you will drink this sort of stuff I suppose you must, but don't blame me for the consequences'), I settled Mr. Bellingham in Barnard's favourite lop-sided easy chair—the depressed seat of which suggested its customary use by an elephant of sedentary habits—and opened the diminutive piano.

'I wonder if Miss Bellingham would give us a little music?' I said.

'I wonder if she could?' was the smiling response. 'Do you know,' she continued, 'I have not touched a piano for nearly two years? It will be quite an interesting experiment—to me; but if it fails, you will be the sufferers. So you must choose.'

'My verdict,' said Mr. Bellingham, 'is fiat experimentum, though I won't complete the quotation, as that would seem to disparage Doctor Barnard's piano. But before you begin, Ruth, there is one rather disagreeable matter that I want to dispose of, so that I may not disturb the harmony with it later.'

He paused and we all looked at him expectantly.

'I suppose, Doctor Thorndyke,' he said, 'you read the newspapers?'

'I don't,' replied Dr. Thorndyke. 'But I ascertain, for purely business purposes, what they contain.'

'Then,' said Mr. Bellingham, 'you have probably met with some accounts of the finding of certain human remains, apparently portions of a mutilated body.'

'Yes, I have seen those reports and filed them for future reference.'

'Exactly. Well, now, it can hardly be necessary for me to tell you that those remains—the mutilated remains of some poor murdered creature, as there can be no doubt they are—have seemed to have a very dreadful significance for me. You will understand what I mean; and I want to ask you if—if they have made a similar suggestion to you?'

Thorndyke paused before replying, with his eyes bent thoughtfully on the floor, and we all looked at him anxiously.

'It's very natural,' he said at length, 'that you should associate these remains with the mystery of your brother's disappearance. I should like to say that you are wrong in doing so, but if I did I should be uncandid. There are certain facts that do, undoubtedly, seem to suggest a connection, and, up to the present, there are no definite facts of a contrary significance.'

Mr. Bellingham sighed deeply and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

'It is a horrible affair!' he said huskily; 'horrible! Would you mind, Doctor Thorndyke, telling us just how the matter stands in your opinion—what the probabilities are, for and against?'

Again Thorndyke reflected awhile, and it seemed to me that he was not very willing to discuss the subject. However, the question had been asked pointedly, and eventually he answered:

'At the present stage of the investigation it is not very easy to state the balance of probabilities. The matter is still quite speculative. The bones which have been found hitherto (for we are dealing with a skeleton, not with a body) have been exclusively those which are useless for personal identification; which is, in itself, a rather curious and striking fact. The general character and dimension of the bones seem to suggest a middle-aged man of about your brother's height, and the date of deposition appears to be in agreement with the date of his disappearance.'

'Is it known, then, when they were deposited?' asked Mr. Bellingham.

'In the case of those found at Sidcup it seems possible to deduct an approximate date. The watercress-bed was cleaned out about two years ago, so they could not have been lying there longer than that; and their condition suggests that they could not have been there much less than two years, as there is apparently no vestige of the soft structures left. Of course, I am speaking from the newspaper reports only; I have no direct knowledge of the matter.'

'Have they found any considerable part of the body yet? I haven't been reading the papers myself. My little friend, Miss Oman, brought a great bundle of 'em for me to read, but I couldn't stand it; I pitched the whole boiling of 'em out of the window.'

I thought I detected a slight twinkle in Thorndyke's eye, but he answered quite gravely:

'I think I can give you the particulars from memory, though I won't guarantee the dates. The original discovery was made, apparently quite accidentally, at Sidcup on the fifteenth of July. It consisted of a complete left arm, minus the third finger and including the bones of the shoulder—the shoulder-blade and collar bone. This discovery seems to have set the local population, especially the juvenile part of it, searching all the ponds and streams of the neighbourhood—'

'Cannibals!' interjected Mr. Bellingham.

'With the result that there was dredged up out of a pond near St Mary Cray, in Kent, a right thigh-bone. There is a slight clue to identity in respect of this bone, since the head of it has a small patch of "eburnation"—that is a sort of porcelain-like polish that occurs on the parts of bones that form a joint when the natural covering of cartilage is destroyed by disease. It is produced by the unprotected surface of the bone grinding against the similarly unprotected surface of another.'

'And how,' Mr. Bellingham asked, 'would that help the identification?'

'It would indicate,' Thorndyke replied, 'that the deceased had probably suffered from rheumatoid arthritis—what is commonly I known as rheumatic gout—and he would probably have limped! slightly and complained of some pain in the right hip.'

'I'm afraid that doesn't help us very much,' said Mr. Bellingham; 'for, you see, John had a pretty pronounced limp from another cause, an old injury to his left ankle; and as to complaining of pain—well, he was a hardy old fellow and not much given to making complaints of any kind. But don't let me interrupt you.'

'The next discovery,' continued Thorndyke, 'was made near Lee, by the police this time. They seem to have developed sudden activity in the matter, and in searching the neighbourhood of West Kent they dragged out of a pond near Lee the bones of a right foot. Now, if it had been the left instead of the right we might have a clue, as I understand your brother had fractured his left ankle, and there might have been some traces of the injury on the foot itself.'

'Yes,' said Mr. Bellingham. 'I suppose there might. The injury was described as a Pott's fracture.'

'Exactly. Well, now, after this discovery at Lee it seems that the police set on foot a systematic search of all the ponds and small pieces of water around London, and, on the twenty-third, they found in the Cuckoo Pits in Epping Forest, not far from Woodford, the bones of a right arm (including those of the shoulder, as before), which seem to be part of the same body.'

'Yes,' said Mr. Bellingham, 'I heard of that. Quite close to my old house. Horrible! horrible! It gave me the shudders to think of it—to think that poor old John may have been waylaid and murdered when he was actually coming to see me. He may even have got into the grounds by the back gate, if it was left unfastened, and been followed in there and murdered. You remember that a scarab from his watch-chain was found there? But is it clear that this arm was the fellow of the arm that was found at Sidcup?'

'It seems to agree in character and dimensions,' said Thorndyke, 'and the agreement is strongly supported by a discovery made two days later.'

'What is that?' Mr. Bellingham demanded.

'It is the lower half of a trunk which the police dragged out of a rather deep pond on the skirts of the forest at Loughton—Staple's Pond, it is called. The bones found were the pelvis—that is, the two hip-bones—and six vertebrae, or joints of the backbone. Having discovered these, the police dammed the stream and pumped the pond dry, but no other bones were found; which is rather odd, as there should have been a pair of ribs belonging to the upper vertebra—the twelfth dorsal vertebra. It suggests some curious questions as to the method of dismemberment; but I mustn't go into unpleasant details. The point is that the cavity of the right hip-joint showed a patch of eburnation corresponding to that on the head of the right thigh-bone that was found at St Mary Cray. So there can be very little doubt that these bones are all part of the same body.'

'I see,' grunted Mr. Bellingham; and he added, after a moment's thought: 'Now, the question is, Are these bones the remains of my brother John? What do you say, Doctor Thorndyke?'

'I say that the question cannot be answered on the facts at present known to us. It can only be said that they may be, and that some of the circumstances suggest that they are. But we can only wait for further discoveries. At any moment the police may light upon some portion of the skeleton which will settle the question definitely one way or the other.'

'I suppose,' said Mr. Bellingham, 'I can't be of any service to you in the matter of identification?'

'Indeed you can,' said Thorndyke, 'and I was going to ask you to assist me. What I want you to do is this: Write down a full description of your brother, including every detail known to you, together with an account of every illness or injury from which you know him to have suffered; also the names and, if possible, the addresses of any doctors, surgeons, or dentists who may have attended him at any time. The dentists are particularly important, as their information would be invaluable if the skull belonging to these bones should be discovered.'

Mr. Bellingham shuddered.

'It's a shocking idea,' he said, 'but, of course you are right. You must have the facts if you are to form an opinion. I will write out what you want and send it to you without delay. And now, for God's sake, let us throw off this nightmare, for a little while, at least! What is there, Ruth, among Doctor Barnard's music that you can manage?'

Barnard's collection in general inclined to the severely classical, but we disinterred from the heap a few lighter works of an old-fashioned kind, including a volume of Mendelssohn's Lieder ohne Worte, and with one of these Miss Bellingham made trial of her skill, playing it with excellent taste and quite adequate execution. That, at least, was her father's verdict; for, as to me, I found it the perfection of happiness merely to sit and look at her—a state of mind that would have been in no wise disturbed even by 'Silvery Waves' or 'The Maiden's Prayer'.

Thus with simple, homely music, and conversation always cheerful and sometimes brilliant, slipped away one of the pleasantest evenings of my life, and slipped away all too soon. St Dunstan's clock was the fly in the ointment, for it boomed out intrusively the hour of eleven just as my guests were beginning to thoroughly appreciate one another, and thereby carried the sun (with a minor paternal satellite) out of the firmament of my heaven. For I had, in my professional capacity, given strict injunctions that Mr. Bellingham should on no account sit up late; and now, in my social capacity, I had smilingly to hear 'the doctor's orders' quoted. It was a scurvy return for all my care.

When Mr. and Miss Bellingham departed, Thorndyke and Jervis would have gone too; but noting my bereaved condition, and being withal compassionate and tender of heart, they were persuaded to stay awhile and bear me company in a consolatory pipe.

CHAPTER XI. THE EVIDENCE REVIEWED

'SO THE game has opened,' observed Thorndyke, as he struck a match. 'The play has begun with a cautious lead off by the other side. Very cautious and not very confident.'

'Why do you say "not very confident"?' I asked.

'Well, it is evident that Hurst—and, I fancy, Jellicoe too—is anxious to buy off Bellingham's opposition, and at a pretty long price, under the circumstances. And when we consider how very little Bellingham has to offer against the presumption of his brother's death, it looks as if Hurst hadn't much to say on his side.'

'No,' said Jervis, 'he can't hold many trumps or he wouldn't be willing to pay four hundred a year for his opponent's chances; and that is just as well, for it seems to me that our own hand is a pretty poor one.'

'We must look through our hand and see what we do hold,' said Thorndyke. 'Our trump card at present—a rather small one, I'm afraid—is the obvious intention of the testator that the bulk of the property should go to his brother.'

'I suppose you will begin your inquiries now?' I said.

'We began them some time ago—the day after you brought us the will, in fact. Jervis had been through the registers and has ascertained that no interment under the name of John Bellingham has taken place since the disappearance; which was just what we expected. He has also discovered that some other person has been making similar inquiries; which, again, is what we expected.'

'And your own investigations?'

'Have given negative results for the most part. I found Doctor Norbury, at the British Museum, very friendly and helpful; so friendly, in fact, that I am thinking whether I may not be able to enlist his help in certain private researches of my own, with reference to the change effected by time in the physical properties of certain substances.'

'Oh; you haven't told me about that,' said Jervis.

'No; I haven't really commenced to plan my experiments yet, and they will probably lead to nothing when I do. It occurred to me that, possibly, in the course of time, certain molecular changes might take place in substances such as wood, bone, pottery, stucco, and other common materials, and that these changes might alter their power of conducting or transmitting molecular vibrations. Now, if this should turn out to be the case, it would be a fact of considerable importance, medico-legally and otherwise; for it would be possible to determine approximately the age of any object of known composition by testing its reactions to electricity, heat, light and other molecular vibrations. I thought of seeking Doctor Norbury's assistance because he can furnish me with materials for experiment of such great age that the reactions, if any, should be extremely easy to demonstrate. But to return to our case. I learned from him that John Bellingham had certain friends in Paris—collectors and museum officials—whom he was in the habit of visiting for the purpose of study and exchange of specimens. I have made inquiries of all these, and none of them had seen him during his last visit. In fact, I have not yet discovered anyone who had seen Bellingham in Paris on this occasion. So his visit there remains a mystery for the present.'

'It doesn't seem to be of much importance, since he undoubtedly came back,' I remarked; but to this Thorndyke demurred.

'It is impossible to estimate the importance of the unknown,' said he.

'Well, how does the matter stand,' asked Jervis, 'on the evidence that we have? John Bellingham disappeared on a certain date. Is there anything to show what was the manner of his disappearance?'

'The facts in our possession,' said Thorndyke, 'which are mainly those set forth in the newspaper report, suggest several alternative possibilities; and in view of the coming inquiry—for they will, no doubt, have to be gone into in Court, to some extent—it may be worth while to consider them. There are five conceivable hypotheses'—here Thorndyke checked them on his fingers as he proceeded—'First, he may still be alive. Second, he may have died and been buried without identification. Third, he may have been murdered by some unknown person. Fourth, he may have been murdered by Hurst and his body concealed. Fifth, he may have been murdered by his brother. Let us examine these possibilities seriatim.

'First, he may still be alive. If he is, he must either have disappeared voluntarily, have lost his memory suddenly and not been identified, or have been imprisoned—on a false charge or otherwise. Let us take the first case—that of voluntary disappearance. Obviously, its improbability is extreme.'

'Jellicoe doesn't think so,' said I. 'He thinks it quite on the cards that John Bellingham is alive. He says that it is not a very unusual thing for a man to disappear for a time.'

'Then why is he applying for a presumption of death?'

'Just what I asked him. He says that it is the correct thing to do; that the entire responsibility rests on the Court.'

'That is all nonsense,' said Thorndyke. 'Jellicoe is the trustee for his absent client, and, if he thinks that client is alive, it is his duty to keep the estate intact; and he knows that perfectly well. We may take it that Jellicoe is of the same opinion as I am: that John Bellingham is dead.'

'Still,' I urged, 'men do disappear from time to time, and turn up again after years of absence.'

'Yes, but for a definite reason. Either they are irresponsible vagabonds who take this way of shuffling of their responsibilities, or they are men who have been caught in a net of distasteful circumstances. For instance, a civil servant or a solicitor or a tradesman finds himself bound for life to a locality and an occupation of intolerable monotony. Perhaps he has an ill-tempered wife, who after the amiable fashion of a certain type of woman, thinking that her husband is pinned down without a chance of escape, gives a free rein to her temper. The man puts up with it for years, but at last it becomes unbearable. Then he suddenly disappears; and small blame to him. But this was not Bellingham's case. He was a wealthy bachelor with an engrossing interest in life, free to go whither he would and to do whatsoever he wished. Why should he disappear? The thing is incredible.

'As to his having lost his memory and remained unidentified, that, also, is incredible in the case of a man who had visiting-cards and letters in his pocket, whose linen was marked, and who was being inquired for everywhere by the police. As to his being in prison, we may dismiss that possibility, inasmuch as a prisoner, both before and after conviction, would have full opportunity of communicating with his friends.

'The second possibility, that he may have died suddenly and been buried without identification, is highly improbable; but, as it is conceivable that the body might have been robbed and the means of identification thus lost, it remains as a possibility that has to be considered, remote as it is.

'The third hypothesis, that he may have been murdered by some unknown person, is, under the circumstances, not wildly improbable; but, as the police were on the lookout and a detailed description of the missing man's person was published in the papers, it would involve the complete concealment of the body. But this would exclude the most probable form of crime—the casual robbery with violence. It is therefore possible, but highly improbable.

'The fourth hypothesis is that Bellingham was murdered by Hurst. Now the one fact which militates against this view is that Hurst apparently had no motive for committing the murder. We are assured by Jellicoe that no one but himself knew the contents of the will, and if this is so—but mind, we have no evidence that it is so—Hurst would have no reason to suppose that he had anything material to gain by his cousin's death. Otherwise the hypothesis presents no inherent improbabilities. The man was last seen alive at Hurst's house. He was seen to enter it and he was never seen to leave it—we are still taking the facts as stated in the newspapers, remember—and it now appears that he stands to benefit enormously by that man's death.'

'But,' I objected, 'you are forgetting that, directly the man was missed Hurst and the servants together searched the entire house.'

'Yes. What did they search for?'

'Why, for Mr. Bellingham, of course.'

'Exactly; for Mr. Bellingham. That is, for a living man. Now how do you search a house for a living man? You look in all the rooms. When you look in a room if he is there, you see him; if you do not see him, you assume that he is not there. You don't look under the sofa or behind the piano, you don't pull out large drawers or open cupboards. You just look into the rooms. That is what these people seem to have done. And they did not see Mr. Bellingham. Mr. Bellingham's corpse might have been stowed away out of sight in any one of the rooms that they looked into.'

'That is a grim thought,' said Jervis; 'but it is perfectly true. There is no evidence that the man was not lying dead in the house at the very time of the search.'

'But even so,' said I, 'there was the body to be disposed of somehow. Now how could he possibly have got rid of the body without being observed?'

'Ah!' said Thorndyke, 'now we are touching on a point of crucial importance. If anyone should ever write a treatise on the art of murder—not an exhibition of literary fireworks like De Quincey's, but a genuine working treatise—he might leave all other technical details to take care of themselves if he could describe to me some really practicable plan for disposing of the body. That is, and always has been, the great stumbling-block to the murderer: to get rid of the body. The human body,' he continued, thoughtfully regarding his pipe, just as, in the days of my pupilage, he was wont to regard the black-board chalk, 'is a very remarkable object. It presents a combination of properties that makes it singularly difficult to conceal permanently. It is bulky and of an awkward shape, it is heavy, it is completely incombustible, it is chemically unstable, and its decomposition yields great volumes of highly odorous gases, and it nevertheless contains identifiable structures of the highest degree of permanence. It is extremely difficult to preserve unchanged, and it is still more difficult completely to destroy. The essential permanence of the human body is well known in the classical case of Eugene Aram; but a still more striking instance is that of Sekenen-Ra the Third, one of the last kings of the seventeenth Egyptian dynasty. Here, after a lapse of four thousand years, it has been possible to determine not only the cause of death and the manner of its occurrence, but the way in which the king fell, the nature of the weapon with which the fatal wound was inflicted, and even the position of the assailant. And the permanence of the body under other conditions is admirably shown in the case of Doctor Parkman, of Boston, USA, in which identification was actually effected by means of remains collected from the ashes of a furnace.'

'Then we may take it,' said Jervis, 'that the world has not yet seen the last of John Bellingham.'

'I think we may regard that as almost a certainty,' replied Thorndyke. 'The only question—and a very important one—is to when the reappearance may take place. It may be to-morrow or it may be centuries hence, when all the issues involved have been! forgotten.'

'Assuming,' said I, 'for the sake of argument, that Hurst did murder him and that the body was concealed in the study at the time the search was made. How could it have been disposed of? If you had been in Hurst's place, how would you have gone to work?'

Thorndyke smiled at the bluntness of my question.

'You are asking me for an incriminating statement,' said he, 'delivered in the presence of a witness too. But, as a matter of fact, there is no use in speculating a priori', we should have to reconstruct a purely imaginary situation, the circumstances of which are unknown to us, and we should almost certainly reconstruct it wrong. What we may fairly assume is that no reasonable person, no matter how immoral, would find himself in the position that you suggest. Murder is usually a crime of impulse, and the murderer a person of feeble self-control. Such persons are most unlikely to make elaborate and ingenious arrangements for the disposal of the bodies of their victims. Even the cold-blooded perpetrators of the most carefully planned murders appear as I have said, to break down at this point. The almost insuperable difficulty of getting rid of the human body is not appreciated until the murderer suddenly finds himself face to face with it.

'In the case you are suggesting, the choice would seem to lie between burial on the premises or dismemberment and dispersal of the fragments; and either method would be pretty certain to lead to discovery.'

'As illustrated by the remains of which you were speaking to Mr. Bellingham,' Jervis remarked.

'Exactly,' Thorndyke answered, 'though we could hardly imagine a reasonably intelligent criminal adopting a watercress-bed as a hiding place.'

'No. That was certainly an error of judgment. By the way, I thought it best to say nothing while you were talking to Bellingham, but I noticed that, in discussing the possibility of those being the bones of his brother, you made no comment on the absence of the third ringer of the left hand. I am sure you didn't overlook it, but isn't it a point of some importance?'

'As to identification? Under the present circumstances, I think not! If there were a man missing who had lost that finger it would, of course, be an important fact. But I have not heard of any such man. Or, again, if there were any evidence that the finger had been removed before death, it would be highly important. But there is no such evidence. It may have been cut off after death, and that is where the real significance of its absence lies.'

'I don't see quite what you mean,' said Jervis.

'I mean that, if there is no report of any missing man who had lost that particular finger, the probability is that the finger was removed after death. And then arises the interesting question of motive. Why should it have been removed? It could hardly have become detached accidentally. What do you suggest?'

'Well,' said Jervis, 'it might have been a peculiar finger; a finger, for instance, with some characteristic deformity such as an ankylosed joint, which would be easy to identify.'

'Yes; but that explanation introduces the same difficulty. No person with a deformed or ankylosed finger has been reported as missing.'

Jervis puckered up his brows, and looked at me.

'I'm hanged if I see any other explanation,' he said. 'Do you, Berkeley?'

I shook my head.

'Don't forget which finger it is that is missing,' said Thorndyke. 'The third finger of the left hand.'

'Oh, I see!' said Jervis. 'The ring-finger. You mean that it may have been removed for the sake of a ring that wouldn't come off.'

'Yes. It would not be the first instance of the kind. Fingers have been severed from dead hands—and even from living ones—for the sake of rings that were too tight to be drawn off. And the fact that it is the left hand supports the suggestion; for a ring that was inconveniently tight would be worn by preference on the left hand, as that is usually slightly smaller than the right. What is the matter, Berkeley?'

A sudden light had burst upon me, and I suppose my countenance betrayed the fact.

'I am a confounded fool!' I exclaimed.

'Oh, don't say that,' said Jervis. 'Give your friends a chance.'

'I ought to have seen this long ago and told you about it. John Bellingham did wear a ring, and it was so tight that, when once he had got it on, he could never get it off again.'

'Do you happen to know on which hand he wore it?' Thorndyke asked.

'Yes. It was on the left hand; because Miss Bellingham, who told me about it, said that he would never have been able to get the ring on at all but for the fact this his left hand was slightly smaller than his right.'

'There it is, then,' said Thorndyke. 'With this new fact in our possession, the absence of the finger furnishes the starting-point of some very curious speculations.'

'As, for instance,' said Jervis.

'Ah, under the circumstances, I must leave you to pursue those speculations independently. I am now acting for Mr. Bellingham.'

Jervis grinned and was silent for a while, refilling his pipe thoughtfully; but when he had got it alight he resumed.

'To return to the question of the disappearance; you don't consider it highly improbable that Bellingham might have been murdered by Hurst?'

'Oh, don't imagine I am making an accusation. I am considering the various probabilities merely in the abstract. The same reasoning applies to the Bellinghams. As to whether any of them did commit the murder, that is a question of personal character. I certainly do not suspect the Bellinghams after having seen them, and with regard to Hurst, I know nothing, or at least very little, to his disadvantage.'

'Well,' Thorndyke said, with some hesitation, 'it seems a thought unkind to rake up the little details of a man's past, and yet it has to be done. I have, of course, made the usual routine inquiries concerning the parties to this affair, and this is what they have brought to light:

'Hurst, as you know, is a stockbroker—a man of good position and reputation; but, about ten years ago, he seems to have committed an indiscretion, to put it mildly, which nearly got him into rather serious difficulties. He appears to have speculated rather heavily and considerably beyond his means, for when a sudden spasm of the markets upset his calculations, it turned out that he had been employing his clients' capital and securities. For a time it looked as if there was going to be serious trouble; then, quite unexpectedly, he managed to raise the necessary amount in some way and settle all claims. Whence he got the money has never been discovered to this day, which is a curious circumstance, seeing that the deficiency was rather over five thousand pounds; but the important fact is that he did get it and that he paid up all that he owed. So that he was only a potential defaulter, so to speak; and discreditable as the affair undoubtedly was, it does not seem to have any direct bearing on this present case.'

'No,' Jervis agreed, 'though it makes one consider his position with more attention than one would otherwise.'

'Undoubtedly,' said Thorndyke. 'A reckless gambler is a man whose conduct cannot be relied on. He is subject to vicissitudes of fortune which may force him into other kinds of wrong doing. Many an embezzlement has been preceded by an unlucky plunge on the turf.'

'Assuming the responsibility for this disappearance to lie between Hurst and—and the Bellinghams,' said I, with an uncomfortable gulp as I mentioned the names of my friends, 'to which side does the balance of probability incline?'

'To the side of Hurst, I should say, without doubt,' replied Thorndyke. 'The case stands thus—on the facts presented to us: Hurst appears to have had no motive for killing the deceased (as we will call him); but the man was seen to enter the house, was never seen to leave it, and was never again seen alive. Bellingham, on the other hand, had a motive, as he had believed himself to be the principal beneficiary under the will. But the deceased was not seen at his house, and there is no evidence that he went to the house or to the neighbourhood, excepting the scarab that was found there. But the evidence of the scarab is vitiated by the fact that Hurst was present when it was picked up, and that it was found on a spot over which Hurst had passed only a few minutes previously. Until Hurst is cleared, it seems to me that the presence of the scarab proves nothing against the Bellinghams.'

'Then your opinions on the case,' said I, 'are based entirely on the facts that have been made public.'

'Yes, mainly. I do not necessarily accept those facts just as they are presented, and I may have certain views of my own on the case. But if I have, I do not feel in a position to discuss them. For the present, discussion has to be limited to the facts and inferences offered by the parties concerned.'

'There!' exclaimed Jervis, rising to knock his pipe out, 'that is where Thorndyke has you. He lets you think you're in the thick of the "know" until one fine morning you wake up and discover that you have only been a gaping outsider; and then you are mightily astonished—and so are the other side, too, for that matter. But we must really be off now, mustn't we, reverend senior?'

'I suppose we must,' replied Thorndyke; and, as he drew on his gloves, he asked: 'Have you heard from Barnard lately?'

'Oh, yes,' I answered. 'I wrote to him at Smyrna to say that the practice was flourishing and that I was quite happy and contented, and that he might stay away as long as he liked. He writes by return that he will prolong his holiday if an opportunity offers, but will let me know later.'

'Gad,' said Jervis, 'it was a stroke of luck for Barnard that Bellingham happened to have such a magnificent daughter—there! don't mind me, old man. You go in and win—she's worth it, isn't she, Thorndyke?'

'Miss Bellingham's a very charming young lady,' replied Thorndyke. 'I am most favourably impressed by both the father and the daughter, and I only trust that we may be able to be of some service to them.' With this sedate little speech Thorndyke shook my hand, and I watched my two friends go on their way until their fading shapes were swallowed up in the darkness of Fetter Lane.

CHAPTER XII. A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY

IT was two or three mornings after my little supper party that, as I stood in the consulting-room brushing my hat preparatory to starting on my morning round, Adolphus appeared at the door to announce two gentlemen waiting in the surgery. I told him to bring them in, and a moment later Thorndyke entered, accompanied by Jervis. I noted that they looked uncommonly large in that little apartment, especially Thorndyke, but I had no time to consider this phenomenon, for the latter, when he had shaken my hand, proceeded at once to explain the object of their visit.

'We have come to ask a favour, Berkeley,' he said; 'to ask you to do us a very great service in the interests of your friends the Bellinghams.'

'You know I shall be delighted,' I said warmly. 'What is it?'

'I will explain. You know—or perhaps you don't—that the police have collected all the bones that have been discovered and deposited them in the mortuary at Woodford, where they are to be viewed by the coroner's jury. Now, it has become imperative that I should have more definite and reliable information than I can get from the newspapers. The natural thing for me would be to go down and examine them myself, but there are circumstances that make it very desirable that my connection with the case should not leak out. Consequently, I can't go myself, and, for the same reason, I can't send Jervis. On the other hand, as it is now stated pretty openly that the police consider the bones to be almost certainly those of John Bellingham, it would seem perfectly natural that you, as Godfrey Bellingham's doctor, should go down to view them on his behalf.'

'I should like to,' I said. 'I would give anything to go; but how is it to be managed? It would mean a whole day off and leaving the practice to look after itself.'

'I think it could be managed,' said Thorndyke; 'and the matter is really important for two reasons. One is that the inquest opens tomorrow, and someone certainly ought to be there to watch the proceedings on Godfrey's behalf; and the other is that our client has received notice from Hurst's solicitors that the application will be heard in the Probate Court in a few days.'

'Isn't that rather sudden?' I asked.

'It certainly suggests that there has been a good deal more activity than we were given to understand. But you see the importance of the affair. The inquest will be a sort of dress rehearsal for the Probate Court, and it is quite essential that we should have a chance of estimating the management.'

'Yes, I see that. But how are we to manage about the practice?'

'We shall find you a substitute.'

'Through a medical agent?'

'Yes,' said Jervis. 'Percival will find us a man; in fact, he has done it. I saw him this morning; he has a man who is waiting up in town to negotiate for the purchase of a practice and who would do the job for a couple of guineas. Quite a reliable man. Only say the word, and I will run off to Adam Street and engage him definitely.'

'Very well. You engage the locum tenens, and I will be prepared to start for Woodford as soon as he turns up.'

'Excellent!' said Thorndyke. 'That is a great weight off my mind. And if you could manage to drop in this evening and smoke a pipe with us we could talk over the plan of campaign and let you know what items of information we are particularly in want of.'

I promised to turn up at King's Bench Walk as soon after half-past eight as possible, and my two friends then took their departure, leaving me to set out in high spirits on my scanty round of visits.

It is surprising what different aspects things present from different points of view; how relative are our estimates of the conditions and circumstances of life. To the urban workman—the journeyman baker or tailor, for instance, labouring year in year out in a single building—a holiday ramble on Hampstead Heath is a veritable voyage of discovery; whereas to the sailor the shifting panorama of the whole wide world is but the commonplace of the day's work.

So I reflected as I took my place in the train at Liverpool Street on the following day. There had been a time when a trip by rail to the borders of Epping Forest would have been far from a thrilling experience; now, after vegetating in the little world of Fetter Lane, it was quite an adventure.

The enforced inactivity of a railway journey is favourable to thought, and I had much to think about. The last few weeks had witnessed momentous changes in my outlook. New interests had arisen, new friendships had grown up, and above all, there had stolen into my life that supreme influence that, for good or for evil, according to my fortune, was to colour and pervade it even to its close. Those few days of companionable labour in the reading-room, with the homely hospitalities of the milk-shop and the pleasant walks homeward through the friendly London streets, had called into existence a new world—a world in which the gracious personality of Ruth Bellingham was the one dominating reality. And thus, as I leaned back in the corner of the railway carriage with an unlighted pipe in my hand, the events of the immediate past, together with those more problematical ones of the impending future, occupied me rather to the exclusion of the business of the moment, which was to review the remains collected in the Woodford mortuary, until, as the train approached Stratford, the odours of the soap and bone-manure factories poured in at the open window and (by a natural association of ideas) brought me back to the object of my quest.

As to the exact purpose of this expedition, I was not very clear; but I knew that I was acting as Thorndyke's proxy and thrilled with pride at the thought. But what particular light my investigations were to throw upon the intricate Bellingham case I had no very definite idea. With a view to fixing the procedure in my mind, I took Thorndyke's written instructions from my pocket and read them over carefully. They were very full and explicit, making ample allowance for my lack of experience in medico-legal matters:

'1. Do not appear to make minute investigations or in any way excite remark.

'2. Ascertain if all the bones belonging to each region are present, and if not, which are missing.

'3. Measure the extreme length of the principal bones and compare those of opposite sides.

'4. Examine the bones with reference to age, sex, and muscular development of the deceased.

'5. Note the presence or absence of signs of constitutional disease, local disease of bone or adjacent structures, old or recent injuries, and any other departures from the normal or usual.

'6. Observe the presence or absence of adipocere and its position, if present.

'7. Note any remains of tendons, ligaments, or other soft structures.

'8. Examine the Sidcup hand with reference to the question as to whether the finger was separated before or after death.

'9. Estimate the probable period of submersion and note any changes (as e.g., mineral or organic staining) due to the character of the water or mud.

'10. Ascertain the circumstances (immediate and remote) that led to the discovery of the bones and the names of the persons concerned in those circumstances.

'11. Commit all information to writing as soon as possible, and make plans and diagrams on the spot, if circumstances permit.

'12. Preserve an impassive exterior: listen attentively but without eagerness; ask as few questions as possible; pursue any inquiry that your observations on the spot may suggest.'

These were my instructions, and, considering that I was going merely to inspect a few dry bones, they appeared rather formidable; in fact, the more I read them over the greater became my misgivings as to my qualifications for the task.

As I approached the mortuary it became evident that some, at least, of Thorndyke's admonitions were by no means unnecessary. The place was in charge of a police sergeant, who watched my approach suspiciously; and some half-dozen men, obviously newspaper reporters, hovered about the entrance like a pack of jackals. I presented the coroner's order which Mr. Marchmont had obtained, and which the sergeant read with his back against the wall, to prevent the newspaper men from looking over his shoulder.

My credentials being found satisfactory, the door was unlocked and I entered, accompanied by three enterprising reporters, whom, however, the sergeant summarily ejected and locked out, returning to usher me into the presence and to observe my proceedings with intelligent but highly embarrassing interest.

The bones were laid out on a large table and covered with a sheet, which the sergeant slowly turned back, watching my face intently as he did so to note the impression that the spectacle made upon me. I imagine that he must have been somewhat disappointed by my impassive demeanour, for the remains suggested to me nothing more than a rather shabby set of 'student's osteology.' The whole collection had been set out by the police surgeon (as the sergeant informed me) in their proper anatomical order; notwithstanding which I counted them over carefully to make sure that none were missing, checking them by the list with which Thorndyke had furnished me.

'I see you have found the left thigh-bone,' I remarked, observing that this did not appear in the list.

'Yes,' said the sergeant; 'that turned up yesterday evening in a big pond called Baldwin's Pond in the Sandpit plain, near Little Monk Wood.'

'Is that near here?' I asked.

'In the forest up Loughton way,' was the reply.

I made a note of the fact (on which the sergeant looked as if he was sorry he had mentioned it), and then turned my attention to a general consideration of the bones before examining them in detail. Their appearance would have been improved and examination facilitated by a thorough scrubbing, for they were just as they had been taken from their respective resting-places, and it was difficult to decide whether their reddish-yellow colour was an actual stain or due to a deposit on the surface. In any case, as it affected them all alike, I thought it an interesting feature and made a note of it. They bore numerous traces of their sojourn in the various ponds from which they had been recovered, but these gave me little help in determining the length of time during which they had been submerged. They were, of course, encrusted with mud, and little wisps of pond-weed stuck to them in places; but these facts furnished only the vaguest measure of time.

Some of the traces were, indeed, more informing. To several of the bones, for instance, there adhered the dried egg-clusters of the common pond-snail, and in one of the hollows of the right shoulder-blade (the 'infra-spinous fossa') was a group of the mud-built tubes of the red river-worm. These remains gave proof of a considerable period of submersion, and since they could not have been deposited on the bones until all the flesh had disappeared they furnished evidence that some time—a month or two, at any rate—had elapsed since this had happened. Incidentally, too, their distribution showed the position in which the bones had lain, and though this appeared to be of no importance in the existing circumstances, I made careful notes of the situation of each adherent body, illustrating their position by rough sketches.

The sergeant watched my proceedings with an indulgent smile.

'You're making a regular inventory, sir,' he remarked, 'as if you were going to put 'em up for auction. I shouldn't think those snails' eggs would be much help in identification. And all that has been done already,' he added as I produced my measuring-tape.

'No doubt,' I replied; 'but my business is to make independent observations, to check the others, if necessary.' And I proceeded to measure each of the principal bones separately and to compare those of the opposite sides. The agreement in dimensions and general characteristics of the pairs of bones left little doubt that all were parts of one skeleton, a conclusion that was confirmed by the eburnated patch on the head of the right thigh-bone and the corresponding patch in the socket of the right hip-bone. When I had finished my measurements I went over the entire series of bones in detail, examining each with the closest attention for any of those signs which Thorndyke had indicated, and eliciting nothing but a monotonously reiterated negative. They were distressingly and disappointingly normal.

'Well, sir, what do you make of 'em?' the sergeant asked cheerfully as I shut up my notebook and straightened my back. 'Whose bones are they? Are they Mr. Bellingham's, think ye?'

'I should be very sorry to say whose bones they are,' I replied. 'One bone is very much like another, you know.'

'I suppose it is,' he agreed; 'but I thought that, with all that measuring and all those notes, you might have arrived at something definite.' Evidently he was disappointed in me; and I was somewhat disappointed in myself when I contrasted Thorndyke's elaborate instructions with the meagre result of my investigations. For what did my discoveries amount to? And how much was the inquiry advanced by the few entries in my notebook?

The bones were apparently those of a man of fair though not remarkable muscular development; over thirty years of age, but how much older I was unable to say. His height I judged roughly to be five feet eight inches, but my measurements would furnish data for a more exact estimate by Thorndyke. Beyond this the bones were quite uncharacteristic. There were no signs of diseases either local or general, no indications of injuries either old or recent, no departures of any kind from the normal or usual; and the dismemberment had been effected with such care that there was not a single scratch on any of the separated surfaces. Of adipocere (the peculiar waxy or soapy substance that is commonly found in bodies that have slowly decayed in damp situations) there was not a trace; and the only remnant of the soft structures was a faint indication, like a spot of dried glue, of the tendon on the tip of the right elbow.

The sergeant was in the act of replacing the sheet, with the air of a showman who has just given an exhibition, when there came a sharp rapping on the mortuary door. The officer finished spreading the sheet with official precision, and having ushered me out into the lobby, turned the key and admitted three persons, holding the door open after they had entered for me to go out. But the appearance of the new-comers inclined me to linger. One of them was a local constable, evidently in official charge; a second was a labouring man, very wet and muddy, who carried a small sack; while in the third I thought I scented a professional brother.

The sergeant continued to hold the door open.

'Nothing more I can do for you, sir?' he asked genially.

'Is that the divisional surgeon?' I inquired.

'Yes. I am the divisional surgeon,' the new-comer answered. 'Did you want anything of me?'

'This,' said the sergeant, 'is a medical gentleman who has got permission from the coroner to inspect the remains. He is acting for the family of the deceased—I mean, for the family of Mr. Bellingham,' he added in answer to an inquiring glance from the surgeon.

'I see,' said the latter. 'Well, they have found the rest of the trunk, including, I understand, the ribs that were missing from the other part. Isn't that so, Davis?'

'Yes, sir,' replied the constable. 'Inspector Badger says all the ribs is here, and all the bones of the neck as well.'

'The inspector seems to be an anatomist,' I remarked.

The sergeant grinned. 'He is a very knowing gentleman, is Mr. Badger. He came down here this morning quite early and spent a long time looking over the bones and checking them by some notes in his pocket-book. I fancy he's got something on, but he was precious close about it.'

Here the sergeant shut up rather suddenly—perhaps contrasting his own conduct with that of his superior.

'Let us have these new bones out on the table,' said the police surgeon. 'Take the sheet off, and don't shoot them out as if they were coals. Hand them out carefully.'

The labourer fished out the wet and muddy bones one by one from the sack, and as he laid them on the table the surgeon arranged them in their proper relative positions.

'This has been a neatly executed job,' he remarked; 'none of your clumsy hacking with a chopper or a saw. The bones have been cleanly separated at the joints. The fellow who did this must have had some anatomical knowledge, unless he was a butcher, which, by the way, is not impossible. He has used his knife uncommonly skilfully, and you notice that each arm was taken off with the scapula attached, just as a butcher takes off a shoulder of mutton. Are there any more bones in that bag?'

'No, sir,' replied the labourer, wiping his hands with an air of finality on the posterior aspect of his trousers; 'that's the lot.'

The surgeon looked thoughtfully at the bones as he gave a final touch to their arrangement, and remarked:

'The inspector is right. All the bones of the neck are there. Very odd. Don't you think so?'

'You mean—'

'I mean that this very eccentric murderer seems to have given himself such an extraordinary amount of trouble for no reason that one can see. There are these neck vertebrae, for instance. He must have carefully separated the skull from the atlas instead of just cutting through the neck. Then there is the way he divided the trunk; the twelfth ribs have just come in with this lot, but the twelfth dorsal vertebra to which they belong was attached to the lower half. Imagine the trouble he must have taken to do that, and without cutting or hacking the bones about, either. It is extraordinary. This is rather interesting, by the way. Handle it carefully.'

He picked up the breast-bone daintily—for it was covered with wet mud—and handed it to me with the remark:

'That is the most definite piece of evidence we have.'

'You mean,' I said, 'that the union of the two parts into a single mass fixes this as the skeleton of an elderly man?'

'Yes, that is the obvious suggestion, which is confirmed by the deposit of bone in the rib-cartilages. You can tell the inspector, Davis, that I have checked this lot of bones and that they are all here.'

'Would you mind writing it down, sir?' said the constable. 'Inspector Badger said I was to have everything in writing.'

The surgeon took out his pocket-book, and, while he was selecting a suitable piece of paper, he asked: 'Did you form any opinion as to the height of the deceased?'

'Yes, I thought he would be about five feet eight' (here I caught the sergeant's eyes, fixed on me with a knowing leer).

'I made it five eight and a half,' said the police surgeon; 'but we shall know better when we have seen the lower leg-bones. Where was this lot found, Davis?'

'In the pond just off the road in Lord's Bushes, sir, and the inspector has gone off now to—'

'Never mind where he's gone,' interrupted the sergeant. 'You just answer questions and attend to your business.'

The sergeant's reproof conveyed a hint to me on which I was not slow to act. Friendly as my professional colleague was, it was clear that the police were disposed to treat me as an interloper who was to be kept out of the 'know' as far as possible. Accordingly I thanked my colleague and the sergeant for their courtesy, and bidding them adieu until we should meet at the inquest, took my departure and walked away quickly until I found an inconspicuous position from which I could keep the door of the mortuary in view. A few moments later I saw Constable Davis emerge and stride away up the road.

I watched his rapidly diminishing figure until he had gone as far as I considered desirable, and then I set forth in his wake. The road led straight away from the village, and in less than half a mile entered the outskirts of the forest. Here I quickened my pace to close up somewhat, and it was well that I did so, for suddenly he diverged from the road into a green lane, where for a while I lost sight of him. Still hurrying forward, I again caught sight of him just as he turned off into a narrow path that entered a beech wood with a thickish undergrowth of holly, along which I followed him for several minutes, gradually decreasing the distance between us, until suddenly there fell on my ear a rhythmical sound like the clank of a pump. Soon after I caught the sound of men's voices, and then the constable struck off the path into the wood.

I now advanced more cautiously, endeavouring to locate the search party by the sound of the pump, and when I had done this I made a little detour so that I might approach from the opposite direction to that from which the constable had appeared.

Still guided by the noise of the pump, I at length came out into a small opening among the trees and halted to survey the scene. The centre of the opening was occupied by a small pond, not more than a dozen yards across, by the side of which stood a builder's handcart. The little two-wheeled vehicle had evidently been used to convey the appliances which were deposited on the ground near it, and which consisted of a large tub—now filled with water—a shovel, a rake, a sieve, and a portable pump, the latter being fitted with a long delivery hose. There were three men besides the constable, one of whom was working the handle of the pump, while another was glancing at a paper that the constable had just delivered to him. He looked up sharply as I appeared, and viewed me with unconcealed disfavour.

'Hallo, sir!' said he. 'You can't come here.'

Now, seeing that I was actually here, this was clearly a mistake, and I ventured to point out the fallacy.

'Well, I can't allow you to stay here. Our business is of a private nature.'

'I know exactly what your business is, Inspector Badger.'

'Oh, do you?' said he, surveying me with a foxy smile. 'And I expect I know what yours is, too. But we can't have any of you newspaper gentry spying on us just at present, so you just be off.'

I thought it best to undeceive him at once, and accordingly, having explained who I was, I showed him the coroner's permit, which he read with manifest annoyance.

'This is all very well, sir,' said he as he handed me back the paper, 'but it doesn't authorise you to come spying on the proceedings of the police. Any remains that we discover will be deposited in the mortuary, where you can inspect them to your heart's content; but you can't stay here and watch us.'

I had no defined object in keeping a watch on the inspector's proceedings; but the sergeant's indiscreet hint had aroused my curiosity, which was further excited by Mr. Badger's evident desire to get rid of me. Moreover, while we had been talking, the pump had stopped (the muddy floor of the pond being now pretty fully exposed), and the inspector's assistant was handling the shovel impatiently.

'Now I put it to you, Inspector,' said I, persuasively, 'is it politic of you to allow it to be said that you refused an authorised representative of the family facilities for verifying any statements that you may make hereafter?'

'What do you mean?' he asked.

'I mean that if you should happen to find some bone which could be identified as part of the body of Mr. Bellingham, that fact would be of more importance to his family than to anyone else. You know that there is a very valuable estate and a rather difficult will.'

'I didn't know it, and I don't see the bearing of it now' (neither did I for that matter); 'but if you make such a point of being present at the search, I can't very well refuse. Only you mustn't get in our way, that's all.'

On hearing this conclusion, his assistant, who looked like a plain-clothes officer, took up his shovel and stepped into the mud that formed the bottom of the pond, stooping as he went and peering among the masses of weed that had been left stranded by the withdrawal of the water. The inspector watched him anxiously, cautioning him from time to time to 'look out where he was treading'; the labourer left the pump and craned forward from the margin of the mud, and the constable and I looked on from our respective points of vantage. For some time the search was fruitless. Once the searcher stooped and picked up what turned out to be a fragment of decayed wood; then the remains of a long-deceased jay were discovered, examined, and rejected. Suddenly the man bent down by the side of a small pool that had been left in one of the deeper hollows, stared intently into the mud, and stood up.

'There's something here that looks like a bone, sir,' he sang out.

'Don't grub about then,' said the inspector. 'Drive your shovel right into the mud where you saw it and bring it to the sieve.'

The man followed out these instructions, and as he came shore-wards with a great pile of the slimy mud on his shovel we all converged on the sieve, which the inspector took up and held over the tub, directing the constable and labourer to 'lend a hand,' meaning thereby that they were to crowd round the tub and exclude me as completely as possible. This, in fact, they did very effectively with his assistance, for, when the shovelful of mud had been deposited on the sieve, the four men leaned over it and so nearly hid it from view that it was only by craning over, first on one side and then on the other, that I was able to catch an occasional glimpse of it and to observe it gradually melting away as the sieve, immersed in the water, was shaken to and fro.

Presently the inspector raised the sieve from the water and stooped over it more closely to examine its contents. Apparently the examination yielded no very conclusive results, for it was accompanied by a series of rather dubious grunts.

At length the officer stood up, and turning to me with a genial but foxy smile, held out the sieve for my inspection.

'Like to see what we have found, Doctor?' said he.

I thanked him and stood over the sieve. It contained the sort of litter of twigs, skeleton leaves, weed, pond-snails, dead shells, and fresh-water mussels that one would expect to strain out from the mud of an ancient pond; but in addition to these there were three small bones which at first glance gave me quite a start until I saw what they were.

The inspector looked at me inquiringly. 'H'm?' said he.

'Yes,' I replied. 'Very interesting.'

'Those will be human bones, I fancy; h'm?'

'I should say so, undoubtedly,' I answered.

'Now,' said the inspector, 'could you say, off-hand, which finger those bones belong to?'

I smothered a grin (for I had been expecting this question), and answered:

'I can say off-hand that they don't belong to any finger. They are the bones of the left great toe.'

The inspector's jaw dropped.

'The deuce they are!' he muttered. 'H'm. I thought they looked a bit stout.'

'I expect,' said I, 'that if you go through the mud close to where this came from you'll find the rest of the foot.'

The plain-clothes man proceeded at once to act on my suggestion, taking the sieve with him to save time. And sure enough, after filling it twice with the mud from the bottom of the pool, the entire skeleton of the foot was brought to light.

'Now you're happy, I suppose,' said the inspector when I had checked the bones and found them all present.

'I should be more happy,' I replied, 'if I knew what you were searching for in this pond. You weren't looking for the foot, were you?'

'I was looking for anything that I might find,' he answered. 'I shall go on searching until we have the whole body. I shall go through all the streams and ponds around here, excepting Con-naught Water. That I shall leave to the last, as it will be a case of dredging from a boat and isn't so likely as the smaller ponds. Perhaps the head will be there; it's deeper than any of the others.'

It now occurred to me that as I had learned all that I was likely to learn, which was little enough, I might as well leave the inspector to pursue his searches unembarrassed by my presence. Accordingly I thanked him for his assistance and departed by the way I had come.

But as I retraced my steps along the shady path I speculated profoundly on the officer's proceedings. My examinations of the mutilated hand had yielded the conclusion that the finger had been removed after death or shortly before, but more probably after. Some one else had evidently arrived at the same conclusion, and had communicated his opinion to Inspector Badger; for it was clear that that gentleman was in full cry after the missing finger. But why was he searching for it here when the hand had been found at Sidcup? And what did he expect to learn from it when he found it? There is nothing particularly characteristic about a finger, or, at least, the bones of one; and the object of the present researches was to determine the identity of the person of whom these bones were the remains. There was something mysterious about the affair, something suggesting that Inspector Badger was in possession of private information of some kind. But what information could he have? And whence could he have obtained it? These were questions to which I could find no answer, and I was still fruitlessly revolving them when I arrived at the modest inn where the inquest was to be held, and I proposed to fortify myself with a correspondingly modest lunch as a preparation for my attendance at the inquiry.

CHAPTER XIII. THE CORONER'S QUEST

THE proceedings of that fine old institution, the coroner's court, are apt to have their dignity impaired by the somewhat unjudicial surroundings amidst which they are conducted. The present inquiry was to be held in a long room attached to the inn, ordinarily devoted, as its various appurtenances testified, to gatherings of a more convivial character.

Hither I betook myself after a protracted lunch and a meditative pipe, and being the first to arrive—the jury having already been sworn and conducted to the mortuary to view the remains—whiled away the time by considering the habits of the customary occupants of the room by the light of the objects contained in it. A wooden target with one or two darts sticking in it hung on the end wall and invited the Robin Hoods of the village to try their skill; a system of incised marks on the oaken table made sinister suggestions of shove-halfpenny; and a large open box filled with white wigs, gaudily coloured robes and wooden spears, swords and regalia, crudely coated with gilded paper, obviously appertained to the puerile ceremonials of the Order of Druids.

I had exhausted the interest of these relics and had transferred my attentions to the picture gallery when the other spectators and the witnesses began to arrive. Hastily I seated myself in the only comfortable chair besides the one placed at the head of the table, presumably for the coroner; and I had hardly done so when the latter entered accompanied by the jury. Immediately after them came the sergeant, Inspector Badger, one or two plain-clothes men, and finally the divisional surgeon.

The coroner took his seat at the head of the table and opened his book, and the jury seated themselves on a couple of benches on one side of the long table.

I looked with some interest at the twelve 'good men and true.' They were a representative group of British tradesmen, quiet, attentive, and rather solemn; but my attention was particularly attracted by a small man with a very large head and a shock of upstanding hair whom I had diagnosed, after a glance at his intelligent but truculent countenance and the shiny knees of his trousers, as the village cobbler. He sat between the broad-shouldered foreman, who looked like a blacksmith, and a dogged, red-faced man whose general aspect of prosperous greasiness suggested the calling of a butcher.

'The inquiry, gentlemen,' the coroner commenced, 'upon which we are now entering concerns itself with two questions. The first is that of identity: who was this person whose body we have just viewed? The second is: How, when, and by what means did he come by his death? We will take the identity first and begin with the circumstances under which the body was discovered.'

Here the cobbler stood up and raised an excessively dirty hand.

'I rise, Mr. Chairman,' said he, 'to a point of order.' The other jurymen looked at him curiously and some of them, I regret to say, grinned. 'You have referred, sir,' he continued, 'to the body which we have just viewed. I wish to point out that we have not viewed a body; we have viewed a collection of bones.'

'We will refer to them as the remains, if you prefer it,' said the coroner.

'I do prefer it,' was the reply, and the objector sat down.

'Very well,' rejoined the coroner, and he proceeded to call the witnesses, of whom the first was a labourer who had discovered the bones in the watercress-bed.

'Do you happen to know how long it was since the watercress-beds had been cleaned out previously?' the coroner asked, when the witness had told the story of the discovery.

'They was cleaned out by Mr. Tapper's orders just before he gave them up. That will be a little better than two years ago. In May it were. I helped to clean 'em. I worked on this very same place and there wasn't no bones there then.'

The coroner glanced at the jury. 'Any questions, gentlemen,' he asked.

The cobbler directed an intimidating scowl at the witness and demanded:

'Were you searching for bones when you came on these remains?'

'Me!' exclaimed the witness. 'What should I be searching for bones for?'

'Don't prevaricate,' said the cobbler sternly; 'answer the question: Yes or no.'

'No, of course I wasn't.'

The juryman shook his enormous head dubiously as though implying that he would let it pass this time but it mustn't happen again; and the examination of the witnesses continued, without eliciting anything that was new to me or giving rise to any incident, until the sergeant had described the finding of the right arm in the Cuckoo Pits.

'Was this an accidental discovery?' the coroner asked.

'No. We had instructions from Scotland Yard to search any likely ponds in this neighbourhood.'

The coroner discreetly forbore to press this matter any further, but my friend the cobbler was evidently on the qui-vive, and I anticipated a brisk cross-examination for Mr. Badger when his turn came. The inspector was apparently of the same opinion, for I saw him cast a glance of the deepest malevolence at the too inquiring disciple of St Crispin. In fact, his turn came next, and the cobbler's hair stood up with unholy joy.

The finding of the lower half of the trunk in Staple's Pond at Loughton was the inspector's own achievement, but he was not boastful about it. The discovery, he remarked, followed naturally on the previous one in the Cuckoo Pits.

'Had you any private information that led you to search this particular neighbourhood?' the cobbler asked.

'We had no private information whatever,' replied Badger.

'Now I put it to you,' pursued the juryman, shaking a forensic, and very dirty, forefinger at the inspector; 'here are certain remains found at Sidcup; here are certain other remains found at St Mary Cray, and certain others at Lee. All those places are in Kent. Now isn't it very remarkable that you should come straight down to Epping Forest, which is in Essex, and search for those bones and find 'em?'

'We were making a systematic search of all likely places,' replied Badger.

'Exactly,' said the cobbler, with a ferocious grin, 'that's just my point. I say, isn't it very funny that, after finding the remains in Kent some twenty miles from here, with the River Thames between, you should come here to look for the bones and go straight to Staple's Pond, where they happen to be—and find 'em?'

'It would have been more funny,' Badger replied sourly, 'if we'd gone straight to a place where they happened not to be—and found them.'

A gratified snigger arose from the other eleven good men and true, and the cobbler grinned savagely; but before he could think of a suitable rejoinder the coroner interposed.

'The question is not very material,' he said, 'and we mustn't embarrass the police by unnecessary inquiries.'

'It's my belief,' said the cobbler, 'that he knew they were there all the time.'

'The witness has stated that he had no private information,' said the coroner; and he proceeded to take the rest of the inspector's evidence, watched closely by the critical juror.

The account of the finding of the remains having been given in full, the police surgeon was called and sworn; the jurymen straightened their backs with an air of expectancy, and I turned over a page of my notebook.

'You have examined the bones at present lying in the mortuary and forming the subject of this inquiry?' the coroner asked.

'I have.'

'Will you kindly tell us what you have observed?'

'I find that the bones are human bones, and are, in my opinion, all parts of the same person. They form a skeleton which is complete with the exception of the skull, the third finger of the left hand, the knee-caps, and the leg-bones—I mean the bones between the knees and the ankles.'

'Is there anything to account for the absence of the missing finger?'

'No. There is no deformity and no sign of its having been amputated during life. In my opinion it was removed after death.'

'Can you give us any description of the deceased?'

'I should say that these are the bones of an elderly man, probably over sixty years of age, about five feet eight and a half inches in height, of rather stout build, fairly muscular, and well preserved. There are no signs of disease excepting some old-standing rheumatic gout of the right hip-joint.'

'Can you form any opinion as to the cause of death?'

'No. There are no marks of violence or signs of injury. But it will be impossible to form any opinion as to the cause of death until we have seen the skull.'

'Did you note anything else of importance?'

'Yes. I was struck by the appearance of anatomical knowledge and skill on the part of the person who dismembered the body. The knowledge of anatomy is proved by the fact that the corpse has been divided into definite anatomical regions. For instance, the bones of the neck are complete and include the top joint of the backbone known as the atlas; whereas a person without anatomical knowledge would probably take off the head by cutting through the neck. Then the arms have been separated with the scapula (or shoulder-blade) and clavicle (or collar-bone) attached, just as an arm would be removed for dissection.

'The skill is shown by the neat way in which the dismemberment has been carried out. The parts have not been rudely hacked asunder, but have been separated at the joints so skilfully that I have not discovered a single scratch or mark of the knife on any of the bones.'

'Can you suggest any class of person who would be likely to possess the knowledge and skill to which you refer?'

'It would, of course, be possessed by a surgeon or medical student, and possibly by a butcher.'

'You think that the person who dismembered this body may have been a surgeon or a medical student?'

'Yes; or a butcher. Some one accustomed to the dismemberment of bodies and skilful with the knife.'

Here the cobbler suddenly rose to his feet.

'I rise, Mr. Chairman,' said he, 'to protest against the statement that has just been made.'

'What statement?' demanded the coroner.

'Against the aspersion,' continued the cobbler, with an oratorical flourish, 'that has been cast upon a honourable calling.'

'I don't understand you,' said the coroner.

'Doctor Summers has insinuated that this murder was committed by a butcher. Now a member of that honourable calling is sitting on this jury—'

'You let me alone,' growled the butcher.

'I will not let you alone,' persisted the cobbler. 'I desire—'

'Oh, shut up, Pope!' This was from the foreman, who, at the same moment, reached out an enormous hairy hand with which he grabbed the cobbler's coat-tails and brought him into a sitting posture with a thump that shook the room.

But Mr. Pope, though seated, was not silenced. 'I desire,' he said, 'to have my protest put on record.'

'I can't do that,' said the coroner, 'and I can't allow you to interrupt the witnesses.'

'I am acting,' said Mr. Pope, 'in the interests of my friend here and the members of a honourable—'

But here the butcher turned on him savagely, and, in a hoarse stage-whisper, exclaimed:

'Look here, Pope; you've got too much of what the cat licks—'

'Gentlemen! gentlemen!' the coroner protested sternly; 'I cannot permit this unseemly conduct. You are forgetting the solemnity of the occasion and your own responsible positions. I must insist on more decent and decorous behaviour.'

There was profound silence, in the midst of which the butcher concluded in the same hoarse whisper:

'—licks 'er paws with.'

The coroner cast a withering glance at him, and, turning to the witness, resumed the examination.

'Can you tell us, Doctor, how long a time has elapsed since the death of the deceased?'

'I should say not less than eighteen months, but probably more. How much more it is impossible from inspection alone to say. The bones are perfectly clean—that is, clean of all soft structures—and will remain substantially in their present condition for many years.'

'The evidence of the man who found the remains in the watercress-bed suggests that they could not have been there for more than two years. Do the appearances in your opinion agree with that view?'

'Yes; perfectly.'

'There is one more point, Doctor; a very important one. Do you find anything in any of the bones, or all of them together, which would enable you to identify them as the bones of any particular individual?'

'No,' replied Dr. Summers; 'I found no peculiarity that could furnish the means of personal identification.'

'The description of a missing individual has been given to us,' said the coroner; 'a man, fifty-nine years of age, five feet eight inches in height, healthy, well preserved, rather broad in build, and having an old Pott's fracture of the left ankle. Do the remains that you have examined agree with that description?'

'Yes, so far as agreement is possible. There is no disagreement.'

'The remains might be those of that individual?'

'They might; but there is no positive evidence that they are. The description would apply to a large proportion of elderly men, except as to the fracture.'

'You found no signs of such a fracture?'

'No. Pott's fracture affects the bone called the fibula. That is one of the bones that has not yet been found, so there is no evidence on that point. The left foot was quite normal, but then it would be in any case, unless the fracture had resulted in great deformity.'

'You estimated the height of the deceased as half an inch greater than that of the missing person. Does that constitute a disagreement?'

'No; my estimate is only approximate. As the arms are complete and the legs are not, I have based my calculations on the width across the two arms. But measurement of the thigh-bones gives the same result. The length of the thigh-bones is one foot seven inches and five-eighths.'

'So the deceased might not have been taller than five feet eight?'

'That is so; from five feet eight to five feet nine.'

'Thank you. I think that is all we want to ask you, Doctor; unless the jury wish to put any questions.'

He glanced uneasily at that august body, and instantly the irrepressible Pope rose to the occasion.

'About that finger that is missing,' said the cobbler. 'You say that it was cut off after death?'

'That is my opinion.'

'Now can you tell us why it was cut off?'

'No, I cannot.'

'Oh, come now, Doctor Summers, you must have formed some opinion on the subject.'

Here the coroner interposed. 'The Doctor is only concerned with the evidence arising out of the actual examination of the remains. Any personal opinions or conjectures that he may have formed are not evidence, and he must not be asked about them.'

'But, sir,' objected Pope, 'we want to know why that finger was cut off. It couldn't have been took off for no reason. May I ask, sir, if the person who is missing had anything peculiar about that finger?'

'Nothing is stated to that effect in the written description,' replied the coroner.

'Perhaps,' suggested Pope, 'Inspector Badger can tell us.'

'I think,' said the coroner, 'we had better not ask the police too many questions. They will tell us anything that they wish to be made public.'

'Oh, very well,' snapped the cobbler. 'If it's a matter of hushing it up I've got no more to say; only I don't see how we are to arrive at a verdict if we don't have the facts put before us.'

All the witnesses having now been examined, the coroner proceeded to sum up and address the jury.

'You have heard the evidence, gentlemen, of the various witnesses, and you will have perceived that it does not enable us to answer either of the questions that form the subject of this inquiry. We now know that the deceased was an elderly man, about sixty years of age, and about five feet eight to nine in height; and that his death took place from eighteen months to two years ago. That is all we know. From the treatment to which the body has been subjected we may form conjectures as to the circumstances of his death. But we have no actual knowledge. We do not know who the deceased was or how he came by his death. Consequently, it will be necessary to adjourn this inquiry until fresh facts are available, and as soon as that is the case, you will receive due notice that your attendance is required.'

The silence of the Court gave place to the confused noise of moving chairs and a general outbreak of eager talk, amidst which I rose and made my way out into the street. At the door I encountered Dr. Summers, whose dog-cart was waiting close by.

'Are you going back to town now?' he asked.

'Yes,' I answered; 'as soon as I can catch a train.'

'If you jump into my cart I'll run you down in time for the five-one. You'll miss it if you walk.'

I accepted his offer thankfully, and a minute later was spinning briskly down the road to the station.

'Queer little devil, that man Pope,' Dr. Summers remarked. 'Quite a character; a socialist, labourite, agitator, general crank; anything for a row.'

'Yes,' I answered; 'that was what his appearance suggested. It must be trying for the coroner to get a truculent rascal like that on a jury.'

Summers laughed. 'I don't know. He supplies the comic relief. And then, you know, those fellows have their uses. Some of his questions were pretty pertinent.'

'So Badger seemed to think.'

'Yes, by Jove,' chuckled Summers. 'Badger didn't like him a bit; and I suspect the worthy inspector was sailing pretty close to the wind in his answers.'

'You think he really has some private information?'

'Depends upon what you mean by "information." The police are not a speculative body. They wouldn't be taking all this trouble unless they had a pretty straight tip from somebody. How are Mr. and Miss Bellingham? I used to know them when they lived here.'

I was considering a discreet answer to this question when we swept into the station yard. At the same moment the train drew up at the platform, and, with a hurried hand-shake and hastily spoken thanks, I sprang from the dog-cart and darted into the station.

During the rather slow journey homewards I read over my notes and endeavoured to extract from the facts they set forth some significance other than that which lay on the surface, but without much success. Then I fell to speculating on what Thorndyke would think of the evidence at the inquest and whether he would be satisfied with the information that I had collected. These speculations lasted me, with occasional digressions, until I arrived at the Temple and ran up the stairs rather eagerly to my friends' chambers.

But here a disappointment awaited me. The nest was empty with the exception of Polton, who appeared at the laboratory door in his white apron, with a pair of flat-nosed pliers in his hand.

'The Doctor had to go down to Bristol to consult over an urgent case,' he explained, 'and Doctor Jervis has gone with him. They'll be away a day or two, I expect, but the Doctor left this note for you.'

He took a letter from the shelf, where it had been stood conspicuously on edge, and handed it to me. It was a short note from Thorndyke apologising for his sudden departure and asking me to give Polton my notes with any comments that I had to make.

'You will be interested to learn,' he added, 'that the application will be heard in the Probate Court the day after to-morrow. I shall not be present, of course, nor will Jervis, so I should like you to attend and keep your eyes open for anything that may happen during the hearing and that may not appear in the notes that Marchmont's clerk will be instructed to take. I have retained Dr. Payne to stand by and help you with the practice, so that you can attend the Court with a clear conscience.'

This was highly flattering and quite atoned for the small disappointment; with deep gratification at the trust that Thorndyke had reposed in me, I pocketed the letter, handed my notes to Polton, wished him 'Good-evening,' and betook myself to Fetter Lane.

CHAPTER XIV. WHICH CARRIES THE READER INTO THE PROBATE COURT

THE Probate Court wore an air of studious repose when I entered with Miss Bellingham and her father. Apparently the great and inquisitive public had not become aware of the proceedings that were about to take place, or had not realised their connection with the sensational 'Mutilation Case'; but barristers and Pressmen, better informed, had gathered in some strength, and the hum of their conversation filled the air like the droning of the voluntary that ushers in a cathedral service.

As we entered, a pleasant-faced, elderly gentleman rose and came forward to meet us, shaking Mr. Bellingham's hand cordially and saluting Miss Bellingham with a courtly bow.

'This is Mr. Marchmont, Doctor,' said the former, introducing me; and the solicitor, having thanked me for the trouble I had taken in attending at the inquest, led us to a bench, at the farther end of which was seated a gentleman whom I recognised as Mr. Hurst.

Mr. Bellingham recognised him at the same moment and glared at him wrathfully.

'I see that scoundrel is here!' he exclaimed in a distinctly audible voice, 'pretending that he doesn't see me, because he is ashamed to look me in the face, but—'

'Hush! hush! my dear sir,' exclaimed the horrified solicitor; 'we mustn't talk like that, especially in this place. Let me beg you—let me entreat you to control your feelings, to make no indiscreet remarks; in fact, to make no remarks at all,' he added, with the evident conviction that any remarks that Mr. Bellingham might make would be certain to be indiscreet.

'Forgive me, Marchmont,' Mr. Bellingham replied contritely. 'I will control myself: I will really be quite discreet. I won't even look at him again—because, if I do, I shall probably go over and pull his nose.'

This form of discretion did not appear to be quite to Mr. Marchmont's liking, for he took the precaution of insisting that Miss Bellingham and I should sit on the farther side of his client, and thus effectually separate him from his enemy.

'Who's the long-nosed fellow talking to Jellicoe?' Mr. Bellingham asked.

'That is Mr. Loram, KG, Mr. Hurst's counsel; and the convivial-looking gentleman next to him is our counsel, Mr. Heath, a most able man and'—here Mr. Marchmont whispered behind his hand—'fully instructed by Doctor Thorndyke.'

At this juncture the judge entered and took his seat; the usher proceeded with great rapidity to swear in the jury, and the Court gradually settled down into that state of academic quiet which it maintained throughout the proceedings, excepting when the noisy swing-doors were set oscillating by some bustling clerk or reporter.

The judge was a somewhat singular-looking old gentleman, very short as to his face and very long as to his mouth; which peculiarities, together with a pair of large and bulging eyes (which he usually kept closed), suggested a certain resemblance to a frog. And he had a curious frog-like trick of flattening his eyelids—as if in the act of swallowing a large beetle—which was the only outward and visible sign of emotion that he ever displayed.

As soon as the swearing in of the jury was completed Mr. Loram rose to introduce the case; whereupon his lordship leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, as if bracing himself for a painful operation.

'The present proceedings,' Mr. Loram explained, 'are occasioned by the unaccountable disappearance of Mr. John Bellingham, of 141, Queen Square, Bloomsbury, which occurred about two years ago, or, to be more precise, on the twenty-third of November, nineteen hundred and two. Since that date nothing has been heard of Mr. Bellingham, and, as there are certain substantial reasons for believing him to be dead, the principal beneficiary under his will, Mr. George Hurst, is now applying to the Court for permission to presume the death of the testator and prove the will. As the time which has elapsed since the testator was last seen alive is only two years, the application is based upon the circumstances of the disappearance, which were, in many respects, very singular, the most remarkable feature of that disappearance being, perhaps, its suddenness and completeness.'

Here the judge remarked in a still, small voice that 'It would, perhaps, have been even more remarkable if the testator had disappeared gradually and incompletely.'

'No doubt, my lord,' agreed Mr. Loram; 'but the point is that the testator, whose habits had always been regular and orderly, disappeared on the date mentioned without having made any of the usual provisions for the conduct of his affairs, and has not since then been seen or heard of.'

With this preamble Mr. Loram proceeded to give a narrative of the events connected with the disappearance of John Bellingham, which was substantially identical with that which I had read in the newspapers; and having laid the actual facts before the jury, he went on to discuss their probable import.

'Now, what conclusion,' he asked, 'will this strange, this most mysterious train of events suggest to an intelligent person who shall consider it impartially? Here is a man who steps forth from the house of his cousin or his brother, as the case may be, and forthwith, in the twinkling of an eye, vanishes from human ken. What is the explanation? Did he steal forth and, without notice or hint of his intention, take train to some seaport, thence to embark for some distant land, leaving his affairs to take care of themselves and his friends to speculate vainly as to his whereabouts? Is he now hiding abroad, or even at home, indifferent alike to the safety of his own considerable property and the peace of mind of his friends? Or is it that death has come upon him unawares by sickness, by accident, or, more probably, by the hand of some unknown criminal? Let us consider the probabilities.

'Can he have disappeared by his own deliberate act? Why not? it may be asked. Men undoubtedly do disappear from time to time, to be discovered by chance or to reappear voluntarily after intervals of years and find their names almost forgotten and their places filled by new-comers. Yes; but there is always some reason for a disappearance of this kind, even though it be a bad one. Family discords that make life a weariness; pecuniary difficulties that make life a succession of anxieties; distaste for particular circumstances and surroundings from which there seems no escape; inherent restlessness and vagabond tendencies, and so on.

'Do any of these explanations apply to the present case? No, they do not. Family discords—at least those capable of producing chronic misery—appertain exclusively to a married state. But the testator was a bachelor with no encumbrances whatever. Pecuniary anxieties can be equally excluded. The testator was in easy, in fact, in affluent circumstances. His mode of life was apparently agreeable and full of interest and activity, and he had full liberty of change if he wished. He had been accustomed to travel, and could do so again without absconding. He had reached an age when radical changes do not seem desirable. He was a man of fixed and regular habits, and his regularity was of his own choice and not due to compulsion or necessity. When last seen by his friends, as I shall prove, he was proceeding to a definite destination with the expressed intention of returning for purposes of his own appointing. He did return and then vanished, leaving those purposes unachieved.

'If we conclude that he has voluntarily disappeared and is at present in hiding, we adopt an opinion that is entirely at variance with all these weighty facts. If, on the other hand, we conclude that he has died suddenly, or has been killed by an accident or otherwise, we are adopting a view that involves no inherent improbabilities and that is entirely congruous with the known facts; facts that will be proved by the testimony of the witnesses whom I shall call. The supposition that the testator is dead is not only more probable than that he is alive; I submit it is the only reasonable explanation of the circumstances of his disappearance.

'But this is not all. The presumption of death which arises so inevitably out of the mysterious and abrupt manner in which the testator disappeared has recently received most conclusive and dreadful confirmation. On the fifteenth of July last there were discovered at Sidcup the remains of a human arm—a left arm, gentlemen, from the hand of which the third, or ring, finger was missing. The doctor who has examined that arm will tell you that the finger was cut off either after death or immediately before; and his evidence will prove conclusively that that arm must have been deposited in the place where it was found just about the time when the testator disappeared. Since that first discovery, other portions of the same mutilated body have come to light; and it is a strange and significant fact that they have all been found in the immediate neighbourhood of Eltham or Woodford. You will remember, gentlemen, that it was either at Eltham or Woodford that the testator was last seen alive.

'And now observe the completeness of the coincidence. These human remains, as you will be told presently by the experienced and learned medical gentleman who has examined them most exhaustively, are those of a man of about sixty years of age, about five feet eight inches in height, fairly muscular and well preserved, apparently healthy, and rather stoutly built. Another witness will tell you that the missing man was about sixty years of age, about five feet eight inches in height, fairly muscular and well preserved, apparently healthy, and rather stoutly built. And—another most significant and striking fact—the testator was accustomed to wear upon the third finger of his left hand—the very finger that is missing from the remains that were found—a most peculiar ring, which fitted so tightly that he was unable to get it off after once putting it on; a ring, gentlemen, of so peculiar a pattern that had it been found on the body must have instantly established the identity of the remains. In a word, gentlemen, the remains which have been found are those of a man exactly like the testator; they differ from him in no respect whatever; they display a mutilation which suggests an attempt to conceal an identifying peculiarity which he undoubtedly presented; and they were deposited in their various hiding-places about the time of the testator's disappearance. Accordingly, when you have heard these facts proved by the sworn testimony of competent witnesses, together with the facts relating to the disappearance, I shall ask you for a verdict in accordance with that evidence.'

Mr. Loram sat down, and adjusting a pair of pince-nez, rapidly glanced over his brief while the usher was administering the oath to the first witness.

This was Mr. Jellicoe, who stepped into the box and directed a stony gaze at the (apparently) unconscious judge. The usual preliminaries having been gone through, Mr. Loram proceeded to examine him.

'You were the testator's solicitor and confidential agent, I believe?'

'I was—and am.'

'How long have you known him?'

'Twenty-seven years.'

'Judging from your experience of him, should you say that he was a person likely to disappear voluntarily and suddenly to cease to communicate with his friends?

'No.'

'Kindly give your reasons for that opinion.'

'Such conduct on the part of the testator would be entirely opposed to his habits and character as they are known to me. He was exceedingly regular and businesslike in his dealings with me.

When travelling abroad he always kept me informed as to his whereabouts, or, if he was likely to be beyond reach of communications, he always advised me beforehand. One of my duties was to collect a pension which he drew from the Foreign Office, and on no occasion, previous to his disappearance, has he ever failed to furnish me punctually with the necessary documents.'

'Had he, so far as you know, any reasons for wishing to disappear?'

'No.'

'When and where did you last see him alive?'

'At six o'clock in the evening, on the fourteenth of October, nineteen hundred and two, at 141, Queen Square, Bloomsbury.'

'Kindly tell us what happened on that occasion.'

'The testator had called for me at my office at a quarter past three, and asked me to come with him to his house to meet Doctor Norbury. I accompanied him to 141, Queen Square, and shortly after we arrived Doctor Norbury came to look at some antiquities that the testator proposed to give to the British Museum. The gift consisted of a mummy with four Canopic jars and other tomb-furniture which the testator stipulated should be exhibited together in a single case and in the state in which they were then presented. Of these objects, the mummy only was ready for inspection. The tomb-furniture had not yet arrived in England, but was expected within a week. Doctor Norbury accepted the gift on behalf of the Museum, but could not take possession of the objects until he had communicated with the Director and obtained his formal authority. The testator accordingly gave me certain instructions concerning the delivery of the gift, as he was leaving England that evening.'

'Are those instructions relevant to the subject of this inquiry?'

'I think they are. The testator was going to Paris, and perhaps thence to Vienna. He instructed me to receive and unpack the tomb-furniture on its arrival, and to store it, with the mummy, in a particular room, where it was to remain for three weeks. If he returned within that time he was to hand it over in person to the Museum authorities; if he had not returned within that time, he desired me to notify the Museum authorities that they were at liberty to take possession of and remove the collection at their convenience. From these instructions I gathered that the testator was uncertain as to the length of his absence from England and the extent of his journey.'

'Did he state precisely where he was going?'

'No. He said he was going to Paris and perhaps to Vienna, but he gave no particulars and I asked for none.' 'Do you, in fact, know where he went?'

'No. He left the house at six o'clock wearing a long, heavy overcoat and carrying a suit-case and an umbrella. I wished him "Good-bye" at the door and watched him walk away as if going towards Southampton Row. I have no idea where he went, and I never saw him again.'

'Had he no other luggage than the suit-case?' 'I do not know, but I believe not. He was accustomed to travel with the bare necessaries, and to buy anything further he wanted en route.'

'Did he say nothing to the servants as to the probable date of his return?'

'There were no servants excepting the caretaker. The house was not used for residential purposes. The testator slept and took his meals at his club, though he kept his clothes at the house.' 'Did you receive any communication from him after he left?' 'No. I never heard from him again in any way. I waited for three weeks as he had instructed me, and then notified the Museum authorities that the collection was ready for removal. Five days later Doctor Norbury came and took formal possession of it, and it was transferred to the Museum forthwith.' 'When did you next hear of the testator?'

'On the twenty-third of November following at a quarter-past seven in the evening. Mr. George Hurst came to my rooms, which are over my office, and informed me that the testator had called at his house during his absence and had been shown into the study to wait for him. That on his—Mr. Hurst's—arrival it was found that the testator had disappeared without acquainting the servants of his intended departure, and without being seen by anyone to leave the house. Mr. Hurst thought this so remarkable that he had hastened up to town to inform me. I also thought it a remarkable circumstance, especially as I had received no communication from the testator, and we both decided that it was advisable to inform the testator's brother, Godfrey, of what had happened.

'Accordingly-Mr. Hurst and I proceeded as quickly as possible to Liverpool Street and took the first train available to Woodford, where Mr. Godfrey Bellingham then resided. We arrived at his house at five minutes to nine, and were informed by the servant that he was not at home, but that his daughter was in the library, which was a detached building situated in the grounds. The servant lighted a lantern and conducted us through the grounds to the library, where we found Mr. Godfrey Bellingham and Miss Bellingham. Mr. Godfrey had only just come in and had entered by the back gate, which had a bell that rang in the library. Mr. Hurst informed Mr. Godfrey of what had occurred, and then we left the library to walk up to the house. A few paces from the library I noticed by the light of the lantern, which Mr. Godfrey was carrying, a small object lying on the lawn. I pointed it to him and he picked it up, and then we all recognised it as a scarab that the testator was accustomed to wear on his watch-chain. It was fitted with a gold wire passed through the suspension hole and a gold ring. Both the wire and the ring were in position, but the ring was broken. We went to the house and questioned the servants as to visitors; but none of them had seen the testator, and they all agreed that no visitor whatsoever had come to the house during the afternoon or evening. Mr. Godfrey and Miss Bellingham both declared that they had neither seen nor heard anything of the testator, and were both unaware that he had returned to England. As the circumstances were somewhat disquieting, I communicated, on the following morning, with the police and requested them to make inquiries; which they did, with the result that a suit-case bearing the initials "J. B.", was found to be lying unclaimed in the cloak-room at Charing Cross Station. I was able to identify the suit-case as that which I had seen the testator carry away from Queen Square. I was also able to identify some of the contents. I interviewed the cloak-room attendant, who informed me that the suit-case had been deposited on the twenty-third about 4.15 p.m. He had no recollection of the person who deposited it. It remained unclaimed in the possession of the railway company for three months, and was then surrendered to me.'

'Were there any marks or labels on it showing the route by which it had travelled?'

'There were no labels on it and no marks other than the initials "J.B."

'Do you happen to know the testator's age?'

'Yes. He was fifty-nine on the eleventh of October, nineteen hundred and two.'

'Can you tell us what his height was?'

'Yes. He was exactly five feet eight inches.'

'What sort of health had he?'

'So far as I know his health was good. I am not aware that he suffered from any disease. I am only judging by his appearance, which was that of a healthy man.'

'Should you describe him as well preserved or otherwise?'

'I should describe him as a well preserved man for his age.'

'How should you describe his figure?'

'I should describe him as rather broad and stout in build, and fairly muscular, though not exceptionally so.'

Mr. Loram made a rapid note of these answers and then said:

'You have told us, Mr. Jellicoe, that you have known the testator intimately for twenty-seven years. Now, did you ever notice whether he was accustomed to wear any rings upon his fingers?'

'He wore upon the third finger of his left hand a copy of an antique ring which bore the device of the Eye of Osiris. That was the only ring he ever wore as far as I know.'

'Did he wear it constantly?'

'Yes, necessarily; because it was too small for him, and having once squeezed it on he was never able to get it off again.'

This was the sum of Mr. Jellicoe's evidence, and at its conclusion the witness glanced inquiringly at Mr. Bellingham's counsel. But Mr. Heath remained seated, attentively considering the notes that he had just made, and finding that there was to be no cross-examination, Mr. Jellicoe stepped down from the box. I leaned back on my bench, and, turning my head, observed Miss Bellingham deep in thought.

'What do you think of it?' I asked.

'It seems very complete and conclusive,' she replied. And then, with a sigh, she murmured: 'Poor old Uncle John! How horrid it sounds to talk of him in this cold-blooded, business-like way, as "the testator," as if he were nothing but a sort of algebraical sign.'

'There isn't much room for sentiment, I suppose, in the proceedings of the Probate Court,' I replied. To which she assented, and then asked: 'Who is this lady?'

'This lady' was a fashionably dressed young woman who had just bounced into the witness-box and was now being sworn. The preliminaries being finished, she answered Miss Bellingham's question and Mr. Loram's by stating that her name was Augustina Gwendoline Dobbs, and that she was housemaid to Mr. George Hurst, of' The Poplars,' Eltham.

'Mr. Hurst lives alone, I believe?' said Mr. Loram.

'I don't know what you mean by that,' Miss Dobbs began; but the barrister explained.

'I mean that I believe he is unmarried?'

'Well, and what about it?' the witness demanded tartly.

'I am asking you a question.'

'I know that,' said the witness viciously; 'and I say that you've no business to make any such insinuations to a respectable young lady when there's a cook-housekeeper and a kitchenmaid living in the house, and him old enough to be my father—'

Here his lordship flattened his eyelids with startling effect, and Mr. Loram interrupted: 'I make no insinuations. I merely ask, Is your employer, Mr. Hurst, an unmarried man, or is he not?'

'I never asked him,' said the witness sulkily.

'Please answer my question—yes or no.'

'How can I answer your question? He may be married or he may not. How do I know? I'm no private detective.'

Mr. Loram directed a stupefied gaze at the witness, and in the ensuing silence a plaintive voice came from the bench:

'Is that point material?'

'Certainly, my lord,' replied Mr. Loram.

'Then, as I see that you are calling Mr. Hurst, perhaps you had better put the question to him. He will probably know.'

Mr. Loram bowed, and as the judge subsided into his normal state of coma he turned to the triumphant witness.

'Do you remember anything remarkable occurring on the twenty-third of November the year before last?'

'Yes. Mr. John Bellingham called at our house.'

'How did you know he was Mr. John Bellingham?'

'I didn't; but he said he was, and I supposed he knew.'

'At what time did he arrive?'

'At twenty minutes past five in the evening.'

'What happened then?'

'I told him that Mr. Hurst had not come home yet, and he said he would wait for him in the study and write some letters; so I showed him into the study and shut the door.'

'What happened next?'

'Nothing. Then Mr. Hurst came home at his usual time—a quarter to six—and let himself in with his key. He went straight into the study where I supposed Mr. Bellingham still was, so I took no notice, but laid the table for two. At six o'clock Mr. Hurst came into the dining-room—he has tea in the City and dines at six—and when he saw the table laid for two he asked the reason. I said I thought Mr. Bellingham was staying to dinner.

'"Mr. Bellingham!" says he. "I didn't know he was here. Why didn't you tell me?" he says. "I thought he was with you, sir," I said. "I showed him into the study," I said. "Well, he wasn't there when I came in," he said, "and he isn't there now," he said. "Perhaps he has gone to wait in the drawing-room," he said. So we went and looked in the drawing-room, but he wasn't there. Then Mr. Hurst said he thought Mr. Bellingham must have got tired of waiting and gone away; but I told him I was quite sure he hadn't, because I had been watching all the time. Then he asked me if Mr. Bellingham was alone or whether his daughter was with him, and I said that it wasn't that Mr. Bellingham at all, but Mr. John Bellingham, and then he was more surprised than ever. I said we had better search the house to make sure whether he was there or not, and Mr. Hurst said he would come with me; so we all went over the house and looked in all the rooms, but there was not a sign of Mr. Bellingham in any of them. Then Mr. Hurst got very nervous and upset, and when he had just snatched a little dinner he ran off to catch the six thirty-one train up to town.'

'You say that Mr. Bellingham could not have left the house because you were watching all the time. Where were you while you were watching?'

'I was in the kitchen. I could see the front gate from the kitchen window.'

'You say that you laid the table for two. Where did you lay it?'

'In the dining-room, of course.'

'Could you see the front gate from the dining-room?'

'No, but I could see the study door. The study is opposite the dining-room.'

'Do you have to come upstairs to get from the kitchen to the dining-room?'

'Yes, of course you do!'

'Then, might not Mr. Bellingham have left the house while you were coming up the stairs?'

'No, he couldn't have done.'

'Why not?'

'Because it would have been impossible.'

'But why would it have been impossible?'

'Because he couldn't have done it.'

'I suggest that Mr. Bellingham left the house quietly while you were on the stairs?'

'No, he didn't.'

'How do you know he did not?'

'I am quite sure he didn't.'

'But how can you be certain?'

'Because I should have seen him if he had.'

'But I mean when you were on the stairs.'

'He was in the study when I was on the stairs.'

'How do you know he was in the study?'

'Because I showed him in there and he hadn't come out.'

Mr. Loram paused and took a deep breath, and his lordship flattened his eyelids.

'Is there a gate to the premises?' the barrister resumed wearily.

'Yes. It opens into a narrow lane at the side of the house.'

'And there is a French window in the study, is there not?'

'Yes It opens on to the small grass plot opposite the side gate.'

'Were the window and the gate locked or would it have been possible for Mr. Bellingham to let himself out into the lane?'

'The window and the gate both have catches on the inside. He could have got out that way, but, of course, he didn't.'

'Why not?'

'Well, no gentleman would go creeping out the back way like a thief.'

'Did you look to see if the French window was shut and fastened after you missed Mr. Bellingham?'

'I looked at it when we shut the house up for the night. It was then shut and fastened on the inside.'

'And the side gate?'

'That gate was shut and latched. You have to slam the gate to make the latch fasten, so no one could have gone out of the gate without being heard.'

Here the examination-in-chief ended, and Mr. Loram sat down with an audible sigh of relief. Miss Dobbs was about to step down from the witness-box when Mr. Heath rose to cross-examine.

'Did you see Mr. Bellingham in a good light?' he asked.

'Pretty good. It was dark outside, but the hall-lamp was alight.'

'Kindly look at this'—here a small object was passed across to the witness. 'It is a trinket that Mr. Bellingham is stated to have carried suspended from his watch-guard. Can you remember if he was wearing it in that manner when he came to the house?'

'No, he was not.'

'You are sure of that.'

'Quite sure.'

'Thank you. And now I want to ask you about the search that you have mentioned. You say that you went all over the house. Did you go into the study?'

'No—at least, not until Mr. Hurst had gone to London.'

'When you did go in, was the window fastened?'

'Yes.'

'Could it have been fastened from the outside?'

'No; there is no handle outside.'

'What furniture is there in the study?'

'There is a writing-table, a revolving-chair, two easy chairs, two large book-cases, and a wardrobe that Mr. Hurst keeps his overcoats and hats in.'

'Does the wardrobe lock?'

'Yes.'

'Was it locked when you went in?'

'I'm sure I don't know. I don't go about trying the cupboards and drawers.'

'What furniture is there in the drawing-room?'

'A cabinet, six or seven chairs, a Chesterfield sofa, a piano, a silver-table, and one or two occasional tables.'

'Is the piano a grand or upright?'

'It is an upright grand.'

'In what position is it placed?'

'It stands across a corner near the window.'

'Is there sufficient room behind it for a man to conceal himself?'

Miss Dobbs was amused and did not dissemble. 'Oh, yes,' she sniggered, 'there's plenty of room for a man to hide behind it.'

'When you searched the drawing-room, did you look behind the piano?'

'No, I didn't,' Miss Dobbs replied scornfully.

'Did you look under the sofa?'

'Certainly not!'

'What did you do then?'

'We opened the door and looked into the room. We were not looking for a cat or a monkey; we were looking for a middle-aged gentleman.'

'And am I to take it that your search over the rest of the house was conducted in a similar manner?'

'Certainly. We looked into the rooms, but we did not search under the beds or in the cupboards.'

'Are all the rooms in the house in use as living or sleeping rooms?'

'No; there is one room on the second floor that is used as a store and lumber-room, and one on the first floor that Mr. Hurst uses to store trunks and things that he is not using.'

'Did you look in those rooms when you searched the house?'

'No.'

'Have you looked in them since?'

'I have been in the lumber-room since, but not in the other. It is always kept locked.'

At this point an ominous flattening became apparent in his lordship's eyelids, but these symptoms passed when Mr. Heath sat down and indicated that he had no further questions to ask.

Miss Dobbs once more prepared to step down from the witness-box when Mr. Loram shot up like a jack-in-the-box.

'You have made certain statements,' said he, 'concerning the scarab which Mr. Bellingham was accustomed to wear suspended from his watch-guard. You say that he was not wearing it when he came to Mr. Hurst's house on the twenty-third of November, nineteen hundred and two. Are you quite sure of that?'

'Quite sure.'

'I must ask you to be very careful in your statement on this point. The question is a highly important one. Do you swear that the scarab was not hanging from his watch-guard?'

'Yes, I do.'

'Did you notice the watch-guard particularly?'

'No; not particularly.'

'Then what makes you sure that the scarab was not attached to it?'

'It couldn't have been.'

'Why could it not?'

'Because if it had been there I should have seen it.'

'What kind of watch-guard was Mr. Bellingham wearing?'

'Oh, an ordinary sort of watch-guard.'

'I mean was it a chain or a ribbon or a strap?'

'A chain, I think—or perhaps a ribbon—or it might have been a strap.'

His lordship flattened his eyelids, but made no further sign and Mr. Loram continued:

'Did you or did you not notice what kind of watch-guard Mr. Bellingham was wearing?'

'I did not. Why should I? It was no business of mine.'

'But yet you are quite sure about the scarab?'

'Yes, quite sure.'

'You noticed that then?'

Mr. Loram paused and looked helplessly at the witness; a suppressed titter arose from the body of the Court, and a faint voice from the bench inquired:

'Are you quite incapable of giving a straightforward answer?'

Miss Dobbs's only reply was to burst into tears; whereupon Mr. Loram abruptly sat down and abandoned his re-examination.

The witness-box vacated by Miss Dobbs was occupied successively by Dr. Norbury, Mr. Hurst and the cloakroom attendant, none of whom contributed any new facts, but merely corroborated the statements made by Mr. Jellicoe and the housemaid. Then came the labourer who discovered the bones at Sidcup, and who repeated the evidence that he had given at the inquest, showing that the remains could not have been lying in the watercress-bed more than two years. Finally Dr. Summers was called, and, after he had given a brief description of the bones that he had examined, was asked by Mr. Loram:

'You have heard the description that Mr. Jellicoe has given of the testator?'

'I have.'

'Does that description apply to the person whose remains you examined?'

'In a general way it does.'

'I must ask you for a direct answer—yes or no. Does it apply?'

'Yes. But I ought to say that my estimate of the height of the deceased is only approximate.'

'Quite so. Judging from your examination of those remains and from Mr. Jellicoe's description, might those remains be the remains of the testator, John Bellingham?'

'Yes, they might.'

On receiving this admission Mr. Loram sat down, and Mr. Heath immediately rose to cross-examine.

'When you examined these remains, Doctor Summers, did you discover any personal peculiarities which would enable you to identify them as the remains of any one individual rather than any other individual of similar size, age, and proportions?'

'No. I found nothing that would identify the remains as those of any particular individual.'

As Mr. Heath asked no further questions, the witness received his dismissal, and Mr. Loram informed the Court that that was his case. The judge bowed somnolently, and then Mr. Heath rose to address the Court on behalf of the respondent. It was not a long speech, nor was it enriched by any displays of florid rhetoric; it concerned itself exclusively with a rebutment of the arguments of the counsel for the petitioner.

Having briefly pointed out that the period of absence was too short to give rise of itself to the presumption of death, Mr. Heath continued:

'The claim therefore rests upon evidence of a positive character. My learned friend asserts that the testator is presumably dead, and it is for him to prove what he has affirmed. Now, has he done this? I submit that he has not. He has argued with great force and ingenuity that the testator, being a bachelor, a solitary man without wife or child, dependant or master, public or private office of duty, or any bond, responsibility, or any other condition limiting his freedom of action, had no reason or inducement for absconding. This is my learned friend's argument, and he has conducted it with so much skill and ingenuity that he has not only succeeded in proving his case; he has proved a great deal too much. For if it is true, as my learned friend so justly argues, that a man thus unfettered by obligations of any kind has no reason for disappearing, is it not even more true that he has no reason for not disappearing? My friend has urged that the testator was at liberty to go where he pleased, when he pleased, and how he pleased; and that therefore there was no need for him to abscond. I reply, if he was at liberty to go away, whither, when, and how he pleased, why do we express surprise that he has made use of his liberty? My learned friend points out that the testator notified to nobody his intention of going away and has acquainted no one with his whereabouts; but, I ask, whom should he have notified? He was responsible to nobody; there was no one dependent upon him; his presence or absence was the concern of nobody but himself. If circumstances suddenly arising made it desirable that he should go abroad, why should he not go? I say there was no reason whatever.

'My learned friend has said that the testator went away leaving his affairs to take care of themselves. Now, gentlemen, I ask you if this can fairly be said of a man whose affairs are, as they have been for many years, in the hands of a highly capable, completely trustworthy agent who is better acquainted with them than the testator himself? Clearly it cannot.

'To conclude this part of the argument: I submit that the circumstances of the so-called disappearance of the testator present nothing out of the ordinary. The testator is a man of ample means, without any responsibilities to fetter his movements, and has been in the constant habit of travelling, often into remote and distant regions. The mere fact that he has been absent somewhat longer; than usual affords no ground whatever for the drastic proceeding of presumption of death and taking possession of his property.

'With reference to the human remains which have been mentioned in connection with the case I need say but little. The attempt; to connect them with the testator has failed completely. You, yourselves have heard Doctor Summers state on oath that they cannot be identified as the remains of any particular person. That would seem to dispose of them effectually. I must remark upon a very singular point that has been raised by the learned counsel for the petitioner, which is this:

'My learned friend points out that these remains were discovered near Eltham and near Woodford and that the testator was last seen alive at one of these two places. This he considers for some reason to be a highly significant fact. But I cannot agree with him. If the testator had been last seen alive at Woodford and the remains had been found at Woodford, or if he had disappeared from Eltham, and the remains had been found at Eltham, that would have had some significance. But he can only have been last seen at one of the places, whereas the remains have been found at both places. Here again my learned friend seems to have proved too much.

'But I need not occupy your time further. I repeat that, in order to justify us in presuming the death of the testator, clear and positive evidence would be necessary. That no such evidence has been brought forward. Accordingly, seeing that the testator may return at any time and is entitled to find his property intact, I shall ask you for a verdict that will secure to him this measure of ordinary justice.'

At the conclusion of Mr. Heath's speech the judge, as if awakening from a refreshing nap, opened his eyes; and uncommonly shrewd, intelligent eyes they were when the expressive eyelids were duly tucked up out of the way. He commenced by reading over a part of the will and certain notes—which he appeared to have made in some miraculous fashion with his eyes shut—and then proceeded to review the evidence and the counsels' arguments for the instruction of the jury.

'Before considering the evidence which you have heard, gentlemen' he said, 'it will be well for me to say a few words to you on the general aspects of the case which is occupying our attention.'

'If a person goes abroad or disappears from his home and his ordinary places of resort and is absent for a long period of time, the presumption of death arises at the expiration of seven years from the date on which he was last heard of. That is to say, that the total disappearance of an individual for seven years constitutes presumptive evidence that the said individual is dead; and the presumption can be set aside only by the production of evidence that he was alive at some time within that period of seven years. But if, on the other hand, it is sought to presume the death of a person who has been absent for a shorter period than seven years, it is necessary to produce such evidence as shall make it highly probable that the said person is dead. Of course, presumption implies supposition as opposed to actual demonstration; but, nevertheless, the evidence in such a case must be of a kind that tends to create a very strong belief that death has occurred; and I need hardly say that the shorter the period of absence, the more convincing must be the evidence.

'In the present case, the testator, John Bellingham, has been absent somewhat under two years. This is a relatively short period, and in itself gives rise to no presumption of death. Nevertheless, death has been presumed in a case where the period of absence was even shorter and the insurance recovered; but here the evidence supporting the belief in the occurrence of death was exceedingly weighty.

'The testator in this case was a shipmaster, and his disappearance was accompanied by the disappearance of the ship and the entire ship's company in the course of a voyage from London to Marseilles. The loss of the ship and her crew was the only reasonable explanation of the disappearance, and, short of actual demonstration, the facts offered convincing evidence of the death of all persons on board. I mention this case as an illustration. You are not dealing with speculative probabilities. You are contemplating a very momentous proceeding, and you must be very sure of your ground. Consider what it is that you are asked to do.

'The petitioner asks permission to presume the death of the testator in order that the testator's property may be distributed among the beneficiaries under the will. The granting of such permission involves us in the gravest responsibility. An ill-considered decision might be productive of a serious injustice to the testator, an injustice that could never be remedied. Hence it is incumbent upon you to weigh the evidence with the greatest care, to come to no decision without the profoundest consideration of all the facts.

'The evidence that you have heard divides itself into two parts—that relating to the circumstances of the testator's disappearance, and that relating to certain human remains. In connection with the latter I can only suggest my surprise and regret that the application was not postponed until the completion of the coroner's inquest, and leave you to consider the evidence. You will bear in mind that Doctor Summers has stated explicitly that the remains cannot be identified as those of any particular individual, but that the testator and the unknown deceased had so many points of resemblance that they might possibly be one and the same person.

'With reference to the circumstances of the disappearance, you have heard the evidence of Mr. Jellicoe to the effect that the testator has on no previous occasion gone abroad without informing him as to his proposed destination. But in considering what weight you are to give to this statement you will bear in mind that when the testator set out for Paris after his interview with Doctor Norbury he left Mr. Jellicoe without any information as to his specific destination, his address in Paris, or the precise date when he should return, and that Mr. Jellicoe was unable to tell us where the testator went or what was his business. Mr. Jellicoe was, in fact, for a time without any means of tracing the testator or ascertaining his whereabouts.

'The evidence of the housemaid, Dobbs, and of Mr. Hurst is rather confusing. It appears that the testator came to the house, and when looked for later was not to be found. A search of the premises showed that he was not in the house, whence it seems to follow that he must have left it; but since no one was informed of his intention to leave, and he had expressed the intention of staying to see Mr. Hurst, his conduct in thus going away surreptitiously must appear somewhat eccentric. The point that you have to consider, therefore, is whether a person who is capable of thus departing in a surreptitious and eccentric manner from a house, without giving notice to the servants, is capable also of departing in a surreptitious and eccentric manner from his usual places of resort without giving notice to his friends or thereafter informing them of his whereabouts.

'The questions, then, gentlemen, that you have to ask yourselves before deciding on your verdict are two: first, Are the circumstances of the testator's disappearance and his continued absence incongruous with his habits and personal peculiarities as they are known to you? and second, Are there any facts which indicate in a positive manner that the testator is dead? Ask yourselves these questions, gentlemen, and the answers to them, furnished by the evidence that you have heard, will guide you to your decision.'

Having delivered himself of the above instructions, the judge applied himself to the perusal of the will with professional gusto, in which occupation he was presently disturbed by the announcement of the foreman of the jury that a verdict had been agreed upon.

The judge sat up and glanced at the jury-box, and when the foreman proceeded to state that 'We find no sufficient reason for presuming the testator, John Bellingham, to be dead,' he nodded approvingly. Evidently that was his opinion, too, as he was careful to explain when he conveyed to Mr. Loram the refusal of the Court to grant the permission applied for.

The decision was a great relief to me, and also, I think, to Miss Bellingham; but most of all to her father, who, with instinctive good manners, since he could not suppress a smile of triumph, rose and hastily stumped out of the Court, so that the discomfited Hurst should not see him. His daughter and I followed, and as we left the Court she remarked, with a smile:

'So our pauperism is not, after all, made absolute. There is still a chance for us in the Chapter of Accidents—and perhaps even for poor old Uncle John.'

CHAPTER XV. CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

THE morning after the hearing saw me setting forth on my round in more than usually good spirits. The round itself was but a short one, for my list contained only a couple of 'chronics,' and this, perhaps, contributed to my cheerful outlook on life. But there were other reasons. The decision of the Court had come as an unexpected reprieve and the ruin of my friends' prospects was at least postponed. Then, I had learned that Thorndyke was back from Bristol and wished me to look in on him; and, finally, Miss Bellingham had agreed to spend this very afternoon with me, browsing round the galleries at the British Museum.

I had disposed of my two patients by a quarter to eleven, and three minutes later was striding down Mitre Court, all agog to hear what Thorndyke had to say with reference to my notes on the inquest. The 'oak' was open when I arrived at his chambers, and a modest flourish on the little brass knocker of the inner door was answered by my quondam teacher himself.

'How good of you, Berkeley,' he said, shaking hands genially, 'to look me up so early. I am alone, just looking through the report of the evidence in yesterday's proceedings.'

He placed an easy chair for me, and, gathering up a bundle of typewritten papers, laid them aside on the table.

'Were you surprised at the decision?' I asked.

'No,' he answered. 'Two years is a short period of absence; but still, it might easily have gone the other way. I am greatly relieved. The respite gives us time to carry out our investigations without undue hurry.'

'Did you find my notes of any use?' I asked.

'Heath did. Polton handed them to him, and they were invaluable to him for his cross-examination. I haven't seen them yet; in fact, I have only just got them back from him. Let us go through them together now.'

He opened a drawer and taking from it my notebook, seated himself, and began to read through my notes with grave attention, while I stood and looked shyly over his shoulder. On the page that contained my sketches of the Sidcup arm, showing the distribution of the snails' eggs on the bones, he lingered with a faint smile that made me turn hot and red.

'Those sketches look rather footy,' I said; 'but I had to put something in my notebook.'

'You did not attach any importance, then, to the facts that they illustrated?'

'No. The egg-patches were there, so I noted the fact. That's all.'

'I congratulate you, Berkeley. There is not one man in twenty who would have had the sense to make a careful note of what he considers an unimportant or irrelevant fact; and the investigator who notes only those things that appear significant is perfectly useless. He gives himself no material for reconsideration. But you don't mean that these egg-patches and worm tubes appeared to you to have no significance at all?'

'Oh, of course, they show the position in which the bones were lying.'

'Exactly. The arm was lying, fully extended, with the dorsal side uppermost. But we also learn from these egg-patches that the hand had been separated from the arm before it was thrown into the pond; and there is something very remarkable in that.'

I leaned over his shoulder and gazed at my sketches, amazed at the rapidity with which he had reconstructed the limb from my rough drawings of the individual bones.

'I don't quite see how you arrived at it, though,' I said.

'Well, look at your drawings. The egg-patches are on the dorsal surface of the scapula, the humerus, and the bones of the fore-arm. But here you have shown six of the bones of the hand: two metacarpals, the os magnum, and three phalanges; and they all have egg-patches on the palmar surface. Therefore the hand was lying palm upwards.'

'But the hand may have been pronated.'

'If you mean pronated in relation to the arm, that is impossible, for the position of the egg-patches shows clearly that the bones of the arm were lying in the position of supination. Thus the dorsal surface of the arm and the palmar surface of the hand respectively were uppermost, which is an anatomical impossibility so long as the hand is attached to the arm.'

'But might not the hand have become detached after lying in the pond some time?'

'No. It could not have been detached until the ligaments had decayed, and if it had been separated after the decay of the soft parts, the bones would have been thrown into disorder. But the egg-patches are all on the palmar surface, showing that the bones were still in their normal relative positions. No, Berkeley, that hand was thrown into the pond separately from the arm.'

'But why should it have been?' I asked.

'Ah, there is a very pretty little problem for you to consider. And, meantime, let me tell you that your expedition has been a brilliant success. You are an excellent observer. Your only fault is that when you have noted certain facts you don't seem fully to appreciate their significance—which is merely a matter of inexperience. As to the facts that you have collected, several of them are of prime importance.'

'I am glad you are satisfied,' said I, 'though I don't see that I have discovered much excepting those snails' eggs; and they don't seem to have advanced matters very much.'

'A definite fact, Berkeley, is a definite asset. Perhaps we may presently find a little space in our Chinese puzzle which this fact of the detached hand will just drop into. But, tell me, did you find nothing unexpected or suggestive about those bones—as to their number and condition, for instance?'

'Well, I thought it a little queer that the scapula and clavicle should be there. I should have expected him to cut the arm off at the shoulder-joint.'

'Yes,' said Thorndyke; 'so should I; and so it has been done in every case of dismemberment that I am acquainted with. To an ordinary person, the arm seems to join on to the trunk at the shoulder-joint, and that is where he would naturally sever it. What explanation do you suggest of this unusual mode of severing the arm?'

'Do you think the fellow could have been a butcher?' I asked, remembering Dr. Summers' remark. 'This is the way a shoulder of mutton is taken off.'

'No,' replied Thorndyke. 'A butcher includes the scapula in a shoulder of mutton for a specific purpose, namely, to take off a given quantity of meat. And also, as a sheep has no clavicle, it is the easiest way to detach the limb. But I imagine a butcher would find himself in difficulties if he attempted to take off a man's arm in that way. The clavicle would be a new and perplexing feature. Then, too a butcher does not deal very delicately with his subject; if he has to divide a joint, he just cuts through it and does not trouble himself to avoid marking the bones. But you note here that there is not a single scratch or score on any one of the bones, not even where the finger was removed. Now, if you have ever prepared bones for a museum, as I have, you will remember the extreme care that is necessary in disarticulating joints to avoid disfiguring the articular ends of the bones with cuts and scratches.'

'Then you think that the person who dismembered this body must have had some anatomical knowledge and skill?'

'That is what has been suggested. The suggestion is not mine.'

'Then I infer that you don't agree?'

Thorndyke smiled. 'I am sorry to be so cryptic, Berkeley, but you understand that I can't make statements. Still, I am trying to lead you to make certain inferences from the facts that are in your possession.'

'If I make the right inference, will you tell me?' I asked.

'It won't be necessary,' he answered, with the same quiet smile. 'When you have fitted the puzzle together you don't need to be told you have done it.'

It was most infernally tantalising. I pondered on the problem with a scowl of such intense cogitation that Thorndyke laughed outright.

'It seems to me,' I said, at length, 'that the identity of the remains is the primary question and that it is a question of fact. It doesn't seem any use to speculate about it.'

'Exactly. Either these bones are the remains of John Bellingham or they are not. There will be no doubt on the subject when all the bones are assembled—if ever they are. And the settlement of that question will probably throw light on the further question: Who deposited them in the places in which they were found? But to return to your observations: did you gather nothing from the other bones? From the complete state of the neck vertebrae, for instance?'

'Well, it did strike me as rather odd that the fellow should have gone to the trouble of separating the atlas from the skull. He must have been pretty handy with the scalpel to have done it as cleanly as he seems to have done; but I don't see why he should have gone about the business in the most inconvenient way.'

'You notice the uniformity of method. He has separated the head from the spine, instead of cutting through the spine lower down, as most persons would have done: he removed the arms with the entire shoulder-girdle, instead of simply cutting them off at the shoulder-joints. Even in the thighs the same peculiarity appears; for in neither case was the knee-cap found with the thigh-bone, although it seems to have been searched for. Now the obvious way to divide the leg is to cut through the patellar ligament, leaving the knee-cap attached to the thigh. But in this case, the knee-cap appears to have been left attached to the shank. Can you explain why this person should have adopted this unusual and rather inconvenient method? Can you suggest a motive for this procedure, or can you think of any circumstances which might lead a person to adopt this method by preference?'

'It seems as if he wished, for some reason, to divide the body into definite anatomical regions.'

Thorndyke chuckled. 'You are not offering that suggestion as an explanation, are you? Because it would require more explaining than the original problem. And it is not even true. Anatomically speaking, the knee-cap appertains to the thigh rather than to the shank. It is a sesamoid bone belonging to the thigh muscles; yet in this case it has been left attached, apparently, to the shank. No, Berkeley, that cat won't jump. Our unknown operator was not preparing a skeleton as a museum specimen; he was dividing a body up into convenient sized portions for the purpose of conveying them to various ponds. Now what circumstances might have led him to divide it in this peculiar manner?'

'I am afraid I have no suggestion to offer. Have you?'

Thorndyke suddenly lapsed into ambiguity. 'I think,' he said, 'it is possible to conceive such circumstances, and so, probably, will you if you think it over.'

'Did you gather anything of importance from the evidence at the inquest?' I asked.

'It is difficult to say,' he replied. 'The whole of my conclusions in this case are based on what is virtually circumstantial evidence. I have not one single fact of which I can say that it admits only of a single interpretation. Still, it must be remembered that even the most inconclusive facts, if sufficiently multiplied, yield a highly conclusive total. And my little pile of evidence is growing, particle by particle; but we mustn't sit here gossiping at this hour of the day; I have to consult with Marchmont and you say that you have an early afternoon engagement. We can walk together as far as Fleet Street.'

A minute or two later we went our respective ways, Thorndyke towards Lombard Street and I to Fetter Lane, not unmindful of those coming events that were casting so agreeable a shadow before them.

There was only one message awaiting me, and when Adolphus had delivered it (amidst mephitic fumes that rose from the basement, premonitory of fried plaice), I pocketed my stethoscope and betook myself to Gunpowder Alley, the aristocratic abode of my patient, joyfully threading the now familiar passages of Gough Square and Wine Office Court, and meditating pleasantly on the curious literary flavour that pervades these little-known regions. For the shade of the author of 'Rasselas' still seems to haunt the scenes of his Titanic labours and his ponderous but homely and temperate rejoicings. Every court and alley whispers of books and of the making of books: formes of type, trundled noisily on trolleys by ink-smeared boys, salute the wayfarer at odd corners; piles of strawboard, rolls or bales of paper, drums of printing-ink or roller composition stand on the pavement outside dark entries; basement windows give glimpses into Hadean caverns tenanted by legions of printer's devils; and the very air is charged with the hum of press and with odours of glue and paste and oil. The entire neighbourhood is given up to the printer and binder; and even my patient turned out to be a guillotine-knife grinder—a ferocious and revolutionary calling strangely at variance with his harmless appearance and meek bearing.

I was in good time at my tryst, despite the hindrances of fried plaice and invalid guillotinists; but, early as I was, Miss Bellingham was already waiting in the garden—she had been filling a bowl with flowers—ready to sally forth.

'It is quite like old times,' she said, as we turned into Fetter Lane, 'to be going to the Museum together. It brings back the Tell el Amarna tablets and all your kindness and unselfish labour, suppose we shall walk there to-day?'

'Certainly,' I replied; 'I am not going to share your society with the common mortals who ride in omnibuses. That would be sheer, simple waste. Besides, it is more companionable to walk.'

'Yes, it is; and the bustle of the streets makes one more appreciative of the quiet of the Museum. What are we going to look at when we get there?'

'You must decide that,' I replied. 'You know the collection much better than I do.'

'Well, now,' she mused, 'I wonder what you would like to see; or, in other words, what I should like you to see. The old English pottery is rather fascinating, especially the Fulham ware. I rather think I shall take you to see that.'

She reflected a while, and then, just as we reached the gate of Staple Inn, she stopped and looked thoughtfully down the Gray's Inn Road.

'You have taken a great interest in our "case" as Doctor Thorndyke calls it. Would you like to see the churchyard where Uncle John wished to be buried? It is a little out of our way, but we are not in a hurry, are we?'

I, certainly, was not. Any deviation that might prolong our walk was welcome, and, as to the place—why, all places were alike to me if only she were by my side. Besides, the churchyard was really of some interest, since it was undoubtedly the 'exciting cause' of the obnoxious paragraph two of the will. I accordingly expressed a desire to make its acquaintance, and we crossed to the entrance to Gray's Inn Road.

'Do you ever try,' she asked, as we turned down the dingy thoroughfare, 'to picture familiar places as they looked a couple of hundred years ago?'

'Yes,' I answered, 'and very difficult I find it. One has to manufacture the materials for reconstruction, and then the present aspect of the place will keep obtruding itself. But some places are easier to reconstitute than others.'

'That is what I find,' said she. 'Now Holborn, for example, is quite easy to reconstruct, though I daresay the imaginary form isn't a bit like the original. But there are fragments left, like Staple Inn and the front of Gray's Inn; and then one has seen prints of the old Middle Row and some of the taverns, so that one has some material with which to help out one's imagination. But this road we are walking in always baffles me. It looks so old and yet is, for the most part, so new that I find it impossible to make a satisfactory picture of its appearance, say, when Sir Roger de Coverley might have strolled in Gray's Inn Walks, or farther back, when Francis Bacon had chambers in the Inn.'

'I imagine,' said I, 'that part of the difficulty is in the mixed character of the neighbourhood. Here, on the one side, is old Gray's Inn, not much changed since Bacon's time—his chambers are still to be seen, I think, over the gateway; and there, on the Clerkenwell side, is a dense and rather squalid neighbourhood which has grown up over a region partly rural and wholly fugitive in character. Places like Bagnigge Wells and Hockley in the Hole would not have had many buildings that were likely to survive; and in the absence of surviving specimens the imagination hasn't much to work from.'

'I daresay you are right,' said she. 'Certainly, the purlieus of old Clerkenwell present a very confused picture to me; whereas, in the case of an old street like, say, Great Ormond Street, one has only to sweep away the modern buildings and replace them with glorious old houses like the few that remain, dig up the roadway and pavements and lay down cobble-stones, plant a few wooden posts, hang up one or two oil-lamps, and the transformation is complete. And a very delightful transformation it is.'

'Very delightful; which, by the way, is a melancholy thought. For we ought to be doing better work than our forefathers; whereas what we actually do is to pull down the old buildings, clap the doorways, porticoes, panelling, and mantels in our museums, and then run up something inexpensive and useful and deadly uninteresting in their place.'

My companion looked at me and laughed softly. 'For a naturally cheerful, and even gay young man,' said she, 'you are most amazingly pessimistic. The mantle of Jeremiah—if he ever wore one—seems to have fallen on you, but without in the least impairing-your good spirits excepting in regard to matters architectural.'

'I have much to be thankful for,' said I. 'Am I not taken to the Museum by a fair lady? And does she not stay me with mummy cases and comfort me with crockery?'

'Pottery,' she corrected; and then as we met a party of grave-looking women emerging from a side-street, she said: 'I suppose these are lady medical students.'

'Yes, on their way to the Royal Free Hospital. Note the gravity of their demeanour and contrast it with the levity of the male student.'

'I was doing so,' she answered, 'and wondering why professional women are usually so much more serious than men.'

'Perhaps,' I suggested, 'it is a matter of selection. A peculiar type of woman is attracted to the professions, whereas every man has to earn his living as a matter of course.'

'Yes, I daresay that is the explanation. This is our turning.'

We passed into Heathcote Street, at the end of which was an open gate giving entrance to one of those disused and metamorphosed burial-grounds that are to be met with in the older districts of London; in which the dispossessed dead are jostled into corners to make room for the living. Many of the headstones were still standing, and others, displaced to make room for asphalted walks and seats, were ranged around by the walls exhibiting inscriptions made meaningless by their removal. It was a pleasant enough place on this summer afternoon, contrasted with the dingy streets whence we had come, though its grass was faded and yellow and the twitter of the birds in the trees mingled with the hideous Board-school drawl of the children who played around the seats and the few remaining tombs.

'So this is the last resting-place of the illustrious house of Bellingham,' said I.

'Yes; and we are not the only distinguished people who repose in this place. The daughter of no less a person than Richard Cromwell is buried here; the tomb is still standing—but perhaps you have been here before, and know it.'

'I don't think I have ever been here before; and yet there is something about the place that seems familiar.' I looked around, cudgelling my brains for the key to the dimly reminiscent sensations that the place evoked; until, suddenly, I caught sight of a group of buildings away to the west, enclosed within a wall heightened by a wooden trellis.

'Yes, of course!' I exclaimed. 'I remember the place now. I have never been in this part before, but in that enclosure beyond, which opens at the end of Henrietta Street, there used to be and may be still, for all I know, a school of anatomy, at which I attended in my first year; in fact, I did my first dissection there.'

'There was a certain gruesome appropriateness in the position of the school,' remarked Miss Bellingham. 'It would have been really convenient in the days of the resurrection men. Your material would have been delivered at your very door. Was it a large school?'

'The attendance varied according to the time of the year. Sometimes I worked there quite alone. I used to let myself in with a key and hoist my subject out of a sort of sepulchral tank by means of a chain tackle. It was a ghoulish business. You have no idea how awful the body used to look to my unaccustomed eyes, as it rose slowly out of the tank. It was like the resurrection scenes that you see on some old tombstones, where the deceased is shown rising out of his coffin while the skeleton, Death, falls vanquished with his dart shattered and his crown toppling off.

'I remember, too, that the demonstrator used to wear a blue apron, which created a sort of impression of a cannibal butcher's shop. But I am afraid I am shocking you.'

'No you are not. Every profession has its unpresentable aspects, which ought not to be seen by outsiders. Think of the sculptor's studio and of the sculptor himself when he is modelling a large figure or group in the clay. He might be a bricklayer or a road-sweeper if you judge by his appearance. This is the tomb I was telling you about.'

We halted before the plain coffer of stone, weathered and wasted by age, but yet kept in decent repair by some pious hands, and read the inscription, setting forth with modest pride, that here reposed Anna, sixth daughter of Richard Cromwell, 'The Protector.' It was a simple monument and commonplace enough, with the crude severity of the ascetic age to which it belonged. But still, it carried the mind back to those stirring times when the leafy shades of Gray's Inn Lane must have resounded with the clank of weapons and the tramp of armed men; when this bald recreation-ground was a rustic churchyard, standing amidst green fields and hedgerows, and countrymen leading their pack-horses into London through the Lane would stop to look in over the wooden gate.

Miss Bellingham looked at me critically as I stood thus reflecting, and presently remarked: 'I think you and I have a good many mental habits in common.'

'I looked up inquiringly, and she continued: 'I notice that an old tombstone seems to set you meditating. So it does me. When I look at an ancient monument, and especially an old headstone, I find myself almost unconsciously retracing the years to the date that is written on the stone. Why do you think that is? Why should a monument be so stimulating to the imagination? And why should a common headstone be more so than any other?'

'I suppose it is,' I answered reflectively, 'that a churchyard monument is a peculiarly personal thing and appertains in a peculiar way to a particular time. And the circumstance that it has stood untouched by the passing years while everything around has changed, helps the imagination to span the interval. And the common headstone, the memorial of some dead and gone farmer or labourer who lived and died in the village hard by, is still more intimate and suggestive. The rustic, childish sculpture of the village mason and the artless doggerel of the village schoolmaster, bring back the time and place and the conditions of life more vividly than the more scholarly inscriptions and the more artistic enrichments of monuments of greater pretensions. But where are your own family tombstones?'

'They are over in that farther corner. There is an intelligent, but inopportune, person apparently copying the epitaphs. I wish he would go away. I want to show them to you.'

I now noticed, for the first time, an individual engaged, notebook in hand, in making a careful survey of a group of old headstones. Evidently he was making a copy of the inscriptions, for not only was he poring attentively over the writing on the face of the stone, but now and again he helped out his vision by running his fingers over the worn lettering.

'That is my grandfather's tombstone that he is copying now,' said Miss Bellingham; and even as she spoke, the man turned and directed a searching glance at us with a pair of keen, spectacled eyes.

Simultaneously we uttered an exclamation of surprise; for the investigator was Mr. Jellicoe.

CHAPTER XVI. O ARTEMIDORUS, FAREWELL!

WHETHER or not Mr. Jellicoe was surprised to see us, it is impossible to say. His countenance (which served the ordinary purposes of a face, inasmuch as it contained the principal organs of special sense, with inlets to the alimentary and respiratory tracts) was, as an apparatus for the expression of the emotions, a total failure. To a thought-reader it would have been about as helpful as the face carved upon the handle of an umbrella; a comparison suggested, perhaps, by a certain resemblance to such an object. He advanced, holding open his notebook and pencil, and having saluted us with a stiff bow and an old-fashioned flourish of his hat, shook hands rheumatically and waited for us to speak.

'This is an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Jellicoe,' said Miss Bellingham.

'It is very good of you to say so,' he replied.

'And quite a coincidence—that we should all happen to come here on the same day.'

'A coincidence, certainly,' he admitted, 'and if we all happened not to come—which must have occurred frequently—that also would have been a coincidence.'

'I suppose it would,' said she, 'but I hope we are not interrupting you.'

'Thank you, no. I had just finished when I had the pleasure of perceiving you.'

You were making some notes in reference to the case, I imagine,' said I. It was an impertinent question, put with malice aforethought for the mere pleasure of hearing him evade it.

'The case?' he repeated. 'You are referring, perhaps, to Stevens versus the Parish Council?'

'I think Doctor Berkeley was referring to the case of my uncle's will,' Miss Bellingham said quite gravely, though with a suspicious dimpling about the corners of her mouth.

'Indeed,' said Mr. Jellicoe. 'There is a case, is there; a suit?'

'I mean the proceedings instituted by Mr. Hurst.'

'Oh, but that was merely an application to the Court, and is, moreover, finished and done with. At least, so I understand. I speak, of course, subject to correction; I am not acting for Mr. Hurst, you will be pleased to remember. As a matter of fact,' he continued, after a brief pause, 'I was just refreshing my memory as to the wording of the inscriptions on these stones, especially that of your grandfather, Francis Bellingham. It has occurred to me that if it should appear by the finding of the coroner's jury that your uncle is deceased, it would be proper and decorous that some memorial should be placed here. But, as the burial ground is closed, there might be some difficulty about erecting a new monument, whereas there would probably be none in adding an inscription to one already existing. Hence these investigations. For if the inscriptions on your grandfather's stone had set forth that "here rests the body of Francis Bellingham," it would have been manifestly improper to add "also that of John Bellingham, son of the above". Fortunately the inscription was more discreetly drafted, merely recording the fact that this monument is "sacred to the memory of the said Francis", and not committing itself as to the whereabouts of the remains. But perhaps I am interrupting you.'

'No, not at all,' replied Miss Bellingham (which was grossly untrue; he was interrupting me most intolerably); 'we were going to the British Museum and just looked in here on our way.'

'Ha,' said Mr. Jellicoe, 'now, I happen to be going to the Museum too, to see Doctor Norbury. I suppose that is another coincidence?'

'Certainly it is,' Miss Bellingham replied; and then she asked: 'Shall we walk together?' and the old curmudgeon actually said 'yes'—confound him!

We returned to the Gray's Inn Road, where, as there was now room for us to walk abreast, I proceeded to indemnify myself for the lawyer's unwelcome company by leading the conversation back to the subject of the missing man.

'Was there anything, Mr. Jellicoe, in Mr. John Bellingham's state of health that would make it probable that he might die suddenly?'

The lawyer looked at me suspiciously for a few moments and then remarked:

'You seem to be greatly interested in John Bellingham and his affairs.'

'I am. My friends are deeply concerned in them, and the case itself is of more than common interest from a professional point of view.'

'And what is the bearing of this particular question?'

'Surely it is obvious,' said I. 'If a missing man is known to have suffered from some affection, such as heart disease, aneurism, or arterial degeneration, likely to produce sudden death, that fact will surely be highly material to the question as to whether he is probably dead or alive.'

'No doubt you are right,' said Mr. Jellicoe. 'I have little knowledge of medical affairs, but doubtless you are right. As to the question itself, I am Mr. Bellingham's lawyer, not his doctor. His health is a matter that lies outside my jurisdiction. But you heard my evidence in Court, to the effect that the testator appeared, to my untutored observation, to be a healthy man. I can say no more now.'

'If the question is of any importance,' said Miss Bellingham, 'I wonder they did not call his doctor and settle it definitely. My own impression is that he was—or is—rather a strong and sound man. He certainly recovered very quickly and completely after his accident.'

'What accident was that?' I asked.

'Oh, hasn't my father told you? It occurred while he was staying with us. He slipped from a kerb and broke one of the bones of the left ankle—somebody's fracture—'

'Pott's?'

'Yes; that was the name—Pott's fracture; and he broke both his knee-caps as well. Sir Morgan Bennet had to perform an operation, or he would have been a cripple for life. As it was, he was about again in a few weeks, apparently none the worse excepting for a slight weakness of the left ankle.'

'Could he walk upstairs?' I asked.

'Oh, yes; and play golf and ride a bicycle.'

'You are sure he broke both knee-caps?'

'Quite sure. I remember that it was mentioned as an uncommon injury, and that Sir Morgan seemed quite pleased with him for doing it.'

'That sounds rather libellous; but I expect he was pleased with the result of the operation. He might well be.'

Here there was a brief lull in the conversation, and, even as I was trying to think of a poser for Mr. Jellicoe, that gentleman took the opportunity to change the subject.

'Are you going to the Egyptian rooms?' he asked.

'No,' replied Miss Bellingham; 'we are going to look at the pottery.'

'Ancient or modern?'

'That old Fulham ware is what chiefly interests us at present; that of the seventeenth century. I don't know whether you call that ancient or modern.'

'Neither do I,' said Mr. Jellicoe. 'Antiquity and modernity are terms that have no fixed connotation. They are purely relative and their application in a particular instance has to be determined by a sort of sliding-scale. To a furniture collector, a Tudor chair or a Jacobean chest is ancient; to an architect, their period is modern, whereas an eleventh-century church is ancient; but to an Egyptologist, accustomed to remains of a vast antiquity, both are products of modern periods separated by an insignificant interval. And, I suppose,' he added reflectively, 'that to a geologist, the traces of the very earliest dawn of human history appertain only to the recent period. Conceptions of time, like all other conceptions, are relative.'

'You would appear to be a disciple of Herbert Spencer,' I remarked.

'I am a disciple of Arthur Jellicoe, sir,' he retorted. And I believed him.

By the time we had reached the Museum he had become almost genial; and, if less amusing in this frame, he was so much more instructive and entertaining that I refrained from baiting him, and permitted him to discuss his favourite topic unhindered, especially since my companion listened with lively interest. Nor, when we entered the great hall, did he relinquish possession of us, and we followed submissively, as he led the way past the winged bulls of Nineveh and the great seated statues, until we found ourselves, almost without the exercise of our volition, in the upper room amidst the glaring mummy cases that had witnessed the birth of my friendship with Ruth Bellingham.

'Before I leave you,' said Mr. Jellicoe, 'I should like to show you that mummy that we were discussing the other evening; the one, you remember, that my friend, John Bellingham, presented to the Museum a little time before his disappearance. The point that I mentioned is only a trivial one, but it may become of interest hereafter if any plausible explanation should be forthcoming.' He led us along the room until we arrived at the case containing John Bellingham's gift, where he halted and gazed in at the mummy with the affectionate reflectiveness of the connoisseur.

'The bitumen coating was what we were discussing, Miss Bellingham,' said he. 'You have seen it, of course.'

'Yes,' she answered. 'It is a dreadful disfigurement, isn't it?'

'Aesthetically it is to be deplored, but it adds a certain speculative interest to the specimen. You notice that the black coating leaves the principal decoration and the whole of the inscription untouched, which is precisely the part that one would expect to find covered up; whereas the feet and the back, which probably bore no writing, are quite thickly crusted. If you stoop down, you can see that the bitumen was daubed freely into the lacings of the back, where it served no purpose, so that even the strings are embedded.' He stooped as he spoke, and peered up inquisitively at the back of the mummy, where it was visible between the supports.

'Has Doctor Norbury any explanation to offer?' asked Miss Bellingham.

'None whatever,' replied Mr. Jellicoe. 'He finds it as great a mystery as I do. But he thinks that we may get some suggestion from the Director when he comes back. He is a very great authority, as you know, and a practical excavator of great experience too. I mustn't stay here talking of these things, and keeping you from your pottery. Perhaps I have stayed too long already. If I have I ask your pardon, and I will now wish you a very good afternoon.' With a sudden return to his customary wooden impassivity, he shook hands with us, bowed stiffly, and took himself off towards the curator's office.

'What a strange man that is,' said Miss Bellingham, as Mr. Jellicoe disappeared through the doorway at the end of the room, 'or perhaps I should say, a strange being, for I can hardly think of him as a man. I have never met any other human creature at all like him.'

'He is certainly a queer old fogey,' I agreed.

'Yes, but there is something more than that. He is so emotionless, so remote and aloof from all mundane concerns. He moves among ordinary men and women, but as a mere presence, an unmoved spectator of their actions, quite dispassionate and impersonal.'

'Yes; he is astonishingly self-contained; in fact, he seems, as you say, to go to and fro among men, enveloped in a sort of infernal atmosphere of his own, like Marley's ghost. But he is lively and human enough as soon as the subject of Egyptian antiquities is broached.'

'Lively, but not human. He is always, to me, quite unhuman. Even when he is most interested, and even enthusiastic, he is a mere personification of knowledge. Nature ought to have furnished him with an ibis' head like Tahuti; then he would have looked his part.'

'He would have made a rare sensation in Lincoln's Inn if he had,' said I; and we both laughed heartily at the imaginary picture of Tahuti Jellicoe, slender-beaked and top-hatted, going about his business in Lincoln's Inn and the Law Courts.

Insensibly, as we talked, we had drawn near to the mummy of Artemidorus, and now my companion halted before the case with her thoughtful grey eyes bent dreamily on the face that looked out at us. I watched her with reverent admiration. How charming she looked as she stood with her sweet, grave face turned so earnestly to the object of her mystical affection! How dainty and full of womanly dignity and grace! And then, suddenly it was borne in upon me that a great change had come over her since the day of our first meeting. She had grown younger, more girlish, and more gentle. At first she had seemed much older than I; a sad-faced woman, weary, solemn, enigmatic, almost gloomy, with a bitter, ironic humour and a bearing distant and cold. Now she was only maidenly and sweet; tinged, it is true, with a certain seriousness, but frank and gracious and wholly lovable.

Could the change be due to our friendship? As I asked myself the question, my heart leaped with a new hope. I yearned to tell her all that she was to me—all that I hoped we might be to one another in the years to come.

At length I ventured to break in upon her reverie.

'What are you thinking about so earnestly, fair lady?'

She turned quickly with a bright smile and sparkling eyes that looked frankly into mine. 'I was wondering,' said she, 'if he was jealous of my new friend. But what a baby I am to talk such nonsense!'

She laughed softly and happily with just an adorable hint of shyness.

'Why should he be jealous?' I asked.

'Well, you see, before—we were friends, he had me all to himself. I have never had a man friend before—except my father—and no really intimate friend at all. And I was very lonely in those days, after our troubles had befallen. I am naturally solitary, but still, I am only a girl; I am not a philosopher. So when I felt very lonely, I used to come here and look at Artemidorus and make believe that he knew all the sadness of my life and sympathised with me. It was very silly, I know, but yet, somehow it was a real comfort to me.'

'It was not silly of you at all. He must have been a good man, a gentle, sweet-faced man who had won the love of those who knew him, as this beautiful memorial tells; and it was wise and good of you to sweeten the bitterness of your life with the fragrance of this human love that blossoms in the dust after the lapse of centuries. No, you were not silly, and Artemidorus is not jealous of your new friend.'

'Are you sure?' She still smiled as she asked the question, but was soft—almost tender—and there was a note of whimsical anxiety in her voice.

'Quite sure. I give you my confident assurance.' She laughed gaily.

'Then,' said she, 'I am satisfied, for I am sure you know. But here is a mighty telepathist who can read the thoughts even of a mummy. A most formidable companion. But tell me how you know.'

'I know because it is he who gave you to me to be my friend. Don't you remember?'

'Yes, I remember,' she answered softly. 'It was when you were so sympathetic with my foolish whim that I felt we were really friends.'

'And I, when you confided your pretty fancy to me, thanked you for the gift of your friendship, and treasured it, and do still treasure it, above everything on earth.'

She looked at me quickly with a sort of nervousness in her manner, and cast down her eyes. Then, after a few moments' almost embarrassed silence, as if to bring back our talk to a less emotional plane, she said:

'Do you notice the curious way in which this memorial divides itself up into two parts?'

'How do you mean?' I asked, a little disconcerted by the sudden descent.

'I mean that there is a part of it that is purely decorative and a part that is expressive or emotional. You notice that the general design and scheme of decoration, although really Greek in feeling, follows rigidly the Egyptian conventions. But the portrait is entirely in the Greek manner, and when they came to that pathetic farewell, it had to be spoken in their own tongue, written in their own familiar characters.'

'Yes. I have noticed that and admired the taste with which they have kept the inscription so inconspicuous as not to clash with the decoration. An obtrusive inscription in Greek characters would have spoiled the consistency of the whole scheme.'

'Yes, it would.' She assented absently as if she were thinking of something else, and once more gazed thoughtfully at the mummy. I watched her with deep content: noted the lovely contour of her cheek, the soft masses of hair that strayed away so gracefully from her brow, and thought her the most wonderful creature that had ever trod the earth. Suddenly she looked at me reflectively.

'I wonder,' she said, 'what made me tell you about Artemidorus. It was a rather silly, childish sort of make-believe, and I wouldn't have told anyone else for the world; not even my father. How did I know that you would sympathise and understand?'

She asked the question in all simplicity with her serious grey eyes looking inquiringly into mine. And the answer came to me in a flash, with the beating of my own heart.

'I will tell you how you know, Ruth,' I whispered passionately. 'It was because I loved you more than anyone else in the world has ever loved you, and you felt my love in your heart and called it sympathy.'

I stopped short, for she had blushed scarlet, and then turned deathly pale. And now she looked at me wildly, almost with terror.

'Have I shocked you, Ruth dearest?' I exclaimed penitently, 'have I spoken too soon? If I have, forgive me. But I had to tell you. I have been eating my heart out for love of you for I don't know how long. I think I have loved you from the first day we met. Perhaps I shouldn't have spoken yet, but, Ruth dear, if you only knew what a sweet girl you are, you wouldn't blame me.'

'I don't blame you,' she said, almost in a whisper; 'I blame myself. I have been a bad friend to you, who have been so loyal and loving to me. I ought not to have let this happen. For it can't be, Paul; I can't say what you want me to say. We can never be anything more to one another than friends.'

A cold hand seemed to grasp my heart—a horrible fear that I had lost all that I cared for—all that made life desirable.

'Why can't we?' I asked. 'Do you mean that—that the gods have been gracious to some other man?'

'No, no,' she answered hastily—almost indignantly, 'of course I don't mean that.'

'Then it is only that you don't love me yet. Of course you don't. Why should you? But you will, dear, some day. And I will wait patiently until that day comes and not trouble you with entreaties. I will wait for you as Jacob waited for Rachel; and as the long years seemed to him but as a few days because of the love he bore her, so it shall be with me, if only you will not send me away quite without hope.'

She was looking down, white-faced, with a hardening of the lips as if she were in bodily pain. 'You don't understand,' she whispered. It can't be—it can never be. There is something that makes it impossible, now and always. I can't tell you more than that.'

But, Ruth dearest,' I pleaded despairingly, 'may it not become possible some day? Can it not be made possible? I can wait, but I can't give you up. Is there no chance whatever that this obstacle may be removed?'

'Very little, I fear. Hardly any. No, Paul; it is hopeless, and I can't bear to talk about it. Let me go now. Let us say good-bye here and see one another no more for a while. Perhaps we may be friends again some day—when you have forgiven me.'

'Forgiven you, dearest!' I exclaimed. 'There is nothing to forgive. And we are friends, Ruth. Whatever happens, you are the dearest friend I have on earth, or can ever have.'

'Thank you, Paul,' she said faintly. 'You are very good to me. But let me go, please. I must be alone.'

4 She held out a trembling hand, and, as I took it, I was shocked to see how terribly agitated and ill she looked.

'May I not come with you, dear?' I pleaded.

'No, no!' she exclaimed breathlessly; 'I must go away by myself. I want to be alone. Good-bye.'

'Before I let you go, Ruth—if you must go—I must have a most solemn promise from you.'

Her sad grey eyes met mine and her lips quivered with an unspoken question.

'You must promise me,' I went on, 'that if ever this barrier that parts us should be removed, you will let me know instantly. Remember that I love you always, and that I am waiting for you always on this side of the grave.'

She caught her breath in a quick little sob, and pressed my hand.

'Yes,' she whispered: 'I promise. Good-bye.'

She pressed my hand again and was gone; and, as I gazed at the empty doorway through which she had passed, I caught a glimpse of her reflection in a glass on the landing, where she had paused for a moment to wipe her eyes. I felt it, in a manner, indelicate to have seen her, and turned away my head quickly; and yet I was conscious of a certain selfish satisfaction in the sweet sympathy that her grief bespoke.

But now that she was gone a horrible sense of desolation descended on me. Only now, by the consciousness of irreparable loss, did I begin to realise the meaning of this passion of love that had stolen unawares into my life. How it had glorified the present and spread a glamour of delight over the dimly considered future: how all pleasures and desires, hopes and ambitions, had converged upon it as a focus; how it had stood out as the one great reality behind which the other circumstances of life were as a background, shimmering, half seen, immaterial and unreal. And now it was gone—lost, as it seemed, beyond hope; and that which was left to me was but the empty frame from which the picture had vanished.

I have no idea how long I stood rooted to the spot where she had left me, wrapped in a dull consciousness of pain, immersed in a half-numb reverie. Recent events flitted, dream-like, through my mind; our happy labours in the reading-room; our first visit to the Museum; and this present day that had opened so brightly and with such joyous promise. One by one these phantoms of a vanished happiness came and went. Occasional visitors sauntered into the room—but the galleries were mostly empty that day—gazed inquisitively at my motionless figure, and went their way. And still the dull, intolerable ache in my breast went on, the only vivid consciousness that was left to me.

Presently I raised my eyes and met those of the portrait. The sweet, pensive face of the old Greek settler looked out at me wistfully as though he would offer comfort; as though he would tell me that he, too, had known sorrow when he lived his life in the sunny Fayyum. And a subtle consolation, like the faint scent of old rose leaves, seemed to exhale from that friendly face that had looked on the birth of my happiness and had seen it wither and fade. I turned away, at last, with a silent farewell; and when I looked back, he seemed to speed me on my way with gentle valediction.

CHAPTER XVII. THE ACCUSING FINGER

OF my wanderings after I left the Museum on that black and dismal dies irie, I have but a dim recollection. But I must have travelled a quite considerable distance, since it wanted an hour or two to the time for returning to the surgery, and I spent the interval walking swiftly through streets and squares, unmindful of the happenings around, intent only on my present misfortune, and driven by a natural impulse to seek relief in bodily exertion. For mental distress sets up, as it were, a sort of induced current of physical unrest; a beneficent arrangement, by which a dangerous excess of emotional excitement may be transformed into motor energy, and so safely got rid of. The motor apparatus acts as a safety-valve to the psychical; and if the engine races for a while, with the onset of a bodily fatigue the emotional pressure-gauge returns to a normal reading.

And so it was with me. At first I was conscious of nothing but a sense of utter bereavement, of the shipwreck of all my hopes. But, by degrees, as I threaded my way among the moving crowds, I came to a better and more worthy frame of mind. After all, I had lost nothing that I had ever had. Ruth was still all that she had ever been to me—perhaps even more; and if that had been a rich endowment yesterday, why not to-day also? And how unfair it would be to her if I should mope and grieve over a disappointment that was no fault of hers and for which there was no remedy! Thus I reasoned with myself, and to such purpose that, by the time I reached Fetter Lane, my dejection had come to quite manageable proportions and I had formed the resolution to get back to the status quo ante helium as soon as possible.

About eight o'clock, as I was sitting alone in the consulting-room, gloomily persuading myself that I was now quite resigned to the inevitable, Adolphus brought me a registered packet, at the handwriting on which my heart gave such a bound that I had much ado to sign the receipt. As soon as Adolphus had retired (with undissembled contempt of the shaky signature) I tore open the packet, and as I drew out a letter a tiny box dropped on the table.

The letter was all too short, and I devoured it over and over again with the eagerness of a condemned man reading a reprieve:


'My Dear Paul.

'Forgive me for leaving you so abruptly this afternoon, and leaving you so unhappy, too. I am more sane and reasonable now, and so send you greeting and beg you not to grieve for that which can never be. It is quite impossible, dear friend, and I entreat you, as you care for me, never speak of it again; never again to make me feel that I can give you so little when you have given so much. And do not try to see me for a little while. I shall miss your visits, and so will my father, who is very fond of you; but it is better that we should not meet, until we can take up our old relations—if that can ever be.

'I am sending you a little keepsake in case we should drift apart on the eddies of life. It is the ring that I told you about—the one that my uncle save me. Perhaps you may be able to wear it as you have a small hand, but in any case keep it in remembrance of our friendship. The device on it is the Eye of Osiris, a mystic symbol for which I have a sentimentally superstitious affection, as also had my poor uncle, who actually bore it tattooed in scarlet on his breast. It signifies that the great judge of the dead looks down on men to see that justice is done and that truth prevails. So I commend you to the good Osiris; may his eye be upon you, ever watchful over your welfare in the absence of

'Your affectionate friend.

'Ruth.'


It was a sweet letter, I thought, even if it carried little comfort; quiet and reticent like its writer, but with an undertone of affection. I laid it down at length, and, taking the ring from its box, examined it fondly. Though but a copy, it had all the quaintness and feeling of the antique original, and, above all, it was fragrant with the spirit of the giver. Dainty and delicate, wrought of silver and gold, with an inlay of copper, I would not have exchanged it for the Koh-i-noor; and when I had slipped it on my finger its tiny eye of blue enamel looked up at me so friendly and companionable that I felt the glamour of the old-world superstition stealing over me too.

Not a single patient came in this evening, which was well for me (and also for the patient), as I was able forthwith to write in reply a long letter; but this I shall spare the long-suffering reader excepting its concluding paragraph:


'And now, dearest, I have said my say; once for all I have said it, and I will not open my mouth on the subject again (I am not actually opening it now) "until the times do alter". And if the times do never alter—if it shall come to pass, in due course, that we two shall sit side by side, white-haired, and crinkly-nosed, and lean our poor old chins upon our sticks and mumble and gibber amicably over the things that might have been if the good Osiris had come up to the scratch—I will still be content, because your friendship, Ruth, is better than another woman's love. So you see, I have taken my gruel and come up to lime smiling—if you will pardon the pugilistic metaphor—and I promise you loyally to do your bidding and never again to distress you.'

'Your faithful and loving friend.

Paul.'


This letter I addressed and stamped, and then, with a wry grimace which I palmed off on myself (but not on Adolphus) as a cheerful smile, I went out and dropped it into the post-box; after which I further deluded myself by murmuring Nunc dimittis and assuring myself that the incident was now absolutely closed.

But despite this comfortable assurance I was, in the days that followed, an exceedingly miserable young man. It is all very well to write down troubles of this kind as trivial and sentimental. They are nothing of the kind. When a man of essentially serious nature has found the one woman of all the world who fulfils his highest ideals of womanhood, who is, in fact, a woman in ten thousand, to whom he has given all that he has to give of love and worship, the sudden wreck of all his hopes is no small calamity. And so I found it. Resign myself as I would to the bitter reality, the ghost of the might-have-been haunted me night and day, so that I spent my leisure wandering abstractedly about the streets, always trying to banish thought and never for an instant succeeding. A great unrest was upon me; and when I received a letter from Dick Barnard announcing his arrival at Madeira, homeward bound, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had no plans for the future, but I longed to be rid of thenow irksome, routine of the practice—to be free to come and go when and how I pleased.

One evening, as I sat consuming with little appetite my solitary supper, there fell on me a sudden sense of loneliness. The desire that I had hitherto felt to be alone with my own miserable reflections gave place to a yearning for human companionship. That, indeed, which I craved for most was forbidden, and I must abide by my lady's wishes; but there were my friends in the Temple. It was more than a week since I had seen them; in fact, we had not met since the morning of that unhappiest day of my life. They would be wondering what had become of me. I rose from the table, and having filled my pouch from a tin of tobacco, set forth for King's Bench Walk.

As I approached the entry of No. 5A in the gathering darkness I met Thorndyke himself emerging encumbered with two deck-chairs, a reading-lantern, and a book.

'Why, Berkeley!' he exclaimed, 'is it indeed thou? We have been wondering what had become of you.'

'It is a long time since I looked you up,' I admitted.

He scrutinised me attentively by the light of the entry lamp, and then remarked: 'Fetter Lane doesn't seem to be agreeing with you very well, my son. You are looking quite thin and peaky.'

'Well, I've nearly done with it. Barnard will be back in about ten days. His ship is putting in at Madeira to coal and take in some cargo, and then he is coming home. Where are you going with those chairs?'

'I am going to sit down at the end of the Walk by the railings. It's cooler there than indoors. If you will wait a moment I will go and fetch another chair for Jervis, though he won't be back for a little while.' He ran up the stairs, and presently returned with a third chair, and we carried our impedimenta down to the quiet corner of the Walk.

'So your term of servitude is coming to an end,' said he, when we had placed the chairs and hung the lantern on the railings. 'Any other news?'

'No. Have you any?'

'I am afraid I have not. All my inquiries have yielded negative results. There is, of course, a considerable body of evidence, and it all seems to point one way. But I am unwilling to make a decisive move without something more definite. I am really waiting for confirmation or otherwise of my ideas on the subject; for some new item of evidence.'

'I didn't know there was any evidence.'

'Didn't you?' said Thorndyke. 'But you know as much as I know. You have all the essential facts; but apparently you haven't collated them and extracted their meaning. If you had, you would have found them curiously significant.'

'I suppose I mustn't ask what their significance is?' No, I think not. When I am conducting a case I mention my surmises to nobody—not even to Jervis. Then I can say confidently that there has been no leakage. Don't think I distrust you. Remember that my thoughts are my client's property, and that the essence of strategy is to keep the enemy in the dark.'

'Yes, I see that. Of course I ought not to have asked.'

'You ought not to need to ask,' Thorndyke replied, with a smile; 'you should put the facts together and reason from them yourself.'

While we had been talking I had noticed Thorndyke glance at me inquisitively from time to time. Now after an interval of silence, he asked suddenly:

'Is anything amiss, Berkeley? Are you worrying about your friends' affairs?'

'No, not particularly; though their prospects don't look very rosy.' Perhaps they are not quite so bad as they look,' said he. 'But I am afraid something is troubling you. All your gay spirits seem to have evaporated.' He paused for a few moments, and then added: 'I don't want to intrude on your private affairs, but if I can help you by advice or otherwise, remember that we are old friends and that you are my academic offspring.'

Instinctively, with a man's natural reticence, I began to mumble a half-articulate disclaimer; and then I stopped. After all, why should I not confide in him? He was a good man and a wise man, full of human sympathy, as I knew, though so cryptic and secretive in his professional capacity. And I wanted a friend badly just now.

'I'm afraid,' I began shyly, 'it is not a matter that admits of much help, and it's hardly the sort of thing that I ought to worry you by talking about—'

'If it is enough to make you unhappy, my dear fellow, it is enough to merit serious consideration by your friend; so if you don't mind telling me—'

'Of course I don't, sir!' I exclaimed.

'Then fire away; and don't call me "sir." We are brother practitioners just now.'

Thus encouraged, I poured out the story of my little romance; bashfully at first and with halting phrases, but later, with more freedom and confidence. He listened with grave attention, and once or twice put a question when my narrative became a little disconnected. When I had finished he laid his hand softly on my arm.

'You have had rough luck, Berkeley. I don't wonder that you are miserable. I am more sorry than I can tell you.'

'Thank you,' I said. 'It's exceedingly good of you to listen so patiently, but it's a shame for me to pester you with my sentimental troubles.'

'Now, Berkeley, you don't think that, and I hope you don't think that I do. We should be bad biologists and worse physicians if we should underestimate the importance of that which is nature's chiefest care. The one salient biological truth is the paramount importance of sex; and we are deaf and blind if we do not hear and see it in everything that lives when we look abroad upon the world; when we listen to the spring song of the birds, or when we consider the lilies of the field. And as is man to the lower organisms, so is human love to their merely reflex manifestations of sex. I will maintain, and you will agree with me, I know, that the love of a serious and honourable man for a woman who is worthy of him is the most momentous of all human affairs. It is the foundation of social life, and its failure is a serious calamity, not only to those whose lives may be thereby spoilt, but to society at large.'

'It's a serious enough matter for the parties concerned,' I agreed; 'but that is no reason why they should bore their friends.'

'But they don't. Friends should help one another and think it a privilege.'

'Oh, I shouldn't mind coming to you for help, knowing you as I do. But no one can help a poor devil in a case like this—and certainly not a medical jurist.'

'Oh, come, Berkeley!' he protested, 'don't rate us too low. The humblest of creatures has its uses—"even the little pismire," you know, as Isaak Walton tells us. Why, I have got substantial help from a stamp-collector. And then reflect upon the motor-scorcher and the earth-worm and the blow-fly. All these lowly creatures play their parts in the scheme of nature; and shall we cast out the medical jurist as nothing worth?'

I laughed dejectedly at my teacher's genial irony.

What I meant,' said I, 'was that there is nothing to be done but wait—perhaps for ever. I don't know why she isn't able to marry me, and I mustn't ask her. She can't be married already.'

'Certainly not. She told you explicitly that there was no man in the case.'

'Exactly. And I can think of no other valid reason, excepting that she doesn't care enough for me. That would be a perfectly sound reason, but then it would only be a temporary one, not the insuperable obstacle that she assumes to exist, especially as we really got on excellently together. I hope it isn't some confounded perverse feminine scruple. I don't see how it could be; but women are most frightfully tortuous and wrong-headed at times.'

'I don't see,' said Thorndyke, 'why we should cast about for perversely abnormal motives when there is a perfectly reasonable explanation staring us in the face.'

Us there?' I exclaimed. 'I see none.'

'You are, not unnaturally, overlooking some of the circumstances that affect Miss Bellingham; but I don't suppose she has failed to grasp their meaning. Do you realise what her position really is? I mean with regard to her uncle's disappearance?'

'I don't think I quite understand you.'

'Well, there is no use in blinking the facts,' said Thorndyke. 'The position is this: if John Bellingham ever went to his brother's house at Woodford, it is nearly certain that he went there after his visit to Hurst. Mind, I say "if he went"; I don't say that I believe he did. But it is stated that he appears to have gone there; and if he did go, he was never seen alive afterwards. Now, he did not go in at the front door. No one saw him enter the house. But there was a back gate, which John Bellingham knew, and which had a bell which rang in the library. And you will remember that, when Hurst and Jellicoe called, Mr. Bellingham had only just come in. Previous to that time Miss Bellingham had been alone in the library; that is to say, she was alone in the library at the very time when John Bellingham is said to have made his visit. That is the position, Berkeley. Nothing pointed has been said up to the present. But, sooner or later, if John Bellingham is not found, dead or alive, the question will be opened. Then it is certain that Hurst, in self-defence, will make the most of any facts that may transfer suspicion from him to some one else. And that some one else will be Miss Bellingham.'

I sat for some moments literally paralysed with horror. Then my dismay gave place to indignation. 'But, damn it!' I exclaimed, starting up—'I beg your pardon—but could anyone have the infernal audacity to insinuate that that gentle, refined lady murdered her uncle?'

'That is what will be hinted, if not plainly asserted; and she knows it. And that being so, is it difficult to understand why she should refuse to allow you to be publicly associated with her? To run the risk of dragging your honourable name into the sordid transactions of the police-court or the Old Bailey? To invest it, perhaps, with a dreadful notoriety?'

'Oh, don't! for God's sake! It is too horrible! Not that I would care for myself. I would be proud to share her martyrdom of ignominy, if it had to be; but it is the sacrilege, the blasphemy of even thinking of her in such terms, that enrages me.'

'Yes,' said Thorndyke; 'I understand and sympathise with you. Indeed, I share your righteous indignation at this dastardly affair. So you mustn't think me brutal for putting the case so plainly.'

'I don't. You have only shown me the danger that I was fool enough not to see. But you seem to imply that this hideous position has been brought about deliberately.'

'Certainly I do! This is no chance affair. Either the appearances indicate the real events—which I am sure they do not—or they have been created of a set purpose to lead to false conclusions. But the circumstances convince me that there has been a deliberate plot; and I am waiting—in no spirit of Christian patience, I can tell you—to lay my hand on the wretch who has done this.'

'What are you waiting for?' I asked.

'I am waiting for the inevitable,' he replied; 'for the false move that the most artful criminal invariably makes. At present he is lying low; but presently he will make a move, and then I shall have him.'

'But he may go on lying low. What will you do then?'

'Yes, that is the danger. We may have to deal with the perfect villain who knows when to leave well alone. I have never met him, but he may exist, nevertheless.'

'And then we should have to stand by and see our friends go under.'

'Perhaps,' said Thorndyke; and we both subsided into gloomy and silent reflection.

The place was peaceful and quiet, as only a backwater of London can be. Occasional hoots from far-away tugs and steamers told of the busy life down below in the crowded Pool. A faint hum of traffic was borne in from the streets outside the precincts, and the shrill voices of newspaper boys came in unceasing chorus from the direction of Carmelite Street. They were too far away to be physically disturbing, but the excited yells, toned down as they were by distance, nevertheless stirred the very marrow in my bones, so dreadfully suggestive were they of those possibilities of the future at which Thorndyke had hinted. They seemed like the sinister shadows oncoming misfortunes.

Perhaps they called up the same association of ideas in Thorndyke's mind, for he remarked presently: 'The newsvendor is abroad to-night like a bird of ill-omen. Something unusual has happened: some public or private calamity, most likely, and these yelling ghouls are out to feast on the remains. The newspaper men have a good deal in common with the carrion-birds that hover over a battle-field.'

Again we subsided into silence and reflection. Then, after an interval, I asked:

'Would it be possible for me to help in any way in this investigation of yours?'

'That is exactly what I have been asking myself,' replied Thorndyke. 'It would be right and proper that you should, and I think you might.'

'How?' I asked eagerly.

'I can't say off-hand; but Jervis will be going away for his holiday almost at once—in fact, he will go off actual duty to-night. There is very little doing; the long vacation is close upon us, and I can do without him. But if you would care to come down here and take his place, you would be very useful to me; and if there should be anything to be done in the Bellinghams' case, I am sure you would make up in enthusiasm for any deficiency in experience.'

'I couldn't really take Jervis's place,' said I, 'but if you would let me help you in any way it would be a great kindness. I would rather clean your boots than be out of it altogether.'

'Very well. Let us leave it that you come here as soon as Barnard has done with you. You can have Jervis's room, which he doesn't often use nowadays, and you will be more happy here than elsewhere, I know. I may as well give you my latch-key now. I have a duplicate upstairs, and you understand that my chambers are yours too from this moment.'

He handed me the latch-key and I thanked him warmly from my heart, for I felt sure that the suggestion was made, not for any use that I should be to him, but for my own peace of mind. I had hardly finished speaking when a quick step on the paved walk caught my ear.

'Here is Jervis,' said Thorndyke. 'We will let him know that there is a locum tenens ready to step into his shoes when he wants to be off.' He flashed the lantern across the path, and a few moments later his junior stepped up briskly with a bundle of newspapers tucked under his arm.

It struck me that Jervis looked at me a little queerly when he recognised me in the dim light; also he was a trifle constrained in his manner, as if my presence were an embarrassment. He listened to Thorndyke's announcement of our newly made arrangement without much enthusiasm and with none of his customary facetious comments. And again I noticed a quick glance at me, half curious, half uneasy, and wholly puzzling to me.

'That's all right,' he said when Thorndyke had explained the situation. 'I daresay you'll find Berkeley as useful as me, and, in any case, he'll be better here than staying on with Barnard.' He spoke with unwonted gravity, and there was in his tone a solicitude for me that attracted my notice and that of Thorndyke as well, for the latter looked at him curiously, though he made no comment. After a short silence, however, he asked: 'And what news does my learned brother bring? There is a mighty shouting among the outer barbarians and I see a bundle of newspapers under my learned friend's arm. Has anything in particular happened?'

Jervis looked more uncomfortable than ever. 'Well—yes,' he replied hesitatingly, 'something has happened—there! It's no use beating about the bush; Berkeley may as well learn it from me as from those yelling devils outside.' He took a couple of papers from his bundle and silently handed one to me and the other to Thorndyke.

Jervis's ominous manner, naturally enough, alarmed me not a little. I opened the paper with a nameless dread. But whatever my vague fears, they fell far short of the occasion; and when I saw those yells from without crystallised into scare head-lines and flaming capitals I turned for a moment sick and dizzy with fear.

The paragraph was only a short one, and I read it through in less than a minute.

'THE MISSING FINGER

DRAMATIC DISCOVERY AT WOODFORD'

'The mystery that has surrounded the remains of a mutilated human body, portions of which have been found in various places in Kent and Essex, has received a partial and very sinister solution. The police have, all along, suspected that those remains were those of a Mr. John Bellingham who disappeared under circumstances of some suspicion about two years ago. There is now no doubt upon the subject, for the finger which was missing from the hand that was found at Sidcup has been discovered at the bottom of a disused well together with a ring, which has been identified as one habitually worn by Mr. John Bellingham.

'The house in the garden of which the well is situated was the property of the murdered man, and was occupied at the time of the disappearance by his brother, Mr. Godfrey Bellingham. But the latter left it very soon after, and it has been empty ever since. Just lately it has been put in repair, and it was in this way that the well came to be emptied and cleaned out. It seems that Detective-Inspector Badger, who was searching the neighbourhood for further remains, heard of the emptying of the well and went down in the bucket to examine the bottom, where he found the three bones and the ring.

'Thus the identity of the body is established beyond all doubt, and the question that remains is, Who killed John Bellingham? It may be remembered that a trinket, apparently broken from his watch-chain, was found in the grounds of this house on the day that he disappeared, and that he was never again seen alive. What may be the import of these facts time will show.'

That was all; but it was enough. I dropped the paper to the ground and glanced round furtively at Jervis, who sat gazing gloomily at the toes of his boots. It was horrible! It was incredible! The blow was so crushing that it left my faculties numb, and for a while I seemed unable even to think intelligibly.

I was aroused by Thorndyke's voice—calm, businesslike, composed:

'Time will show, indeed! But meanwhile we must go warily. And don't be unduly alarmed, Berkeley. Go home, take a good dose of bromide with a little stimulant, and turn in. I am afraid this has been rather a shock to you.'

I rose from my chair like one in a dream and held out my hand to Thorndyke; and even in the dim light and in my dazed condition I noticed that his face bore a look that I had never seen before; the look of a granite mask of Fate—grim, stern, inexorable.

My two friends walked with me as far as the gateway at the top of Inner Temple Lane, and as we reached the entry a stranger, coming quickly up the Lane, overtook and passed us. In the glare of the lamp outside the porter's lodge he looked at us quickly over his shoulder, and though he passed on without halt or greeting, I recognised him with a certain dull surprise which I did not understand then and do not understand now. It was Mr. Jellicoe.

I shook hands once more with my friends and strode out into Fleet Street, but as soon as I was outside the gate I made direct for Nevill's Court. What was in my mind I do not know; only that some instinct of protection led me there, where my lady lay unconscious of the hideous menace that hung over her. At the entrance to the Court a tall, powerful man was lounging against the wall, and he seemed to look at me curiously as I passed; but I hardly noticed him and strode forward into the narrow passage. By the shabby gateway of the house I halted and looked up at such of the windows as I could see over the wall. They were all dark. All the inmates, then, were in bed. Vaguely comforted by this, I walked on to the New Street end of the Court and looked out. Here, too, a man—a tall, thick-set man—was loitering; and as he looked inquisitively into my face I turned and re-entered the Court, slowly retracing my steps. As I again reached the gate of the house I stopped to look once more at the windows, and turning I found the man whom I had last noticed close behind me. Then, in a flash of dreadful comprehension, I understood. These two were plain-clothes policemen.

For a moment a blind fury possessed me. An insane impulse urged me to give battle to this intruder; to avenge upon this person the insult of his presence. Fortunately the impulse was but momentary, and I recovered myself without making any demonstration. But the appearance of those two policemen brought the peril into the immediate present, imparted to it a horrible actuality. A chilly sweat of terror stood on my forehead, and my ears were ringing when I walked with faltering steps out into Fetter Lane.

CHAPTER XVIII. JOHN BELLINGHAM

THE next few days were a very nightmare of horror and gloom. Of course, I repudiated my acceptance of the decree of banishment that Ruth had passed upon me. I was her friend, at least, and in time of peril my place was at her side. Tacitly—though thankfully enough, poor girl!—she had recognised the fact and made me once more free of the house.

For there was no disguising the situation. Newspaper boys yelled the news up and down Fleet Street from morning to night; soul-shaking posters grinned on gaping crowds; and the newspapers fairly wallowed in the 'Shocking details.'

It is true that no direct accusations were made; but the original reports of the disappearance were reprinted with such comments as made me gnash my teeth with fury.

The wretchedness of those days will live in my memory until my dying day. Never can I forget the dread that weighed me down, the horrible suspense, the fear that clutched at my heart as I furtively scanned the posters in the streets. Even the wretched detectives who prowled about the entrances to Nevill's Court became grateful to my eyes, for, embodying as they did the hideous menace that hung over my dear lady, their presence at least told me that the blow had not yet fallen. Indeed, we came, after a time, to exchange glances of mutual recognition, and I thought that they seemed to be sorry for her and for me, and had no great liking for their task. Of course, I spent most of my leisure at the old house, though my heart ached more there than elsewhere; and I tried, with but poor success, I fear to maintain a cheerful, confident manner, cracking my little jokes as of old, and even essaying to skirmish with Miss Oman. But this last experiment was a dead failure; and when she had suddenly broken down in a stream of brilliant repartee to weep hysterically on my breast, I abandoned the attempt and did not repeat it.

A dreadful gloom had settled down upon the old house. Poor Miss Oman crept silently but restlessly up and down the ancient stairs with dim eyes and a tremulous chin, or moped in her room with a parliamentary petition (demanding, if I remember rightly, the appointment of a female judge to deal with divorce and matrimonial causes) which lay on her table languidly awaiting signatures that never came. Mr. Bellingham, whose mental condition at first alternated between furious anger and absolute panic, was fast sinking into a state of nervous prostration that I viewed with no little alarm. In fact, the only really self-possessed person in the entire household was Ruth herself, and even she could not conceal the ravages of sorrow and suspense and overshadowing peril. Her manner was almost unchanged; or rather, I should say, she had gone back to that which I had first known—quiet, reserved, taciturn, with a certain bitter humour showing through her unvarying amiability. When she and I were alone, indeed, her reserve melted away and she was all sweetness and gentleness. But it wrung my heart to look at her, to see how, day by day, she grew ever more thin and haggard; to watch the growing pallor of her cheek; to look into her solemn grey eyes, so sad and tragic and yet so brave and defiant of fate.

It was a terrible time; and through it all the dreadful questions haunted me continually: When will the blow fall? What is it that the police are waiting for? And when they do strike, what will Thorndyke have to say?

So things went on for four dreadful days. But on the fourth day, just as the evening consultations were beginning and the surgery was filled with waiting patients, Polton appeared with a note, which he insisted, to the indignation of Adolphus, on delivering into my own hands. It was from Thorndyke, and was to the following effect:


'I learn from Dr. Norbury that he has recently heard from Hen Lederbogen, of Berlin—a learned authority on Oriental antiquities—who makes some reference to an English Egyptologist whom he met in Vienna about a year ago. He cannot recall the Englishman's name, but there are certain expressions in the letter which make Dr. Norbury suspect that he is referring to John Bellingham.'

'I want you to bring Mr. and Miss Bellingham to my chambers this evening at 8.30, to meet Dr. Norbury and talk over his letter; and in view of the importance of the matter, I look to you not to fail me.'


A wave of hope and relief swept over me. It was still possible that this Gordian knot might be cut; that the deliverance might not come before it was too late. I wrote a hasty note to Thorndyke and another to Ruth, making the appointment; and having given them both to the trusty Polton, returned somewhat feverishly to my professional duties. To my profound relief, the influx of patients ceased, and the practice sank into its accustomed torpor; whereby I was able without base and mendacious subterfuge to escape in good time to my tryst.

It was near upon eight o'clock when I passed through the archway into Nevill's Court. The warm afternoon light had died away, for the summer was running out apace. The last red glow of the setting sun had faded from the ancient roofs and chimney stacks, and down in the narrow court the shades of evening had begun to gather in nooks and corners. I was due at eight, and, as it still wanted some minutes to the hour, I sauntered slowly down the Court, looking reflectively on the familiar scene and the well-known friendly faces.

The day's work was drawing to a close. The little shops were putting up their shutters; lights were beginning to twinkle in parlour windows; a solemn hymn arose in the old Moravian chapel, and its echoes stole out through the dark entry that opens into the court under the archway.

Here was Mr. Finneymore (a man of versatile gifts, with a leaning towards paint and varnish) sitting, white-aproned and shirt-sleeved, on a chair in his garden, smoking his pipe with a complacent eye on his dahlias. There at an open window a young man, with a brush in his hand and another behind his ear, stood up and stretched himself while an older lady deftly rolled up a large map. The barber was turning out the gas in his little saloon; the greengrocer was emerging with a cigarette in his mouth and an aster in his button-hole, and a group of children were escorting the lamp-lighter on his rounds.

All these good, homely folk were Nevill's Courtiers of the genuine breed' born in the court, as had been their fathers before them for generations. And of such to a great extent was the population of the place. Miss Oman herself claimed aboriginal descent and so did the sweet-faced Moravian lady next door—a connection of the famous La Trobes of the old Conventicle, whose history went back to the Gordon Riots; and as to the gentleman who lived in the ancient timber-and-plaster house at the bottom of the court, it was reported that his ancestors had dwelt in that very house since the days of James the First.

On these facts I reflected as I sauntered down the court, on the strange phenomenon of an old-world hamlet with its ancient population lingering in the very heart of the noisy city; an island of peace set in an ocean of unrest, an oasis in a desert of change and ferment.

My meditations brought me to the shabby gate in the high wall, and as I raised the latch and pushed it open, I saw Ruth standing at the door of the house talking to Miss Oman. She was evidently waiting for me, for she wore her sombre black coat and hat and a black veil, and when she saw me she came out, closing the door after her, and holding out her hand.

'You are punctual,' said she. 'St Dunstan's clock is striking now.'

'Yes,' I answered. 'But where is your father?'

'He has gone to bed, poor old dear. He didn't feel well enough to come, and I did not urge him. He is really very ill. This dreadful suspense will kill him if it goes on much longer.'

'Let us hope it won't,' I said, but with little conviction, I fear, in my tone.

It was harrowing to see her torn by anxiety for her father, and I yearned to comfort her. But what was there to say? Mr. Bellingham was breaking up visibly under the stress of the terrible menace that hung over his daughter, and no words of mine could make the fact less manifest.

We walked silently up the court. The lady at the window greeted us with a smiling salutation, Mr. Finneymore removed his pipe and raised his cap, receiving a gracious bow from Ruth in return, and then we passed through the covered way into Fetter Lane, where my companion paused and looked about her.

'What are you looking for?' I asked.

'The detective,' she answered quietly. 'It would be a pity if the poor man should miss me after waiting so long. However, I don't see him.' And she turned away towards Fleet Street. It was an unpleasant surprise to me that her sharp eyes detected the secret spy upon her movements; and the dry, sardonic tone of her remark pained me too, recalling, as it did, the frigid self-possession that had so repelled me in the early days of our acquaintance. And yet I could not but admire the cool unconcern with which she faced her horrible peril.

'Tell me a little more about this conference,' she said, as we walked down Fetter Lane. 'Your note was rather more concise than lucid; but I suppose you wrote it in a hurry.'

'Yes, I did. And I can't give you any details now. All I know is that Doctor Norbury has had a letter from a friend of his in Berlin, an Egyptologist, as I understand, named Lederbogen, who refers to an English acquaintance of his and Norbury's whom he saw in Vienna about a year ago. He cannot remember the Englishman's name, but from some of the circumstances Norbury seems to think that he is referring to your Uncle John. Of course, if this should turn out to be really the case, it would set everything straight; so Thorndyke was anxious that you and your father should meet Norbury and talk it over.'

'I see,' said Ruth. Her tone was thoughtful but by no means enthusiastic.

'You don't seem to attach much importance to the matter,' I remarked.

'No. It doesn't seem to fit the circumstances. What is the use of suggesting that poor Uncle John is alive—and behaving like an imbecile, which he certainly was not—when his dead body has actually been found?'

'But,' I suggested lamely, 'there may be some mistake. It may not be his body after all.'

'And the ring?' she asked, with a bitter smile.

'That may be just a coincidence. It was a copy of a well-known form of antique ring. Other people may have had copies made as well as your uncle. Besides,' I added with more conviction, 'we haven't seen the ring. It may not be his at all.'

She shook her head. 'My dear Paul,' she said quietly, 'it is useless to delude ourselves. Every known fact points to the certainty that it is his body. John Bellingham is dead: there can be no doubt of that. And to every one except his unknown murderer and one or two of my own loyal friends, it must seem that his death lies at my door. I realised from the beginning that the suspicion lay between George Hurst and me; and the finding of the ring fixes it definitely on me. I am only surprised that the police have made no move yet.'

The quiet conviction of her tone left me for a while speechless with horror and despair. Then I recalled Thorndyke's calm, even confident, attitude, and I hastened to remind her of it.

'There is one of your friends,' I said, 'who is still undismayed. Thorndyke seems to anticipate no difficulties.'

'And yet,' she replied, 'he is ready to consider a forlorn hope like this. However, we shall see.'

I could think of nothing more to say, and it was in gloomy silence that we pursued our way down Inner Temple Lane and through the dark entries and tunnel-like passages that brought us out, at length, by the Treasury.

'I don't see any light in Thorndyke's chambers,' I said, as we crossed King's Bench Walk; and I pointed out the row of windows all dark and blank.

'No; and yet the shutters are not closed. He must be out.'

'He can't be after making an appointment with you and your father. It is most mysterious. Thorndyke is so very punctilious about his engagements.'

The mystery was solved, when we reached the landing, by a slip of paper fixed by a tack on the iron-bound 'oak.'

'A note for P. B. is on the table,' was the laconic message: on reading which I inserted my key, swung the heavy door outward, and opened the lighter inner door. The note was lying on the table and I brought it out to the landing to read by the light of the staircase lamp.

'Apologise to our friends,' it ran, 'for the slight change of programme. Norbury is anxious that I should get my experiments over before the Director returns, so as to save discussion. He has asked me to begin to-night and says he will see Mr. and Miss Bellingham here, at the Museum. Please bring them along at once. I think some matters of importance may transpire at the interview.—J. E. T.'

'I hope you don't mind,' I said apologetically, when I had read the note to Ruth.

'Of course I don't,' she replied. 'I am rather pleased. We have so many associations with the dear old Museum, haven't we?' She looked at me for a moment with a strange and touching wistfulness and then turned to descend the stone stairs.—|

At the Temple gate I hailed a hansom, and we were soon speeding westward and north to the soft twinkle of the horse's bell.

'What are these experiments that Doctor Thorndyke refers to?' she asked presently.

'I can only answer you vaguely,' I replied. 'Their object, I believe, is to ascertain whether the penetrability of organic substances by the X-rays becomes altered by age; whether, for instance, an ancient block of wood is more or less transparent to the rays than a new block of the same size.'

'And of what use would the knowledge be, if it were obtained?'

'I can't say. Experiments are made to obtain knowledge without regard to its utility. The use appears when the knowledge has been acquired. But in this case, if it should be possible to determine the age of any organic substance by its reaction to X-rays, the discovery might be found of some value in legal practice—as in demonstrating a new seal on an old document, for instance. But I don't know whether Thorndyke has anything definite in view; I only know that the preparations have been on a most portentous scale.'

'How do you mean?'

'In regard to size. When I went into the workshop yesterday morning, I found Polton erecting a kind of portable gallows about nine feet high, and he had just finished varnishing a pair of enormous wooden trays each over six feet long. It looked as if he and Thorndyke were contemplating a few private executions with subsequent post-mortems on the victims.'

'What a horrible suggestion!'

'So Polton said, with his quaint, crinkly smile. But he was mighty close about the use of the apparatus all the same. I wonder if we shall see anything of the experiments, when we get there. This is Museum Street, isn't it?'

'Yes.' As she spoke, she lifted the flap of one of the little windows in the back of the cab and peered out. Then, closing it with a quiet, ironic smile, she said:

'It is all right; he hasn't missed us. It will be quite a nice little change for him.'

The cab swung round into Great Russell Street, and, glancing out as it turned, I saw another hansom following; but before I had time to inspect its solitary passenger, we drew up at the Museum gates.

The gate porter, who seemed to expect us, ushered us up the drive to the great portico and into the Central Hall, where he handed us over to another official.

'Doctor Norbury is in one of the rooms adjoining the Fourth Egyptian Room,' the latter stated in answer to our inquiries: and, providing himself with a wire-guarded lantern, he prepared to escort us thither.

Up the great staircase, now wrapped in mysterious gloom, we passed in silence with bitter-sweet memories of that day of days when we had first trodden its steps together; through the Central Saloon, the Mediaeval Room and the Asiatic Saloon, and so into the long range of the Ethnographical Galleries.

It was a weird journey. The swaying lantern shot its beams abroad into the darkness of the great, dim galleries, casting instantaneous flashes on the objects in the cases, so that they leaped into being and vanished in the twinkling of an eye. Hideous idols with round, staring eyes started forth from the darkness, glared at us for an instant and were gone. Grotesque masks, suddenly revealed by the shimmering light, took on the semblance of demon faces that seemed to mow and gibber at us as we passed. As for the life-sized models—realistic enough by daylight—their aspect was positively alarming; for the moving light and shadow endowed them with life and movement, so that they seemed to watch us furtively, to lie in wait and to hold themselves in readiness to steal out and follow us.

The illusion evidently affected Ruth as well as me, for she drew nearer to me and whispered:

'These figures are quite startling. Did you see that Polynesian? I really felt as if he were going to spring out on us.'

'They are rather uncanny,' I admitted, 'but the danger is over now. We are passing out of their sphere of influence.'

We came out on a landing as I spoke and then turned sharply to the left along the North Gallery, from the centre of which we entered the Fourth Egyptian Room.

Almost immediately, a door in the opposite wall opened; a peculiar, high-pitched humming sound became audible, and Jervis came out on tiptoe with his hand raised.

'Tread as lightly as you can,' he said. 'We are just making an exposure.'

The attendant turned back with his lantern, and we followed Jervis into the room from whence he had come. It was a large room, and little lighter than the galleries, for the single glow-lamp that burned at the end where we entered left the rest of the apartment in almost complete obscurity. We seated ourselves at once on the chairs that had been placed for us, and, when the mutual salutations had been exchanged, I looked about me. There were three people in the room besides Jervis: Thorndyke, who sat with his watch in his hand, a grey-headed gentleman whom I took to be Dr. Norbury, and a smaller person at the dim farther end—undistinguishable, but probably Polton. At our end of the room were the two large trays that I had seen in the workshop, now mounted on trestles and each fitted with a rubber drain-tube leading down to a bucket. At the farther end of the room the sinister shape of the gallows reared itself aloft in the gloom; only now I could see that it was not a gallows at all. For affixed to the top cross-bar was a large, bottomless glass basin, inside which was a glass bulb that glowed with a strange green light; and in the heart of the bulb a bright spot of red.

It was all clear enough so far. The peculiar sound that filled the air was the hum of the interrupter; the bulb was, of course, a Crookes' tube, and the red spot inside it, the glowing red-hot disc of the anti-cathode. Clearly an X-ray photograph was being made; but of what? I strained my eyes, peering into the gloom at the foot of the gallows, but though I could make out an elongated object lying on the floor directly under the bulb, I could not resolve the dimly seen shape into anything recognisable. Presently, however, Dr. Norbury supplied the clue.

'I am rather surprised,' said he, 'that you chose so composite an object as a mummy to begin on. I should have thought that a simpler object, such as a coffin or a wooden figure, would have been more instructive.'

'In some ways it would,' replied Thorndyke, 'but the variety of materials that the mummy gives us has its advantages. I hope your father is not ill, Miss Bellingham.'

'He is not at all well,' said Ruth, 'and we agreed that it was better for me to come alone. I knew Herr Lederbogen quite well. He stayed with us for a time when he was in England.'

'I trust,' said Dr. Norbury, 'that I have not troubled you for nothing. Herr Lederbogen speaks of "our erratic English friend with the long name that I can never remember," and it seemed to me that he might be referring to your uncle.'

'I should have hardly have called my uncle erratic,' said Ruth.

'No, no. Certainly not,' Dr. Norbury agreed hastily. 'However, you shall see the letter presently and judge for yourself. We mustn't introduce irrelevant topics while the experiment is in progress, must we, Doctor?'

'You had better wait until we have finished,' said Thorndyke, 'because I am going to turn out the light. Switch off the current, Polton.'

The green light vanished from the bulb, the hum of the interrupter swept down an octave or two and died away. Then Thorndyke and Dr. Norbury rose from their chairs and went towards the mummy, which they lifted tenderly while Polton drew from beneath it what presently turned out to be a huge black paper envelope. The single glow-lamp was switched off, leaving the room in total darkness until there burst suddenly a bright orange red light immediately above one of the trays.

We all gathered round to watch, as Polton—the high priest of these mysteries—drew from the black envelope a colossal sheet of bromide paper, laid it carefully in the tray and proceeded to wet it with a large brush which he had dipped in a pail of water.

'I thought you always used plates for this kind of work,' said Dr. Norbury.

'We do, by preference; but a six-foot plate would be impossible, so I had a special paper made to the size.'

There is something singularly fascinating in the appearance of a developing photograph; in the gradual, mysterious emergence of the picture from the blank, white surface of plate or paper. But a skiagraph, or X-ray photograph, has a fascination all its own. Unlike the ordinary photograph, which yields a picture of things already seen, it gives a presentment of objects hitherto invisible; and hence, when Polton poured the developer on the already wet paper, we all craned over the tray with the keenest curiosity.

The developer was evidently a very slow one. For fully half a minute no change could be seen in the uniform surface. Then, gradually, almost insensibly, the marginal portion began to darken, leaving the outline of the mummy in pale relief. The change, once started, proceeded apace. Darker and darker grew the margin of the paper until from slate grey it had turned to black; and still the shape of the mummy, now in strong relief, remained an elongated patch of bald white. But not for long. Presently the white shape began to be tinged with grey, and, as the colour deepened, there grew out of it a paler form that seemed to steal out of the enshrouding grey like an apparition, spectral, awesome, mysterious. The skeleton was coming into view.

'It is rather uncanny,' said Dr. Norbury. 'I feel as if I were assisting at some unholy rite. Just look at it now!'

The grey shadow of the cartonnage, the wrappings and the flesh was fading away into the background and the white skeleton stood out in sharp contrast. And it certainly was rather a weird spectacle.

'You'll lose the bones if you develop much farther,' said Dr. Norbury.

'I must let the bones darken,' Thorndyke replied, 'in case there are any metallic objects. I have three more papers in the envelope.'

The white shape of the skeleton now began to grey over and, as Dr. Norbury had said, its distinctness became less and yet less. Thorndyke leaned over the tray with his eyes fixed on a point in the middle of the breast and we all watched him in silence. Suddenly he rose. 'Now, Polton,' he said sharply, 'get the hypo on as quickly as you can.'

Polton, who had been waiting with his hand on the stop-cock of the drain-tube, rapidly ran off the developer into the bucket and flooded the paper with the fixing solution.

'Now we can look at it at our leisure,' said Thorndyke. After waiting a few seconds, he switched on one of the glow-lamps, and as the flood of light fell on the photograph, he added: 'You see we haven't quite lost the skeleton.'

'No.' Dr. Norbury put on a pair of spectacles and bent down over the tray; and at this moment I felt Ruth's hand touch my arm, lightly, at first, and then with a strong nervous grasp; and I could feel that her hand was trembling. I looked round at her anxiously and saw that she had turned deathly pale.

'Would you rather go out into the gallery?' I asked; for the room with its tightly shut windows was close and hot.

'No,' she replied quietly, 'I will stay here. I am quite well.' But still she kept hold of my arm.

Thorndyke glanced at her keenly and then looked away as Dr. Norbury turned to ask him a question.

'Why is it, think you, that some of the teeth show so much whiter than others?'

'I think the whiteness of the shadows is due to the presence of metal,' Thorndyke replied.

'Do you mean that the teeth have metal fillings?' asked Dr. Norbury.

'Yes.'

'Really! This is very interesting. The use of gold stoppings—and artificial teeth, too—by the ancient Egyptians is well known, but we have no examples in this Museum. This mummy ought to be unrolled. Do you think all those teeth are filled with the same metal? They are not equally white.'

'No,' replied Thorndyke. 'Those teeth that are perfectly white are undoubtedly filled with gold, but that greyish one is probably filled with tin.'

'Very interesting,' said Dr. Norbury. 'Very interesting! And what do you make of that faint mark across the chest, near the top of the sternum?'

It was Ruth who answered his question. 'It is the eye of Osiris!' she exclaimed in a hushed voice.

'Dear me!' exclaimed Dr. Norbury, 'so it is. You are quite right. It is the Utchat—the Eye of Horus—or Osiris, if you prefer to call it so. That, I presume, will be a gilded device on some of the wrappings.'

'No; I should say it is a tattoo mark. It is too indefinite for a gilded device. And I should say further that the tattooing is done in vermilion, as carbon tattooing would cast no visible shadow.'

'I think you must be mistaken about that,' said Dr. Norbury, 'but we shall see, if the Director allows us to unroll the mummy. By the way, those little objects in front of the knees are metallic, I suppose?'

'Yes, they are metallic. But they are not in front of the knees—they are in the knees. They are pieces of silver wire which have been I used to repair fractured kneecaps.'

'Are you sure of that?' exclaimed Dr. Norbury, peering at the little white marks with ecstasy; 'because if you are, and if these objects are what you say they are, the mummy of Sebekhotep is an absolutely unique specimen.'

'I am quite certain of it,' said Thorndyke.

'Then,' said Dr. Norbury, 'we have made a discovery, thanks to your inquiring spirit. Poor John Bellingham! He little knew what a treasure he was giving us! How I wish he could have known! How I wish he could have been here with us to-night!'

He paused once more to gaze in rapture at the photograph. And then Thorndyke, in his quiet, impassive way, said:

'John Bellingham is here, Doctor Norbury. This is John Bellingham.'

Dr Norbury started back and stared at Thorndyke in speechless amazement.

'You don't mean,' he exclaimed, after a long pause, 'that this mummy is the body of John Bellingham!'

'I do indeed. There is no doubt of it.'

'But it is impossible! The mummy was here in the gallery a full three weeks before he disappeared.'

'Not so,' said Thorndyke. 'John Bellingham was last seen alive by you and Mr. Jellicoe on the fourteenth of October, more than three weeks before the mummy left Queen Square. After that date he was never seen alive or dead by any person who knew him and could identify him.'

Dr Norbury reflected awhile in silence. Then, in a faint voice, he asked:

'How do you suggest that John Bellingham's body came to be inside that cartonnage?'

'I think Mr. Jellicoe is the most likely person to be able to answer that question,' Thorndyke replied dryly.

There was another interval of silence, and then Dr. Norbury asked suddenly:

'But what do you suppose has become of Sebekhotep? The real Sebekhotep, I mean?'

'I take it,' said Thorndyke, 'that the remains of Sebekhotep, or at least a portion of them, are at present lying in the Woodford mortuary awaiting an adjourned inquest.'

As Thorndyke made this statement a flash of belated intelligence, mingled with self-contempt, fell on me. Now that the explanation was given, how obvious it was! And yet I, a competent anatomist and physiologist and actually a pupil of Thorndyke's, had mistaken those ancient bones for the remains of a recent body!

Dr Norbury considered the last statement for some time in evident perplexity. 'It is all consistent enough, I must admit,' said he, at length, 'and yet—are you quite sure there is no mistake? It seems so incredible.'

There is no mistake, I assure you,' Thorndyke answered. 'To convince you, I will give you the facts in detail. First, as to the teeth. I have seen John Bellingham's dentist and obtained particulars from his case-book. There were in all five teeth that had been filled. The right upper wisdom-tooth, the molar next to it, and the second lower molar on the left side, had all extensive gold fillings. You can see them all quite plainly in the skiagraph. The left lower lateral incisor had a very small gold filling, which you can see as a nearly circular white dot. In addition to these, a filling of tin amalgam had been inserted while the deceased was abroad, in the second left upper bicuspid, the rather grey spot that we have already noticed. These would, by themselves, furnish ample means of identification. But in addition, there is the tattooed device of the eye of Osiris—-'

'Horus,' murmured Dr. Norbury.

'Horus, then—in the exact locality in which it was borne by the deceased and tattooed, apparently, with the same pigment. There are, further, the suture wires in the knee-caps; Sir Morgan Bennet, having looked up the notes of the operation, informs me that he introduced three suture wires into the left patella and two into the right; which is what the skiagraph shows. Lastly, the deceased had an old Pott's fracture on the left side. It is not very apparent now, but I saw it quite distinctly just now when the shadows of the bones were whiter. I think that you may take it that the identification is beyond all doubt or question.'

'Yes,' agreed Dr. Norbury, with gloomy resignation, 'it sounds, as you say, quite conclusive. Well, well, it is a most horrible affair. Poor old John Bellingham! It looks uncommonly as if he had met with foul play. Don't you think so?'

'I do,' replied Thorndyke. 'There was a mark on the right side of the skull that looked rather like a fracture. It was not very clear, being at the side, but we must develop the negative to show it.'

Dr Norbury drew his breath in sharply through his teeth. 'This is a gruesome business, Doctor,' said he. 'A terrible business. Awkward for our people, too. By the way, what is our position in the matter? What steps ought we to take?'

'You should give notice to the coroner—I will manage the police—and you should communicate with one of the executors of the will.'

'Mr. Jellicoe?'

'No, not Mr. Jellicoe, under the peculiar circumstances. You had better write to Mr. Godfrey Bellingham.'

'But I rather understood that Mr. Hurst was the co-executor,' said Dr. Norbury.

'He is, surely, as matters stand,' said Jervis.

'Not at all,' replied Thorndyke. 'He was as matters stood; but he is not now. You are forgetting the conditions of clause two. That clause sets forth the conditions under which Godfrey Bellingham shall inherit the bulk of the estate and become the co-executor; and those conditions are: "that the body of the testator shall be deposited in some authorised place for the reception of the bodies of the dead, situate within the boundaries of, or appertaining to some place of worship within, the parish of St George, Bloomsbury, and St Giles in the Fields, or St Andrews above the Bars and St George the Martyr." Now Egyptian mummies are bodies of the dead, and this Museum is an authorised place for their reception; and this building is situate within the boundaries of the parish of St George, Bloomsbury. Therefore the provisions of clause two have been duly carried out and therefore Godfrey Bellingham is the principal beneficiary under the will, and the co-executor, in accordance with the wishes of the testator. Is that quite clear?'

'Perfectly,' said Dr. Norbury; 'and a most astonishing coincidence—but, my dear young lady, had you not better sit down? You are looking very ill.'

He glanced anxiously at Ruth, who was pale to the lips and was now leaning heavily on my arm.

'I think, Berkeley,' said Thorndyke, 'you had better take Miss Bellingham out into the gallery, where there is more air. This has been a tremendous climax to all the trials she has borne so bravely. Go out with Berkeley,' he added gently, laying his hand on her shoulder, 'and sit down while we develop the other negatives. You mustn't break down now, you know, when the storm has passed and the sun is beginning to shine.' He held the door open and as we passed out his face softened into a smile of infinite kindness. 'You won't mind my locking you out,' said he; 'this is a photographic dark-room at present.'

The key grated in the lock and we turned away into the dim gallery. It was not quite dark, for a beam of moonlight filtered in here and there through the blinds that covered the sky-lights. We walked on slowly, her arm linked in mine, and for a while neither of us spoke. The great rooms were very silent and peaceful and solemn. The hush, the stillness, the mystery of the half-seen forms in the cases around, were all in harmony with the deeply-felt sense of a great deliverance that filled our hearts.

We had passed through into the next room before either of us broke the silence. Insensibly our hands had crept together, and as they met and clasped with mutual pressure, Ruth exclaimed: 'How dreadful and tragic it is! Poor, poor Uncle John! It seems as if he had come back from the world of shadows to tell us of this awful thing. But, O God! what a relief it is!'

She caught her breath in one or two quick sobs and pressed my hand passionately.

'It is over, dearest,' I said. 'It is gone for ever. Nothing remains but the memory of your sorrow and your noble courage and patience.'

'I can't realise it yet,' she murmured. 'It has been like a frightful, interminable dream.'

'Let us put it away,' said I, 'and think only of the happy life that is opening.'

She made no reply, and only a quick catch in her breath, now and again, told of the long agony that she had endured with such heroic calm.

We walked on slowly, scarcely disturbing the silence with our soft footfalls, through the wide doorway into the second room. The vague shapes of mummy-cases standing erect in the wall-cases, loomed out dim and gigantic, silent watchers keeping their vigil with the memories of untold centuries locked in their shadowy breasts. They were an awesome company. Reverend survivors from a vanished world, they looked out from the gloom of their abiding-place, but with no shade of menace or of malice in their silent presence; rather with a solemn benison on the fleeting creatures of to-day.

Half-way along the room a ghostly figure, somewhat aloof from its companions, showed a dim, pallid blotch where its face would have been. With one accord we halted before it.

'Do you know who this is, Ruth?' I asked.

'Of course I do,' she answered. 'It is Artemidorus.'

We stood, hand in hand, facing the mummy, letting our memories fill in the vague silhouette with its well-remembered details. Presently I drew her nearer to me and whispered:

'Ruth! do you remember when we last stood here?'

'As if I could ever forget!' she answered passionately. 'Oh, Paul! The sorrow of it! The misery! How it wrung my heart to tell you! Were you very unhappy when I left you?'

'Unhappy! I never knew, until then, what real, heart-breaking sorrow was. It seemed as if the light had gone out of my life for ever. But there was just one little spot of brightness left.'

'What was that?'

'You made me a promise, dear—a solemn promise; and I felt—at least I hoped—that the day would come, if I only waited patiently, when you would be able to redeem it.'

She crept closer to me and yet closer, until her head nestled on my shoulder and her soft cheek lay against mine.

'Dear heart,' I whispered, 'is it now? Is the time fulfilled?'

'Yes, dearest,' she murmured softly. 'It is now—and for ever.'

Reverently I folded her in my arms; gathered her to the heart that worshipped her utterly. Henceforth no sorrows could hurt us, no misfortunes vex; for we should walk hand in hand on our earthly pilgrimage and find the way all too short.

Time, whose sands run out with such unequal swiftness for the just and the unjust, the happy and the wretched, lagged, no doubt, with the toilers in the room that we had left. But for us its golden grains trickled out apace, and left the glass empty before we had begun to mark their passage. The turning of a key and the opening of a door aroused us from our dream of perfect happiness. Ruth raised her head to listen, and our lips met for one brief moment. Then, with a silent greeting to the friend who had looked on our grief and witnessed our final happiness, we turned and retraced our steps quickly, filling the great empty rooms with chattering echoes.

'We won't go back into the dark-room—which isn't dark now,' said Ruth.

'Why not?' I asked.

'Because—when I came out I was very pale; and I'm—well, I don't think I am very pale now. Besides, poor Uncle John is in there—and—I should be ashamed to look at him with my selfish heart overflowing with happiness.'

'You needn't be,' said I. 'It is the day of our lives and we have a right to be happy. But you shan't go in, if you don't wish to,' and I accordingly steered her adroitly past the beam of light that streamed from the open door.

'We have developed four negatives,' said Thorndyke, as he emerged with the others, 'and I am leaving them in the custody of Doctor Norbury, who will sign each when they are dry, as they may have to be put in evidence. What are you going to do?'

I looked at Ruth to see what she wished.

'If you won't think me ungrateful,' said she, 'I should rather be alone with my father to-night. He is very weak, and—'

'Yes, I understand,' I said hastily. And I did. Mr. Bellingham was a man of strong emotions and would probably be somewhat overcome by the sudden change of fortune and the news of his brother's tragic death.

'In that case,' said Thorndyke, 'I will bespeak your services. Will you go on and wait for me at my chambers, when you have seen Miss Bellingham home?'

I agreed to this, and we set forth under the guidance of Dr. Norbury (who carried an electric lamp) to return by the way we had come; two of us, at least, in a vastly different frame of mind. The party broke up at the entrance gates, and as Thorndyke wished my companion 'Good-night,' she held his hand and looked up in his face with swimming eyes.

'I haven't thanked you, Doctor Thorndyke,' she said, 'and I don't feel that I ever can. What you have done for me and my father is beyond all thanks. You have saved his life and you have rescued me from the most horrible ignominy. Good-bye! and God bless you!'

The hansom that bowled along eastward—at most unnecessary speed—bore two of the happiest human beings within the wide boundaries of the town. I looked at my companion as the lights of the street shone into the cab, and was astonished at the transformation. The pallor of her cheek had given place to a rosy pink; the hardness, the tension, the haggard self-repression that had aged her face, were all gone, and the girlish sweetness that had so bewitched me in the early days of our love had stolen back. Even the dimple was there when the sweeping lashes lifted and her eyes met mine in a smile of infinite tenderness.

Little was said on that brief journey. It was happiness enough to sit, hand clasped in hand, and know that our time of trial was past; that no cross of Fate could ever part us now.

The astonished cabman set us down, according to instructions, at the entrance to Nevill's Court, and watched us with open mouth as we vanished into the narrow passage. The court had settled down for the night, and no one marked our return; no curious eye looked down on us from the dark house-front as we said 'Good-bye' just inside the gate.

'You will come and see us to-morrow, dear, won't you?' she asked.

'Do you think it possible that I could stay away, then?'

'I hope not, but come as early as you can. My father will be positively frantic to see you; because I shall have told him, you know. And, remember, that it is you who have brought us this great deliverance. Good-night, Paul.'

'Good-night, sweetheart.'

She put up her face frankly to be kissed and then ran up to the ancient door; whence she waved me a last good-bye. The shabby gate in the wall closed behind me and hid her from my sight; but the light of her love went with me and turned the dull street into a path of glory.

CHAPTER XIX. A STRANGE SYMPOSIUM

IT came upon me with something of a shock of surprise to find the scrap of paper still tacked to the oak of Thorndyke's chambers. So much had happened since I had last looked on it that it seemed to belong to another epoch of my life. I removed it thoughtfully and picked out the tack before entering, and then, closing the inner door, but leaving the oak open, I lit the gas and fell to pacing the room.

What a wonderful episode it had been! How the whole aspect of the world had been changed in a moment by Thorndyke's revelation! At another time, curiosity would have led me to endeavour to trace back the train of reasoning by which the subtle brain of my teacher had attained this astonishing conclusion. But now my own happiness held exclusive possession of my thoughts. The image of Ruth filled the field of my mental vision. I saw her again as I had seen her in the cab with her sweet, pensive face and downcast eyes; I felt again the touch of her soft cheek and the parting kiss by the gate, so frank and simple, so intimate and final.

I must have waited quite a long time, though the golden minutes sped unreckoned, for when my two colleagues arrived they tendered needless apologies.

'And I suppose,' said Thorndyke, 'you have been wondering what I wanted you for.'

I had not, as a matter of fact, given the matter a moment's consideration.

'We are going to call on Mr. Jellicoe,' Thorndyke explained. 'There is something behind this affair, and until I have ascertained what it is, the case is not complete from my point of view.'

'Wouldn't it have done as well to-morrow?' I asked.

'It might; and then it might not. There is an old saying as to catching a weasel asleep. Mr. Jellicoe is a somewhat wide-awake person, and I think it best to introduce him to Inspector Badger at the earliest possible moment.'

'The meeting of a weasel and a badger suggests a sporting interview,' remarked Jervis. 'But you don't expect Jellicoe to give himself away, do you?'

'He can hardly do that, seeing that there is nothing to give away. But I think he may make a statement. There were some exceptional circumstances, I feel sure.'

'How long have you known that the body was in the Museum?' I asked.

'About thirty or forty seconds longer than you have, I should say.'

'Do you mean,' I exclaimed, 'that you did not know until the negative was developed?'

'My dear fellow,' he replied, 'do you suppose that, if I had had certain knowledge where the body was, I should have allowed that noble girl to go on dragging out a lingering agony of suspense that I could have cut short in a moment? Or that I should have made these humbugging pretences of scientific experiments if a more dignified course had been open to me?'

'As to the experiments,' said Jervis, 'Norbury could hardly have refused if you had taken him into your confidence.'

'Indeed he could, and probably would. My "confidence" would have involved a charge of murder against a highly respectable gentleman who was well known to him. He would probably have referred me to the police, and then what could I have done? I had plenty of suspicions, but not a single solid fact.'

Our discussion was here interrupted by hurried footsteps on the stairs and a thundering rat-tat on our knocker.

As Jervis opened the door, Inspector Badger burst into the room in a highly excited state.

'What is all this, Doctor Thorndyke?' he asked. 'I see you've sworn an information against Mr. Jellicoe, and I have a warrant to arrest him; but before anything else is done I think it right to tell you that we have more evidence than is generally known pointing to quite a different quarter.'

'Derived from Mr. Jellicoe's information,' said Thorndyke. 'But the fact is that I have just examined and identified the body at the British Museum, where it was deposited by Mr. Jellicoe. I don't say that he murdered John Bellingham—though that is what appearances suggest—but I do say that he will have to account for his secret disposal of the body.'

Inspector Badger was thunderstruck. Also he was visibly annoyed. The salt which Mr. Jellicoe had so adroitly sprinkled on the constabulary tail appeared to develop irritating properties, for when Thorndyke had given him a brief outline of the facts he stuck his hands in his pockets and exclaimed gloomily:

'Well, I'm hanged! And to think of all the time and trouble I've spent on those damned bones! I suppose they were just a plant?'

'Don't let us disparage them,' said Thorndyke. 'They have played a useful part. They represent the inevitable mistake that every criminal makes sooner or later. The murderer will always do a little too much. If he would only lie low and let well alone, the detective might whistle for a clue. But it is time we were starting.'

'Are we all going?' asked the inspector, looking at me in particular with no very gracious recognition.

'We will all come with you,' said Thorndyke; 'but you will, naturally, make the arrest in the way that seems best to you.'

'It's a regular procession,' grumbled the inspector; but he made no more definite objection, and we started forth on our quest.

The distance from the Temple to Lincoln's Inn is not great. In five minutes we were at the gateway in Chancery Lane, and a couple of minutes later saw us gathered round the threshold of the stately old house in New Square.

'Seems to be a light in the first-floor front,' said Badger. 'You'd better move away before I ring the bell.'

But the precaution was unnecessary. As the inspector advanced to the bell-pull a head was thrust out of the open window immediately above the street door.

'Who are you?' inquired the owner of the head in a voice which I recognised as that of Mr. Jellicoe.

'I am Inspector Badger of the Criminal Investigation Department. I wish to see Mr. Arthur Jellicoe.'

'Then look at me. I am Mr. Arthur Jellicoe.'

'I hold a warrant for your arrest, Mr. Jellicoe. You are charged with the murder of Mr. John Bellingham, whose body has been discovered in the British Museum.'

'By whom?'

'By Doctor Thorndyke.'

'Indeed,' said Mr. Jellicoe. 'Is he here?'

'Yes.'

'Ha! and you wish to arrest me, I presume?'

'Yes. That is what I am here for.'

'Well, I will agree to surrender myself subject to certain conditions.'

'I can't make any conditions, Mr. Jellicoe.'

'No, I will make them, and you will accept them. Otherwise you will not arrest me.'

'It's no use for you to talk like that,' said Badger. 'If you don't let me in I shall have to break in. And I may as well tell you,' he added mendaciously, 'that the house is surrounded.'

'You may accept my assurance,' Mr. Jellicoe replied calmly, 'that you will not arrest me if you do not accept my conditions.'

'Well, what are your conditions?' demanded Badger.

'I desire to make a statement,' said Mr. Jellicoe.

'You can do that, but I must caution you that anything you say may be used in evidence against you.'

'Naturally. But I wish to make the statement in the presence of Doctor Thorndyke, and I desire to hear a statement from him of the method of investigation by which he discovered the whereabouts of the body. That is to say, if he is willing.'

'If you mean that we should mutually enlighten one another, I am very willing indeed,' said Thorndyke.

'Very well. Then my conditions, Inspector, are that I shall hear Doctor Thorndyke's statement and that I shall be permitted to make a statement myself, and that until those statements are completed, with any necessary interrogation and discussion, I shall remain at liberty and shall suffer no molestation or interference of any kind. And I agree that, on the conclusion of the said proceedings, I will submit without resistance to any course that you may adopt.'

'I can't agree to that,' said Badger.

'Can't you?' said Mr. Jellicoe coldly; and after a pause he added: 'Don't be hasty. I have given you warning.'

There was something in Mr. Jellicoe's passionless tone that disturbed the inspector exceedingly, for he turned to Thorndyke and said in a low tone:

'I wonder what his game is? He can't get away, you know.'

'There are several possibilities,' said Thorndyke.

'M'm, yes,' said Badger, stroking his chin perplexedly.

'After all, is there any objection? His statement might save trouble, and you'd be on the safe side. It would take you some time to break in.'

'Well,' said Mr. Jellicoe, with his hand on the window, 'do you agree—yes or no?'

'All right,' said Badger sulkily. 'I agree.'

'You promise not to molest me in any way until I have quite finished?'

'I promise.'

Mr. Jellicoe's head disappeared and the window closed. After a short pause we heard the jar of massive bolts and the clank of a chain, and, as the heavy door swung open, Mr. Jellicoe stood revealed, calm and impassive, with an old-fashioned office candlestick in his hand.

Who are the others?' he inquired, peering out sharply through his spectacles.

'Oh, they are nothing to do with me,' replied Badger.

They are Doctor Berkeley and Doctor Jervis,' said Thorndyke.

Ha!' said Mr. Jellicoe; 'very kind and attentive of them to call. Pray, come in, gentlemen. I am sure you will be interested to hear our little discussion.'

He held the door open with a certain stiff courtesy, and we all entered the hall led by Inspector Badger. He closed the door softly and preceded us up the stairs and into the apartment from the window of which he had dictated the terms of surrender. It was a fine old room, spacious, lofty, and dignified, with panelled walls and a carved mantelpiece, the central escutcheon of which bore the initials 'J. W. P.' with the date '1671.' A large writing-table stood at the farther end, and behind it an iron safe.

'I have been expecting this visit,' Mr. Jellicoe remarked tranquilly as he placed four chairs opposite the table. 'Since when?' asked Thorndyke.

'Since last Monday evening, when I had the pleasure of seeing you conversing with my friend Doctor Berkeley at the Inner Temple gate, and then inferred that you were retained in the case. That was a circumstance that had not been fully provided for. May I offer you gentlemen a glass of sherry?'

As he spoke he placed on the table a decanter and a tray of glasses, and looked at us interrogatively with his hand on the stopper.

'Well, I don't mind if I do, Mr. Jellicoe,' said Badger, on whom the lawyer's glance had finally settled. Mr. Jellicoe filled a glass and handed it to him with a stiff bow; then, with the decanter still in his hand, he said persuasively: 'Doctor Thorndyke, pray allow me to fill you a glass?'

'No, thank you,' said Thorndyke, in a tone so decided that the inspector looked round at him quickly. And as Badger caught his eye, the glass which he was about to raise to his lips became suddenly arrested and was slowly returned to the table untasted.

'I don't want to hurry you, Mr. Jellicoe,' said the inspector, 'but it's rather late, and I should like to get this business settled. What is it that you wish to do?'

'I desire,' replied Mr. Jellicoe, 'to make a detailed statement of the events that have happened, and I wish to hear from Doctor Thorndyke precisely how he arrived at his very remarkable conclusion. When this has been done I shall be entirely at your service; and I suggest that it would be more interesting if Doctor Thorndyke would give us his statement before I furnish you with the actual facts.'

'I am entirely of your opinion,' said Thorndyke.—I

'Then in that case,' said Mr. Jellicoe, 'I suggest that you disregard me, and address your remarks to your friends as if I were not present.'

Thorndyke acquiesced with a bow, and Mr. Jellicoe, having seated himself in his elbow-chair behind the table, poured himself out a glass of water, selected a cigarette from a neat silver case, lighted it deliberately, and leaned back to listen at his ease.

'My first acquaintance with this case,' Thorndyke began without preamble, 'was made through the medium of the daily papers about two years ago; and I may say that, although I had no interest in it beyond the purely academic interest of a specialist in a case that lies in his particular speciality, I considered it with deep attention. The newspaper reports contained no particulars of the relations of the parties that could furnish any hints as to motives on the part of any of them, but merely a bare statement of the events. And this was a distinct advantage, inasmuch as it left one to consider the facts of the case without regard to motive—to balance the prima facie probabilities with an open mind. And it may surprise you to learn that those prima facie probabilities pointed from the very first to that solution which has been put to the test of experiment this evening. Hence it will be well for me to begin by giving the conclusions that I reached by reasoning from the facts set forth in the newspapers before any of the further facts came to my knowledge.

'From the facts as stated in the newspaper reports it is obvious that there were four possible explanations of the disappearance.

'1. The man might be alive and in hiding. This was highly improbable, for the reasons that were stated by Mr. Loram at the late hearing of the application, and for a further reason that I shall mention presently.

'2. He might have died by accident or disease, and his body failed to be identified. This was even more improbable, seeing that he carried on his person abundant means of identification, including visiting cards.

'3. He might have been murdered by some stranger for the sake of his portable property. This was highly improbable for the same reason: his body could hardly have failed to be identified.

'These three explanations are what we may call the outside explanations. They touched none of the parties mentioned; they were all obviously improbable on general grounds; and to all of them there was one conclusive answer—the scarab which was found in Godfrey Bellingham's garden. Hence I put them aside and gave my attention to the fourth explanation. This was that the missing man had been made away with by one of the parties mentioned in the report. But, since the reports mentioned three parties, it was evident that there was a choice of three hypotheses namely:

4' (a) That John Bellingham had been made away with by Hurst; or (b) by the Bellinghams; or (c) by Mr. Jellicoe.

'Now, I have constantly impressed on my pupils that the indispensable question that must be asked at the outset of such an inquiry as this is, "When was the missing person last undoubtedly seen or known to be alive?" That is the question that I asked myself after reading the newspaper report; and the answer was, that he was last certainly seen alive on the fourteenth of October, nineteen hundred and two, at 141, Queen Square, Bloomsbury. Of the fact that he was alive at that time and place there could be no doubt whatever; for he was seen at the same moment by two persons, both of whom were intimately acquainted with him, and one of whom, Doctor Norbury, was apparently a disinterested witness. After that date he was never seen, alive or dead, by any person who knew him and was able to identify him. It was stated that he had been seen on the twenty-third of November following by the housemaid of Mr. Hurst; but as this person was unacquainted with him, it was uncertain whether the person whom she saw was or was not John Bellingham.

'Hence the disappearance dated, not from the twenty-third of November, as every one seems to have assumed, but from the fourteenth of October; and the question was not, "What became of John Bellingham after he entered Mr. Hurst's house?" but, "What became of him after his interview in Queen Square?"

'But as soon as I had decided that that interview must form the real starting point of the inquiry, a most striking set of circumstances came into view. It became obvious that if Mr. Jellicoe had had any reason for wishing to make away with John Bellingham, he had such an opportunity as seldom falls to the lot of an intending murderer.

'Just consider the conditions. John Bellingham was known to be setting out alone upon a journey beyond the sea. His exact destination was not stated. He was to be absent for an undetermined period, but at least three weeks. His disappearance would occasion no comment; his absence would lead to no inquiries, at least for several weeks, during which the murderer would have leisure quietly to dispose of the body and conceal all traces of the crime. The conditions were, from a murderer's point of view, ideal.

'But that was not all. During that very period of John Bellingham's absence Mr. Jellicoe was engaged to deliver to the British Museum what was admittedly a dead human body; and that body was to be enclosed in a sealed case. Could any more perfect or secure method of disposing of a body be devised by the most ingenious murderer? The plan would have had only one weak point: the mummy would be known to have left Queen Square after the disappearance of John Bellingham, and suspicion might in the end have arisen. To this point I shall return presently; meanwhile we will consider the second hypothesis—that the missing man was made away with by Mr. Hurst.

'Now, there seemed to be no doubt that some person, purporting to be John Bellingham, did actually visit Mr. Hurst's house; and he must either have left the house or remained in it. If he left, he did so surreptitiously; if he remained, there could be no reasonable doubt that he had been murdered and that his body had been concealed. Let us consider the probabilities in each case.

'Assuming—as every one seems to have done—that the visitor was really John Bellingham, we are dealing with a responsible, middle-aged gentleman, and the idea that such a person would enter a house, announce his intention of staying, and then steal away unobserved is very difficult to accept. Moreover, he would appear to have come down to Eltham by rail immediately on landing in England, leaving his luggage in the cloak-room at Charing Cross. This pointed to a definiteness of purpose quite inconsistent with his casual disappearance from the house.

'On the other hand, the idea that he might have been murdered by Hurst was not inconceivable. The thing was physically possible. If Bellingham had really been in the study when Hurst came home, the murder could have been committed—by appropriate means—and the body temporarily concealed in the cupboard or elsewhere. But, although possible it was not at all probable. There was no real opportunity. The risk and the subsequent difficulties would be very great; there was not a particle of positive evidence that a murder had occurred; and the conduct of Hurst in immediately leaving the house in possession of the servants is quite inconsistent with the supposition that there was a body concealed in it. So that, while it is almost impossible to believe that John Bellingham left the house of his own accord, it is equally difficult to believe that he did not leave it.

'But there is a third possibility, which, strange to say, no one seems to have suggested. Supposing that the visitor was not John Bellingham at all, but some one who was personating him? That would dispose of the difficulties completely. The strange disappearance ceases to be strange, for a personator would necessarily make off before Mr. Hurst should arrive and discover the imposture. But if we accept this supposition, we raise two further questions: "Who was the personator?" and "What was the object of the personation?"

'Now, the personator was clearly not Hurst himself, for he would have been recognised by his housemaid; he was therefore either Godfrey Bellingham or Mr. Jellicoe or some other person; and as no other person was mentioned in the newspaper reports I confined my speculations to these two.

'And, first, as to Godfrey Bellingham. It did not appear whether he was or was not known to the housemaid, so I assumed—wrongly, as it turns out—that he was not. Then he might have been the personator. But why should he have personated his brother? He could not have already committed the murder. There had not been time enough. He would have had to leave Woodford before John Bellingham had set out from Charing Cross. And even if he had committed the murder, he would have no object in raising this commotion. His cue would have been to remain quiet and know nothing. The probabilities were all against the personator being Godfrey Bellingham.

'Then could it be Mr. Jellicoe? The answer to this question is contained in the answer to the further question: What could have been the object of the personation?

'What motive could this unknown person have had in appearing, announcing himself as John Bellingham, and forthwith vanishing? There could only have been one motive: that, namely, of fixing the date of John Bellingham's disappearance—of furnishing a definite moment at which he was last seen alive.

'But who was likely to have had such a motive? Let us see.

'I said just now that if Mr. Jellicoe had murdered John Bellingham and disposed of the body in the mummy-case, he would have been absolutely safe for the time being. But there would be a weak spot in his armour. For a month or more the disappearance of his client would occasion no remark. But presently, when he failed to return, inquiries would be set on foot; and then it would appear that no one had seen him since he left Queen Square. Then it would be noted that the last person with whom he was seen was Mr. Jellicoe. It might, further, be remembered that the mummy had been delivered to the Museum some time after the missing man was last seen alive. And so suspicion might arise and be followed by disastrous investigations. But supposing it should be made to appear that John Bellingham had been seen alive more than a month after his interview with Mr. Jellicoe and some weeks after the mummy had been deposited in the Museum? Then Mr. Jellicoe would cease to be in any way connected with the disappearance and henceforth would be absolutely safe.

'Hence, after carefully considering this part of the newspaper report, I came to the conclusion that the mysterious occurrence at Mr. Hurst's home had only one reasonable explanation, namely, that the visitor was not John Bellingham, but some one personating him; and that that some one was Mr. Jellicoe.

'It remains to consider the case of Godfrey Bellingham and his daughter, though I cannot understand how any sane person can have seriously suspected either' (here Inspector Badger smiled a sour smile). 'The evidence against them was negligible, for there was nothing to connect them with the affair save the finding of the scarab on their premises; and that event, which might have been highly suspicious under other circumstances, was robbed of any significance by the fact that the scarab was found on a spot which had been passed a few minutes previously by the other suspected party, Hurst. The finding of the scarab did, however, establish two important conclusions: namely, that John Bellingham had probably met with foul play, and that of the four persons present when it was found, one at least had had possession of the body. As to which of the four was the one, the circumstances furnished only a hint, which was this: If the scarab had been purposely dropped, the most likely person to find it was the one who dropped it. And the person who discovered it was Mr. Jellicoe.

'Following up this hint, if we ask ourselves what motive Mr. Jellicoe could have had for dropping it—assuming him to be the murderer—the answer is obvious. It would not be his policy to fix the crime on any particular person, but rather to set up a complication of conflicting evidence which would occupy the attention of investigators and divert it from himself.

'Of course, if Hurst had been the murderer, he would have had a sufficient motive for dropping the scarab, so that the case against Mr. Jellicoe was not conclusive; but the fact that it was he who found it was highly significant.

'This completes the analysis of the evidence contained in the original newspaper report describing the circumstances of the disappearance. The conclusions that followed from it were, as you will have seen:

'1. That the missing man was almost certainly dead, as proved by the finding of the scarab after his disappearance.

'2. That he had probably been murdered by one or more of four persons, as proved by the finding of the scarab on the premises occupied by two of them and accessible to the others.

'3. That, of those four persons, one—Mr. Jellicoe—was the last person who was known to have been in the company of the missing man; had had an exceptional opportunity for committing the murder; and was known to have delivered a dead body to the Museum subsequently to the disappearance.

'4. That the supposition that Mr. Jellicoe had committed the murder rendered all the other circumstances of the disappearance clearly intelligible, whereas on any other supposition they were quite inexplicable.

'The evidence of the newspaper report, therefore, clearly pointed to the probability that John Bellingham had been murdered by Mr. Jellicoe and his body concealed in the mummy-case.

'I do not wish to give you the impression that I, then and there, believed that Mr. Jellicoe was the murderer. I did not. There was no reason to suppose that the report contained all the essential facts, and I merely considered it speculatively as a study in probabilities. But I did decide that that was the only probable conclusion from the facts that were given.

'Nearly two years had passed before I heard anything more of the case. Then it was brought to my notice by my friend, Doctor Berkeley, and I became acquainted with certain new facts, which I will consider in the order in which they became known to me.

'The first new light on the case came from the will. As soon as I had read the document I felt convinced that there was something wrong. The testator's evident intention was that his brother should inherit the property, whereas the construction of the will was such as almost certainly to defeat that intention. The devolution of the property depended on the burial clause—clause two; but the burial arrangements would ordinarily be decided by the executor, who happened to be Mr. Jellicoe. Thus the will left the disposition of the property under the control of Mr. Jellicoe, though his action could have been contested.

'Now, this will, although drawn up by John Bellingham, was executed in Mr. Jellicoe's office as is proved by the fact that it was witnessed by two of his clerks. He was the testator's lawyer, and it was his duty to insist on the will being properly drawn. Evidently he did nothing of the kind, and this fact strongly suggested some kind of collusion on his part with Hurst, who stood to benefit by the miscarriage of the will. And this was the odd feature in the case; for whereas the party responsible for the defective provisions was Mr. Jellicoe, the party who benefited was Hurst.

'But the most startling peculiarity of the will was the way in which it fitted the circumstances of the disappearance. It looked as if clause two had been drawn up with those very circumstances in view. Since, however, the will was ten years old, this was impossible. But if clause two could not have been devised to fit the disappearance, could the disappearance have been devised to fit clause two? That was by no means impossible: under the circumstances it looked rather probable. And if it had been so contrived, who was the agent in that contrivance? Hurst stood to benefit, but there was no evidence that he even knew the contents of the will. There only remained Mr. Jellicoe, who had certainly connived at the misdrawing of the will for some purpose of his own—some dishonest purpose.

'The evidence of the will, then, pointed to Mr. Jellicoe as the agent in the disappearance, and, after reading it, I definitely suspected him of the crime.

'Suspicion, however, is one thing and proof is another; I had not nearly enough evidence to justify me in laying an information, and I could not approach the Museum officials without making a definite accusation. The great difficulty of the case was that I could discover no motive. I could not see any way in which Mr. Jellicoe would benefit by the disappearance. His own legacy was secure, whenever and however the testator died. The murder and concealment apparently benefited Hurst alone; and, in the absence of any plausible motive, the facts required to be much more conclusive than they were.'

'Did you form absolutely no opinion as to motive?' asked Mr. Jellicoe.

He put the question in a quiet, passionless tone, as if he were discussing some cause celebre in which he had nothing more than a professional interest. Indeed, the calm, impersonal interest that he displayed in Thorndyke's analysis, his unmoved attention, punctuated by little nods of approval at each telling point in the argument, were the most surprising features of this astounding interview.

'I did form an opinion,' replied Thorndyke, 'but it was merely speculative, and I was never able to confirm it. I discovered that about ten years ago Mr. Hurst had been in difficulties and that he had suddenly raised a considerable sum of money, no one knew how or on what security. I observed that this event coincided with the execution of the will, and I surmised that there might be some connection between them. But that was only a surmise; and, as the proverb has it, "He discovers who proves." I could prove nothing, so that I never discovered Mr. Jellicoe's motive, and I don't know it now.'

'Don't you really?' said Mr. Jellicoe, in something approaching a tone of animation. He laid down the end of his cigarette, and, as he selected another from the silver case, he continued: 'I think that is the most interesting feature of your really remarkable analysis. It does you great credit. The absence of motive would have appeared to most persons a fatal objection to the theory of, what I may call, the prosecution. Permit me to congratulate you on the consistency and tenacity with which you have pursued the actual, visible facts.'

He bowed stiffly to Thorndyke (who returned his bow with equal stiffness), lighted a fresh cigarette, and once more leaned back in his chair with the calm, attentive manner of a man who is listening to a lecture or a musical performance.

'The evidence, then, being insufficient to act upon,' Thorndyke resumed, 'there was nothing for it but to wait for some new facts. Now, the study of a large series of carefully conducted murders brings into view an almost invariable phenomenon. The cautious murderer, in his anxiety to make himself secure, does too much; and it is this excess of precaution that leads to detection. It happens constantly; indeed, I may say that it always happens—in those murders that are detected; of those that are not we say nothing—and I had strong hopes that it would happen in this case. And it did.

'At the very moment when my client's case seemed almost hopeless, some human remains were discovered at Sidcup. I read the account of the discovery in the evening paper, and, scanty as the report was, it recorded enough facts to convince me that the inevitable mistake had been made.'

'Did it, indeed?' said Mr. Jellicoe. 'A mere, inexpert, hearsay report! I should have supposed it to be quite valueless from a scientific point of view.'

'So it was,' said Thorndyke. 'But it gave the date of the discovery and the locality, and it also mentioned what bones had been found. Which were all vital facts. Take the question of time. These remains, after lying perdu for two years, suddenly come to light just as the parties—who have also been lying perdu—have begun to take action in respect of the will; in fact, within a week or two of the hearing of the application. It was certainly a remarkable coincidence. And when the circumstances that occasioned the discovery were considered, the coincidence became more remarkable still. For these remains were found on land actually belonging to John Bellingham, and their discovery resulted from certain operations (the clearing of the watercress-beds) carried out on behalf of the absent landlord. But by whose orders were those works undertaken? Clearly by the orders of the landlord's agent. But the landlord's agent was known to be Mr. Jellicoe. Therefore these remains were brought to light at this peculiarly opportune moment by the action of Mr. Jellicoe. The coincidence, I say again, was very remarkable.

'But what instantly arrested my attention on reading the newspaper report was the unusual manner in which the arm had been separated; for, beside the bones of the arm proper, there were those of what anatomists call the "shoulder-girdle"—the shoulder-blade and collar-bone. This was very remarkable. It seemed to suggest a knowledge of anatomy, and yet no murderer, even if he possessed such knowledge, would make a display of it on such an occasion. It seemed to me that there must be some other explanation. Accordingly, when other remains had come to light and all had been collected at Woodford, I asked my friend Berkeley to go down there and inspect them. He did so, and this is what he found:

'Both arms had been detached in the same peculiar manner; both were complete, and all the bones were from the same body. The bones were quite clean—of soft structures, I mean. There were no cuts, scratches or marks on them. There was not a trace of adipocere—the peculiar waxy soap that forms in bodies that decay in water or in a damp situation. The right hand had been detached at the time the arm was thrown into the pond, and the left ring finger had been separated and had vanished. This latter fact had attracted my attention from the first, but I will leave its consideration for the moment and return to it later.'

'How did you discover that the hand had been detached?' Mr. Jellicoe asked.

'By the submersion marks,' replied Thorndyke. 'It was lying on the bottom of the pond in a position which would have been impossible if it had been attached to the arm.'

'You interest me exceedingly,' said Mr. Jellicoe. 'It appears that a medico-legal expert finds "books in the running brooks, sermons in bones, and evidence in everything." But don't let me interrupt you.'

'Doctor Berkeley's observations,' Thorndyke resumed, 'together with the medical evidence at the inquest, led me to certain conclusions.

'Let me state the facts which were disclosed.

'The remains which had been assembled formed a complete human skeleton with the exception of the skull, one finger, and the legs from the knee to the ankle, including both knee-caps. This was a very impressive fact; for the bones that were missing included all those which could have been identified as belonging or not belonging to John Bellingham; and the bones that were present were the unidentifiable remainder.

'It had a suspicious appearance of selection.

'But the parts that were present were also curiously suggestive. In all cases the mode of dismemberment was peculiar; for an ordinary person would have divided the knee-joint leaving the kneecap attached to the thigh, whereas it had evidently been left attached to the shin-bone; and the head would most probably have been removed by cutting through the neck instead of being neatly detached from the spine. And all these bones were almost entirely free from marks or scratches such as would naturally occur in an ordinary dismemberment, and all were quite free from adipocere. And now as to the conclusions which I drew from these facts. First, there was the peculiar grouping of the bones. What was the meaning of that? Well, the idea of a punctilious anatomist was obviously absurd, and I put it aside. But was there any other explanation? Yes, there was. The bones had appeared in the natural groups that are held together by ligaments; and they had separated at points where they were attached principally by muscles. The knee-cap, for instance, which really belongs to the thigh, is attached to it by muscle, but to the shin-bone by a stout ligament. And so with the bones of the arm; they are connected to one another by ligaments; but to the trunk only by muscle, excepting at one end of the collarbone.

But this was a very significant fact. Ligament decays much more slowly than muscle, so that in a body of which the muscles had largely decayed the bones might still be held together by ligament. The peculiar grouping therefore suggested that the body had been partly reduced to a skeleton before it was dismembered; that it had then been merely pulled apart and not divided with a knife.

'This suggestion was remarkably confirmed by the total absence of knife-cuts or scratches.

'Then there was the fact that all the bones were quite free from adipocere. Now, if an arm or a thigh should be deposited in water and left undisturbed to decay, it is certain that large masses of adipocere would be formed. Probably more than half of the flesh would be converted into this substance. The absence of adipocere therefore proved that the bulk of the flesh had disappeared or been removed from the bones before they were deposited in the pond. That, in fact, it was not a body, but a skeleton, that had been deposited.

'But what kind of skeleton? If it was the recent skeleton of a murdered man, then the bones had been carefully stripped of flesh so as to leave the ligaments intact. But this was highly improbable; for there could be no object in preserving the ligaments. And the absence of scratches was against this view.

'Then they did not appear to be graveyard bones. The collection was too complete. It is very rare to find a graveyard skeleton of which many of the small bones are not missing. And such bones are usually more or less weathered or friable.

'They did not appear to be bones such as may be bought at an osteological dealer's, for these usually have perforations to admit the macerating fluid to the marrow cavities. Dealers' bones, too, are very seldom all from the same body; and the small bones of the hand are drilled with holes to enable them to be strung on catgut.

'They were not dissecting-room bones, as there was no trace of red lead in the openings for the nutrient arteries.

'What the appearances did suggest was that these were parts of a body which had decayed in a very dry atmosphere (in which no adipocere would be formed), and which had been pulled or broken apart. Also that the ligaments which held the body—or rather skeleton—together were brittle and friable as suggested by the detached hand, which had probably broken off accidentally. But the only kind of body that completely answered this description is an Egyptian mummy. A mummy, it is true, has been more or less preserved; but on exposure to the air of such a climate as ours it perishes rapidly, the ligaments being the last of the soft parts to disappear.

'The hypothesis that these bones were parts of a mummy naturally suggested Mr. Jellicoe. If he had murdered John Bellingham and concealed his body in the mummy-case, he would have a spare mummy on his hands, and that mummy would have been exposed to the air and to somewhat rough handling.

'A very interesting circumstance connected with these remains was that the ring finger was missing. Now, fingers have on sundry occasions been detached from dead hands for the sake of the rings on them. But in such cases the object has been to secure a valuable ring uninjured. If this hand was the hand of John Bellingham, there was no such object. The purpose was to prevent identification; and that purpose would have been more easily, and much more completely, achieved by sacrificing the ring, by filing through it or breaking it off the finger. The appearances, therefore, did not quite agree with the apparent purpose.

'Then, could there be any other purpose with which they agreed better? Yes, there could.

'If it had happened that John Bellingham were known to have worn a ring on that finger, and especially if that ring fitted tightly, the removal of the finger would serve a very useful purpose. It would create an impression that the finger had been removed on account of a ring, to prevent identification; which impression would, in turn, produce a suspicion that the hand was that of John Bellingham. And yet it would not be evidence that could be used to establish identity. Now, if Mr. Jellicoe were the murderer and had the body hidden elsewhere, vague suspicion would be precisely what he would desire, and positive evidence what he would wish to avoid.

'It transpired later that John Bellingham did wear a ring on that finger and that the ring fitted very tightly. Whence it followed that the absence of the finger was an additional point tending to implicate Mr. Jellicoe.

'And now let us briefly review this mass of evidence. You will see that it consists of a multitude of items, each either trivial or speculative. Up to the time of the actual discovery I had not a single crucial fact, nor any clue as to motive. But, slight as the individual points of evidence were, they pointed with impressive unanimity to one person—Mr. Jellicoe. Thus:

'The person who had the opportunity to commit murder and dispose of the body was Mr. Jellicoe.

'The deceased was last certainly seen alive with Mr. Jellicoe.

'An unidentified human body was delivered to the Museum by Mr. Jellicoe.

'The only person who could have a motive for personating the deceased was Mr. Jellicoe.

'The only known person who could possibly have done so was Mr. Jellicoe.

'One of the two persons who could have had a motive for dropping the scarab was Mr. Jellicoe. The person who found that scarab was Mr. Jellicoe, although, owing to his defective eyesight and his spectacles, he was the most unlikely person of those present to find it.

'The person who was responsible for the execution of the defective will was Mr. Jellicoe.

'Then as to the remains. They were apparently not those of John Bellingham, but parts of a particular kind of body. But the only person who was known to have had such a body in his possession was Mr. Jellicoe.

'The only person who could have had any motive for substituting those remains for the remains of the deceased was Mr. Jellicoe.

'Finally, the person who caused the discovery of those remains at that singularly opportune moment was Mr. Jellicoe.

'This was the sum of the evidence that was in my possession up to the time of the hearing and, indeed, for some time after, and it was not enough to act upon. But when the case had been heard in Court, it was evident either that the proceedings would be abandoned—which was unlikely—or that there would be new developments.

'I watched the progress of events with profound interest. An attempt had been made (by Mr. Jellicoe or some other person) to get the will administered without producing the body of John Bellingham; and that attempt had failed. The coroner's jury had refused to identify the remains; the Probate Court had refused to presume the death of the testator. As affairs stood the will could not be administered.

'What would be the next move?

'It was virtually certain that it would consist in the production of something which would identify the unrecognised remains as those of the testator.

'But what would that something be?

'The answer to that question would contain the answer to another question: Was my solution of the mystery the true solution?

'If I was wrong, it was possible that some of the undoubtedly genuine bones of John Bellingham might presently be discovered; for instance, the skull, the knee-cap, or the left fibula, by any of which the remains could be positively identified.

'If I was right, only one thing could possibly happen. Mr. Jellicoe would have to play the trump card that he had been holding back in case the Court should refuse the application; a card that he was evidently reluctant to play.

'He would have to produce the bones of the mummy's finger, together with John Bellingham's ring. No other course was possible.

'But not only would the bones and the ring have to be found together. They would have to be found in a place which was accessible to Mr. Jellicoe, and so far under his control that he could determine the exact time when the discovery should be made.

'I waited patiently for the answer to my question. Was I right or was I wrong?

'And, in due course, the answer came.

'The bones and the ring were discovered in the well in the grounds of Godfrey Bellingham's late house. That house was the property of John Bellingham. Mr. Jellicoe was John Bellingham's agent. Hence it was practically certain that the date on which the well was emptied was settled by Mr. Jellicoe.

'The oracle had spoken.

'The discovery proved conclusively that the bones were not those of John Bellingham (for if they had been the ring would have been unnecessary for identification). But if the bones were not John Bellingham's, the ring was; from which followed the important corollary that whoever had deposited those bones in the well had had possession of the body of John Bellingham. And there could be no doubt that that person was Mr. Jellicoe.

'On receiving this final confirmation of my conclusions, I applied forthwith to Doctor Norbury for permission to examine the mummy of Sebekhotep, with the result that you are already acquainted with.'

As Thorndyke concluded, Mr. Jellicoe regarded him thoughtfully for a moment and then said: 'You have given us a most complete and lucid exposition of your method of investigation, sir. I have enjoyed it exceedingly, and should have profited by it hereafter—under other circumstances. Are you sure you won't allow me to fill your glass?' He touched the stopper of the decanter, and Inspector Badger ostentatiously consulted his watch.

'Time is running on, I fear,' said Mr. Jellicoe.

'It is, indeed,' Badger assented emphatically.

'Well, I need not detain you long,' said the lawyer. 'My statement is a narration of events. But I desire to make it, and you, no doubt, will be interested to hear it.'

He opened the silver case and selected a fresh cigarette, which, however, he did not light. Inspector Badger produced a funereal notebook, which he laid open on his knee; and the rest of us settled ourselves in our chairs with no little curiosity to hear Mr. Jellicoe's statement.

CHAPTER XX. THE END OF THE CASE

A PROFOUND silence had fallen on the room and its occupants. Mr. Jellicoe sat with his eyes fixed on the table as if deep in thought, the unlighted cigarette in one hand, the other grasping the tumbler of water. Presently Inspector Badger coughed impatiently and he looked up. 'I beg your pardon, gentlemen,' he said. 'I am keeping you waiting.'

He took a sip from the tumbler, opened a match-box and took out a match, but apparently altering his mind, laid it down and commenced:

'The unfortunate affair which has brought you here to-night, had its origin ten years ago. At that time my friend Hurst became suddenly involved in financial difficulties—am I speaking too fast for you, Mr. Badger?'

'No not at all,' replied Badger. 'I am taking it down in shorthand.'

'Thank you,' said Mr. Jellicoe. 'He became involved in serious difficulties and came to me for assistance. He wished to borrow five thousand pounds to enable him to meet his engagements. I had a certain amount of money at my disposal, but I did not consider Hurst's security satisfactory; accordingly I felt compelled to refuse. But on the very next day, John Bellingham called on me with a draft of his will which he wished me to look over before it was executed.

'It was an absurd will, and I nearly told him so; but then an idea occurred to me in connection with Hurst. It was obvious to me, as soon as I glanced through the will, that, if the burial clause was left as the testator had drafted it, Hurst had a very good chance of inheriting the property; and, as I was named as the executor I should be able to give full effect to that clause. Accordingly, I asked for a few days to consider the will, and then I called upon Hurst and made a proposal to him; which was this: That I should advance him five thousand pounds without security; that I should ask for no repayment, but that he should assign to me any interest that he might have or acquire in the estate of John Bellingham up to ten thousand pounds, or two-thirds of any sum that he might inherit if over that amount. He asked if John had yet made any will, and I replied, quite correctly, that he had not. He inquired if I knew what testamentary arrangements John intended to make, and again I answered, quite correctly, that I believed John proposed to devise the bulk of his property to his brother, Godfrey.

'Thereupon, Hurst accepted my proposal; I made him the advance and he executed the assignment. After a few days' delay, I passed the will as satisfactory. The actual document was written from the draft by the testator himself; and a fortnight after Hurst had executed the assignment, John signed the will in my office. By the provisions of that will I stood an excellent chance of becoming virtually the principal beneficiary, unless Godfrey should contest Hurst's claim and the Court should override the conditions of clause two.

'You will now understand the motives which governed my subsequent actions. You will also see, Doctor Thorndyke, how very near to the truth your reasoning carried you; and you will understand, as I wish you to do, that Mr. Hurst was no party to any of those proceedings which I am about to describe.

'Coming now to the interview in Queen Square in October, nineteen hundred and two, you are aware of the general circumstances from my evidence in Court, which was literally correct up to a certain point. The interview took place in a room on the third floor, in which were stored the cases which John had brought with him from Egypt. The mummy was unpacked, as were some other objects that he was not offering to the Museum, but several cases were still unopened. At the conclusion of the interview I accompanied Doctor Norbury down to the street door, and we stood on the doorstep conversing for perhaps a quarter of an hour. Then Doctor Norbury went away and I returned upstairs.

'Now the house in Queen Square is virtually a museum. The upper part is separated from the lower by a massive door which opens from the hall and gives access to the staircase and which is fitted with a Chubb night-latch. There are two latch-keys, of which John used to keep one and I the other. You will find them both in the safe behind me. The caretaker had no key and no access to the upper part of the house unless admitted by one of us.

'At the time when I came in, after Doctor Norbury had left, the caretaker was in the cellar, where I could hear him breaking coke for the hot-water furnace. I had left John on the third floor opening some of the packing-cases by the light of a lamp with a tool somewhat like a plasterer's hammer; that is, a hammer with a small axe-blade at the reverse of the head. As I stood talking to Doctor Norbury, I could hear him knocking out the nails and wrenching up the lids; and when I entered the doorway leading to the stairs, I could still hear him. Just as I closed the staircase door behind me, I heard a rumbling noise from above; then all was still.

'I went up the stairs to the second floor, where, as the staircase was all in darkness, I stopped to light the gas. As I turned to ascend the next flight, I saw a hand projecting over the edge of the halfway landing. I ran up the stairs, and there, on the landing, I saw John lying huddled up in a heap at the foot of the top flight. There was a wound at the side of his forehead from which a little blood was trickling. The case-opener lay on the floor close by him and there was blood on the axe-blade. When I looked up the stairs I saw a rag of torn matting over the top stair.

'It was quite easy to see what had happened. He had walked quickly out on the landing with the case-opener in his hand. His foot had caught in the torn matting and he had pitched head foremost down the stairs still holding the case-opener. He had fallen so that his head had come down on the upturned edge of the axe-blade; he had then rolled over and the case-opener had dropped from his hand.

'I lit a wax match and stooped down to look at him. His head was in a very peculiar position, which made me suspect that his neck was broken. There was extremely little bleeding from the wound; he was perfectly motionless; I could detect no sign of breathing; and I felt no doubt that he was dead.

'It was an exceedingly regrettable affair, and it placed me, as I perceived at once, in an extremely awkward position. My first impulse was to send the caretaker for a doctor and a policeman; but a moment's reflection convinced me that there were serious objections to this course.

'There was nothing to show that I had not, myself, knocked him down with the case-opener. Of course, there was nothing to show that I had; but we were alone in the house with the exception of the caretaker, who was down in the basement out of earshot.

'There would be an inquest. At the inquest inquiries would be made as to the will which was known to exist. But as soon as the will was produced, Hurst would become suspicious. He would probably make a statement to the coroner and I should be charged with the murder. Or, even if I were not charged, Hurst would suspect me and would probably repudiate the assignment; and, under the circumstances, it would be practically impossible for me to enforce it. He would refuse to pay and I could not take my claim into Court.

I sat down on the stairs just above poor John's body and considered the matter in detail. At the worst, I stood a fair chance of hanging; at the best, I stood to lose close upon fifty thousand pounds. These were not pleasant alternatives.

'Supposing, on the other hand, I concealed the body and gave out that John had gone to Paris. There was, of course, the risk of discovery, in which case I should certainly be convicted of the murder. But if no discovery occurred, I was not only safe from suspicion, but I secured the fifty thousand pounds. In either case there was considerable risk, but in one there was the certainty of loss, whereas in the other there was a material advantage to justify the risk. The question was whether it would be possible to conceal the body. If it were, then the contingent profit was worth the slight additional risk. But a human body is a very difficult thing to dispose of, especially to a person of so little scientific culture as myself.

'It is curious that I considered this question for a quite considerable time before the obvious solution presented itself. I turned over at least a dozen methods of disposing of the body, and rejected them all as impracticable. Then, suddenly, I remembered the mummy upstairs.

'At first it only occurred to me as a fantastic possibility that I could conceal the body in the mummy-case. But as I turned over the idea I began to see that it was really practicable; and not only practicable but easy; and not only easy but eminently safe. If once the mummy-case was in the Museum, I was rid of it for ever.

'The circumstances were, as you, sir, have justly observed, singularly favourable. There would be no hue and cry, no hurry, no anxiety; but ample time for all the necessary preparations. Then the mummy-case itself was curiously suitable. Its length was ample, as I knew from having measured it. It was a cartonnage of rather flexible material and had an opening behind, secured with a lacing so that it could be opened without injury. Nothing need be cut but the lacing, which could be replaced. A little damage might be done in extracting the mummy and in introducing the deceased; but such cracks as might occur would be of no importance. For here again Fortune favoured me. The whole of the back of the mummy-case was coated with bitumen, and it would be easy when once the deceased was safely inside to apply a fresh coat, which would cover up not only the cracks but also the new lacing.

'After careful consideration, I decided to adopt the plan. I went downstairs and sent the caretaker on an errand to the Law Courts. Then I returned and carried the deceased up to one of the third-floor rooms, where I removed his clothes and laid him out on a long packing-case in the position in which he would lie in the mummy-case. I folded his clothes neatly and packed them, with the exception of his boots, in a suit-case that he had been taking to Paris and which contained nothing but his night-clothes, toilet articles, and a change of linen. By the time I had done this and thoroughly washed the oilcloth on the stairs and landing, the caretaker had returned. I informed him that Mr. Bellingham had started for Paris and then I went home. The upper part of the house was, of course, secured by the Chubb lock, but I had also—ex abundantia caulela—locked the door of the room in which I had deposited the deceased.

'I had, of course, some knowledge of the methods of embalming, but principally of those employed by the ancients. Hence, on the following day, I went to the British Museum library and consulted the most recent works on the subject; and exceedingly interesting they were, as showing the remarkable improvements that modern knowledge has effected in this ancient art. I need not trouble you with details that are familiar to you. The process that I selected as the simplest for a beginner was that of formalin injection, and I went straight from the Museum to purchase the necessary materials. I did not, however, buy an embalming syringe: the book stated that an ordinary anatomical injecting syringe would answer the same purpose, and I thought it a more discreet purchase.

'I fear that I bungled the injection terribly, although I had carefully studied the plates in a treatise on anatomy—Gray's, I think. However, if my methods were clumsy, they were quite effectual. I carried out the process on the evening of the third day; and when I locked up the house that night, I had the satisfaction of knowing that poor John's remains were secure from corruption and decay.

'But this was not enough. The great weight of a fresh body as compared with that of a mummy would be immediately noticed by those who had the handling of the mummy-case. Moreover, the damp from the body would quickly ruin the cartonnage and would cause a steamy film on the inside of the glass case in which it would be exhibited. And this would probably lead to an examination. Clearly, then, it was necessary that the remains of the deceased should be thoroughly dried before they were enclosed in the cartonnage.

'Here my unfortunate deficiency in scientific knowledge was a great drawback. I had no idea how this result would be achieved and, in the end, was compelled to consult a taxidermist, to whom I represented that I wished to collect some small animals and reptiles and rapidly dry them for convenience of transport. By this person I was advised to immerse the dead animals in a jar of methylated spirit for a week and then expose them in a current of warm, dry air.

'But the plan of immersing the remains of the deceased in ajar of methylated spirit was obviously impracticable. However, I bethought me that we had in our collection a porphyry sarcophagus, the cavity of which had been shaped to receive a small mummy in its case. I tried the deceased in the sarcophagus and found that he just fitted the cavity loosely. I obtained a few gallons of methylated spirit, which I poured into the cavity, just covering the body, and then I put on the lid and luted it down air-tight with putty. I trust I do not weary you with these particulars?'

'I'll ask you to cut it as short as you can, Mr. Jellicoe,' said Badger. 'It has been a long yarn and time is running on.'

'For my part,' said Thorndyke, 'I find these details deeply interesting and instructive. They fill in the outline that I had drawn by inference.'

'Precisely,' said Mr. Jellicoe; 'then I will proceed.

'I left the deceased soaking in the spirit for a fortnight and then took him out, wiped him dry, and laid him on four cane-bottomed chairs just over the hot-water pipes, and I let a free current of air pass through the room. The result interested me exceedingly. By the end of the third day the hands and feet had become quite dry and shrivelled and horny—so that the ring actually dropped off the shrunken finger—the nose looked like a fold of parchment; and the skin of the body was so dry and smooth that you could have engrossed a lease on it. For the first day or two I turned the deceased at intervals so that he should dry evenly, and then I proceeded to get the case ready. I divided the lacing and extracted the mummy with great care—with great care as to the case, I mean; for the mummy suffered some injury in the extraction. It was very badly embalmed, and so brittle that it broke in several places while I was getting it out; and when I unrolled it the head separated and both the arms came off.

'On the sixth day after the removal from the sarcophagus, I took the bandages that I had removed from Sebekhotep and very carefully wrapped the deceased in them, sprinkling powdered myrrh and gum benzoin freely on the body and between the folds of the wrappings to disguise the faint odour of the spirit and the formalin that still lingered about the body. When the wrappings had been applied, the deceased really had a most workmanlike appearance; he would have looked quite well in a glass case even without the cartonnage, and I felt almost regretful at having to put him out of sight for ever.

'It was a difficult business getting him into the case without assistance, and I cracked the cartonnage badly in several places before he was safely enclosed. But I got him in at last, and then, when I had closed up the case with a new lacing, I applied a fresh layer of bitumen which effectually covered up the cracks and the new cord. A dusty cloth dabbed over the bitumen when it was dry disguised its newness, and the cartonnage with its tenant was ready for delivery. I notified Doctor Norbury of the fact, and five days later he came and removed it to the Museum.

'Now that the main difficulty was disposed of, I began to consider the further difficulty to which you, sir, have alluded with such admirable perspicuity. It was necessary that John Bellingham should make one more appearance in public before sinking into final oblivion.

'Accordingly, I devised the visit to Hurst's house, which was calculated to serve two purposes. It created a satisfactory date for the disappearance, eliminating me from any connection with it, and by throwing some suspicion on Hurst it would make him more amenable—less likely to dispute my claim when he learned the provisions of the will.

'The affair was quite simple. I knew that Hurst had changed his servants since I was last at his house, and I knew his habits. On that day I took the suit-case to Charing Cross and deposited it in the cloak-room, called at Hurst's office to make sure that he was there, and went from thence direct to Cannon Street and caught the train to Eltham. On arriving at the house, I took the precaution to remove my spectacles—the only distinctive feature of my exterior—and was duly shown into the study at my request. As soon as the housemaid had left the room I quietly let myself out by the French window, which I closed behind me but could not fasten, went out at the side gate and closed that also behind me, holding the bolt of the latch back with my pocket-knife so that I need not slam the gate to shut it.

'The other events of that day, including the dropping of the scarab, I need not describe, as they are known to you. But I may fitly make a few remarks on the unfortunate tactical error into which I fell in respect of the bones. That error arose, as you have doubtless perceived, from the lawyer's incurable habit of underestimating the scientific expert. I had no idea mere bones were capable of furnishing so much information to a man of science.

'The way in which the affair came about was this: the damaged mummy of Sebekhotep, perishing gradually by exposure to the air, was not only an eyesore to me: it was a definite danger. It was the only remaining link between me and the disappearance. I resolved to be rid of it and cast about for some means of destroying it. And then, in an evil moment, the idea of utilising it occurred to me.

'There was an undoubted danger that the Court might refuse to presume death after so short an interval; and if the permission should be postponed, the will might never be administered during my lifetime. Hence, if these bones of Sebekhotep could be made to simulate the remains of the deceased testator, a definite good would be achieved. But I knew that the entire skeleton could never be mistaken for his. The deceased had broken his knee-caps and damaged his ankle, injuries which I assumed would leave some permanent trace. But if a judicious selection of the bones were deposited in a suitable place, together with some object clearly identifiable as appertaining to the deceased, it seemed to me that the difficulty would be met. I need not trouble you with details. The course which I adopted is known to you with the attendant circumstances, even to the accidental detachment of the right hand—which broke off as I was packing the arm in my handbag. Erroneous as that course was, it would have been successful but for the unforeseen contingency of your being retained in the case.

'Thus, for nearly two years, I remained in complete security. From time to time I dropped in at the Museum to see if the deceased was keeping in good condition; and on those occasions I used to reflect with satisfaction on the gratifying circumstance—accidental though it was—that his wishes, as expressed (very imperfectly) in clause two, had been fully complied with, and that without prejudice to my interests.

'The awakening came on that evening when I saw you at the Temple gate talking with Doctor Berkeley. I suspected immediately that something was gone amiss and that it was too late to take any useful action. Since then, I have waited here in hourly expectation of this visit. And now the time has come. You have made the winning move and it remains only for me to pay my debts like an honest gambler.'

He paused and quietly lit his cigarette. Inspector Badger yawned and put away his notebook.

'Have you done, Mr. Jellicoe?' the inspector asked. 'I want to carry out my contract to the letter, you know, though it's getting devilish late.'

Mr. Jellicoe took his cigarette from his mouth and drank a glass of water.

'I forgot to ask,' he said, 'whether you unrolled the mummy—if I may apply the term to the imperfectly treated remains of my deceased client.'

'I did not open the mummy-case,' replied Thorndyke.

'You did not!' exclaimed Mr. Jellicoe. 'Then how did you verify your suspicions?'

'I took an X-ray photograph.'

'Ah! Indeed!' Mr. Jellicoe pondered for some moments. 'Astonishing!' he murmured; 'and most ingenious. The resources of science at the present day are truly wonderful.'

'Is there anything more that you want to say?' asked Badger; 'because if you don't, time's up.'

'Anything more?' Mr. Jellicoe repeated slowly; 'anything more? No—I—think—think—the time—is—up. Yes—the—the—time—'

He broke off and sat with a strange look fixed on Thorndyke.

His face had suddenly undergone a curious change. It looked shrunken and cadaverous and his lips had assumed a peculiar cherry-red colour.

'Is anything the matter, Mr. Jellicoe?' Badger asked uneasily. 'Are you not feeling well, sir?'

Mr. Jellicoe did not appear to have heard the question, for he returned no answer, but sat motionless, leaning back in his chair, with his hands spread out on the table and his strangely intent gaze bent on Thorndyke.

Suddenly his head dropped on his breast and his body seemed to collapse; and as with one accord we sprang to our feet, he slid forward off his chair and disappeared under the table.

'Good Lord! The man's fainted!' exclaimed Badger.

In a moment he was down on his hands and knees, trembling with excitement, groping under the table. He dragged the unconscious lawyer out into the light and knelt over him, staring into his face.

'What's the matter with him, Doctor?' he asked, looking up at Thorndyke. 'Is it apoplexy? Or is it a heart attack, think you?'

Thorndyke shook his head, though he stooped and put his fingers on the unconscious man's wrist.

'Prussic acid or potassium cyanide is what the appearances suggest,' he replied.

'But can't you do anything?' demanded the inspector.

Thorndyke dropped the arm, which fell limply to the floor.

'You can't do much for a dead man,' he said.

'Dead! Then he has slipped through our fingers after all!'

'He has anticipated the sentence. That is all.' Thorndyke spoke in an even, impassive tone which struck me as rather strange, considering the suddenness of the tragedy, as did also the complete absence of surprise in his manner. He seemed to treat the occurrence as a perfectly natural one.

Not so Inspector Badger; who rose to his feet and stood with his hands thrust into his pockets scowling sullenly down at the dead lawyer.

'I was an infernal fool to agree to his blasted conditions,' he growled savagely.

'Nonsense,' said Thorndyke. 'If you had broken in you would have found a dead man. As it was you found a live man and obtained an important statement. You acted quite properly.'

'How do you suppose he managed it?' asked Badger.

Thorndyke held out his hand.

'Let us look at his cigarette case,' said he.

Badger extracted the little silver case from the dead man's pocket and opened it. There were five cigarettes in it, two of which were plain, while the other three were gold-tipped. Thorndyke took out one of each kind and gently pinched their ends. The gold-tipped one he returned; the plain one he tore through, about a quarter of an inch from the end; when two little black tabloids dropped out on to the table. Badger eagerly picked one up and was about to smell it when Thorndyke grasped his wrist. 'Be careful,' said he; and when he had cautiously sniffed at the tabloid—held at a safe distance from his nose—he added: 'Yes, potassium cyanide. I thought so when his lips turned that queer colour. It was in that last cigarette; you can see that he has bitten the end off.'

For some time we stood silently looking down at the still form stretched on the floor. Presently Badger looked up.

'As you pass the porter's lodge on your way out,' said he, 'you might just drop in and tell him to send a constable to me.'

'Very well,' said Thorndyke. 'And by the way, Badger, you had better tip that sherry back into the decanter and put it under lock and key, or else pour it out of the window.'

'Gad, yes!' exclaimed the inspector. 'I'm glad you mentioned it. We might have had an inquest on a constable as well as a lawyer. Good-night, gentlemen, if you are off.'

We went out and left him with his prisoner—passive enough, indeed, according to his ambiguously worded promise. As we passed through the gateway Thorndyke gave the inspector's message, curtly and without comment, to the gaping porter, and then we issued forth into Chancery Lane.

We were all silent and very grave, and I thought that Thorndyke seemed somewhat moved. Perhaps Mr. Jellicoe's last intent look—which I suspect he knew to be the look of a dying man—lingered in his memory as it did in mine. Half-way down Chancery Lane he spoke for the first time; and then it was only to ejaculate, 'Poor devil!'

Jervis took him up. 'He was a consummate villain, Thorndyke.'

'Hardly that,' was the reply. 'I should rather say that he was non-moral. He acted without malice and without scruple or remorse. His conduct exhibited a passionateless expediency which was dreadful because utterly unhuman. But he was a strong man—a courageous, self-contained man, and I had been better pleased if it could have been ordained that some other hand than mine should let the axe fall.'

Thorndyke's compunction may appear strange and inconsistent, but yet his feeling was also my own. Great as was the misery and suffering that this inscrutable man had brought into the lives of those I loved, I forgave him; and in his downfall forgot the callous relentlessness with which he had pursued his evil purpose. For it was he who had brought Ruth into my life; who had opened for me the Paradise of Love into which I had just entered. And so my thoughts turned away from the still shape that lay on the floor of the stately old room in Lincoln's Inn, away to the sunny vista of the future, where I should walk hand in hand with Ruth until my time, too, should come; until I, too, like the grim lawyer, should hear the solemn evening bell bidding me put out into the darkness of the silent sea.


III. — THE ART OF THE DETECTIVE STORY

THE status in the world of letters of that type of fiction which finds its principal motive in the unravelment of crimes or similar intricate mysteries presents certain anomalies. By the critic and the professedly literary person the detective story—to adopt the unprepossessing name by which this class of fiction is now universally known—is apt to be dismissed contemptuously as outside the pale of literature, to be conceived of as a type of work produced by half-educated and wholly incompetent writers for consumption by office boys, factory girls, and other persons devoid of culture and literary taste.

That such works are produced by such writers for such readers is an undeniable truth; but in mere badness of quality the detective story holds no monopoly. By similar writers and for similar readers there are produced love stories, romances, and even historical tales of no better quality. But there is this difference: that, whereas the place in literature of the love story or the romance has been determined by the consideration of the masterpieces of each type, the detective story appears to have been judged by its failures. The status of the whole class has been fixed by an estimate formed from inferior samples.

What is the explanation of this discrepancy? Why is it that, whereas a bad love story or romance is condemned merely on its merits as a defective specimen of a respectable class, a detective story is apt to be condemned without trial in virtue of some sort of assumed original sin? The assumption as to the class of reader is manifestly untrue. There is no type of fiction that is more universally popular than the detective story. It is a familiar fact that many famous men have found in this kind of reading their favourite recreation, and that it is consumed with pleasure, and even with enthusiasm, by many learned and intellectual men, not infrequently in preference to any other form of fiction.

This being the case, I again ask for an explanation of the contempt in which the whole genus of detective fiction is held by the professedly literary. Clearly, a form of literature which arouses the enthusiasm of men of intellect and culture can be affected by no inherently base quality. It cannot be foolish, and is unlikely to be immoral. As a matter of fact, it is neither. The explanation is probably to be found in the great proportion of failures; in the tendency of the tyro and the amateur perversely to adopt this difficult and intricate form for their 'prentice efforts; in the crude literary technique often associated with otherwise satisfactory productions; and perhaps in the falling off in quality of the work of regular novelists when they experiment in this department of fiction, to which they may be adapted neither by temperament nor by training.

Thus critical judgment has been formed, not on what the detective story can be and should be, but on what it too frequently was in the past when crudely and incompetently done. Unfortunately, this type of work is still prevalent; but it is not representative. In late years there has arisen a new school of writers who, taking the detective story seriously, have set a more exacting standard, and whose work, admirable alike in construction and execution, probably accounts for the recent growth in popularity of this class of fiction. But, though representative, they are a minority; and it is still true that a detective story which fully develops the distinctive qualities proper to its genus, and is, in addition, satisfactory in diction, in background treatment, in characterization, and in general literary workmanship is probably the rarest of all forms of fiction.

The rarity of good detective fiction is to be explained by a fact which appears to be little recognized either by critics or by authors; the fact, namely, that a completely executed detective story is a very difficult and highly technical work, a work demanding in its creator the union of qualities which, if not mutually antagonistic, are at least seldom met with united in a single individual. On the one hand, it is a work of imagination, demanding the creative, artistic faculty; on the other, it is a work of ratiocination, demanding the power of logical analysis and subtle and acute reasoning; and, added to these inherent qualities, there must be a somewhat extensive outfit of special knowledge. Evidence alike of the difficulty of the work and the failure to realize it is furnished by those occasional experiments of novelists of the orthodox kind which have been referred to, experiments which commonly fail by reason of a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the work and the qualities that it should possess.

A widely prevailing error is that a detective story needs to be highly sensational. It tends to be confused with the mere crime story, in which the incidents—tragic, horrible, even repulsive—form the actual theme, and the quality aimed at is horror—crude and pungent sensationalism. Here the writer's object is to make the reader's flesh creep; and since that reader has probably, by a course of similar reading, acquired a somewhat extreme degree of obtuseness, the violence of the means has to be progressively increased in proportion to the insensitiveness of the subject. The sportsman in the juvenile verse sings:

I shoot the hippopotamus with bullets made of platinum
Because if I use leaden ones his hide is sure to flatten 'em;

and that, in effect, is the position of the purveyor of gross sensationalism. His purpose is, at all costs, to penetrate his reader's mental epidermis, to the density of which he must needs adjust the weight and velocity of his literary projectile.

Now no serious author will complain of the critic's antipathy to mere sensationalism. It is a quality that is attainable by the least gifted writer and acceptable to the least critical reader; and, unlike the higher qualities of literature, which beget in the reader an increased receptiveness and more subtle appreciation, it creates, as do drugs and stimulants, a tolerance which has to be met by an increase of the dose. The entertainments of the cinema have to be conducted on a scale of continually increasing sensationalism. The wonders that thrilled at first become commonplace, and must be reinforced by marvels yet more astonishing. Incident must be piled on incident, climax on climax, until any kind of construction becomes impossible. So, too, in literature. In the newspaper serial of the conventional type, each instalment of a couple of thousand words, or less, must wind up with a thrilling climax, blandly ignored at the opening of the next instalment; while that ne plus ultra of wild sensationalism, the film novel, in its extreme form is no more than a string of astonishing incidents, unconnected by any intelligible scheme, each incident an independent "thrill," unexplained, unprepared for, devoid alike of antecedents and consequences.

Some productions of the latter type are put forth in the guise of detective stories, with which they apparently tend to be confused by some critics. They are then characterized by the presentation of a crime—often in impossible circumstances which are never accounted for—followed by a vast amount of rushing to and fro of detectives or unofficial investigators in motor cars, aeroplanes, or motor boats, with a liberal display of revolvers or automatic pistols and a succession of hair-raising adventures. If any conclusion is reached, it is quite unconvincing, and the interest of the story to its appropriate reader is in the incidental matter, and not in the plot. But the application of the term "detective story" to works of this kind is misleading, for in the essential qualities of the type of fiction properly so designated they are entirely deficient. Let us now consider what those qualities are.

The distinctive quality of a detective story, in which it differs from all other types of fiction, is that the satisfaction that it offers to the reader is primarily an intellectual satisfaction. This is not to say that it need be deficient in the other qualities appertaining to good fiction: in grace of diction, in humour, in interesting characterization, in picturesqueness of setting or in emotional presentation. On the contrary, it should possess all these qualities. It should be an interesting story, well and vivaciously told. But whereas in other fiction these are the primary, paramount qualities, in detective fiction they are secondary and subordinate to the intellectual interest, to which they must be, if necessary, sacrificed. The entertainment that the connoisseur looks for is an exhibition of mental gymnastics in which he is invited to take part; and the excellence of the entertainment must be judged by the completeness with which it satisfies the expectations of the type of reader to whom it is addressed.

Thus, assuming that good detective fiction must be good fiction in general terms, we may dismiss those qualities which it should possess in common with all other works of imagination and give our attention to those qualities in which it differs from them and which give to it its special character. I have said that the satisfaction which it is designed to yield to the reader is primarily intellectual, and we may now consider in somewhat more detail the exact nature of the satisfaction demanded and the way in which it can best be supplied. And first we may ask: What are the characteristics of the representative reader? To what kind of person is a carefully constructed detective story especially addressed?

We have seen that detective fiction has a wide popularity. The general reader, however, is apt to be uncritical. He reads impartially the bad and the good, with no very clear perception of the difference, at least in the technical construction. The real connoisseurs, who avowedly prefer this type of fiction to all others, and who read it with close and critical attention, are to be found among men of the definitely intellectual class: theologians, scholars, lawyers, and to a less extent, perhaps, doctors and men of science. Judging by the letters which I have received from time to time, the enthusiast par excellence is the clergyman of a studious and scholarly habit.

Now the theologian, the scholar and the lawyer have a common characteristic: they are all men of a subtle type of mind. They find a pleasure in intricate arguments, in dialectical contests, in which the matter to be proved is usually of less consideration than the method of proving it. The pleasure is yielded by the argument itself and tends to be proportionate to the intricacy of the proof. The disputant enjoys the mental exercise, just as a muscular man enjoys particular kinds of physical exertion. But the satisfaction yielded by an argument is dependent upon a strict conformity with logical methods, upon freedom from fallacies of reasoning, and especially upon freedom from any ambiguities as to the data.

By schoolboys, street-corner debaters, and other persons who are ignorant of the principles of discussion, debates are commonly conducted by means of what we may call "argument by assertion." Each disputant seeks to overwhelm his opponent by pelting him with statements of alleged fact, each of which the other disputes, and replies by discharging a volley of counterstatements, the truth of which is promptly denied. Thus the argument collapses in a chaos of conflicting assertions. The method of the skilled dialectician is exactly the opposite of this. He begins by making sure of the matter in dispute and by establishing agreement with his adversary on the fundamental data. Theological arguments are usually based upon propositions admitted as true by both parties; and the arguments of counsel are commonly concerned, not with questions of fact, but with the consequences deducible from evidence admitted equally by both sides.

Thus the intellectual satisfaction of an argument is conditional on the complete establishment of the data. Disputes on questions of fact are of little, if any, intellectual interest; but in any case an argument—an orderly train of reasoning—cannot begin until the data have been clearly set forth and agreed upon by both parties. This very obvious truth is continually lost sight of by authors. Plots, i.e., arguments, are frequently based upon alleged "facts"—physical, chemical, and other—which the educated reader knows to be untrue, and of which the untruth totally invalidates conclusions drawn from them and thus destroys the intellectual interest of the argument.

The other indispensable factor is freedom from fallacies of reasoning. The conclusion must emerge truly and inevitably from the premises; it must be the only possible conclusion, and must leave the competent reader in no doubt as to its unimpeachable truth.

It is here that detective stories most commonly fail. They tend to be pervaded by logical fallacies, and especially by the fallacy of the undistributed middle term. The conclusion reached by the gifted investigator, and offered by him as inevitable, is seen by the reader to be merely one of a number of possible alternatives. The effect when the author's "must have been" has to be corrected by the reader into "might have been" is one of anti-climax. The promised and anticipated demonstration peters out into a mere suggestion; the argument is left in the air and the reader is balked of the intellectual satisfaction which he was seeking.

Having glanced at the nature of the satisfaction sought by the reader, we may now examine the structure of a detective story and observe the means employed to furnish that satisfaction. On the general fictional qualities of such a story we need not enlarge excepting to contest the prevalent belief that detective fiction possesses no such qualities. Apart from a sustained love interest—for which there is usually no room—a detective novel need not, and should not, be inferior in narrative interest or literary workmanship to any other work of fiction. Interests which conflict with the main theme and hinder its clear exposition are evidently inadmissible; but humour, picturesque setting, vivid characterization and even emotional episodes are not only desirable on aesthetic grounds, but, if skilfully used, may be employed to distract the reader's attention at critical moments in place of the nonsensical "false clues" and other exasperating devices by which writers too often seek to confuse the issues. The Mystery of Edwin Drood shows us the superb fictional quality that is possible in a detective story from the hand of a master.

Turning now to the technical side, we note that the plot of a detective novel is, in effect, an argument conducted under the guise of fiction. But it is a peculiar form of argument. The problem having been stated, the data for its solution are presented inconspicuously and in a sequence purposely dislocated so as to conceal their connexion; and the reader's task is to collect the data, to rearrange them in their correct logical sequence and ascertain their relations, when the solution of the problem should at once become obvious. The construction thus tends to fall into four stages: (1) statement of the problem; (2) production of the data for its solution ("clues"); (3) the discovery, i.e., completion of the inquiry by the investigator and declaration by him of the solution; (4) proof of the solution by an exposition of the evidence.

1. The problem is usually concerned with a crime, not because a crime is an attractive subject, but because it forms the most natural occasion for an investigation of the kind required. For the same reason—suitability—crime against the person is more commonly adopted than crime against property; and murder—actual, attempted or suspected—is usually the most suitable of all. For the villain is the player on the other side; and since we want him to be a desperate player, the stakes must be appropriately high. A capital crime gives us an adversary who is playing for his life, and who consequently furnishes the best subject for dramatic treatment.

2. The body of the work should be occupied with the telling of the story, in the course of which the data, or "clues," should be produced as inconspicuously as possible, but clearly and without ambiguity in regard to their essentials. The author should be scrupulously fair in his conduct of the game. Each card as it is played should be set down squarely, face upwards, in full view of the reader. Under no circumstances should there be any deception as to the facts. The reader should be quite clear as to what he may expect as true. In stories of the older type, the middle action is filled out with a succession of false clues and with the fixing of suspicion first on one character, then on another, and again on a third, and so on. The clues are patiently followed, one after another, and found to lead nowhere. There is feverish activity, but no result. All this is wearisome to the reader and is, in my opinion, bad technique. My practice is to avoid false clues entirely and to depend on keeping the reader occupied with the narrative. If the ice should become uncomfortably thin, a dramatic episode will distract the reader's attention and carry him safely over the perilous spot. Devices to confuse and mislead the reader are bad practice. They deaden the interest, and they are quite unnecessary; the reader can always be trusted to mislead himself, no matter how plainly the data are given. Some years ago I devised, as an experiment, an inverted detective story in two parts ["The Case of Oscar Brodski"]. The first part was a minute and detailed description of a crime, setting forth the antecedents, motives, and all attendant circumstances. The reader had seen the crime committed, knew all about the criminal, and was in possession of all the facts. It would have seemed that there was nothing left to tell. But I calculated that the reader would be so occupied with the crime that he would overlook the evidence. And so it turned out. The second part, which described the investigation of the crime, had to most readers the effect of new matter. All the facts were known; but their evidential quality had not been recognized.

This failure of the reader to perceive the evidential value of facts is the foundation on which detective fiction is built. It may generally be taken that the author may exhibit his facts fearlessly provided only that he exhibits them separately and unconnected. And the more boldly he displays the data, the greater will be the intellectual interest of the story. For the tacit understanding of the author with the reader is that the problem is susceptible of solution by the latter by reasoning from the facts given; and such solution should be actually possible. Then the data should be produced as early in the story as is practicable. The reader should have a body of evidence to consider while the tale is telling. The production of a leading fact near the end of the book is unfair to the reader, while the introduction of capital evidence—such as that of an eye-witness—at the extreme end is radically bad technique, amounting to a breach of the implied covenant with the reader.

3. The "discovery," i.e., the announcement by the investigator of the conclusion reached by him, brings the inquiry formally to an end. It is totally inadmissible thereafter to introduce any new matter. The reader is given to understand that he now has before him the evidence and the conclusion, and that the latter is contained in the former. If it is not, the construction has failed, and the reader has been cheated. The "discovery" will usually come as a surprise to the reader and will thus form the dramatic climax of the story, but it is to be noted that the dramatic quality of the climax is strictly dependent on the intellectual conviction which accompanies it. This is frequently overlooked, especially by general novelists who experiment in detective fiction. In their eagerness to surprise the reader, they forget that he has also to be convinced. A literary friend of mine, commenting on a particularly conclusive detective story, declared that "the rigid demonstration destroyed the artistic effect." But the rigid demonstration was the artistic effect. The entire dramatic effect of the climax of a detective story is due to the sudden recognition by the reader of the significance of a number of hitherto uncomprehended facts; or if such recognition should not immediately occur, the effect of the climax becomes suspended until it is completed in the final stage.

4. Proof of the solution. This is peculiar to "detective" construction. In all ordinary novels, the climax, or denouement, finishes the story, and any continuation is anti-climax. But a detective story has a dual character. There is the story, with its dramatic interest, and enclosed in it, so to speak, is the logical problem; and the climax of the former may leave the latter apparently unsolved. It is then the duty of the author, through the medium of the investigator, to prove the solution by an analysis and exposition of the evidence. He has to demonstrate to the reader that the conclusion emerged naturally and reasonably from the facts known to him, and that no other conclusion was possible.

If it is satisfactorily done, this is to the critical reader usually the most interesting part of the book; and it is the part by which he—very properly—judges the quality of the whole work. Too often it yields nothing but disappointment and a sense of anticlimax. The author is unable to solve his own problem. Acting on the pernicious advice of the pilot in the old song to "Fear not, but trust in Providence," he has piled up his mysteries in the hope of being able to find a plausible explanation; and now, when he comes to settle his account with the reader, his logical assets are nil. What claims to be a demonstration turns out to be a mere specious attempt to persuade the reader that the inexplicable has been explained; that the fortunate guesses of an inspired investigator are examples of genuine reasoning. A typical instance of this kind of anti-climax occurs in Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" when Dupin follows the unspoken thoughts of his companion and joins in at the appropriate moment. The reader is astonished and marvels how such an apparently impossible feat could have been performed. Then Dupin explains; but his explanation is totally unconvincing, and the impossibility remains. The reader has had his astonishment for nothing. It cannot be too much emphasized that to the critical reader the quality in a detective story which takes precedence of all others is conclusiveness. It is the quality which, above all others, yields that intellectual satisfaction that the reader seeks; and it is the quality which is the most difficult to attain, and which costs more than any other in care and labour to the author.


IV. — THE MYSTERY OF ANGELINA FROOD

CHAPTER I—THE DOPER'S WIFE

It takes a good deal to surprise a really seasoned medical practitioner, and still more to arouse in him an abiding curiosity. But at the time when I took charge of Dr. Humphrey's practice in Osnaburgh-street, Regent's Park, I was far from being a seasoned practitioner, having, in fact, been qualified little more than a year, in which short period I had not yet developed the professional immunity from either of the above mental states. Hence the singular experience which I am about to relate not only made a deep impression on me at the time, but remained with me for long after as a matter of curious speculation.

It was close upon midnight, indeed an adjacent church clock had already struck the third quarter, when I laid aside my book and yawned profoundly, without prejudice to the author who had kept me so long from my bed. Then I rose and stretched myself, and was in the act of knocking the long-extinct ashes out of my pipe when the bell rang. As the servants had gone to bed, I went out to the door, congratulating myself on having stayed up beyond my usual bedtime, but wishing the visitor at the devil all the same. The opening of the door gave me a view of a wet street with a drizzle of rain falling, a large closed car by the kerb, and a tallish man on the doorstep, apparently about to renew his attack on the bell.

"Dr. Pumphrey?" he asked; and by that token I gathered that he was a stranger.

"No," I answered; "he is out of town, but I am looking after his practice."

"Very well," he said, somewhat brusquely. "I want you to come and see a lady who has been suddenly taken ill. She has had a rather severe shock."

"Do you mean a mental or a physical shock?" I asked.

"Well, I should say mental," he replied, but so inconclusively that I pressed him for more definite particulars.

"Has she sustained any injuries?" I inquired.

"No," he answered, but still indecisively. "No; that is, so far as I know. I think not."

"No wound, for instance?"

"No," he replied, promptly and very definitely, from which I was disposed to suspect that there was an injury of some other kind. But it was of no use guessing. I hurried back into the surgery, and, having snatched up the emergency bag and my stethoscope, rejoined my visitor, who forthwith hustled me into the car. The door slammed, and the vehicle moved off with the silent, easy motion of a powerful engine.

We started towards Marylebone-road and swept round into Albany-street, but after that I lost my bearings: for the fine rain had settled on the windows so that it was difficult to see through them, and I was not very familiar with the neighbourhood. It seemed quite a short journey, but a big car is very deceptive as to distance. At any rate, it occupied but a few minutes, and during that time my companion and I exchanged hardly a word. As the car slowed down I asked:

"What is this lady's name?"

"Her name," he replied, in a somewhat hesitating manner, "is—she is a Mrs. Johnson."

The manner of the reply suggested a not very intimate acquaintance, which seemed odd under the circumstances, and I reflected on it rapidly as I got out of the car and followed my conductor. We seemed to be in a quiet bystreet of the better class, but it was very dark, and I had but a glimpse as I stepped from the car to the gate of the house. Of the latter, all that I was able to note was that it appeared to be of a decent, rather old-fashioned type, standing behind a small front garden, that the windows were fitted with jalousie shutters, and that the number on the door was 43.

As we ascended the steps the door opened, and a woman was dimly discernible behind it. A lighted candle was on the hall table, and this my conductor picked up, requesting me to follow him up the stairs. When we arrived at the first floor landing, he halted and indicated a door which was slightly ajar.

"That is the room," said he; and with that he turned and retired down the stairs.

I stood for a few moments on the dark landing, deeply impressed by the oddity of the whole affair, and sensible of a growing suspicion, which was not lessened when, by the thin line of light from within the room, I observed on the door-jamb one or two bruises as if the door had been forced from without. However, this was none of my business, and thus reflecting, I was about to knock at the door when four fingers appeared round the edge of it and drew it further open, and a man's head became visible in the opening.

The fingers and the head were alike such as instantly to rivet the attention of a doctor. The former were of the kind known as "clubbed fingers," fingers with bulbous ends, of which the nails curved over like nut-shells. The head, in form like a great William pear, presented a long, coffin-shaped face with high cheek-bones, deep-set eyes with narrow, slanting eye-slits, and a lofty, square forehead surmounted by a most singular mop of mouse-coloured hair which stood straight up like the fur of a mole.

"I am the doctor," said I, having taken in these particulars in an instantaneous glance, and having further noted that the man's eyes were reddened and wet. He made no reply, but drew the door open and retired, whereupon I entered the room, closing the door behind me, and thereby becoming aware that there was something amiss with the latch.

The room was a bed-room, and on the bed lay a woman, fully clothed, and apparently in evening dress, though the upper part of her person was concealed by a cloak which was drawn up to her chin. She was a young woman—about twenty-eight, I judged—comely, and, in fact, rather handsome, but deadly pale. She was not, however, unconscious, for she looked at me listlessly, though with a certain attention. In some slight embarrassment, I approached the bed, and, as the man had subsided into a chair in a corner of the room, I addressed myself to the patient.

"Good evening, Mrs. Johnson. I am sorry to see you looking so ill. What is the matter? I understand that you have had some kind of shock."

As I addressed her, I seemed to detect a faint expression of surprise, but she replied at once, in a weak voice that was little more than a whisper: "Yes. I have had rather an upset. That is all. They need not really have troubled you."

"Well, you don't look very flourishing," said I, taking the wrist that was uncovered by her mantle, "and your hand is as cold as a fish."

I felt her pulse, checking it by my watch, and meanwhile looking her over critically. And not her alone. For on the wall opposite me was a mirror in which, by a little judicious adjustment of position, I was able to observe the other occupant of the room while keeping my back towards him; and what I observed was that he was sitting with his elbows on his knees, and his face buried in his hands.

"Might one inquire," I asked, as I put away my watch, "what kind of shock it is that you are suffering from?"

The faintest trace of a smile stole across her pale face as she answered: "That isn't really a medical question, Doctor, is it?"

"Perhaps it isn't," I replied, though, of course, it was.

But I thought it best to waive the question, as there seemed to be some reservation; and, noting this latter fact, I again considered her attentively. Whatever her condition was, and whatever it might be due to, I had to form my opinion unassisted, for I could see that no information would be furnished; and the question that I had to settle was whether her state was purely mental, or whether it was complicated by any kind of physical injury. The waxen pallor of her face made me uneasy, and I found it difficult to interpret the expression of the set features. Some strong emotion had left its traces; but whether that emotion was grief, horror, or fear, or whether the expression denoted bodily pain, I could not determine. She had closed her eyes, and her face was like a death mask, save that it lacked the serenity of a dead face.

"Are you in any pain!" I asked, with my fingers still on the thready pulse. But she merely shook her head wearily, without opening her eyes.

It was very unsatisfactory. Her appearance was consistent with all kinds of unpleasant possibilities, as was also the strange atmosphere of secrecy about the whole affair. Nor was the attitude of that ill-favoured man whom I could see in the glass, still sitting hunched up with his face buried in his hands, at all reassuring. And gradually my attention began to focus itself upon the cloak which covered the woman's body and was drawn around her neck up to her chin. Did that cloak conceal anything? It seemed incredible, seeing that they had sent for a doctor. But the behaviour of everybody concerned was incredibly irrational. I produced my stethoscope, which was fitted with a diaphragm that enabled one to hear through the clothing, and, drawing the cloak partly aside, applied the chest-piece over the heart. On this the patient opened her eyes and made a movement of her hand towards the upper part of the cloak. I listened carefully to her heart—which was organically sound, though a good deal disordered in action—and moved the stethoscope once or twice, drawing aside the cloak by degrees. Finally, with a somewhat quick movement, I turned it back completely.

"Why," I exclaimed, "what on earth have you been doing to your neck?"

"That mark?" she said in a half-whisper. "It is nothing. It was made by a gold collar that I wore yesterday. It was rather tight."

"I see," said I, truthfully enough; for the explanation of her condition was now pretty clear up to a certain point.

Of course, I did not believe her. I did not suppose that she expected me to. But it was evidently useless to dispute her statement or make any comment. The mark upon her neck was a livid bruise made by some cord or band that had been drawn tight with considerable force; and it was not more than an hour old. How or by whom the injury had been inflicted was not, in a medical sense, my concern. But I was by no means clear that I had not some responsibilities in the case other than the professional ones.

At this moment the man in the corner uttered a deep groan and exclaimed in low, intense tones, "My God! My God!" Then, to my extreme embarrassment, he began to sob audibly.

It was excessively uncomfortable. I looked from the woman—into whose ghastly face an expression of something like disgust and contempt had stolen—to the huddled figure in the glass. And as I looked, the man plunged one hand into his pocket and dragged out a handkerchief, bringing with it a little paper packet that fell to the floor. Something in the appearance of that packet, and especially in the hasty grab to recover it and the quick, furtive glance towards me that accompanied the action, made a new and sinister suggestion—a suggestion that the man's emotional, almost hysterical state supported, and that lent a certain unpleasant congruity to the otherwise inexplicable circumstances. That packet, I had little doubt, contained cocaine. The question was how did that fact—if it were a fact—bear on my patient's condition.

I inspected her afresh, and felt her pulse again. In the man's case the appearances were distinctive enough. His nerves were in rags, and even across the room I could see that the hand that held the handkerchief shook as if with a palsy. But in the woman's condition there was no positive suggestion of drugs; and something in her face—a strong, resolute face despite its expression of suffering—and her quiet, composed manner when she spoke, seemed to exclude the idea. However, there was no use in speculating. I had got all the information I was likely to get, and all that remained for me to do was to administer such treatment as my imperfect understanding of the case indicated. Accordingly I opened my emergency bag, and, taking out a couple of little bottles and a measure-glass, went over to the washstand and mixed a draught in the tumbler, diluting it from the water-bottle.

In crossing the room, I passed the fire-place, where, on and above the mantelpiece, I observed a number of signed photographs, apparently of actors and actresses, including two of my patient, both of which were in character costume and unsigned. From which it seemed probable that my patient was an actress; a probability that was strengthened by the hour at which I had been summoned and by certain other appearances in the room with which Dr. Pumphrey's largely theatrical practice had made me familiar. But, as my patient would have remarked, this was not a medical question.

"Now, Mrs. Johnson," I said, when I had prepared the draught—and as I spoke she opened her eyes and looked at me with a slightly puzzled expression—"I want you to drink this."

She allowed me to sit her up enough to enable her to swallow the draught; and as her head was raised, I took the opportunity to glance at the back of her neck, where I thought I could distinctly trace the crossing of the cord or band that had been drawn round it. She sank back with a sigh, but remained with her eyes open, looking at me as I repacked my bag.

"I shall send you some medicine," I said, "which you must take regularly. It is unnecessary for me to say," I added, addressing the man, "that Mrs. Johnson must be kept very quiet, and in no way agitated."

He bowed, but made no reply; and I then took my leave.

"Good night, Mrs. Johnson," I said, shaking her cold hand gently. "I hope you will be very much better in an hour or two. I think you will if you keep quite quiet and take your medicine."

She thanked me in a few softly spoken words and with a very sweet smile, of which the sad wistfulness went to my heart. I was loath to leave her, in her weak and helpless state, to the care of her unprepossessing companion, encompassed by I knew not what perils. But I was only a passing stranger, and could do no more than my professional office.

As I approached the door—with an inquisitive eye on its disordered lock and loosened striking-box—the man rose, and made as if to let me out. I wished him good-night, and he returned the salutation in a pleasant voice, and with a distinctly refined accent, quite out of character with his uncouth appearance. Feeling my way down the dark staircase, I presently encountered my first acquaintance, who came to the foot of the stairs with the candle.

'''Well,'' he said, in his brusque way, "how is she?"

"She is very weak and shaken," I replied. "I want to send her some medicine. Shall I take the address, or are you driving me back?"

"I will take you back in the car," said he, "and you can give me the medicine."

The car was waiting at the gate, and we went out together. As I turned to close the gate after me, I cast a quick glance at the house and its surroundings, searching for some distinctive feature in case recognition of the place should be necessary later. But it was a dark night, though the rain had now ceased, and I could see no more than that the adjoining house seemed to have a sort of corner turret, crowned with a small cupola, and surmounted by a weather-vane.

During the short journey home not a word was spoken, and when the car drew up at Dr. Pumphrey's door and I let myself in with the key, my companion silently followed me in. I prepared the medicine at once, and handed it to him with a few brief instructions. He took it from me, and then asked what my fee was.

"Do I understand that I am not required to continue the attendance?" I asked.

"They will send for you, I suppose, if they want you," he replied. "But I had better pay your fee for this visit as I came for you."

I named the fee, and, when he had paid it, I said: "You understand that she will require very careful and tender treatment while she is so weak?"

"I do," he answered; "but I am not a member of the household. Did you make it clear to Mr.—her husband?"

I noted the significant hesitation, and replied: "I told him, but as to making it clear to him, I can't say. His mental condition was none of the most lucid. I hope she has someone more responsible to look after her."

"She has," he replied; and then he asked: "You don't think she is in any danger, I hope?"

"In a medical sense," I answered, "I think not. In other respects you know better than I do."

He gave me a quick look, and nodded slightly. Then, with a curt "good-night," he turned and went out to the car.

When he was gone, I made a brief record of the visit in the day-book, and entered the fee in the cash column. In the case of the experienced Dr. Pumphrey, this would have been the end of the transaction. But, new as I was to medical practice, I was unable to take this matter-of-fact view of its incidents. My mind still surged with surprise, curiosity, and a deep concern for my fair patient. Filling my pipe, I sat down before the gas fire to think over the mystery to which I had suddenly become a party.

What was it that had happened in that house T Obviously, something scandalous and sinister. The secrecy alone made that manifest. Not only had the whereabouts of the house been withheld from me, but a false name had been given. I realized that when my late visitor stumbled over the name and substituted "her husband," He had forgotten what name it was that he had given on the spur of the moment. I understood, too, the look of surprise that my patient had given when I addressed her by that false name. Clearly, something had happened which had to be hushed up if possible.

What was it? The elements of the problem, and the material for solving it, were the mark on the woman's neck, the condition of the door, and a packet which I felt morally certain contained cocaine. I considered these three factors separately and together.

The mark on the neck was quite recent. Its character was unmistakable. A cord or band had been drawn tight and with considerable violence, either by the woman herself, or by some other person: that is to say, it was a case either of attempted suicide or attempted murder. To which of these alternatives did the circumstances point?

There was the door. It had been broken in, and had therefore been locked on the inside. That was consistent with suicide, but not inconsistent with murder. Then, by whom had it been broken in? By a murderer to get at his victim? Or by a rescuer? And if the latter, was it to avert suicide or murder?

Again, there was the drug—assumed, but almost certain.

What was the bearing of that? Could these three persons be a party of "dopers," and the tragedy the outcome of an orgy of drug-taking? I rejected this possibility at once. It was not consistent with the patient's condition nor with her appearance or manner; and the man who had fetched me and brought me back was a robust, sane-looking man who seemed quite beyond suspicion.

I next considered the persons. There were three of them: two men and a woman. Of the men, one was a virile, fairly good-looking man of perhaps forty; the other—the husband—was conspicuously unprepossessing, physically degenerate and mentally, as I judged, a hysterical poltroon. Here there seemed to be the making of trouble, especially when one considered the personal attractiveness of the woman.

I recalled her appearance very vividly. A handsome woman, not, perhaps, actually beautiful—though she might have been that if the roses of youth and health had bloomed in those cheeks that I had seen blanched with that ghastly pallor. But apart from mere comeliness, there was a suggestion of a pleasing, gracious personality. I don't know how it had been conveyed to me, excepting by the smile with which she had thanked me and bidden me farewell: a smile that had imparted a singular sweetness to her face. But I had received that impression, and also that she was a woman of decided character and intelligence.

Her appearance was rather striking. She had a great mass of dark hair, parted in the middle, and drawn down over the temples, nearly covering the ears; darkish grey eyes, and unusually strong, black, level eyebrows, that almost met above the straight, shapely nose. Perhaps it was those eyebrows that gave the strength and intensity to her expression, aided by the compressed lips—though this was probably a passing condition due to her mental state.

My cogitations were prolonged well into the small hours, but they led to nothing but an open verdict. At length I rose with a slight shiver, and, dismissing the topic from my mind, crept up to bed.

But both the persons and the incident refused to accept their dismissal. For many days afterwards I was haunted by two faces; the one, ugly, coffin-shaped, surmounted by a shock of soft, furry, mouse-coloured hair; the other, sweet, appealing, mutely eloquent of tragedy and sorrow. Of course, I received no further summons; and the whereabouts of the house of mystery remained a secret until almost the end of my stay in Osnaburgh-street. Indeed, it was on the very day before Dr. Pumphrey's return that I made the discovery.

I had been making a visit to a patient who lived near Regent's Park, and on my way back had taken what I assumed to be a short cut. This led me into a quiet, old fashioned residential street, of which the houses stood back behind small front gardens. As I walked along the street I seemed to be aware of a faint sense of familiarity which caused me to observe the houses with more than usual attention. Presently I observed a little way ahead on the opposite side a house with a corner turret topped by a cupola, which bore above it a weather-vane. I crossed the road as I approached it, and looked eagerly at the next house. Its identity was unmistakable. My attention was immediately attracted by the jalousies with which the windows were fitted, and on looking at the front door I observed that the number was forty-three.

This, then, was the house of mystery, perhaps of crime.

But whatever that tragedy had been, its actors were there no longer. The windows were curtainless and blank; an air of Spring-cleaning and preparation pervaded the premises, and a bill on a little notice-board announced a furnished house to let, and invited inquiries. For a moment, I was tempted to accept that invitation. But I was restrained by a feeling that it would be in a way a breach of confidence. The names of those persons had been purposely withheld from me, doubtless for excellent reasons, and professional ethics seemed to forbid any unauthorized pryings into their private affairs. Wherefore, with a valedictory glance at the first-floor window, which I assumed to be that of the room that I had entered, I went on my way, telling myself that, now, the incident was really closed, and that I had looked my last on the persons who had enacted their parts in it.

In which, however, I was mistaken. The curtain was down on the first act, but the play was not over. Only the succeeding acts were yet in the unfathomed future. "Coming events cast their shadows before them"; but who can interpret those shadows, until the shapes which cast them loom up, plain and palpable, to mock at their own unheeded premonitions?

CHAPTER II—RE-ENTER "MR. JOHNSON"

It was a good many months before the curtain rose on the second act of the drama of which this narrative is the record. Rather more than a year had passed, and in that time certain changes had taken place in my condition, of which I need refer only to the one that, indirectly, operated as the cause of my becoming once more a party to the drama aforesaid. I had come into a small property, just barely sufficient to render me independent, and to enable me to live in idleness, if idleness had been my hobby. As it was not, I betook myself to Adam-street, Adelphi, to confer with my trusty medical agent, Mr. Turcival, and from that conference was born my connexion with the strange events which will be hereafter related.

Mr. Turcival had several practices to sell, but only one that he thought quite suitable. "It is a death vacancy," said he, "at Rochester. A very small practice, and you won't get much out of it, as the late incumbent was an old man and you are a young man—and you look ten years younger since you shaved off that fine beard and moustache. But it is going for a song, and you can afford to wait; and you couldn't have a more pleasant place to wait in than Rochester. Better go down and have a look at it. I'll write to the local agents, Japp and Bundy, and they will show you the house and effects. What do you say?"

I said "yes"; and so favourably was I impressed that the very next day found me in a first-class compartment en route for Rochester, with a substantial portmanteau in the guard's van.

At Dartford it became necessary to change, and as I sauntered on the platform, waiting for the Rochester train, my attention was attracted to a man who sat, somewhat wearily and dejectedly, on a bench, rolling a cigarette. I was impressed by the swift dexterity with which he handled the paper and tobacco, a dexterity that was explained by the colour of his fingers, which were stained to the hue of mahogany. But my attention was quickly diverted from the colour of the fingers to their shape. They were clubbed fingers. At the moment when I observed the fact I was looking over his shoulder from behind, and could not see his face. But I could see that he had a large, pear-shaped head, surmounted by an enormous cap, from beneath which a mass of mouse-coloured hair stuck out like untidy thatch.

I suppose I must have halted unconsciously, for he suddenly looked round, casting at me a curious, quick, furtive, suspicious glance. He evidently did not recognize me—naturally, since my appearance was so much changed; but I recognized him instantly. He was "Mr.—, her husband." And his appearance was not improved since I had last seen him. Inspecting him from the front, I observed that he was sordidly shabby and none too clean, and that his large, rough boots were white with dust as if from a long tramp on the chalky Kentish roads.

When the train came in, I watched him saunter to a compartment a few doors from my own, rolling a fresh cigarette as he went: and at each station when we stopped, I looked out of the window to see where he got out. But he made no appearance until the train slowed down at Rochester when I alighted quickly and strolled towards his compartment. It had evidently been well filled, for a number of passengers emerged before he appeared, contesting the narrow doorway with a stout workman. As he squeezed past, the skirt of his coat caught and was drawn back, revealing a sheath-knife of the kind known to seamen as "Green River," attached to a narrow leather belt. I did not like the look of that knife. No landsman has any legitimate use for such a weapon. And the fact that this man habitually carried about him the means of inflicting lethal injuries—for it had no other purpose—threw a fresh light, if any were needed, on the sinister events of that memorable night in the quiet house near Regent's Park.

As I had to look after my luggage, I lost sight of him; and when having deposited my portmanteau in the cloak room, I walked out across the station approach and looked up and down the street, he was nowhere to be seen. Dimly wondering what this man might be doing in Rochester, and whether his handsome wife were here, too—assuming her to be still in existence—I turned and began to saunter slowly westward. I had walked but two or three hundred yards when the door of a tavern which I was approaching opened, and a man emerged, licking his lips with uncommon satisfaction, and rolling a cigarette. It was my late fellow-traveller. He stood by the tavern door, looking about him, and glancing at the people on the footway. Just as I was passing him, he approached me and spoke.

"I wonder," said he, "if you happen to know a Mrs. Frood who lives somewhere about here."

"I am afraid I don't," I replied, thankful to be able to tell the truth—for I should have denied knowledge of her in any case. "I am a stranger to the town at present."

He thanked me and turned away, and I walked on, but no longer at a saunter, wondering who Mrs. Frood might be and keeping an eye on the numbers of the houses on the opposite side of the street.

A few minutes walk brought into view the number I was seeking, painted in the tympanum of a handsome Georgian portico appertaining to one of a pair of pleasant old redbrick houses. I halted to inspect these architectural twins before crossing the road. Old houses always interest me, and these two were particularly engaging, as their owners apparently realized, for they were in the pink of condition, and the harmony of the quiet green woodwork and the sober red brick was no chance effect. Moreover they were painted alike to carry out the intention of the architect, who had evidently designed them to form a single composition; to which end he had very effectively placed, between the twin porticoes, a central door which gave access to a passage common to the two houses and leading, no doubt, to the back premises.

Having noted these particulars, I crossed the road and approached the twin which bore beside its doorway a brass plate, inscribed "Japp and Bundy, Architects and Surveyors." In the adjoining bay window, in front of a green curtain, was a list of houses to let; and as I paused for a moment to glance at this, a face decorated with a pair of colossal tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles, rose slowly above the curtain, and then, catching my eye, popped down again with some suddenness.

I ascended the short flight of steps to the open street door, and entering the hall, opened the office door and walked in. The owner of the spectacles was perched on a high stool at a higher desk with his back to me, writing in a large book. The other occupant of the office was a small, spare, elderly man, with a pleasant wrinkly face and a cockatoo-like crest of white hair, who confronted me across a large table on which a plan was spread out. He looked up interrogatively as I entered, and I proceeded at once to announce myself.

"I am Dr. Strangeways," said I, drawing a bundle of papers from my pocket. "Mr. Turcival—the medical agent, you know—thought I had better come down and settle things up on the spot. So here I am."

"Precisely," said my new acquaintance, motioning me to a chair—it was a shield-back Heppelwhite, I noticed—"I agree with Mr. Turcival. It is all quite plain sailing. The position is this: Old Dr. Partridge died about three weeks ago, and the executor of his will, who lives in Northumberland, has instructed us to realize his estate. We have valued the furniture, fittings, and effects, have added a small amount to cover the drugs and instruments and the goodwill of the practice, and this is the premium. It is practically just the value of the effects."

"And the lease of the house?"

"Expired some years ago and we allowed Dr. Partridge to remain as a yearly tenant, which he preferred. You could do the same or you could have a lease, if you wished."

"Is the house your property?" I asked.

"No; but we manage it for the owner, a Mrs. Frood."

"Oh, it belongs to Mrs. Frood, does it?"

He looked up at me quickly, and I noticed that the gentleman at the desk had stopped writing. "Do you know Mrs. Frood?" he asked.

"No; but it happens that a man who came down by my train asked me a few minutes ago if I could give him her address. Fortunately I couldn't."

"Why fortunately?"

The question brought me, up short. My prejudice against the man was due to my knowledge of his antecedents, which I was not prepared to disclose. I therefore replied evasively:

"Well, I wasn't very favourably impressed by his appearance. He was a shabby-looking customer. I suspected that he was a cadger of some kind."

"Indeed! Now, what sort of a person was he? Could you describe him?"

"He was a youngish man—from thirty-five to forty, I should say—apparently well educated but very seedy and not particularly clean. A queer-looking man, with a big, pear-shaped head and a mop of hair like the fur of a Persian cat. His fingers are clubbed at the ends, and stained with tobacco to the knuckles. Do you know him?"

"I rather suspect I do. What do you say, Bundy?"

Mr. Bundy grunted. "Hubby, I ween," said he.

"You don't mean Mrs. Frood's husband?" I exclaimed.

"I do. And it is, as you said, very fortunate that you were not able to give him her address, as she is unable to live with him and is at present unwilling to let him know her whereabouts. It is an unfortunate affair. However, to return to your business; you had better go up and have a look at the house and see what you think of it. You might just walk up with Dr. Strangeways, Bundy."

Mr. Bundy swung round on his stool, and, taking off his spectacles, stuck in his right eye a gold-rimmed monocle, through which he inspected me critically. Then he hopped off the stool, and, lifting the lid of the desk, took out a velour hat and a pair of chamois gloves, the former of which he adjusted carefully on his head before a small mirror, and, having taken down a labelled key from a key-board and provided himself with a smart, silver-mounted cane, announced that he was ready.

As I walked along the picturesque old street at Mr. Bundy's side, I reverted to my late fellow passenger and my prospective landlady.

"I gather," said I, "that Mrs. Frood's matrimonial affairs are somewhat involved."

"So do I." said Bundy. "Seems to have made a regular mucker of it. I don't know much about her, myself, but Japp knows the whole story. He's some sort of relative of hers; uncle or second cousin or something of the kind. But Japp is a bit like the sailor's parrot: he doesn't let on unnecessarily."

"'What sort of a woman is Mrs. Frood?" I asked.

"Oh, quite a tidy sort of body. I've only seen her once or twice; haven't been here long myself: tallish woman, lot of black hair; thick eye-brows; rather squeaky voice. Not exactly my idea of a beauty, but Frood seems quite keen on her."

"By the way, how comes it that he doesn't know her address? She's a Rochester woman, isn't she?"

"No. I don't know where she comes from. London, I think. This property was left to her by an aunt who lived here: a cousin of Japp's. Angelina came down here a few weeks ago on the q.t. to get away from hubby, and I fancy she's been keeping pretty close."

"She's living in lodgings, then, I suppose?"

"Yes; at least she lives in a set of offices that Japp furnished for her, and the lady who rents the rest of the house looks after her. As a matter of fact, the offices are next door to ours; but you had better consider that information as confidential, at any rate while hubby is in the neighbourhood. This is your shanty."

He halted at the door of a rather small, red brick house, and while I was examining the half-obliterated inscription on the brass plate, he thrust the key into the lock and made ineffectual efforts to turn it. Suddenly there was a loud click from within, followed by the clanking of a chain and the drawing of bolts. Then the door opened slowly, and a long-faced, heavy-browed, elderly woman surveyed us with a gloomy stare.

"Why didn't you ring the bell?" she demanded, gruffly. "Had a key," replied Bundy, extracting it, and flourishing it before her face.

"And what's the good of a key when the door was bolted and chained?"

"But, naturally, I couldn't see that the door was bolted and chained."

"I suppose you couldn't with that thing stuck in your eye. Well, what do you want?"

"I have brought this gentleman, Dr. Strangeways, to see you. He has seen your portraits in the shop windows and wished to be introduced. Also he wants to look over the house. He thinks of taking the practice."

"Well, why couldn't you say that before?" she demanded.

"Before what?" he inquired blandly.

She made no reply other than a low growl, and Bundy continued:

"This lady, Dr. Strangeways, is the renowned Mrs. Dunk, more familiarly known as La Giaconda, who administered the domestic affairs of the late Dr. Partridge, and is at present functioning as custodian of the premises." He concluded the presentation by a ceremonious bow and a sweep of his hat, which Mrs. Dunk acknowledged by turning her back on him and producing a large bunch of keys, with which she proceeded to unlock the doors that opened on the hall.

"The upstairs rooms are unlocked," she said, adding: "If you want me you can ring the bell," and with this she retired to the basement stairs and vanished.

My examination of the rooms was rather perfunctory, for I had made up my mind already. The premium was absurdly small, and I could see that the house was furnished well enough for my immediate needs. As to the practice, I had no particular expectations.

"Better have a look at the books," said Bundy when we went into the little surgery, "though Mr. Turcival has been through them, and I daresay he has told you all about the practice."

"Yes," I answered, "he told me that the practice was very small and that I probably shouldn't get much of it, as Partridge was an old man and I am a young one. Still, I may as well glance through the books."

Bundy laid the day book and ledger on the desk and placed a stool by the latter, and I seated myself and began to turn over the leaves and note down a few figures on a slip of paper, while my companion beguiled the time by browsing round the surgery, taking down bottles and sniffing at their contents, pulling out drawers and inspecting the instruments and appliances. A very brief examination of the books served to confirm Mr. Turcival's modest estimate of the practice, and when I had finished, I closed them and turned round to report to Mr. Bundy, who was, at the moment, engaged in "sounding" the surgery clock with the late Dr. Partridge's stethoscope.

"I think it will do," said I. "The practice is negligible, but the furniture and fittings are worth the money, and I daresay I shall get some patients in time. At any rate, the premises are all in going order."

"You are not dependent on the practice, then?" said he.

"No. I have enough just barely to exist on until the patients begin to arrive. But what about the house?"

"You can have a lease if you like, or you can go on with the arrangement that Partridge had. If I were you, I should take the house on a three years' agreement with the option of a lease later if you find that the venture turns out satisfactorily."

"Yes," I agreed, "that seems a good arrangement. And when could I have possession?"

"You've got possession now if you agree to the terms. Say yes, and I'll draft out the agreement when I get back. You and Mrs. Frood can sign it this evening. You give us a cheque and we give you your copy of the document, and the thing is d-u-n, done."

"And what about this old woman?"

"La Giaconda Dunkibus? I should keep her if I were you. She looks an old devil, but she's a good servant. Partridge had a great opinion of her, so Japp tells me, and you can see for yourself that the house is in apple-pie order and as clean as a new pin."

"You think she would be willing to stay?"

Bundy grinned (he was a good deal given to grinning, and he certainly had a magnificent set of teeth). "Willing?" he exclaimed. "She's going to stay whether you want her or not. She has been here the best part of her life and nothing short of a torpedo would shift her. You'll have to take her with the fixtures, but I don't think you'll regret it."

As Bundy was speaking, I had been, half-unconsciously, looking him over, interested in the queer contrast between his almost boyish appearance and gay irresponsible manner on the one hand, and, on the other, his shrewdness, his business capacity, and his quick, decisive, evidently forceful character.

To look at, he was just a young "nut," small, spruce, dandified, and apparently not displeased with himself. His age I judged to be about twenty-five, his height about five feet six. In figure, he was slight, but well set-up, and he seemed active and full of life and energy. He was extraordinarily well turned-out. From his close-cropped head, with the fore-lock "smarmed" back in the correct "nuttish" fashion, so that his cranium resembled a large black-topped filbert, to his immaculately polished and remarkably small shoes, there was not an inch of his person that had not received the most careful attention. He was clean-shaved; so clean that on the smooth skin nothing but the faint blue tinge on cheek and chin remained to suggest the coarse and horrid possibilities of whiskers. And his hands had evidently received the same careful attention as his face; indeed, even as he was talking to me, he produced from his pocket some kind of ridiculous little instrument with which he proceeded to polish his finger-nails.

"Shall I ring the bell?" he asked after a short pause, "and call up the spirit of the Dunklett from the vasty deep? May as well let her know her luck."

As I assented he pressed the bell-push, and in less than a minute Mrs. Dunk made her appearance and stood in the doorway, looking inquiringly at Bundy, but uttering no sound.

"Dr. Strangeways is going to take the practice, Mrs. Dunk," said Bundy, "inclusive of the house, furniture, and all effects, and he is also prepared to take you at a valuation."

As the light of battle began to gleam in Mrs. Dunk's eyes, I thought it best to intervene and conduct the negotiations myself.

"I understand from Mr. Bundy," said I, "that you were Dr. Partridge's housekeeper for many years, and it occurred to me that you might be willing to act in the same capacity for me. What do you say?"

"Very well," she replied. "When do you want to move in?"

"I propose to move in at once. My luggage is at the station."

"Have you checked the inventory?" she asked.

"No, I haven't, but I suppose nothing has been taken away?"

"No," she answered. "Everything is as it was when Dr. Partridge died."

"Then we can go over the inventory later. I will have my things sent up from the station, and I shall come in during the afternoon to unpack."

She agreed concisely to this arrangement, and, when we had settled a few minor details, I departed with Bundy to make my way to the station and thereafter to go in search of lunch.

"You think," said I, as we halted opposite the station approach, "that we can get everything completed today?"

"Yes," he replied, "I will get the agreement drawn up in the terms that we have just settled on, and will make an appointment with Mrs. Frood. You had better look in at the office about half-past six."

He turned away with a friendly nod and a flash of his white teeth, and bustled off up the street, swinging his smart cane jauntily, and looking, with his trim, well-cut clothes, his primrose-coloured gloves, and his glistening shoes, the very type of cheerful, prosperous, self-respecting and self-satisfied youth.

CHAPTER III—ANGELINA FROOD

Punctually at half-past six I presented myself at the office of Messrs. Japp and Bundy. The senior partner was seated at a writing-table covered with legal-looking documents, and, as I entered, he looked up with a genial, wrinkly smile of recognition, and then turned to his junior.

"You've got Dr. Strangeways's agreement ready, haven't you, Bundy?" he asked.

"Just finished it five minutes ago," was the reply. "Here you are."

Bundy swung round on his stool and held out the two copies. "Would you mind going through it with Dr. Strangeways?" said Japp. "And then you might go with him to Mrs. Frood's and witness the signatures. I told her you were coming."

Bundy pulled out his watch, and glared at it through his great spectacles.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I'm afraid I can't. There's old Baldwin, you know. I've got to be there at a quarter to seven."

"So you have," said Japp, "I had forgotten that. You had better be off now. I'll see to Dr. Strangeways, if he isn't in a hurry for a minute or two."

"I'm not in a hurry at all," said I. "Don't put yourself out for me."

"Well, if you really are not," said Japp, "I'll just finish what I am doing, and then I'll run in with you and get the agreement completed. You might look through it while you are waiting and see that it is all in order."

Bundy handed me the agreement, and, as I sat down to study it, he removed his spectacles, stuck his eye-glass in his eye, hopped off his perch, brought forth his hat, gloves, and stick, and, having presented his teeth for my inspection, took his departure.

I read through the agreement carefully to ascertain that it embodied the terms agreed on verbally and compared the two copies. Then, while Mr. Japp continued to turn over the leaves of his documents, I let my thoughts stray from the trim, orderly office to the house of mystery in London and the strange events that had befallen there on that rainy night more than a year ago. Once more I called up before the eyes of memory the face of my mysterious patient, sweet and gracious in spite of its deathly pallor. Many a time, in the months that had passed, had I recalled it: so often that it seemed, in a way, to have become familiar. In a few minutes I was going to look upon that face again—for there could be no reasonable doubt that my prospective landlady was she. I looked forward expectantly, almost with excitement, to the meeting. Would she recognize me? I wondered. And if she did not, should I make myself known? This was a difficult question, and I had come to no decision upon it when I was aroused from my reverie by a movement on the part of Mr. Japp, whose labours had apparently come to an end. Folding up the documents and securing them in little bundles with red tape, he deposited them in a cupboard with his notes, and from the same receptacle took out his hat.

"Now," said he, "if you find the agreement in order, we will proceed to execute it. Are you going to pay the premium now'"

"I have my cheque-book with me," I replied. "When we have signed the agreement, I will settle up for everything."

"Thank you," said he. "I have prepared a receipt which is, practically, an assignment of the furniture and effects and of all rights in the practice."

He held the door open and I passed out. We descended the steps, and passing the central door common to the two houses, ascended to that of the adjoining house, where Mr. Japp executed a flourish on a handsome brass knocker. In a few moments the door was opened by a woman whom I couldn't see very distinctly in the dim hall, especially as she turned about and retired up the stairs. Mr. Japp advanced to the door of the front room and rapped with his knuckles, whereupon a high, clear, feminine voice bade him come in. He accordingly entered, and I followed.

The first glance disposed of any doubts that I might have had. The lady who stood up to receive us was unquestionably my late patient, though she looked taller than I had expected. But it was the well-remembered face, less changed, indeed, than I could have wished, for it was still pale, drawn, and weary, as I could see plainly enough in spite of the rather dim light; for, although it was not yet quite dark, the curtains were drawn and a lamp lighted on a small table, beside which was a low easy-chair, on which some needlework had been thrown down.

Mr. Japp introduced me to my future landlady, who bowed, and having invited us to be seated, took up her needlework and sat down in the easy-chair.

"You are not looking quite up to the mark," Japp observed, regarding her critically, as he turned over the papers.

"No," she admitted, "I think I am a little run down."

"H'm," said Japp. "Oughtn't to get run down at your age. Why, you are only just wound up. However, you've got a doctor for a tenant, so you will be able to take out some of the rent in medical advice. Let me see, I told you what the terms of the agreement were, but you had better look through it before you sign."

He handed her one of the documents, which she took from him, and, dropping her needlework in her lap, leaned back in her chair to read it. Meanwhile, I examined her with a good deal of interest and curiosity, wondering how she had fared and what had happened to her in the months that had elapsed since I had last seen her. The light was not very favourable for a minute inspection, for the lamp on the table was the sole luminary, and that was covered by a red silk shade. But I was confirmed in my original impression of her. She was more than ordinarily good-looking, and rather striking in appearance, and I judged that under happier conditions she might have appeared even more attractive. As, it was, the formally parted dark hair, the strongly marked, straight eyebrows, the firm mouth, rather compressed and a little drawn down at the corners, and the pale complexion imparted to her face a character that was somewhat intense, sombre, and even troubled. But, for this I could fully account from my knowledge of her circumstances, and I was conscious of looking on her with a very sympathetic and friendly eye.

"This is quite satisfactory to me," she said at length, in the clear, high-pitched voice to which Bundy had objected, "and if it is equally so to Dr. Strangeways, I suppose I had better sign."

She laid the paper on the table, and, taking the fountain-pen that Japp proffered, signed her name, Angelina Frood, in a bold, legible hand, and then returned the pen to its owner; who forthwith affixed his signature as witness and spread out the duplicate for me to sign. When this also was completed, he handed me the copy signed by Mrs. Frood and the receipt for the premium, and I drew a cheque for the amount and delivered it to him.

"Many thanks," said he, slipping it into a wallet and pocketing it. "That concludes our business and puts you finally in possession. I wish you every success in your practice. By the way, I mentioned to Mrs. Frood that you had seen her husband and that you know how she is placed; and she agreed with me that it was best that you should understand the position in case you should meet him again."

"Certainly," Mrs. Frood agreed. "There is no use in trying to make a secret of it. He came down with you from London, Mr. Japp tells me."

"Not from London," said I. "He got in at Dartford." Here Mr. Japp rose and stole towards the door. "Don't let me interrupt you," said he, "but I must get back to the office and hear what Bundy has to report. Don't get up. I can let myself out."

He made his exit quietly, shutting the door after him, and as soon as he was gone Mrs. Frood asked:

"Do you mean that he changed into your train at Dartford?"

"No," I answered. "I think he came to Dartford on foot. He looked tired and his boots were covered with white dust."

"You are very observant, Dr. Strangeways," she said.

"I wonder what made you notice him so particularly?"

"He is rather a noticeable man," I said, and then, deciding that it was better to be quite frank, I added: "But the fact is I had seen him before."

"Indeed!" said she. "Would you think me very inquisitive if I asked where you had seen him?"

"Not at all," I answered. "It was a little more than a year ago, about twelve o'clock at night, in a house near Regent's Park, to which I was taken in a closed car to see a lady."

As I spoke she dropped her needlework and sat up, gazing at me with a startled and rather puzzled expression. "But," she said, "you are not the doctor who came to see me that night?"

"I am, indeed," said I.

"Now," she exclaimed, "isn't that an extraordinary thing? I had a feeling that I had seen you somewhere before. I seemed to recognize your voice. But you don't look the same. Hadn't you a beard then?"

"Yes, I am but the shaven and shorn remnant of my former self, but I am your late medical attendant."

She looked at me with an odd, reflective, questioning expression, but without making any further comment. Presently she said:

"You were very kind and sympathetic though you were so quiet. I wonder what you thought of it all."

"I hadn't much to go on beyond the medical facts," I replied evasively.

"Oh, you needn't be so cautious," said she, "now that the cat is out of the bag."

"Well," I said, "it was pretty obvious that there had been trouble of some kind. The door had been broken open, there was one man in a state of hysterics, another man considerably upset and rather angry, and a woman with the mark on her neck of a cord or band—"

"It was a knitted silk neck-tie, to be accurate. But you put the matter in a nut-shell very neatly; and I see that you diagnosed what novelists call 'the eternal triangle.' And to a certain extent you were right; only the triangle was imaginary. If you don't mind, I will tell you just what did happen. The gentleman who came for you was a Mr. Fordyce, the lessee of one or two provincial theatres—I was on the stage then; but perhaps you guessed that."

"As a matter of fact, I did."

"Well, Mr. Fordyce had an idea of producing a play at one of his houses, and was going to give me a leading part. He had been to our house once or twice to talk the matter over with Nicholas (my husband) and me, and we were more or less friendly. He was quite a nice, sober kind of man, and perfectly proper and respectful. On this night he had been at the theatre where I had an engagement, and, as it was a wet night, he drove me home in his car, and was coming in to have a few words with us about our business. He wanted to see a photograph of me in a particular costume, and when we arrived home I ran upstairs to fetch it. There I found Nicholas, who had seen our arrival from the window, and was in a state of furious jealousy. Directly I entered the room, he locked the door and flew at me like a wild beast. As to what followed, I think you know as much as I do, for I fainted, and when I recovered Nicholas was sobbing in a corner, and Mr. Fordyce was standing by the door, looking as black as thunder."

"Had your husband been jealous of Mr. Fordyce previously?"

"Not a bit. But on this occasion he was in a very queer state. I think he had been drinking, and taking some other things that were bad for him—"

"Such as cocaine," I suggested.

"Yes. But, dear me! What a very noticing person you are, Dr. Strangeways! But you are quite right. It was the cocaine that was the cause of the trouble. He was always a difficult man; emotional, excitable, eccentric, and not very temperate, but after he had acquired the drug habit he went to the bad completely. He became slovenly, and even dirty in his person, frightfully emotional, and gave up work of all kind, so that but for my tiny income and my small earnings we should have starved."

"So you actually supported him?"

"Latterly I did. And I daresay, if I had remained on the stage, we should have done fairly well, as I was supposed to have some talent, though I didn't like the life. But, of course, after this affair, I didn't dare to live with him. He wasn't safe. I should have been constantly in fear of my life."

"Had he ever been violent before'"

"Not seriously. He had often threatened horrible things, and I had looked on his threats as mere vapourings, but this was a different affair. I must have had a really narrow escape. So the very next day, I went into lodgings. But that didn't answer. He wouldn't agree to the separation, and was continually dogging me and making a disturbance. In the end, I had to give up my engagement and go off, leaving no address."

"I suppose you went back to your people?"

"No," she replied. "As a matter of fact, I haven't any people. My mother died when I was quite a child, and I lost my father when I was about seventeen. He died on the Gold Coast, where he held an appointment as District Commissioner."

"Ah," said I, "I thought you were in some way connected with West Africa. I noticed the zodiac ring on your finger when you were signing the agreement. When I was newly qualified I took a trip down the West Coast as a ship's surgeon, and bought one of those rings at Cape Coast."

"They are quaint little things, aren't they?" she remarked, slipping the ring off her finger and handing it to me. "I don't often wear it, though. It is rather clumsy, and it doesn't fit very well; and I don't care much for rings."

I turned the little trinket over in my hand and examined it with reminiscent interest. It was a roughly wrought band of yellow native gold, with the conventional signs of the zodiac worked round it in raised figures. Inside I noticed that the letters A. C. had been engraved.

"It was given to you before you were married, I presume," said I, as I returned it to her.

"Yes," she replied, "those are the initials of my maiden name—Angelina Carthew." She took the ring from me, but instead of replacing it on her finger, dropped it into a little pouch-like purse with metal jaws, which she had taken from her pocket.

"Your position is a very disagreeable one," said I, reverting to the main topic. "I wonder that you haven't applied for a judicial separation. There are ample grounds for making the application."

"I suppose there are. But it wouldn't help me really, even if it were granted. I shouldn't get rid of him."

"You could apply to the police if he molested you."

"No doubt. But that doesn't sound very restful, does it?"

"I am afraid it doesn't. But it would be better than being constantly molested without having any remedy or refuge."

"Perhaps it would," she agreed doubtfully, and then, with a faint smile, she added: "I suppose you are wondering what on earth made me marry him?"

"Well," I replied, "it appears to me that his good fortune was more remarkable than his personal attractions."

"He wasn't always like he is now," said she. "I married him nearly ten years ago, and he was fairly presentable then. His manners were quite nice and he had certain accomplishments that rather appealed to a young girl—I was only eighteen and rather impressionable. He was then getting a living by writing magazine stories—love stories, they were, of a highly emotional type—and occasional verses. They were second-rate stuff, really, but to me he seemed a budding genius. It was not until after we were married that the disillusionment came, and then only gradually as his bad habits developed."

"By the way, what do you suppose he has come down here for? What does he want? I suppose he wishes you to go back to him?"

"I suppose he does. But, primarily, I expect he wants money. It is a horrible position," she added, with sudden passion. "I hate the idea of hiding away from him when I suspect that the poor wretch has come down to his last few shillings. After all, he is my husband; and I am not so deadly poor now."

"He seemed to have the wherewith to provide a fair supply of tobacco, to say nothing of the cocaine and a 'modest quencher' at the tavern," I remarked drily. "At any rate, I hope he won't succeed in finding out where you live."

"I hope not," said she. "If he does, I shall have to move on, as I have had to do several times already, and I don't want to do that. I have only been here a little over two months, and it has been very pleasant and peaceful. But you see, Dr. Strangeways, that, if I am to follow Mr. Japp's advice, I shall inflict on you a very unpromising patient. There is no medical treatment for matrimonial troubles."

"No," I agreed, rising and taking up my hat, "but the physical effects may be dealt with. If I am appointed your medical advisor, I shall send you a tonic, and if I may look in now and again to see how you are getting on, I may be able to help you over some of your difficulties."

"It is very kind of you," she said, rising and shaking my hand warmly; and, accepting my suggestion that she had better not come to the street door, she showed me out into the hall and dismissed me with a smile and a little bow.

When I reached the bottom of the steps, I stood irresolutely for a few moments and then, instead of making my way homeward, turned up the street towards the cathedral and the bridge, walking slowly and reflecting profoundly on the story I had just heard. It was a pitiful story; and the quiet, restrained manner of the telling made it the more impressive. All that was masculine in me rose in revolt against the useless, inexcusable wrecking of this poor woman's life. As to the man, he was, no doubt, to be pitied for being the miserable, degenerate wretch that he was. But he was doomed beyond any hope of salvation. Such wretches as he are condemned in the moment of their birth; they are born to an inheritance of misery and dishonour. But it is infamous that in their inevitable descent into the abyss—from which no one can save them—they should have the power to drag down with them sane and healthy human beings who were destined by nature to a life of happiness, of usefulness, and honour. I thought of the woman I had just left—comely, dignified, energetic, probably even talented. What was her future to be? So far as I could see, the upas shadow of this drug-sodden wastrel had fallen upon her, never to be lifted until merciful death should dissolve the ill-omened union.

This last reflection gave my thoughts a new turn. What was this man's purpose in pursuing her? Was he bent merely on extorting money or on sharing her modest income? Or was there some more sinister motive? I recalled his face; an evil, sly, vindictive face. I considered what I knew of him; that he had undoubtedly made one attempt to murder this woman, and that, to my knowledge, he carried about his person the means of committing murder. For what purpose could he have provided himself with that formidable weapon? It might be merely as a means of coercion, or it might be as a means of revenge.

Thus meditating, I had proceeded some distance along the street when I observed, on the opposite side, an old, three-gabled house which looked like some kind of institution. A lamp above the doorway threw its light on a stone tablet on which I could see an inscription of some length, and, judging this to be an ancient almshouse, I crossed the road to inspect it more closely. A glance at the tablet told me that this was the famous rest-house established in the sixteenth century by worthy Richard Watts, to give a night's lodging and entertainment to six poor travellers, with the express proviso that the said travellers must be neither rogues nor proctors. I had read through the quaint inscription and was speculating, as many others have speculated, on the nature of Richard Watts's grievance against proctors as a class, when the door opened suddenly and a man rushed out with such impetuosity that he nearly collided with me. I had moved out of his way when he halted and addressed me excitedly.

"I say, governor, can you tell me where I can find a doctor?"

"You have found one," I replied. "I am a doctor. What is the matter?"

"There's a bloke in here throwing a fit," he answered, backing into the doorway and holding the door open for me. I entered, and followed him down a passage to a largish, barely furnished room, where I found four men and a woman, who looked like a hospital nurse, standing around and watching anxiously a man who lay on the floor.

"Here's a doctor, matron," said my conductor, as he ushered me in.

"Well, Simmonds," said the matron, "you haven't wasted much time."

"No, mum," replied Simmonds, "I struck it lucky. Caught him just outside."

Meanwhile I had stepped up to the prostrate man, and at the first glance I recognized him. He was Mrs. Frood's husband. And, whatever he might be "throwing," it was not a fit—in the ordinary medical sense; that is to say, it was not epilepsy or apoplexy; nor was it a fainting fit of an orthodox kind. If the patient had been a woman one would have called it a hysterical seizure, and I could give it no other name, though I was not unmindful of the paper packet that I had seen on that former occasion. But the emotional element was obvious. The man purported to be insensible, and manifestly was not. The tightly closed eyes, the everted lips—showing a row of blackened teeth—the clutching movements of the clawlike hands—all were suggestive of at least half-conscious simulation. I stood for a while, stooping over him and watching him intently, and as I did so the bystanders watched me. Then I felt his pulse, and found it, as I had expected, quick, feeble, and irregular; and finally, producing my stethoscope, listened to his heart with as little disturbance of his clothing as possible.

"Well, doctor," said the matron, "what do you think of him?"

"He is decidedly ill," I replied. "His heart is rather jumpy, and not very strong. Too much tobacco, I fancy, and perhaps some other things that are not very good, and possibly insufficient food."

"He told me, when he came in," said the matron, "that he was practically destitute."

"Ah," murmured Simmonds, "I expect he's been blowing all his money on Turkish baths," whereupon the other poor travellers sniggered softly, and were immediately extinguished by a reproving glance from the matron.

"Do you know what brought this attack on?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied; "he had a little dispute with Simmonds, here, and suddenly became violently excited, and then he fell down insensible, as you see him. It was all about nothing."

"I jest arsked 'im," said Simmonds, "if 'e could give me the name of the cove what done 'is 'air, 'cos I thought I'd like to 'ave mine done in the same fashionable style. That seemed to give 'im the fair pip. 'E jawed me something chronic, until I got shirty and told 'im if 'e didn't shut 'is face I'd give 'im a wipe acrost the snout. Then blow me if 'e didn't start to throw a fit."

While this lucid explanation was proceeding I noticed that the patient was evidently listening intently, though he continued to twitch his face, exhibit his unlovely teeth, and wriggle his fingers. He was apparently waiting for my verdict with some anxiety.

"The question is," said the matron, "what is to be done with him? Do you think he is in any danger?"

As she spoke, we drifted towards the door, and when we were in the passage, out of earshot, I said:

"The best place for that man is the infirmary. There is nothing much the matter with him but dope. He has been dosing himself with cocaine, and he has probably got some more of the stuff about him. He is in no danger now, but if he takes any more he may upset himself badly."

"It is rather late to send him to the infirmary," she said, "and I don't quite like to do it. Poor fellow, he seems fearfully down on his luck, and he is quite a superior kind of man. Do you think it would be safe for him to stay here for the night if he had a little medicine of some kind?"

"It would be safe enough," I replied, "if you could get possession of his coat and waistcoat and lock them up until the morning."

"Oh, I'll manage that," said she; "and about the medicine?"

"Let Simmonds walk up with me—I have taken Dr. Partridge's practice—and I will give it to him."

We re-entered the supper-room and found the conditions somewhat changed. Whether it was that the word "infirmary" had been wafted to the patient's attentive ears, I cannot say; but there were evident signs of recovery. Our friend was sitting up, glaring wildly about him, and inquiring where he was; to which questions Simmonds was furnishing answers of a luridly inaccurate character. When I had taken another look at the patient, and received a vacant stare of almost aggressive unrecognition, I took possession of the facetious Simmonds, and, having promised to look in in the morning, wished the matron good-night and departed with my escort; who entertained me on the way home with picturesque, unflattering, and remarkably shrewd comments on the sufferer.

I had made up a stimulant mixture, and handed it to Simmonds when I remembered Mrs. Frood and that Simmonds would pass her house on his way back. For an instant, I thought of asking him to deliver her medicine for me; and then, with quite a shock, I realized what a hideous blunder it would have been. Evidently, the poor travellers gave their names, and if the man, Frood, had given his correctly, the coincidence of the names would have impressed Simmonds instantly, and then the murder would have been out, and the fat would have been in the fire properly. It was a narrow escape, and it made me realize how insecure was that unfortunate lady's position with this man lurking in the town. And, realizing this, I determined to trust the addressed bottle to nobody, but to leave it at the house myself. Accordingly, having made up the medicine and wrapped it neatly in paper, I thrust it into my pocket, and, calling out to Mrs. Dunk that I should be back to supper in about half an hour, I set forth, and in a few minutes arrived at the little Georgian doorway and plied the elegant brass knocker. The door was opened—rather incautiously, I thought—by Mrs. Frood herself.

"I am my own bottle-boy, you see, Mrs. Frood," said I, handing her the medicine. "I thought it safer not to send an addressed packet under the circumstances."

"But how good of you!" she exclaimed. "How kind and thoughtful! But you shouldn't have troubled about it tonight."

"It was only a matter of five minutes' walk," said I, "and besides, there was something that I thought you had better know," and hereupon I proceeded to give her a brief account of my recent adventures and the condition of her precious husband. "Is he subject to attacks of this kind?" I asked.

"Yes," she answered. "When he is put out about anything in some ways he is rather like a hysterical woman. But, you see, I was right. He is penniless. And that—now I come to think of it—makes it rather odd that he should be here. But won't you come in for a moment?"

I entered and shut the door. "Why is it odd?" I asked.

"Because he would be getting some money tomorrow. I make him a small allowance; it is very little, but it is as much as I can possibly manage; and it is paid monthly, on the fifteenth of the month. But he has to apply for it personally at the bank or send an accredited messenger with a receipt; and as tomorrow is the fifteenth, the question is, why on earth is he down here now? I mean that it is odd that he should not have waited to collect the allowance before coming to hunt me up."

"If he is in communication with your banker," said I, "he could, I suppose, get a letter forwarded to you?"

"No," she replied; "the banker who pays him is the London agent of Mr. Japp's banker, and he doesn't know on whose behalf the payments are made. I had to make that arrangement, or he would have bombarded me with letters."

"Well," I said, "you had better keep close for a day or two. If his search for you is unsuccessful, he may get discouraged and raise the siege. I will let you know what his movements are, so far as I can."

She thanked me once more with most evident sincerity, and as I made my way to the door, she let me out with a cordial and friendly shake of the hand.

CHAPTER IV—DEALS WITH CHARITY AND ARCHAEOLOGY

Immediately after breakfast on the following morning I made my way to Mr. Richard Watts's establishment, where I learned that all the poor travellers had departed with the exception of my patient, who had been allowed to stay pending my report on him.

"I shall be glad to see the back of him, poor fellow," said the matron, "for, of course, we have no arrangements for dealing with sick men."

"Do you often get cases of illness here?" I asked.

"I really don't know," she answered. "You see, I am only doing temporary duty here while the regular matron is away. But I should think not, though little ailments are apt to occur in the case of a poor man who has been on the road for a week or so."

"This man is on tramp, is he'" said I.

"Well, no," she replied. "It seems, from what he tells me, that his wife has left him, and he had reason to believe that she was staying in this town. So he came down here to try to find her. He supposed that Rochester was a little place where everybody knew everybody else, and that he would have no difficulty in discovering her whereabouts. But all his inquiries have come to nothing. Nobody seems to have heard of her. I suppose you don't happen to know the name—Frood?"

"I only came here yesterday, myself," was my evasive reply. "I am a stranger to the town. But is he certain that she is here?"

"I don't think he is. At any rate, he seems inclined to give up the search for the present, and he is very anxious to get back to London. But I don't know how he is going to manage it. He isn't fit to walk."

"Well," I said, "if it is only the railway fare that stands in the way, that difficulty can be got over. I will pay for his ticket; but I should like to be sure that he really goes."

"Oh, I'll see to that," she said, with evident relief. "I will go with him to the station, and get his ticket and see him into the train. But you had better just have a look at him, and see that he is fit to go."

She conducted me to the supper-room, where our friend was sitting in a Windsor armchair, looking the very picture of misery and dejection.

"Here is the doctor come to see you, Mr. Frood," the matron said cheerfully, "and he is kind enough to say that, if you are well enough to travel, he will pay your fare to London. So there's an end of your difficulties."

The poor devil glanced at me for an instant, and then looked away; and, to my intense discomfort, I saw that his eyes were filling.

"It is indeed good of you, Sir," he murmured, shakily, but in a very pleasant voice and with a refined accent; "most good and kind to help a lame dog over a stile in this way. I don't know how to thank you."

Here, as he showed a distinct tendency to weep, I replied hastily:

"Not at all. We've all got to help one another in this world. And how are you feeling? Hand is still a little bit shaky, I see."

I put my finger on his wrist and then looked him over generally. He was a miserable wreck, but I judged that he was as well as he was ever likely to be.

"Well," I said, "you are not in first-class form, but you are up to a short railway journey. I suppose you have somewhere to go to in London?"

"Yes," he replied, dismally, "I have a room. It isn't in the Albany, but it is a shelter from the weather."

"Never mind," said I. "We must hope for better times. The matron is going to see you safely to the station and comfortably settled in the train—and"—here I handed her a ten shilling note—"you will get Mr. Frood's ticket, matron, and you had better give him the change. He may want a cab when he gets to town."

He glowered sulkily at this arrangement—I suspect he had run out of cigarettes—but he thanked me again, and, when I had privately ascertained the time of the train which was to bear him away, I wished him adieu.

"I suppose," said I, "there is no likelihood of his hopping out at Strood to get a drink and losing the train?"

The matron smiled knowingly. "He will start from Strood," said she. "I shall take him over the bridge in the tram and put him into the London express there. We don't want him back here tonight."

Much relieved by the good lady's evident grasp of the situation, I turned away up the street and began to consider my next move. I had nothing to do this morning, for at present there was not a single patient on my books with the exception of Mrs. Frood; and it may have been in accordance with the prevailing belief that to persons in my condition, an individual, familiarly known as "the old gentleman," obligingly functions as employment agent, that my thoughts turned to that solitary patient. At any rate they did. Suddenly, it was borne in on me that I ought, without delay, to convey to her the glad tidings of her husband's departure. Whether the necessity would have appeared as urgent if her personal attractions had been less, I will not presume to say; nor whether had I been more self-critical, I should not have looked with some suspicion on this intense concern respecting the welfare of a woman who was almost a stranger to me. As it was, it appeared to me that I was but discharging a neighbourly duty when I executed an insinuating rat-tat on the handsome brass knocker which was adorned—somewhat inappropriately, under the circumstances—with a mask of Hypnos.

After a short interval, the door was opened by a spare, middle-aged woman of melancholic aspect, with tow-coloured hair and a somewhat anemic complexion, who regarded me inquiringly with a faded blue eye.

"Is Mrs. Frood at home?" I asked briskly.

"I am afraid she is not," was the reply, uttered in a dejected tone. "I saw her go out some time ago, and I haven't heard her come back. But I'll just see, if you will come in a moment."

I entered the hall and listened with an unaccountable feeling of disappointment as she rapped on the door first of the front room, and then of the back.

"She isn't in her rooms there," was the dispirited report, "but she may be in the basement. I'll call out and ask."

She retired to the inner hall and gave utterance to a wail like that of an afflicted sea-gull. But there was no response; and I began to feel myself infected by her melancholy.

"I am sorry you have missed her, Sir," said she; and then she asked: "Are you her doctor, Sir?"

I felt myself justified in affirming that I was, whereupon she exclaimed:

"Ah, poor thing! It is a comfort to know that she has someone to look after her. She has been looking very sadly of late. Very sadly, she has."

I began to back cautiously towards the door, but she followed me up and continued: "I am afraid she has had a deal of trouble; a deal of trouble, poor dear. Not that she ever speaks of it to me. But I know. I can see the lines of grief and sorrow—like a worm in the bud, so to speak, Sir—and it makes my heart ache. It does, indeed."

I mumbled sympathetically and continued to back towards the door.

"I don't see very much of her," she continued in a plaintive tone. "She keeps herself very close. Too close, I think. You see, she does for herself entirely. Now and again, when she asks me, which is very seldom, I put a bit of supper in her room. That is all. And I do think that it isn't good for a young woman to live so solitary; and I do hope you'll make her take a little more change."

"I suppose she goes out sometimes," said I, noting that she was out at the present moment.

"Oh, yes," was the reply. "She goes out a good deal. But always alone. She never has any society."

"And what time does she usually come in?" I asked, with a view to a later call.

"About six; or between that and seven. Then she has her supper and puts the things out on the hall table. And that is the last I usually see of her."

By this time I had reached the door and softly unfastened the latch.

"If you should see her," I said, "you might tell her that I shall look in this evening about half-past seven."

"Certainly, Sir," she replied. "I shall see her at lunch-time, and I will give her your message."

I thanked her, and, having now got the door open, I wished her good morning, and retreated down the steps.

As I was in the act of turning away, my eye lighted on the adjacent bay window, appertaining to the office of Messrs. Japp and Bundy, and I then perceived' above the green curtain the upper half of a human face, including a pair of tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles; an apparition which informed me that Mr. Bundy had been—to use Sam Weller's expression—"a-twigging of me." On catching my eye, the face rose higher, disclosing a broad grin; whereupon, without any apparent reason, I felt myself turning somewhat red. However, I mounted the official steps, and, opening the office door, confronted the smiler and his more sedate partner.

"Ha!" said the former, "you drew a blank, doctor. I saw the lovely Angelina go out about an hour ago. Whom did you see?"

"The lady of the house, I presume; a pale, depressed female."

"I know," said Bundy. "Looks like an undertaker's widow. That's Mrs. Gillow. Rhymes with willow—very appropriate, too," and he began to chant in an absurd, Punch-like voice: "Oh, all round my hat I'll wear the green—"

"Be quiet, Bundy," said Mr. Japp, regarding his partner with a wrinkly and indulgent smile.

Bundy clapped his hand over his mouth and blew out his cheeks, and I took the opportunity to explain: "I called on Mrs. Frood to let her know that her husband is leaving the town."

"Leaving the town, is he?" said Mr. Japp, elevating his eyebrows and thereby causing his forehead to resemble a small Venetian blind. "Do you know when?"

"He goes this morning by the ten-thirty express to London."

"Hooray!" ejaculated Bundy, with a flourish of his arms that nearly capsized his stool. He recovered himself with an effort, and then, fixing his eyes on me, proceeded to whistle the opening bars of "O! Thou that tellest good tidings to Zion!"

"That'll do, Bundy," said Mr. Japp. Then turning to me, he asked: "Where did you learn these good tidings, Doctor'"

I gave them a brief account of the happenings of the previous night and this morning's sequel, to which they listened with deep attention. When I had finished Mr. Japp said: "You have done a very great kindness to my friend Mrs. Frood. It will be an immense relief to her to know that she can walk abroad without the danger of encountering this man. Besides, if he had stayed here he would probably have found her out."

"He might even have found her at home," said Bundy, "and that would have been worse. So I propose a vote of thanks to the doctor—with musical honours. For-hor he's a jolly good fell—"

"There, that'll do, Bundy, that'll do," said Mr. Japp. "I never saw such a fellow. You'll have the neighbours complaining."

Bundy leaned towards me confidentially and remarked in a stage whisper, glancing at his partner: "Fidgetty old cove; regular old killjoy." Then, with a sudden change of manner, he asked: "What about that wall job, Japp? Are you going to have a look at them?"

"I can't go at present," said Japp. "Bulford will be coming in presently and I must see him. Have you got anything special to do?"

"Only old Jeff'son's lease, and that can wait. Shall I trot over and see what sort of mess they are making of things?"

"I wish you would," said Japp; whereupon Mr. Bundy removed his spectacles, stuck in his eye-glass, extracted from the desk his hat and gloves which he assumed with the aid of the looking-glass, and took his stick from the corner. Then he looked at me reflectively and asked:

"Are you interested in archaeology, Doctor?"

"Somewhat," I replied. "Why do you ask?"

"Because we are putting some patches in the remains of the city wall. It isn't much to look at, and there isn't a great deal of the original Roman work left; but if you would care to have a look at it you might walk up there with me."

I agreed readily, being, as I have said, somewhat at a loose end, and we set forth together, Bundy babbling cheerfully as we went.

"I have often thought," said he, "that there must have been something rather pleasant and restful about the old walled cities, particularly after curfew when the gates were shut—that is, provided you were inside at the time."

"Yes," said I. "An enclosed precinct has a certain agreeable quality of seclusion that you can't get in an open town or village. When I was a student, I lived for a time in chambers in Staple Inn, and it was, as you say, rather pleasant, when one came home at night, and the porter had let one in at the wicket, to enter and find the gates closed, the courts all quiet and empty, and to know that all traffic was stopped and all strangers shut out until the morning. But it doesn't appear to be in accordance with modern taste, for those old Chancery Inns have nearly all gone, and there is no tendency to replace them with anything similar."

"No," Bundy agreed, stopping to look up at an old timber house, "taste in regard to buildings, if there is any—Japp says there isn't—has changed completely in the last hundred years or so. Look at this alley we are in now. Every house has got a physiognomy of its own. But when we rebuild it, we shall fill it up with houses that will look as if they had been bought in packets like match-boxes."

Gossiping thus, we threaded our way through all sorts of queer little alleys and passages. At length Bundy stopped at a wooden gate in a high fence, and, pushing it open, motioned for me to enter; and as I did so he drew out the key which was in the lock and put it in his pocket.

The place which we had entered was a space of waste land, littered with the remains of some old houses that had been demolished and enclosed on three sides by high fences. The fourth side was formed by a great mass of crumbling rubble, patched in places with rough masonry and brickwork, and showing in its lower part the remains of courses of Roman bricks. It rose to a considerable height, and was evidently of enormous thickness, as could be seen where large areas of the face had crumbled away, exposing great cavities, in which wall-flowers, valerian and other rock-haunting plants, had taken up their abode. On one of these a small gang of men were at work, and it was evident that repairs on a considerable scale were contemplated, for there were several large heaps of rough stone and old bricks, and in a cart-shed in a corner of the space were a large number of barrels of lime.

As we entered, the foreman came forward to meet us, and Bundy handed him the key from the gate.

"Better keep it in your pocket," said he. "Mr. Japp is rather particular about keys that he has charge of. He doesn't like them left in doors or gates. How are the men getting on?"

"As well as you can expect of a lot of casuals like these," was the reply. "There isn't a mason or a bricklayer among them, excepting that old chap that's mixing the mortar. However, it's only a rough job."

We walked over to the part of the old wall where the men were at work, and the appearances certainly justified the foreman's last remark. It was a very rough job. The method appeared to consist in building up outside the cavity a primitive wall of unhewn stone with plenty of mortar, and, when it had risen a foot or two, filling up the cavity inside with loose bricks, lumps of stone, shovelfuls of liquid mortar, and chunks of lime.

I ventured to remark that it did not look a very secure method of building, upon which Bundy turned his eyeglass on me and smiled knowingly.

"My dear Doctor," said he, "you don't appear to appreciate the subtlety of the method. The purpose of these activities is to create employment. That has been clearly stated by the town council. But if you want to create employment you build a wall that will tumble down and give somebody else the job of putting it up again."

Here, as a man suddenly bore down on us with a bucket of mortar, Bundy hopped back to avoid the unclean contact, and nearly sat down on a heap of smoking lime.

"You had a narrow escape that time, mister," remarked the old gentleman who presided over the mortar department, as Bundy carefully dusted his delicate shoes with his handkerchief; "that stuff would 'ave made short work of them fine clothes of yourn."

"Would it?" said Bundy, dusting his shoes yet more carefully and wiping the soles on the turf.

"Ah," rejoined the old man; "terrible stuff is quicklime. Eats up everything same as what fire does." He rested his hands on his shovel, and, assuming a reminiscent air, continued: "There was a pal o' mine what was skipper of a barge. A iron barge, she was, and he had to take on a lading of lime from some kilns. The stuff was put aboard with a shoot. Well, my pal, he gets 'is barge under the shoot and then 'e goes off, leavin' 'is mate to see the lime shot into the hold. Well, it seems the mate had been takin' some stuff aboard, too. Beer, or p'raps whisky. At any rate, he'd got a skinful. Well, presently the skipper comes back, and he sees 'em a-tippin' the trucks of lime on to the shoot, and he sees the barge's hold beginning to fill, but 'e don't see 'is mate nowhere. He goes aboard, down to the cabin, but there ain't no signs of the mate there, nor yet anywheres else. Well, they gets the barge loaded and the hatch-covers on, and everything ready for sea; and still there ain't no signs of the mate. So my pal, rememberin' that the mate—his name was Bill—rememberin' that Bill seemed a bit squiffy, supposed he must 'ave gone overboard. So 'e takes on a fresh hand temporary and off 'e goes on 'is trip.

"Well, they makes their port all right and brings up alongside the wharf, but owing to a strike among the transport men they can't unload for about three weeks. However, when the strike is over, they rigs a whip and a basket and begins to get the stuff out. All goes well until they get down to the bottom tier. Then one of the men brings upa bone on his shovel. 'Hallo!' says the skipper, 'what's bones a-doin' in a cargo of fresh lime?' He rakes over the stuff on the floor and up comes a skull with a hole in the top of it. 'Why, blow me,' says the skipper, 'if that don't look like Bill. He warn't as thin in the face as all that, but I seem to know them teeth.' Just then one of the men finds a clay pipe—a nigger's head, it was—and the skipper reckernizes it at once. 'That there's Bill's pipe,' sez he, 'and them bones is Bill's bones,' 'e sez. And so they were. They found 'is belt-buckle and 'is knife, and 'is trouser buttons and the nails out of 'is boots. And that's all there was left of Bill. He must have tumbled down into the hold and cracked his nut, and then the first truckful of lime must 'ave covered 'im up. So, if you sets any value on them 'andsome shoes o' yourn, don't you go a-treadin' in quick lime."

Bundy looked down anxiously at his shoes, and, having given them an additional wipe, he moved away from the dangerous neighbourhood of the lime and we went together to examine the ancient wall.

"That was rather a tall yarn of the old man's," remarked Bundy. "Is it a fact that lime is as corrosive as he made out?"

"I don't really know very much about it," I replied. "There is a general belief that it will consume almost anything but metal. How true that is I can't say, but I remember that at the Crippen trial one of the medical experts—I think it was Pepper—said that if the body had been buried in quicklime it would have been entirely consumed—excepting the bones, of course. But it is difficult to believe that a body could disappear completely in three weeks, or thereabouts, as our friend said. How fine this old wall looks with those clumps of valerian and wallflowers growing on it! I suppose it encircled the town completely at one time?"

"Yes," he replied, "and it is a pity there isn't more of it left, or at least one or two of the gateways. A city gate is such a magnificent adornment. Think of the gates of Canterbury and Rye, and especially at Sandwich, where you actually enter the town through the barbican; and think of what Rochester must have been before all the gates were pulled down. But you must hear Japp on the subject. He's a regular architectural Jeremiah. By the way, what did you think of Mrs. Frood? You saw her last night, didn't you?"

"Yes. I was rather taken with her. She is very nice and friendly and unaffected, and good-looking, too. I thought her distinctly handsome."

"She isn't bad-looking," Bundy admitted. "But I can't stand her voice. It gets on my nerves. I hate a squeaky voice."

"I shouldn't call it squeaky," said I. "It is a high voice, and rather sing-song; and it isn't, somehow, quite in keeping with her appearance and manner."

"No," said Bundy, "that's what it is. She's too big for a voice like that."

I laughed at the quaint expression. "People's voices," said I, "are not like steamers' whistles, graduated in pitch according to their tonnage. Besides, Mrs. Frood is not such a very big woman."

"She is a good size," said he. "I should call her rather tall. At any rate, she is taller than I am. But I suppose you will say that she might be that without competing with the late Mrs. Bates."

"Comparisons between the heights of men and women," I said cautiously, "are rather misleading," and here I changed the subject, though I judged that Bundy was not sensitive in regard to his stature, for while he was cleaning the lime from his shoes I had noticed that he wore unusually low heels. Nor need he have been, for though on a small scale, he was quite an important-looking person.

"Don't you think," he asked, after a pause, "that it is rather queer that the man Frood should have gone off so soon T He only came down yesterday, and he can't have made much of a search for Madame."

"The queer thing is that he should have come down on that particular day," I replied. "It seems that he draws a monthly allowance on the fifteenth. That was what made him so anxious to get back; but it is odd that he didn't put off his visit here until he had collected the money."

"If he had run his wife to earth, he could have collected it from her," said Bundy. "I wonder how he found out that she was here."

"He evidently hadn't very exact information," I said, "nor did he seem quite certain that she really was here. And his failure to get any news of her appears to have discouraged him considerably. It is just possible that he has gone back to get more precise information if he can, when he has drawn his allowance."

"That is very likely," Bundy agreed; "and it is probable that we haven't seen the last of him yet."

"I have a strong suspicion that we haven't," said I.

"If he is sure she is here, and can get enough money together to come and spend a week here, he will be pretty certain to discover her whereabouts. It is a dreadful position for her. She ought to get a judicial separation."

"I doubt if she could," said he. "You may be sure he would contest that application pretty strongly, and what case would she have in support of it? He is an unclean blighter; he doesn't work; he smokes and drinks too much, and you say he takes drugs. But he doesn't seem to be violent or dangerous or threatening, or to be on questionable terms with other women-at least, I have never heard anything to that effect. Have you?"

"No," I answered—I had said nothing to him or Japp about the London incident. "He seems to have married the only woman in the world who would look at him."

Bundy grinned. "An unkind cut, that, Doctor," said he; "but I believe you're right. And here we are, back at the official premises. Are you coming in?"

I declined the invitation, and as he skipped up the steps I turned my face homewards.

CHAPTER V—JOHN THORNDYKE

The sexual preferences or affinities of men and women have always impressed me as very mysterious and inexplicable. I am referring to the selective choice of individuals, not to the general attraction of the sexes for one another. Why should a particular pair of human beings single one another out from the mass of their fellows as preferable to all others? Why to one particular man does one particular woman and no other become the exciting cause of the emotion of love? It is not a matter of mere physical beauty or mental excellence, for if it were men and women would be simply classifiable into the attractive and the non-attractive; whereas we find in practice that a woman who may be to the majority of men an object of indifference, is to some one man an object of passionate love; and vice-versa. Nor is love necessarily accompanied by any delusions as to the worth of its object, for it will persist in spite of the clear recognition of personal defects and in conscious conflict with judgment and reason.

The above reflections, with others equally profound, occupied my mind as I sat on a rather uncomfortable little rush-seated chair in the nave of Rochester Cathedral; whither I had proceeded in obedience to orders from Mrs. Dunk, to attend the choral afternoon service; and they were occasioned by the sudden recognition—not without surprise—of the very deep impression that had been made on me by my patient, Mrs. Frood. For the intensity of that impression I could not satisfactorily account. It is true that her circumstances were interesting and provocative of sympathy. But that was no reason for the haunting of my thoughts by her, of which I was conscious. She was not a really beautiful woman, though I thought her more than commonly good-looking; and she had evidently made no particular impression on Bundy. Yet, though I had seen her but three times, including my first meeting with her a year ago, I had to recognize that she had hardly been out of my thoughts since, and I was aware of looking forward with ridiculous expectancy to my proposed visit to her this evening.

Thus, speculations on the meaning of this preoccupation mingled themselves with other speculations, as, for instance, on the abrupt changes of intention suggested by half of an Early English arch clapped up against a Norman pier; and as my thoughts rambled on, undisturbed by a pleasant voice, intoning with soothing unintelligibility somewhere beyond the stone screen, I watched with languid curiosity the strangers who entered and stole on tiptoe to the nearest vacant chair. Presently, however, as the intoning voice gave place to the deep, pervading hum of the organ, a visitor entered who instantly attracted my attention.

He was obviously a personage—a real personage; not one of those who have achieved greatness by the free use of their elbows, or have had it thrust upon them by influential friends. This was an unmistakable thoroughbred. He was a tall man, very erect and dignified in carriage, and in spite of his iron-grey hair, evidently strong, active, and athletic. But it was his face that specially riveted my attention: not merely by reason that it was a handsome, symmetrical face, inclining to the Greek type, with level brows, a fine, straight nose, and a shapely mouth, but rather on account of its suggestion of commanding strength and intelligence. It was a strangely calm—even immobile—face; but yet it conveyed a feeling of attentiveness and concentration, and especially of power.

I watched the stranger curiously as he stepped quietly to a seat not far from me, noting how he seemed to stand out from the ordinary men who surrounded him, and wondering who he was. But I was not left to wonder very long. A few moments later another visitor arrived, but not a stranger this time; for in this newcomer I recognized an old acquaintance, a Dr. Jervis, whom I had known when I was a student and when he had taken temporary charge of my uncle's practise. Since then, as I had learned, he had qualified as a barrister and specialized in legal medicine as the coadjutor of the famous medical jurist, Dr. John Thorndyke.

For a few moments Jervis stood near the entrance looking about the nave, as if in search of someone. Then, suddenly, his eye lighted on the distinguished stranger, and he walked straight over to him and sat down by his side; from which, and from the smile of recognition with which he was greeted, I inferred that the stranger was none other than Dr. Thorndyke himself.

Jervis had apparently not seen, or at least not recognized me, but, as I observed that there was a vacant chair by his side, I determined to renew our acquaintance and secure, if possible, a presentation to his eminent colleague. Accordingly, I crossed the nave, and, taking the vacant chair, introduced myself, and was greeted with a cordial hand-shake.

The circumstances did not admit of conversation, but presently, when the anthem appeared to be drawing to a close, Jervis glanced at his watch and whispered to me: "I want to hear all your news, Strangeways, and to introduce you to Thorndyke; and we must get some tea before we go to the station. Shall we clear out now?"

As I assented he whispered to Thorndyke, and we all rose and filed silently towards the door, our exit covered by the concluding strains of the anthem. As soon as we were outside Jervis presented me to his colleague, and suggested an immediate adjournment to some place of refreshment. I proposed that they should come and have tea with me, but Jervis replied: "I'm afraid we haven't time today. There is a very comfortable teashop close to the Jasperian gate-house. You had better come there and then perhaps you can walk to the station with us."

We adopted this plan, and when we had established ourselves on a settle by the window of the ancient, low-ceiled room and given our orders to a young lady in a becoming brown costume, Jervis proceeded to interrogate.

"And what might you be doing in Rochester, Strangeways?"

"Nominally," I replied, "I am engaged in medical practice. Actually, I am a gentleman at large. I have taken a death vacancy here, and I arrived yesterday morning."

"Any patients?" he inquired.

"Two at present," I answered. "One I brought down with me and returned empty this morning. The other is his wife."

"Ha," said Jervis, "a concise statement, but obscure. It seems to require amplification."

I accordingly proceeded to amplify, describing in detail my journey from town and my subsequent dealings with my fellow-traveller. The circumstances of Mrs. Frood, being matters of professional confidence, I was at first disposed to suppress; but then, reflecting that my two friends were in a position to give expert opinions and advice, I put them in possession of all the facts that were known to me, excepting the Regent's Park incident, which I felt hardly at liberty to disclose.

"Well," said Jervis, when I had finished, "if the rest of your practice develops on similar lines, we shall have to set up a branch establishment in your neighbourhood. There are all sorts of possibilities in this case. Don't you think so, Thorndyke?"

"I should hardly say 'all sorts,'" was the reply. "The possibilities seem to me to be principally of one sort; extremely disagreeable for the poor lady. She has the alternatives of allowing herself to be associated with this man—which seems to be impossible—or of spending the remainder of her life in a perpetual effort to escape from him; which is an appalling prospect for a young woman."

"Yes," agreed Jervis, "it is bad enough. But there seems to me worse possibilities with a fellow of this kind; a drinking, drug-swallowing, hysterical degenerate. You never know what a man of that type will do."

"You always hope that he will commit suicide," said Thorndyke; "and to do him justice, he does fairly often show that much perception of his proper place in nature. But, as you say, the actions of a mentally and morally abnormal man are incalculable. He may kill himself or he may kill somebody else, or he may join with other abnormals to commit incomprehensible and apparently motiveless political crimes. But we will hope that Mr. Frood will limit his activities to sponging on his wife."

The conversation now turned from my affairs to those of my friends, and I ventured to inquire what had brought them to Rochester.

"We came down," said Jervis, "to watch an inquest for one of our insurance clients. But after all it has had to be adjourned for a fortnight. So we may have the pleasure of seeing you again."

"We won't leave it to chance," said I. "Let us settle that you come to lunch with me, if that will be convenient. You can fix your own time."

My two friends consulted, and, having referred to their time-table, accepted the invitation for one o'clock on that day fortnight; and when I had "booked the appointment," we finished our tea and sallied forth, making our way over the bridge to Strood Station, at the main entrance to which I wished them adieu.

As I turned away from the station and sauntered slowly along the shore before recrossing the bridge, I recalled the conversation of my two colleagues with a certain vague discomfort. To both of them, it was evident, the relations of my fair patient and her husband presented sinister possibilities, although I had not informed them of the actual murderous attack; and though the more cautious reticent Thorndyke had seemed to minimize them, his remarks had expressed what was already in my own mind, accentuated by what I knew. These nervy, abnormal men are never safe to deal with. Their unstable emotions may be upset in a moment and then no one can tell what will happen. It was quite possible that Frood had come to Rochester with the perfectly peaceable intention of inducing his wife to return to him. But this was far from certain, and I shuddered to think of what might follow a refusal on her part. I did not like that knife. I have a sane man's dislike of lethal weapons of all kinds; but especially do I dislike them in the hands of those whose self-control is liable to break down suddenly.

It was true that this man had not succeeded in finding his wife, and even seemed to have given up the search. But I felt pretty certain that he had not. Somehow, he had discovered that she was in the town, and from the same source he might get further information; and, in any case, I felt no doubt that he would renew the pursuit, and that, in the end, he would find her. And then—but at this point I found myself opposite the house and observed Mrs. Gillow standing on the doorstep, fumbling in her pocket for the latch-key. She had just extracted it, and was in the act of inserting it into the latch when I crossed the road and made my presence known. She greeted me with a wan smile as I ascended the steps, and, having by this time got the door open, admitted me to the hall.

"I gave Mrs. Frood your message at lunch-time, sir," said she, in a depressed tone, "and I believe she has come in." Here, having closed the street door, she rapped softly with her knuckles at that of the front room, whereupon the voice to which Bundy objected so much called out: "Come in, Mrs. Gillow."

The latter threw the door open. "It is the doctor, Madam," said she; and on this announcement, I walked in.

"I didn't hear you knock," said Mrs. Frood, rising, and holding out her hand.

"I didn't knock," I replied. "I sneaked in under cover of Mrs. Gillow."

"That was very secret and cautious of you," said she.

"You make me feel like a sort of feminine Prince Charlie, lying perdu in the robbers' cavern; whereas, I have actually been taking my walks abroad and brazenly looking in the shop windows. But I have kept a sharp lookout, all the same."

"There really wasn't any need," said I. "The siege is raised.

"You don't mean that my husband has gone?" she exclaimed.

"I do, indeed," I answered; and I gave her a brief account of the events of the morning, suppressing my unofficial part in the transaction.

"Do you think," she asked, "that the matron paid his fare out of her own pocket?"

"I am sure she didn't," I answered hastily. "She touched some local altruist for the amount; it was only a few shillings, you know."

"Still," she said, "I feel that I ought to refund those few shillings. They were really expended for my benefit."

"Well, you can't," I said with some emphasis. "You couldn't do it without disclosing your identity, and then you would have some philanthropist trying to effect a reconciliation. Your cue is to keep yourself to yourself for the present."

"For the present!" she echoed. "It seems to me that I have got to be a fugitive for the rest of my natural life. It is a horrible position, to have to live in a state of perpetual concealment, like a criminal, and never dare to make an acquaintance."

"Don't you know anyone in Rochester?" I asked.

"Not a soul," she replied, "excepting Mr. Japp, who is a relative by marriage—he was my aunt's brother-in-law—his partner, and Mrs. Gillow and you. And you all know my position."

"Does Mrs. Gillow know the state of affairs?" I asked in some surprise.

"Yes," she answered, "I thought it best to tell her, in confidence, so that she should understand that I want to live a quiet life."

"I suppose you haven't cut yourself off completely from all your friends?" said I.

"Very nearly. I haven't many friends that I really care about much, but I keep in touch with one or two of my old comrades. But I have had to swear them to secrecy—though it looks as if the secret had leaked out in some way. Of course they all know Nicholas—my husband."

"And I suppose you have been able to learn from them how your husband views the separation?"

"Yes. Of course he thinks I have treated him abominably, and he evidently suspects that I have some motive for leaving him other than mere dislike of his unpleasant habits. The usual motive, in fact."

"What Sam Weller would call a 'priory attachment'?" I suggested.

"Yes. He is a jealous and suspicious man by nature. I had quite a lot of trouble with him in that way before that final outbreak, though I have always been most circumspect in my relations with other men. Still, a woman doesn't complain of a little jealousy. Within reason, it is a natural, masculine failing."

"I should consider a tendency to use a knitted silk necktie for purposes which I need not specify as going rather beyond ordinary masculine failings," I remarked drily; on which she laughed and admitted that perhaps it was so. There was a short pause; then, turning to a fresh subject, she asked: "Do you think you will get any of Dr. Partridge's practice?"

"I suspect not, or at any rate very little; and that reminds me that I have not yet inquired as to my patient's condition. Are you any better?"

As I asked the question, I looked at her attentively, and noted that she was still rather pale and haggard, so far as I could judge by the subdued light of the shaded lamp, and that the darkness under the eyes remained undiminished.

"I am afraid I am not doing you much credit," she replied, with a faint smile. "But you can't expect any improvement while these unsettled conditions exist. If you could induce my respected husband to elope with another woman you would effect an immediate cure."

"I am afraid," said I, "that is beyond my powers, to say nothing of the inhumanity to the other woman. But we must persevere. You must let me look in on you from time to time, just to keep an eye on you."

"I hope you will," she replied, energetically. "If it doesn't weary you to listen to my complaints and gossip a little, please keep me on your visiting list. With the exception of Mr. Japp, you are the only human creature that I hold converse with. Mrs. Gillow is a dear, good creature, but instinct warns me not to get on conversational terms with her. She's rather lonely, too."

"Yes; you might find it difficult to turn the tap off. I am always very cautious with housekeepers and landladies."

She darted a mischievous glance at me. "Even if your landlady happens to be your patient?" she asked.

I chuckled as I remembered our dual relationship.

"That," said I "is an exceptional case. The landlady becomes merged in the patient, and the patient tends to become a friend."

"The doctor," she retorted, "tends very strongly to become a friend, and a very kind and helpful friend. I think you have been exceedingly good to me—a mere waif who has drifted across your horizon."

"Well," I said, "if you think so, far be it from me to contradict you. One may as well pick up gratefully a stray crumb of commendation that one doesn't deserve to set off against the deserved credit that one doesn't get. But I should like to think that all my good deeds in the future will be as agreeable in the doing."

She gave me a prim little smile. "We are getting monstrously polite," she remarked, upon which we both laughed.

"However," said I, "the moral of it all is that you ought to have a friendly medical eye kept on you, and, as mine is the eye that happens to be available, and as you are kind enough to accept the optical supervision, I shall give myself the pleasure of looking in on you from time to time to see how you are and to hear how the world wags. What is the best time to find you at home'"

"I am nearly always at home after seven o'clock, but perhaps that is not very convenient for you. I don't know how you manage your practice."

"The fact is," said I, "that at present you are my practice, so I shall adapt my visiting round to your circumstances, and make my call at, or after, seven. I suppose you get some exercise?"

"Oh, yes. Quite a lot. I walk out in the country, and wander about Chatham and Gillingham and out to Frindsbury. I have been along the Watling Street as far as Cobham. Rochester itself I rather avoid for fear of making acquaintances, though it is a pleasant old town in spite of the improvements."

As she spoke of these solitary rambles the idea floated into my mind that, later on, I might perchance offer to diminish their solitude. But I quickly dismissed it. Her position was, in any case, one of some delicacy—that of a young woman living apart from her husband. It would be an act the very reverse of friendly to compromise her in any way; nor would it tend at all to my own professional credit. A doctor's reputation is nearly as tender as a woman's.

Our conversation had occupied nearly three quarters of an hour, and, although I would willingly have lingered, it appeared to me that I had made as long a visit as was permissible. I accordingly rose, and, having given a few words of somewhat perfunctory professional advice, shook hands with my patient and let myself out.

CHAPTER VI—THE SHADOWS DEEPEN

The coming events, whose premonitory shadows had been falling upon me unnoted since I came to Rochester, were daily drawing nearer. Perhaps it may have been that the deepening shadows began dimly to make themselves felt; that some indistinct sense of instability and insecurity had begun to steal into my consciousness. It may have been so. But, nevertheless, looking back, I can see that when the catastrophe burst upon me it found me all unsuspicious and unprepared.

Nearly a fortnight had passed since my meeting with my two friends in the Cathedral, and I was looking forward with some eagerness to their impending visit. During that fortnight little seemed to have happened, though the trivial daily occurrences were beginning to acquire a cumulative significance not entirely unperceived by me. My promise to Mrs. Frood had been carried out very thoroughly: for at least every alternate evening had found me seated by the little table with the red-shaded lamp, making the best pretence I could of being there in a professional capacity.

It was unquestionably indiscreet. The instant liking that I had taken to this woman should have warned me that here was one of those unaccountable "affinities" that are charged with such immense potentialities of blessing or disaster. The first impression should have made it clear to me that I could not safely spend much time in her society. But unfortunately the very circumstance that should have warned me to keep away was the magnet that drew me to her side.

However, there was one consoling fact: if the indiscretion was mine, so by me alone were the consequences supported. Our relations were of the most unexceptionable kind; indeed, she was not the sort of woman with whom any man would have taken a liberty. As to my feelings towards her, I could not pretend to deceive myself, but similarly, I had no delusions as to her feelings towards me. She welcomed my visits with that frank simplicity that is delightful to a friend and hopeless to a lover. It was plain to me that the bare possibility of anything beyond straightforward, honest friendship never entered her head. But this very innocence and purity, while at once a rebuke and a reassurance, but riveted my fetters the more firmly.

Such as our friendship was (and disregarding the secret reservation on my side), it grew apace; indeed, it sprang into existence at our first meeting. There was between us that ease and absence of reserve that distinguishes the intercourse of those who like and understand one another. I never had any fear of unwittingly giving offence. In our long talks and discussions, we had no need of choosing our words or phrases or of making allowances for possible prejudices. We could say plainly what we meant with the perfect assurance that it would be neither misunderstood nor resented. In short, if my feelings towards her could only have been kept at the same level as hers towards me, our friendship would have been perfect.

In the course of these long and pleasant gossiping visits, I observed my patient somewhat closely, and, quite apart from the personal affinity, I became more and more favourably impressed. She was a clever woman, quick and alert in mind, and evidently well informed. She seemed to be kindly, and was certainly amiable and even-tempered, though not in the least weak or deficient in character. Probably, in happier circumstances, she would have been more gay and vivacious, for, though she was habitually rather grave and even sombre, there were occasional flashes of wit that suggested a naturally lively temperament.

As to her appearance—to repeat in more detail what I have already said—she was a rather large woman, very erect and somewhat stately in bearing; distinctly good-looking (though of this I was not, perhaps, a very good judge). Her features were regular, but not in any way striking. Her expression was, as I have said, a little sombre and severe, the mouth firmly set and slightly depressed at the corners, the eyebrows black, straight, and unusually well-marked and nearly meeting above the nose. She had an abundance of black, or nearly black, hair, parted low on the forehead and drawn back loosely, covering the ears and temples, and she wore a largish coil nearly on the top of the head; a formal, matronly style that accentuated the gravity of her expression.

Such was Angelina Frood as I looked on her in those never-to-be-forgotten evenings; as she rises before the eyes of memory as I write, and as she will remain in my recollection so long as I live.

In this fortnight one really arresting incident had occurred. It was just a week after my meeting with Dr. Thorndyke, when, returning from a walk along the London Road as far as Gad's Hill, I stopped on Rochester Bridge to watch a barge which had just passed under, and was rehoisting her lowered mast. As I was leaning on the parapet, a man brushed past me, and I turned my head idly to look at him. Then, in an instant, I started up; for though the man's back was towards me, there was something unmistakably familiar in the gaunt figure, the seedy clothes, the great cloth cap, the shock of mouse-coloured hair, and the thick oaken stick that he swung in his hand. But I was not going to leave myself in any doubt on the subject. Cautiously I began to retrace my steps, keeping him in view but avoiding overtaking him, until he reached the western end of the bridge, when he halted and looked back. Then any possible doubt was set at rest. The man was Nicholas Frood. I don't know whether he saw me; he made no sign of recognition; and when he turned and walked on, I continued to follow, determined to make sure of his destination.

As I had hoped and expected, he took the road to the right, leading to the river bank and the station. Still following him, I noted that he walked at a fairly brisk pace and seemed to have recovered completely from his debility—if that debility had not been entirely counterfeit. Opposite the pier he turned into the station approach, and when from the corner I had watched him enter the station, I gave up the pursuit, assuming that he was returning to London.

But how long had he been in Rochester? What had he been doing, and what success had he had in his search? These were the questions that I asked myself as I walked back over the bridge. Probably he had come down for the day; and since he was returning, it was reasonable to infer that he had had no luck. As I entered the town and glanced up at the great clock that hangs out across the street from the Corn Exchange, like a sort of horological warming-pan, I saw that it was close upon eight. It was a good deal after my usual time for calling on Mrs. Frood, but the circumstances were exceptional and I felt that it was necessary to ascertain whether anything untoward had occurred. I was still debating what I should do when, as I came opposite the house, I saw Mrs. Gillow coming out of the door. Immediately I crossed the road and accosted her.

"Have you seen Mrs. Frood this evening, Mrs. Gillow?" I asked, after passing the usual compliments.

"Yes, sir," was the reply. "I left her only a few minutes ago working at one of the drawings that she does for Mr. Japp. She seems better this evening—brighter and more cheerful. I think your visits have done her good, sir. It is a lonely life for a young woman—having no one to talk to all through the long evenings. I'm always glad to hear your knock, and so, I think, is she."

"I'm pleased to hear you say so, Mrs. Gillow," said I. "However, as it is rather late, and she has something to occupy her, I don't think I will call this evening."

With this I took my leave and went on my way in better spirits. Evidently all was well so far. Nevertheless, the reappearance of this man was an uncomfortable incident. It was clear that he had not given up the pursuit, and, seeing that Rochester was only some thirty miles from London, it would be quite easy for him to make periodical descents on the place to continue the search. There was no denying that Mrs. Frood's position was extremely insecure, and I could think of no plan for making it less so, excepting that of leaving Rochester, for a time at least, a solution which ought to have commended itself to me, but did not.

Perhaps it was this fact that decided me not to say anything about the incident. The obvious thing was to have told her and put her on her guard. But I persuaded myself that it would only make her anxious to no purpose; that she could not prevent him from coming nor could she take any further measures for concealment. And then there was the possibility that he might never come again.

So far as I know, he never did. During the rest of the week I perambulated the town hour after hour, looking into the shops, scanning the faces of the wayfarers in the streets and even visiting the stations at the times when the London trains were due; but never a glimpse did I catch of that ill-omened figure.

And all the time, the shadows were deepening, and that which cast them was drawing nearer.

It was nearly a week after my meeting with Nicholas Frood that an event befell at which I looked askance at the time and which was, as it turned out, the opening scene of a new act. It was on the Saturday. I am able to fix the date by an incident, trivial enough in itself, but important by reason of its forming thus a definite point of departure. My visitors were due on the following Monday, and it had occurred to me that I had better lay in a little stock of wine; and as Mr. Japp was an old resident who knew everybody in the town, I decided to consult him as to the choice of a wine merchant.

It was a little past mid-day when I arrived at the office, and as I entered I observed that some kind of conference was in progress. A man, whom I recognized as the foreman of the gang who were working on the old wall, was standing sheepishly with his knuckles resting on the table; Bundy had swung round on his stool and was glaring owlishly through his great spectacles, while Mr. Japp was sitting bolt upright, his forehead in a state of extreme corrugation and his eyes fixed severely on the foreman.

"I suppose," said Bundy, "you left it in the gate?"

"I expect Evans did," replied the foreman. "You see, I had to call in at the office, so I gave the key to Evans and told him to go on with the other men and let them in. When I got there the gate was open and the men were at work, and I forgot all about the key until it was time to come away and lock up. Then I asked Evans for it, and he said he'd left it in the gate. But when I went to look for it it wasn't there. Someone must have took it out."

"Doesn't seem very likely," said Bundy. "However, I suppose it will turn up. It had one of our wooden labels tied to it. Shall I give him the duplicate to lock up the place?"

"You must, I suppose," said Japp; "but it must be brought straight back and given to me. You understand, Smith? Bring it back at once, and deliver it to me or to Mr. Bundy. And look here, Smith. I shall offer ten shillings reward for that key; and if it is brought back and I have to pay the reward you will have to make it up among you. You understand that?"

Smith indicated grumpily that he understood; and when Bundy had handed him the duplicate key, he took his departure in dudgeon.

When he had gone I stated my business, and Bundy pricked up his ears.

"Wine, hey?" said he, removing his spectacles and assuming his eyeglass. "Tucker will be the man for him, won't he, Japp? Very superior wine merchant is Tucker. Old and crusted; round and soft; rare and curious. I'd better pop round with him and introduce him, hadn't I? You'll want to taste a few samples, I presume, Doctor?"

"I'm not giving a wholesale order," said I, smiling at his enthusiasm. "A dozen or so of claret and one or two bottles of port is all I want."

"Still," said Bundy, "you want to know what the stuff's like. Not going to buy a pig in a poke. You'll have to taste it, of course. I'll help you. Two heads are better than one. Come on. You said Tucker, didn't you, Japp?"

"As a matter of fact," said Japp, wrinkling his face up into an appreciative smile, "I didn't say anything. But Tucker will do; only he won't let you taste anything until you have bought it."

"Won't he!" said Bundy. "We shall see. Come along, Doctor."

He dragged me out of the office and down the steps, and we set forth towards the bridge; but we had not walked more than a couple of hundred yards when he suddenly shot up a narrow alley and beckoned to me mysteriously. I followed him up the alley, and as he halted I asked:

"What have you come here for?"

"I want you," he replied impressively, "to take a look at this wall."

I scrutinized the wall with minute attention but failed to discover any noteworthy peculiarities in it.

"Well," I said, at length, "I don't see anything unusual about this wall."

"Neither do I," he replied, looking furtively down the alley.

"Then, what the deuce—" I began.

"It's all right," said he. "She's gone. That damsel in the pink hat. I just popped up here to let her pass. The fact is," he explained, as he emerged cautiously into the High Street, glancing up and down like an Indian on the war-path, "these women are the plague of my life; always trying to hook me for teas or bazaars or garden fetes or some sort of confounded foolishness; and that pink-hatted lady is a regular sleuth-hound."

We walked quickly along the narrow pavement, Bundy looking about him warily, until we reached the wine-merchant's premises, into which my companion dived like a harlequin and forthwith proceeded to introduce me and my requirements. Mr. Tucker was a small, elderly man; old and crusted and as dry as his own Amontillado; but he was not proof against Bundy's blandishments. Before I had had time to utter a protest, I found myself in a dark cavern at the rear of the shop, watching Mr. Tucker fill a couple of glasses from a mouldy-looking cask.

"Ha!" said Bundy, sipping the wine with a judicial air. "H'm. Yes. Not so bad. Slightly corked, perhaps."

"Corked!" exclaimed Tucker, staring at Bundy in amazement. "How can it be corked when it is just out of the cask?"

"Well, bunged, then," Bundy corrected.

"I never heard of wine being bunged," said Tucker. "There's no such thing."

"Isn't there? Well, then, it can't be. Must be my fancy. What do you think of it, Doctor?"

"It seems quite a sound claret," said I, inwardly wishing my volatile friend at the devil, for I felt compelled, by way of soothing the wine merchant's wounded feelings, to order twice the quantity that I had intended. We had just completed the transaction, and were crossing the outer shop when the doorway became occluded by two female figures, and Bundy uttered a half-suppressed groan. I drew aside to make way for the newcomers—two ladies whom polite persons would have described as middle-aged, on the assumption that they contemplated a somewhat extreme degree of longevity—and I was aware that Bundy was endeavouring to take cover behind me. But it was of no use. One of them espied him instantly and announced her discovery with a little squeak of ecstasy.

"Why, it's Mr. Bundy. I do declare! Now, where have you been all this long time? It's ages and ages and ages since you came to see us, isn't it, Martha? Let me see, now, when was it?" She fixed a reflective eye on her companion, while Bundy smiled a sickly smile and glanced wistfully at the open door.

"I know," she exclaimed, triumphantly. "It was when we had the feeble-minded children to tea, and Mr. Blote showed them the gold fish trick—at least he tried to, but the glass bowl stuck in the bag under his coat-tails and wouldn't come out; and when he tried to pull it out it broke—"

"I think you are mistaken, Marian," the other lady interrupted. "It wasn't the feeble-minded tea. It was after that, when we helped the Jewbury-Browns to get up that rumble sale—"

"Jumble sale, you mean, dear," her companion corrected.

"I mean rummage sale," the lady called Martha insisted, severely. "If you will try to recall the circumstances, you will remember that the jumble sale took place after—"

"Not after," the other lady corrected. "It was before—several days before, I should say, speaking from a somewhat imperfect memory. If you will try to recollect, Martha, dear—"

"I recollect quite distinctly," the lady called Martha interposed, a little haughtily. "There was the feeble-minded tea—that was on a Tuesday—or was it a Thursday—no, it was a Tuesday, or at least—well, at any rate, it was some days before the jum—rum—"

"Not at all," the other lady dissented emphatically. At this point, catching the eye of the lady called Marian, I crept by slow degrees out on the threshold and turned an expectant eye on Bundy. The rather broad hint took immediate effect, for the lady said to her companion: "I am afraid, Martha, dear, you are detaining Mr. Bundy and his friend. Good-bye, Mr. Bundy. Shall we see you next Friday evening? We are giving a little entertainment to the barge-boys. We are inviting them to come and bring their mouth-organs and get up a little informal concert. Do come if you can. We shall be so delighted. Good-bye."

Bundy shook hands effusively with the two ladies and darted out after me, seizing my arm and hurrying me along the pavement.

"Bit of luck for me, Doctor, having you with me. If I had been alone and unprotected I shouldn't have escaped for half-an-hour; and I should have been definitely booked for the barge-boys' pandemonium. Hallo! What's Japp up to? Oh, I see. He's sticking up the notice about that key. I ought to have done that. Japp writes a shocking fist. I must see if it is possible to make it out."

As we approached the office I glanced at the sheet of paper which Mr. Japp had just affixed to the window, and was able to read the rather crabbed heading, "Ten Shillings Reward." The rest of the inscription being of no interest to me, I wished Bundy adieu and went on my way, leaving him engaged in a critical inspection of the notice. Happening to look back a few moments later, I saw him still gazing earnestly at the paper, all unconscious of a lady in a pink hat who was tripping lightly across the road and bearing down on him with an alluring smile.

Threading my way among the foot-passengers who filled the narrow pavements, I let my thoughts ramble idly from subject to subject; from the expected visit of my two friends on the following Monday to the alarming character of the local feminine population. But always they tended to come back to my patient, Mrs. Frood. I had seen her on the preceding night and had been very ill-satisfied with her appearance. She had been paler than usual—more heavy-eyed and weary-looking; and she had impressed me as being decidedly low-spirited. It seemed as though the continual uncertainty and unrest, the abiding threat of some intolerable action on the part of her worthless husband, were becoming more than she could endure; and unwillingly I was beginning to recognize that it was my duty, both as her doctor and as her friend, to advise her to move, at least for a time, to some locality where she would be free from the constant fear of molestation.

The question was: when should I broach the subject?

And that involved the further question: when should I make my next visit? Inclination suggested the present evening, but discretion hinted that I ought to allow a decent interval between my calls; and thus oscillating between the two, I found myself in a state of indecision which lasted for the rest of the day. Eventually discretion conquered, and I decided to postpone the visit and the proposal until the following evening.

The decision was reached about the time I should have been setting forth to make the visit, and no sooner had that time definitely passed than I began to regret my resolution and to be possessed by a causeless anxiety. Restlessly I wandered from room to room; taking up books, opening them and putting them down again, and generally displaying the typical symptoms of an acute attack of fidgets until Mrs. Dunk proceeded with a determined air to lay the supper, and drew my attention to it with an emphasis which it was impossible to disregard.

I had just drawn the cork of a bottle of Mr. Tucker's claret when the door-bell rang, an event without precedent in my experience. Silently I replaced the newly-extracted cork and listened. Apparently it was a patient, for I heard the street door close and footsteps proceed to the consulting-room. A minute later Mrs. Dunk opened the dining-room door and announced:

"Mrs. Frood to see you, sir."

With a slight thrill of anxiety at this unexpected visit, I strode out, and, crossing the hall, entered the somewhat dingy and ill-lighted consulting-room. Mrs. Frood was seated in the patients' chair, but she rose as I entered and held out her hand; and as I grasped it, I noticed how tall she looked in her outdoor clothes. But I also noticed that she was looking even more pale and haggard than when I had seen her last.

"There is nothing the matter, I hope?" said I.

"No," she answered; "nothing much more than usual; but I have come to present a petition."

I looked at her inquiringly, and she continued:

"I have been sleeping very badly, as you know. Last night I had practically no sleep at all, and very little the night before; and I feel that I really can't face the prospect of another sleepless night. Would you think it very immoral if I were to ask you for something that would give me a few hours' rest?"

"Certainly not," I answered, though with no great enthusiasm, for I am disposed to take hypnotics somewhat seriously. "You can't go on without sleep. I will give you one or two tablets to take before you go to bed. They will secure you a decent night's rest, and then I hope you will feel a little brighter."

"I hope so," she said, with a weary sigh.

I looked at her critically. She was, as I have said, pale and haggard; but there seemed to be something more; a certain wildness in her eyes and a suggestion or fear.

"You are not looking yourself at all to-night," I said. "What is it?"

"I don't know," she answered. "The same old thing, I suppose. But I do feel rather miserable. I seem to have come to the end of my' endurance. I look into the future and it all seems dark. I am afraid of it. In fact, I seem to have—you'll think me very silly, I know—but I have a sort of presentiment of evil. Of course, it's all nonsense. But that is what I feel."

"Is there any reason for this presentiment?" I asked uneasily; for my thoughts flew at once to that ill-omened figure that I had seen on the bridge. "Has anything happened to occasion these forebodings?"

"Oh, nothing in particular," she replied. But she spoke without looking at me—an unusual thing for her to do—and I found in her answer something ambiguous and rather evasive. Could it be that she had seen her husband on that day when I had followed him? Or had he been in the town again-this very day, perhaps? Or was there something yet more significant, something even more menacing? That this deep depression of spirits, these forebodings, were not without some exciting cause I felt the strongest suspicion. But whatever the cause might be, she was evidently unwilling to speak about it.

While I was speculating thus, I found myself looking her over with a minute attention of which I was not conscious at the time; noting little trivial details of her appearance and belongings with an odd exactness of observation. My eyes travelled over the little hand-bag, stamped with her initials, that rested on her lap; her dainty, high-heeled shoes with their little oval buckles of darkened bronze; the small brooch at her throat with the large opal in the middle and the surrounding circle of little pearls, and even noted that one of the pearls was missing and that the vacant place corresponded to the figure three on a clock-dial. And then they would come back to her face; to the set mouth and the downcast eyes with their expression of gloomy reverie.

I was profoundly uneasy and was on the point of opening the subject of her leaving the town. Then I decided that I would see her on the morrow and would go into the matter then. Accordingly I went into the surgery and put a few tablets of sulphonal into a little box, and having stuck one of Dr. Partridge's labels on it, wrote the directions and then wrapped it up and sealed it.

"There," I said, giving it to her, "take a couple of those tablets and go to bed early, and let me find you looking a little more cheerful to-morrow."

She took the packet and dropped it into her bag. "It is very good of you," she said warmly. "I know you don't like doing it, and that makes it the more kind. But I will do as you tell me. I have just to go in to Chatham, but when I get back I will go to bed quite early."

I walked with her to the door, and when I had opened it she stopped and held out her hand. "Good night," she said, "and thank you so very much. I expect you will find me a great deal better to-morrow." She pressed my hand slightly, made me a little bow, smiled, and, turning away, passed out; and I now noticed that the haze which had hung over the town all the afternoon had thickened into a definite fog. I stepped out on to the threshold and watched her as she walked quickly down the street, following the erect, dignified figure wistfully with my eyes as it grew more and more shadowy and unsubstantial until it faded into the fog and vanished. Then I went in to my solitary supper, with an unwonted sense of loneliness; and throughout the long evening I turned over again and again our unsatisfying talk and wondered afresh whether that presentiment of evil was but the product of insomnia and mental fatigue, or whether behind it was some sinister reality.

CHAPTER VII—MRS. GILLOW SOUNDS THE ALARM

Nine o'clock on the following morning found me still seated at the breakfast table, with the debris of the meal before me and the Sunday paper propped up against the coffee-pot. It was a pleasant, sunny morning at the end of April. The birds were twittering joyously in the trees at the back of the house, a premature bluebottle perambulated the window-pane, after an unsuccessful attempt to crawl under the dish-cover, and somewhere in the town an optimistic bell-ringer was endeavouring to lure unwary loiterers out of the sunshine into the shadow of the sanctuary.

It was all very agreeable and soothing. The birds were delightful in the exuberance of their spirits; even the bluebottle was a harbinger of summer; and the solo of the bellringer, softened by distance, impinged gently on the appreciative ear, awakening a grateful sense of immunity. The sunshine and the placid sounds were favourable to reflection, which the Sunday paper was powerless to disturb. As my eye roamed inattentively down the inconsequent column of printers' errors, my mind flitted, beelike, from topic to topic; from my vague professional prospects to the visitors whom I was expecting on the morrow and from them to the rather disturbing incident of the previous evening. But here my thoughts had a tendency to stick; and I was just considering whether the proprieties admitted of my making a morning call on Mrs. Frood, with a view to clearing up the obscurity, when the street-door bell rang. The unusual sound at such an unlikely time caused me to sit up and listen with just a tinge of uneasy expectancy. A few moments later Mrs. Dunk opened the door, and having stated concisely and impassively, "Mrs. Gillow," retired, leaving the door ajar. I started up in something approaching alarm, and hurried across to the consulting-room, where I found Mrs. Gillow standing by the chair with anxiety writ large on her melancholy face.

"There's nothing amiss, I hope, Mrs. Gillow?" said I.

"I am sorry to say there is, sir," she replied. "I hope you'll excuse me for disturbing you on a Sunday morning, but I thought, as you were her doctor, and a friend, too, and I may say—"

"But what has happened?" I interrupted impatiently.

"Why, sir, the fact is that she went out last night and she hasn't come back."

"You are quite sure she hasn't come back?"

"Perfectly. I saw her just before she went out, and she said she was coming to see you, to get something to make her sleep, and then she was just going into Chatham, and that she would be back soon, so that she could go to bed early. I sat up quite late listening for her, and before I went to bed I went down and knocked at both her doors, and as I didn't get any answer, I looked into both rooms. But she wasn't in either, and her little supper was untouched on the table in the sitting-room. I couldn't sleep a wink all night for worrying about her, and the first thing this morning I went down, and, when I found the door unbolted and unchained, I went into her rooms again. But there was no sign of her. Her supper was still there, untouched, and her bed had not been slept in."

"Did you look downstairs?" I asked.

"Yes. She usually kept the door of the basement stairs locked, I think, but it was unlocked this morning, so I went down and searched all over the basement; but she wasn't there."

"It is very extraordinary, Mrs. Gillow," I said, "and rather alarming. I certainly understood that she was going home as soon as she had been to Chatham. By the way, do you know what she was going to Chatham for?"

"I don't, sir. She might have been going there to do some shopping, but it was rather late, though it was Saturday night."

"You don't know, I suppose, whether she took any things with her—though she couldn't have taken much, as she had only a little handbag with her when she came here."

"She hasn't taken any of her toilet things," said Mrs. Gillow, "because I looked over her dressing-table, and all her brushes and things were there; and, as you say, she couldn't have taken much in that little bag. What do you think we had better do, sir?"

"I think," said I, "that, in the first place, I will go and see Mr. Japp. He is a relative and knows more about her than we do, and, of course, it will be for him to take any measures that may seem necessary. At any rate, I will see him and hear what he says."

"Don't you think we ought to let the police know?" she asked.

"Well, Mrs. Gillow," I said, "we mustn't be too hasty. Mrs. Frood had reasons for avoiding publicity. Perhaps we had better not busy ourselves too much until we are quite certain that she has gone. She may possibly return in the course of the day."

"I am sure I hope so," she replied despondently. "But I am very much afraid she won't. I have a presentiment that something dreadful has happened to her."

"Why do you say that?" I asked. "Have you any reason for thinking so?"

"I have no actual reason," she answered, "but I have always thought that there was something behind her fear of meeting her husband."

Having no desire to discuss speculative opinions, I made no direct reply to this. Apparently Mrs. Gillow had no more to tell, and as I was anxious to see Mr. Japp and hear if he could throw any light on the mystery, I adjourned the discussion on which she would have embarked and piloted her persuasively towards the door. "I shall see you again later, Mrs. Gillow," I said, "and will let you know if I hear anything. Meanwhile, I think you had better not speak of the matter to anybody."

As soon as she was gone I made rapid preparations to go forth on my errand, and a couple of minutes later was speeding down the street at a pace dictated rather by the agitation of my mind than by any urgency of purpose. Although, by an effort of will, I had preserved a quiet, matter-of-fact demeanour while I was talking to Mrs. Gillow, her alarming news had fallen on me like a thunderbolt; and even now, as I strode forward swiftly, my thoughts seemed numbed by the suddenness of the catastrophe. That something terrible had happened I had little more doubt than had Mrs. Gillow, and a good deal more reason for my fears; for that last interview with the missing woman, looked back upon by the light of her unaccountable disappearance, now appeared full of dreadful suggestions. I had thought that she looked frightened, and she admitted to a presentiment of evil. Of whom or of what was she afraid? And what did she mean by a presentiment? Reasonable people do not have gratuitous presentiments; and I recalled her evasive reply when I asked if she had any reasons for her foreboding of evil. Now, there was little doubt that she had; that the shadow of some impending danger had fallen on her and that she knew it.

As I approached the premises of Japp and Bundy, I was assailed by a sudden doubt as to whether Mr. Japp lived there; and this doubt increased when I had executed two loud knocks at the door without eliciting any response. I was just raising my hand to make a third attack when I became aware of Bundy's head rising above the curtain of the office window; and even in my agitation I could not but notice its extremely dishevelled state. His hair—usually "smarmed" back neatly from the forehead and brushed over the crown of his head—now hung down untidily over his face like a bunch of rat's tails, and the unusualness of his appearance was increased by the fact that he wore neither spectacles nor the indispensable eyeglass. The apparition, however, was visible but for a moment, for even as I glanced at him he made a sign to me to wait and forthwith vanished.

There followed an interval of about a minute, at the end of which the door opened and I entered, discovering Bundy behind it in a dressing-gown and pyjamas, but with his hair neatly brushed and his eye-glass duly adjusted.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Doc." said he. "Fact is, your knock woke me. The early bird catches the worm in his pyjamas."

"I apologize for disturbing your slumbers," said I, "but I wanted to see Japp. Isn't he in?"

"Japp doesn't live here," said Bundy, motioning to me to follow him upstairs. "He used to, but the house began to fill up with the business stuff and we had to make a drawing office and a store-room, so he moved off to a house on Boley Hill, and now I live here like Robinson Crusoe."

"Do you mean that you do your own cooking and housework?"

"Lord, no," he replied. "I get most of my meals at Japp's place. Prepare my own breakfast sometimes—I'm going to now: and I make tea for us both. Got a little gas-stove in the kitchen. And a charlady comes in every day to wash up and do my rooms. If you are not in a hurry, I'll walk round with you to Japp's house."

"I am in rather a hurry," said I; "at least—well, I don't know why I should be; but I am rather upset. The fact is, a very alarming thing has happened. I have just heard of it from Mrs. Gillow. It seems that Mrs. Frood went out last evening and has not come back."

Bundy whistled. "She's done a bolt," said he. "I wonder why. Do you think she can have run up against hubby in the town?"

"I don't believe for a moment that she has gone away voluntarily," said I. "She came to see me last night to get a sedative because she couldn't sleep, and she said that she was going home as soon as she had been to Chatham, and that she was going to take her medicine and go to bed early."

"That might have been a blind," suggested Bundy; "or she might have run up against her husband in Chatham."

I shook my head impatiently. "That is all nonsense, Bundy. A woman doesn't walk off into space in that fashion. Something has happened to her, I feel sure. I only hope it isn't something horrible; one doesn't dare to think of the possibilities that the circumstances suggest."

"No," said Bundy, "and it's better not to. Great mistake to let your imagination run away with you. Don't you worry, Doc. She'll probably turn up all right, or send Japp a line to say where she has gone to."

"Devil take it, Bundy!" I exclaimed irritably, "you are talking as if she were just a cat that had strayed away. If you don't care a hang what becomes of her, I do. I am extremely alarmed about her. How soon will you be ready?"

"I'll run and get on my things at once," he replied, with a sudden change of manner. "You must excuse me, old chap. I didn't realize that you were so upset. I'll be with you in a few minutes and then we will start. Japp will be able to give me some breakfast."

He bustled off—to the next room, as I gathered from the sound—and left me to work off my impatience by gazing out of the window and pacing restlessly up and down the barely-furnished sitting-room. But, impatient as I was, the rapidity with which he made his toilet surprised me, for in less than ten minutes he reappeared, spick and span, complete with hat, gloves, and stick, and announced that he was ready.

"I am not usually such a sluggard," he said, as we walked quickly along the street, "but yesterday evening I got a novel. I ought not to read novels. When I do, I am apt to make a single mouthful of it; and that is what I did last night. I started the book at nine and finished it at two this morning; and the result is that I am as sleepy as an owl even now."

In illustration of this statement he gave a prodigious yawn and then turned up the steep little thoroughfare, where be presently halted at the door of a small, old-fashioned house and rang the bell. The door was opened by a middle-aged servant, from whom he learned that Mr. Japp was at home, and to whom Bundy communicated his needs in the matter of breakfast. We found Mr. Japp seated by the dining-room window, studying a newspaper with the aid of a large pipe, and Bundy proceeded to introduce me and the occasion of my visit in a few crisp sentences.

Mr. Japp's reception of the news was very different from his partner's. Starting up from his chair and taking his pipe from his mouth, he gazed at me for some seconds in silent dismay.

"I suppose," he said at length, "there is no mistake. It is really certain that she did not come back last night?"

"I am afraid there is no doubt of the fact," I replied, and I gave him the details with which Mrs. Gillow had furnished me.

"Dear! dear!" he exclaimed. "I don't like the look of this at all. What the deuce can have happened to her?"

Here Bundy repeated the suggestion that he had made to me, but Japp shook his head. "She wouldn't have gone off without letting me or the doctor know. Why should she? We are friends, and she knew she could trust us. Besides, the thing isn't possible. A middle-class woman can't set out like a tramp without any luggage or common necessaries. There's only one possibility," he added after a pause. "She might have seen Nicholas prowling about and gone straight to the station and taken a train to London. One of her woman friends would have been able to put her up for the night."

"Or," suggested Bundy, "she might even have gone up to town with Nick himself if he met her and threatened to make a scene."

"Yes," said Japp doubtfully, "that is, I suppose, possible. But it isn't in the least likely. For that matter, nothing is likely. It is a most mysterious affair, and very disturbing, very disturbing, indeed."

"The question is," said I, "what is to be done? Do you think we ought to communicate with the police?"

"Well, no," he replied; "not immediately. If we don't hear anything, say to-morrow, I suppose we shall have to. But we had better not be precipitate. If we go to the police, we shall have to tell them everything. Let us give her time to communicate, in case she has had to make a sudden retirement—a clear forty-eight hours, as it is a week-end. But we had better make some cautious inquiries meanwhile. I suggest that we walk up to the hospital. They know me pretty well there, and I could just informally ascertain whether any accidents had been admitted, without giving any detailed reasons for the inquiry. Are you coming with us, Bundy?"

"Yes," replied Bundy, who, having been provided with a light breakfast, was despatching it with lightning speed; "I shall be ready by the time you have got your boots on."

A few minutes later we set forth together, and made our way straight to the hospital. Bundy and I waited outside while Japp went in to make his inquiries; and, as we walked up and down, my imagination busied itself in picturing the hideous possibilities suggested by a somewhat extensive experience of the casualty department of a general hospital. Presently Japp emerged, shaking his head.

"She is not there," said he. "There were no casualties of any kind admitted last night or since."

"Is there no other hospital?" I asked.

"None but the military hospital," he replied. "All the casualties from the district would be brought here. So we seem to be at the end of our resources, short of inquiring at the police-station; and even if that were advisable, it would be useless, for if—anything had happened—anything, I mean, that we hope has not happened—Mrs. Gillow would have heard. She will be sure to have had something about her by which she could have been identified."

"She had," said I. "The little box that I gave her had her name and my address on it."

"Then," said Japp. "I don't see that we can do anything more. We can only wait until to-morrow evening or Tuesday morning, and if we don't get any news of her by then, notify the police."

Unwillingly I had to admit that this was so; and when I had walked back with the partners to Mr. Japp's house, I left them and proceeded to report to Mrs. Gillow and to ascertain whether, in the meantime, she had received any tidings of her missing tenant.

It was with more of fear than hope that I plied the familiar knocker, but the eager, expectant face that greeted me when the door opened, while it relieved the one, banished the other. She had heard nothing, and when I had communicated my own unsatisfactory report she groaned and shook her head.

"You are quite sure," I said, after an interval of silence, "that she did not return from Chatham?"

"I don't see how she could have done," was the reply.

"You see, it was like this: I was going to see my sister at Frindsbury, and as I came down to the hall, Mrs. Frood opened her door and spoke to me. She had her hat on then, and she told me she was coming to you, and then going on to Chatham, but that she would be back pretty soon, and was going to bed early. I went out, leaving her at her room door, and took the tram to Frindsbury, and I got back home about a quarter to ten. Her sitting-room door was open, and I could see that she hadn't gone to bed, because her lamp was alight and her supper tray was on the table and hadn't been touched. I knocked at her bedroom door, but there was no answer, so I went upstairs and sat up listening for her, and before I went to bed I went down again, as I told you."

"What time was it when you went out?" I asked.

"About a quarter past eight. I told her I was going to Frindsbury, and that I should be home before ten, and I asked her not to bolt the door if she came in before me."

"Then," said I, "she must have gone out directly after you, because it was only a little after half-past eight when she called on me; and presumably she went straight on to Chatham. If we only knew what she was going there for we might be able to trace her. Did she know anybody at Chatham?"

"So far as I know," replied Mrs. Gillow, "she didn't know anybody here but you and Mr. Japp. I can't imagine what she could have been going to Chatham for."

After a little further talk, I took my leave and walked homeward in a very wretched frame of mind. Tormented as I was with a gnawing anxiety, inaction was intolerable. Yet there was nothing to be done; nothing but to wait in the feeble hope that the morning might bring some message of relief, and with a heavy foreboding that the tidings, when they came, would be evil tidings. But I found it impossible to wait passively at home. At intervals during the day I went forth to wander up and down the streets; and some impulse which I hardly dared to recognize directed my steps again and again to the wharves and foreshore that lie by the bend of the river between Rochester and Chatham.

On the following morning I betook myself as early as I decently could to the office of Japp and Bundy. No letter had arrived by the early post, nor, when I repeated my visit later, was there any news, either by post or telegram, or from Mrs. Gillow. I paid a furtive visit to the police-station and glanced nervously over the bills on the notice-board, and I made another perambulation of the waterside districts, which occupied me until it was time for me to repair to the station to meet the train by which my friends were expected to arrive, and did, in fact, arrive.

As we walked from the station to my house Jervis looked at me critically from time to time. After one of these inspections he remarked:

"I don't know whether it is my fancy, Strangeways, but it seems to me that the cares of medical practice are affecting your spirits. You look worried."

"I am worried," I replied. "There has been a very disturbing development of that case that I was telling you about."

"The doper, you mean?"

"His wife. She has disappeared. She went out on Saturday night and has not been seen since."

"That sounds rather ominous," said Jervis. "I presume the circumstances—if you know them—could be communicated without any breach of confidence."

"They will have to be made fully public if she doesn't turn up by this evening," I replied, "and I am only too glad of the chance to talk the matter over with you," and forthwith I proceeded to give a circumstantial account of the events connected with the disappearance, not omitting any detail that seemed to have the slightest bearing. And I now felt justified in relating my experience when I was acting for Dr. Pumphrey. The narrative was interrupted by our arrival at my house, but when we had taken our places at the table it was continued and listened to with intense interest by my two friends.

"Well," said Jervis, when I had finished, "it has an ugly look, especially when one considers it in connexion with that affair in London. But there is something to be said for your friend Bundy's suggestion. Don't you think so, Thorndyke?"

"Something, perhaps," Thorndyke agreed, "but not much; and if no letter arrives to-night or to-morrow morning, I should say it is excluded. This lady seems to have had complete confidence in Strangeways and in Mr. Japp. She could depend on their secrecy if she had to move suddenly to a fresh locality; and she seems to have been a responsible person who would not unnecessarily expose them to anxiety about her safety. Moreover, she would know that, if she kept them in the dark, they must unavoidably put the police on her track, which would be the last thing that she would wish."

"Can you make any suggestion as to what has probably happened?" I asked.

"It is not of much use to speculate," replied Thorndyke.

"If we exclude a voluntary disappearance, an accident or sudden illness, as we apparently can, there seems to remain only the possibility of crime. But to the theory of crime—of murder, to put it bluntly—there is a manifest objection. So far as the circumstances are known to us, a murder, if it had occurred, would have been an impromptu murder, committed in a more or less public place. But the first indication of a murder of that kind is usually—the discovery of the body. Here, however, thirty-six hours have elapsed, and no body has come to light. On the other hand, we have to bear in mind that there is a large, tidal river skirting the town. Into that river the missing lady might have fallen accidentally, or have been thrown, dead or alive. But it is not very profitable to speculate. We can neither form any opinion nor take any action until we have some further facts."

I must confess that, as I listened to Thorndyke thus calmly comparing the horrible possibilities, I experienced a dreadful sinking of the heart, but yet I realized that this passionless consideration of the essential evidence was more to the point, and promised more result than any amount of unskilful groping under the urge of emotion and personal feeling. And, realizing this, I formed the bold resolution of enlisting Thorndyke's aid in a regular, professional capacity, and began to cast about for the means of introducing the rather delicate subject. But while I was reflecting, the opportunity, was gone, at least for the present. Lunch had virtually come to an end, for Mrs. Dunk had silently and with iron visage just placed the port and the coffee on the table and retired, when, Jervis, who had observed her with evident interest, inquired: "Does that old Sphinx do the cooking, Strangeways?"

"She does everything," I answered. "I have suggested that she should get some help, but she just growled and ignored the suggestion."

"Well," said Jervis, "she doesn't give you much excuse for growling. She has turned out a lunch that would have done credit to Delmonico's. Are you coming to the inquest with us? We shall have to be starting in a few minutes."

"I may as well," said I. "Then I can bring you back to tea. And I want to make a proposal, which we can discuss as we go along. It is with regard to the case of Mrs. Frood."

As my two friends looked at me inquiringly but made no remark, I poured out the coffee and continued: "You see, Mrs. Frood was my patient, and, in a way, my friend; in fact, with the exception of Japp, I was the only friend she had in the place. Consequently I take it as my duty to ascertain what has happened to her, and, if she has come to any harm, to see that the wrongdoers are brought to account. Of course, I am not competent to investigate the case myself, but I am in the position to bear any costs that the investigation would entail."

"Lucky man," said Jervis. "And what is the proposal?"

"I was wondering," I replied, a little nervously, "whether I could prevail on you to undertake the case."

Jervis glanced at his senior, and the latter replied:

"It is just a little premature to speak of a 'case.' The missing lady may return or communicate with her friends. If she does not, the inquiry will fall into the hands of the police; and there is no reason to suppose that they will not be fully competent to deal with it. They have more means and facilities than we have. But if the inquiry should become necessary, and the police should be unsuccessful, Jervis and I would be prepared to render you any assistance that we could."

"On professional terms," I stipulated.

Thorndyke smiled. "The financial aspects of the case," said he, "can be considered when they arise. Now, I think, it is time for us to start."

As we walked down to the building where the inquest was to be held, we pursued the topic, and Thorndyke pointed out my position in the case.

"You notice, Strangeways," said he, "that you are the principal witness. You are the last person who saw Mrs. Frood before her disappearance, you heard her state her intended movements, you knew her circumstances, you saw and examined her husband, and you alone can give an exact description of her as she was at the time when she disappeared. I would suggest that, during the inquest, which will not interest you, you might usefully try to reconstitute that last interview and make full notes in writing of all that occurred with a very careful and detailed description of the person, clothing, and belongings of the missing lady. The police will want this information, and so shall I, if I am to give any consideration to the case."

On this suggestion I proceeded to act as soon as we had taken our places at the foot of the long table occupied by the coroner and the jury, detaching myself as well as I could from the matter of the inquest; and by the time that the deliberations were at an end and the verdict agreed upon, I had drafted out a complete set of notes and made two copies, one for the police and one for Thorndyke.

As soon as we were outside the court I presented the latter copy, which Thorndyke read through.

"This is admirable, Strangeways," said he, as he placed it in his note-case. "I must compliment you upon your powers of observation. The description of the missing lady is remarkably clear and exhaustive. And now I would suggest that you call in at Mr. Japp's office on our way back, and ascertain whether any letter has been received. If there has been no communication we shall have to regard the appearances as suspicious, and calling for investigation."

Secretly gratified at the interest which Thorndyke seemed to be developing in the mystery, I conducted my friends up the High-street until we reached the office, which I entered, leaving my colleagues outside. Mr. Japp looked up from a letter which he was writing, and Bundy, who had been peeping over the curtain, revolved on his stool and faced me.

"Any news?" I asked.

Japp shook his head gloomily. "Not a sign," said he.

"I shall wait until the first post is in to-morrow morning, and then, if there are no tidings of her, I shall go across to the police station. Perhaps you had better come with me, as you are able to give the particulars that they will want."

"Very well," I said, "I will look in at half-past nine"; and with this I was turning away when Bundy inquired: "Are those two toffs outside friends of yours?" and, on my replying in the affirmative, he continued: "They seem to be taking a deuce of an interest in Japp's proclamation. You might tell them that if they happen to have found that key, the money is quite safe. I will see that Japp pays up."

I promised to deliver the message, and, as Bundy craned up to make a further inspection of my colleagues, I departed to join the latter.

"There is no news up to the present," I said, "but Japp proposes to wait until to-morrow morning for a last chance before applying to the police."

"Was that Japp who was inspecting us through that preposterous pair of barnacles?" Jervis asked.

"No," I answered. "That was Bundy. He suspects you of having found that key and of holding on to it until you are sure of the reward."

"What key is it?" asked Jervis. "The key of the strong-room? They seem to be in a rare twitter about it."

"No; it is just a gate-key belonging to a piece of waste land where they are doing some repairs to the old city wall. And, by the way, thereby hangs a tale; a horrible and tragic tale of a convivial bargee, which ought to have a special interest for a pair of medical jurists"—and here I related to them the gruesome story that was told to Bundy and me by the old mortar-mixer.

They both chuckled appreciatively at the denouement, and Jervis remarked:

"It would seem that the late Bill was a rather inflammable gentleman. The yarn recalls the tragic end of Mr. Krook in 'Bleak House,' only that Krook went one better than Bill, for he managed to combust himself in an hour or two without any lime at all."

The story and the comment brought us to my house, which we had no sooner entered than Mrs. Dunk, who seemed to have been lying in wait for us, made her appearance with the tea; and while we were disposing of this refreshment Thorndyke reverted to the case of my missing patient.

"As I am to keep an eye on this ease," said he, "I shall want to be kept in touch with it. Of course, the actual investigation—if there has to be one—will need to be conducted on the spot, which is not possible to me. What I suggest is that you write out a detailed account of everything that is known to you in connexion with it. Don't select your facts. Put down everything in any way connected with the case and say all you know about the person concerned—Mrs. Frood herself and everybody who was acquainted with her. Send this statement to me and keep a copy. Then, if any new fact becomes known, let me have it and make a note of it for your own information. You are on the spot and I shall look to you for the data; and if I want any of them amplified or confirmed I shall communicate with you.

"There is one other matter. Do not confide to anyone that you have consulted me or that I am interested in the case; neither to Mr. Japp, to the police, nor to anybody else whatsoever; and I advise you to keep your own interest in the mystery to yourself as far as possible."

"What is the need of this secrecy?" I asked, in some surprise.

"The point is," replied Thorndyke, "that when you are investigating a crime you are playing against the criminal. But if the criminal is unknown to you, you are playing against an unseen adversary. If you are visible to him he can watch your moves and reply to them. Obviously your policy is to keep out of sight and make your moves unseen. And remember that as long as you do not know who the criminal is, you don't know who he is not. Anyone may be the criminal, or may be his unconscious agent or coadjutor. If you make confidences they may be innocently passed on to the guilty parties. So keep your own counsel rigorously. If there has been a crime, that crime has local connexions and probably a local origin. The solution of the mystery will probably be discovered here. And if you intend to take a hand in the solution let it be a lone hand; and keep me informed of everything that you do or observe; and for my part, I will give you all the help I can."

By the time we had finished our tea and our discussion the hour of my friends' departure was drawing nigh. I walked with them to the station, and when I bade them farewell I received a warm invitation to visit them at their chambers in the Temple; an invitation of which I determined to avail myself on the first favourable opportunity.

CHAPTER VIII—SERGEANT COBBLEDICK TAKES A HAND

Punctually at half-past nine on the following morning I presented myself at the office, and, if I had indulged in any hopes of favourable news—which I had not—they would have been dispelled by a glance at Mr. Japp's troubled face.

"I suppose you have heard nothing?" I said, when we had exchanged brief greetings.

He shook his head gloomily as he opened the cupboard and took out his hat.

"No," he answered, "and I am afraid we never shall."

He sighed heavily, and, putting on his hat, walked slowly to the door. "It is a dreadful affair," he continued, as we went out together. "How she would have hated the idea of it, poor girl! All the horrid publicity, the posters, the sensational newspaper paragraphs, the descriptions of her person and belongings. And then, at the end of it all, God knows what horror may come to light. It won't bear thinking of."

He trudged along at my side with bent head and eyes cast down, and for the remainder of the short journey neither of us spoke. On reaching the police-station we made our way into a small, quiet office, the only tenant of which was a benevolent-looking, bald-headed sergeant, who was seated at a high desk, and, who presented that peculiar, decapitated aspect that appertains to a police officer minus his helmet. As we entered the sergeant laid down his pen and turned to us with a benign smile.

"Good morning, Mr. Japp," said he. "What can I have the pleasure of doing for you?"

"I am sorry to say, Sergeant," replied Japp, "that I have come here on very unpleasant business," and he proceeded to give the officer a concise summary of the facts, to which our friend listened with close attention. When it was finished, the sergeant produced a sheet of blue foolscap, and, having folded a wide margin on it, dipped his pen in the ink and began his examination.

"I'd better take the doctor's statement first," said he. "The lady's name is Angelina Frood, married, living apart from husband—I shall want his address presently—last seen alive by—"

"John Strangeways, M.D.," said I, "of Maidstone-road, Rochester."

The sergeant wrote this down, and continued: "Last seen at about 8.30 P.M. on Saturday, 26th April, proceeding towards Chatham, on unknown business. Can you give me a description of her?"

I described her person, assisted by Japp, and the sergeant, having committed the particulars to writing, read them out:

"'Age 28, height 5 ft. 7 in., complexion medium, hazel eyes, abundant dark brown hair, strongly marked black eyebrows, nearly meeting over nose.'"

"No special marks that you know of?"

"No."

"Now, doctor, can you tell us how she was dressed?"

"She was wearing a snuff-brown coat and skirt," I replied, "and a straw hat of the same colour with a broad, dull green band. The hat was fixed on by two hat-pins with silver heads shaped like poppy-capsules. The coat had six buttons, smallish, bronze buttons—about half an inch in diameter—with a Tudor rose embossed on each. Brown suede gloves with fasteners—no buttons—brown silk stockings, and brown suede shoes with small, oval bronze buckles. She had a narrow silk scarf, dull green, with three purple bands at each end—one broad band and two narrow—and knotted fringe at the ends. She wore a small circular brooch with a largish opal in the centre and a border of small pearls, of which one was missing. The missing pearl was in the position of the figure three on a clock dial. She carried a small morocco hand-bag with the initials A. F. stamped on it, which contained a little cardboard box, in which were six white tablets; the box was labelled with one of Dr. Partridge's labels, on which her name was written, and it was wrapped in white paper and sealed with sealing-wax. That is all I can say for certain. But she always wore a wedding-ring, and occasionally an African Zodiac ring; but sometimes she carried this ring in a small purse with metal jaws and a ball fastening. I believe she always carried the purse."

As I gave this description, the sergeant wrote furiously, glancing at me from time to time with an expression of surprise, while Japp sat and stared at me open-mouthed.

"Well, doctor," said the sergeant, when he had taken down my statement and read it out, "if I find myself ailing I'm going to pop along and consult you. I reckon there isn't much that escapes your notice. With regard to that African ring now, I daresay you cart tell us what it is like."

I was, of course, able to describe it in detail, including the initials A. C. inside, and even to give a rough sketch of some of the signs embossed on it, upon which the sergeant chuckled admiringly and wagged his head as he wrote down the description and pinned the sketch on the margin of his paper. The rest of my statement dealt with the last interview and the incidents connected with Nicholas Frood's visits to Rochester, all of which the sergeant listened to with deep interest and committed to writing.

Finally, I recounted the sinister incident—now more sinister than ever—of the murderous assault in the house near Regent's Park, whereat the sergeant looked uncommonly serious and took down the statement verbatim.

"Did you know about this, Mr. Japp?" he asked.

"I knew that something unpleasant had happened," was the reply, "but I didn't know that it was as bad as this."

"Well," said the sergeant, "it gives the present affair rather an ugly look. We shall have to make some inquiries about that gentleman."

Having squeezed me dry, he turned his attention to Japp, from whom he extracted a variety of information, including the address of the banker who paid the allowance to Nicholas Frood, and that of a lady who had formerly been a theatrical colleague of Mrs. Frood's, and with whom Mr. Japp believed the latter had kept up a correspondence.

"You haven't a photograph of the missing lady, I suppose?" said the sergeant.

With evident reluctance Japp drew from his pocket an envelope and produced from it a cabinet photograph, which he looked at sadly for a few moments and then handed to me.

"I brought this photograph with me," he said, "as I knew you would want it, but I rather hope that you won't want to publish it."

"Now, why do you hope that?" the sergeant asked in a soothing and persuasive tone. "You want this lady found—or, at any rate, traced. But what better means can you suggest than publishing her portrait?"

"I suppose you are right," said Japp; "but it is a horrible thing to think of the poor girl's face looking out from posters and newspaper pages."

"It is," the sergeant agreed. "But, you see, if she is alive it is her own doing, and if she is dead it won't affect her."

While they were talking I had been looking earnestly at the beloved face, which I now felt I should never look upon again. It was an excellent likeness, showing her just as I had known her, excepting that it was free from the cloud of trouble that had saddened her expression in these latter days. As the sergeant held out his hand for it, I turned it over and read the photographer's name and address and the register number, and, having made a mental note of them, I surrendered it with a sigh.

Our business was now practically concluded. When we had each read over the statements and added our respective signatures, the sergeant attested them and, having added the date, placed the documents in his desk and rose.

"I am much obliged to you, gentlemen," said he as he escorted us to the door. "If I hear anything that will interest you I will let you know, and if I should want any further information I shall take the liberty of calling on you."

"Well," said Japp, as we turned to walk back, "the fat's in the fire now. I mean to say," he added quickly, "that we've fairly committed ourselves. I hope we haven't been too precipitate. We should catch it if she came back and found that we had raised the hue and cry and set the whole town agog."

"I am afraid there is no hope of that," said I. "At any rate, we had no choice or discretion in the matter. A suspected crime is the business of the police."

Mr. Japp agreed that this was so; and having by this time arrived at the office, we separated, he to enter his premises and I to betake myself to Chatham with no very, defined purpose, but lured thither by a vague attraction.

As I walked along the High-street, making occasional digressions into narrow alleys to explore wharves and water-side premises, I turned over the statements that had been given to the police and wondered what they conveyed to our friend, the sergeant, with his presumably extensive experience of obscure crime. To me they seemed to furnish no means whatever of starting an investigation, excepting by inquiring as to the movements of Nicholas Frood, by communicating with Angelina's late colleague or by publishing the photograph. And here I halted to write down in my notebook before I should forget them the name and address of that lady—Miss Cumbers—and of the photographers, together with the number of the photograph; for I had decided to obtain a copy of the latter for myself, and it now occurred to me that I had better get one also for Thorndyke. And this latter reflection reminded me that I had to prepare my précis of the facts for him, and that I should do well to get this done at once while the matter of the two statements was fresh in my mind. Accordingly, as I paced the deck of the Sun Pier, looking up and down the busy river, with its endless procession of barges, bawleys, tugs, and cargo boats, striving ineffectually to banish the dreadful thought that, perchance, somewhere, at this very moment there was floating on its turbid waters the corpse of my dear, lost friend: I tried to recall and write down the substance of Japp's statement, as I had heard it made and had afterwards read it. At length, finding the neighbourhood of the river too disturbing, I left the pier and took my way homewards, calling in at a stationer's on the way to provide myself with a packet of sermon paper on which to write out my summary.

When Thorndyke had given me my instructions, they had appeared to me a little pedantic. The full narrative which he asked for of all the events, without selection as to relevancy, and the account of what I knew of all the persons concerned in the case, seemed an excessive formality. But when I came to write the case out the excellence of his method became apparent in two respects. In the first place, the ordered narrative put the events in their proper sequence and exhibited their connexions; and in the second, the endeavour to state all that I knew, particularly of the persons, showed me how very little that was. Of the persons in any way concerned in the case there were but five: Angelina herself, her husband, Mrs. Gillow, Mr. Japp, and Bundy. Of the first two I knew no more than what I had observed myself and what Angelina had told me; of the last three I knew practically nothing. Not that this appeared to me of the slightest importance, but I had my instructions, and in compliance with them I determined to make such cautious inquiries as would enable me to give Thorndyke at least a few particulars of them. And this during the next few days I did; and I may as well set down here the scanty and rather trivial information that my inquiries elicited, and which I duly sent on to Thorndyke in a supplementary report.

Mrs. Gillow was the wife of a mariner who was the second mate of a sailing ship that plied to Australia, who had now been away about four months and was expected home shortly. She was a native of the locality and had known Mr. Japp for several years. She occupied the part of the house above the ground floor and kept no servant or dependent, living quite alone when her husband was at sea. She had no children. Her acquaintance with Angelina began when the latter became the tenant of the ground floor and basement; it was but a slight acquaintance, and she knew nothing of Angelina's antecedents or affairs excepting that she had left her husband.

Mr. Japp was a native of Rochester and had lived in the town all his life, having taken over his business establishment from his late partner, a Mr. Borden. He was a bachelor and was related to Angelina by marriage, his brother—now deceased—having married Angelina's aunt.

As to Bundy, he was hardly connected with the case at all, since he had seen Angelina only once or twice and had scarcely exchanged a dozen words with her. Moreover, he had but recently come to Rochester—about six weeks ago, I gathered—having answered an advertisement of Japp's for an assistant with a view to partnership; and the actual deed had not yet been executed, though the two partners were evidently quite well satisfied with one another.

That was all the information that I had to give Thorndyke; and with the exception of the London incident it amounted to nothing. Nevertheless, it was as well to have established the fact that if anyone were concerned in Angelina's disappearance, that person would have to be sought elsewhere than in Rochester.

Having sent off my summary and read over again and again the copy which I had kept, I began to realize the justice of Thorndyke's observation that the inquiry was essentially a matter for the police, who had both the experience and the necessary facilities; for whenever I tried to think of some plan for tracing my lost friend, I was brought up against the facts that I had, nothing whatever to go on and no idea how to make a start. As to Thorndyke, he had no data but those that I had given him, and I realized clearly that these were utterly insufficient to form the basis of any investigation; and I found myself looking expectantly to the police to produce some new facts that might throw at least a glimmer of light on this dreadful and baffling mystery.

I had not very long to wait. On the Friday after our call on the sergeant, I was sitting after lunch in my dining-room with a book in my hand, while my thoughts strayed back to those memorable evenings of pleasant converse with the sweet friend who, I felt, had gone from me for ever, when the door bell rang, and Mrs. Dunk presently announced:

"Sergeant Cobbledick."

"Show him in here, Mrs. Dunk," said I, laying aside my book, and rising to receive my visitor; who proved to be, as I had expected, the officer who had taken our statements. He entered with his helmet in his hand, and greeted me with a smile of concentrated benevolence.

"Sit down, Sergeant," said I, offering him an easy chair. "I hope you have some news for us."

"Yes," he replied, beaming on me. "I am glad to say we are getting on as well as we can expect. We have made quite a nice little start."

He spoke as if he had something particularly gratifying to communicate, and, having carefully placed his helmet on the table, he drew from his pocket a small paper packet, which he opened with great deliberation, extracting from it a small object, which he held out in the palm of his hand.

"There, Doctor," said he, complacently; "what do you say to that?"

I looked at the object, and my heart seemed to stand still. It was Angelina's brooch! I stared at it in speechless dismay for some moments. At length I asked, huskily:

"Where did you get it?"

"I found it," said the sergeant, gazing fondly at the little trinket, "where I hardly hoped to find it—in a pawnbroker's shop in Chatham."

"Did you discover who pawned it?" I asked.

"In a sense, yes," the sergeant replied with a bland smile.

"How do you mean—in a sense?" I inquired.

"I mean that his name was John Smith—only, of course, it wasn't; and that his address was 26, Swoffer's-alley, Chatham—only he didn't live there, because there is no such number. You see, Doctor, John Smith is the name of nearly every man who gives a false description of himself; and I went straight off to Swoffer's-alley—it was close by—and found that there wasn't any number 26."

"Then you really don't know who pawned it?"

"We won't exactly say that," he replied. "I got a fair description of the man from the pawnbroker's wife, who made out the ticket and says she could swear to the man if she saw him. He was a seafaring man, dressed in sailor's clothes—a peaked cap and pea-jacket—a shortish fellow, rather sunburnt, with a small, stubby, dark moustache and dark hair, and a mole or wart on the left side of his nose, near the tip. She asked him where he had got the brooch, and he said it had belonged to his old woman. I should say he probably picked it up."

"Why do you think so?" I asked.

"Well, if he had-er-got it in any other way, he would hardly have popped it in Chatham forty-eight hours after the—after it was lost, with the chance that the pawnbrokers had already been notified-he pawned it on Monday night."

"Then," said I, "if he picked it up, he isn't of much importance; and in any case you don't know who he is."

"Oh, but he is of a good deal of importance," said the sergeant. "I've no doubt he picked it up, but that is only a guess. He may have got it the other way. But at any rate, he had it in his possession and he will have to give an account of how he obtained it. The importance of it is this: taken with the disappearance, the finding of this brooch raises a strong suspicion that a crime has been committed, and if we could find out where it was picked up, we should have a clue to the place where the affair took place. I want that man very badly, and I'm going to have a good try to get him."

"I don't quite see how," said I. "You haven't much to go on."

"I've got his nose to go on," replied the sergeant.

"But there must be plenty of other men with moles on their noses."

"That's their look-out," he retorted. "If I come across a man who answers the description, I shall hang on to him until Mrs. Pawnbroker has had a look at him. Of course, if she says he's not the man, he'll be released."

"But she won't," said I. "If he has a mole on his nose, she will be perfectly certain that he is the man."

The sergeant smiled benignly. "There's something in that," he admitted. "Ladies are a bit cock-sure when it comes to identification. But you can generally check 'em by other evidence. And if this chap picked the brooch up, he would be pretty certain to tell us all about it when he heard where it came from. Still, we haven't got him yet."

For a while we sat, without speaking, each pursuing his own thoughts. To me, this dreadful discovery, though it did but materialize the vague fears that had been surging through my mind, had fallen like a thunderbolt. For, behind those fears, I now realized that there had lurked a hope that the mystery might presently be resolved by the return of the lost one. Now that hope had suddenly become extinct. I knew that she had gone out of my life for ever. She was dead. This poor little waif that had drifted back into our hands brought the unmistakable message of her death, with horrible suggestions of hideous and sordid tragedy. I shuddered at the thought; and in that moment, from the grief and horror that possessed my soul, there was born a passion of hatred for the wretch who had done this thing and a craving for revenge.

"There's another queer thing that has come to light," the sergeant resumed at length. "There may be nothing in it, but it's a little queer. About the husband, Nicholas Frood."

"What about him?" I asked, eagerly.

"Why, he seems to have disappeared, too. Of course, you understand, Doctor, that what I'm telling you is confidential. We are not talking about this affair outside, and we aren't telling the Press much, at present."

"Naturally," said I. "You can trust me to keep my own counsel, and yours, too."

"I'm sure I can. Well, about this man, Frood. It seems that last Friday he went away from his lodgings for a couple of days; but he hasn't come back, and nobody knows what has become of him. He was supposed to be going to Brighton, where he has some relatives from whom he gets a little assistance occasionally, but they have seen or heard nothing of him. Quaint, isn't it? You said you saw him here on the Monday."

"Yes, and I haven't seen him since, though I have kept a look-out for him. But he may have been here, all the same. It looks decidedly suspicious."

"It is queer," the sergeant agreed, "but we've no evidence that he has been in this neighbourhood."

"Have you made any other inquiries?" I asked.

"We looked up that lady, Miss Cumbers, but we got nothing out of her. She had had a letter from Mrs. Frood on the 24th-yesterday week—quite an ordinary letter, giving no hint of any intention to go away from Rochester. So there you are. The mystery seems to be concerned entirely with this neighbourhood, and I expect we shall have to solve it on the spot."

This last observation impressed me strongly. The sergeant's view of the case was the same as Thorndyke's, and expressed in almost the same words.

"Have you any theory as to what has actually happened?" I asked.

The sergeant smiled in his benignant fashion. "It isn't much use inventing theories," said he. "We've got to get the facts before we can do anything. Still, looking at the case as we find it, there are two or three things that hit us in the face. There is a strong suspicion of murder, there is no trace of the body, and there is a big tidal river close at hand. On Saturday night it was high water at half-past eleven, so there wouldn't have been much of the shore uncovered at, say, half-past nine, and there would have been plenty of water at any of the piers or causeways."

"Then you think it probable that she was murdered and her body flung into the river?"

"It is the likeliest thing, so far as we can judge. There is the river, and there is no sign of the body on shore. But, as I say, it is no use guessing. We've got people watching the river from Allington Lock to Sheerness, and that's all we can do in that line. The body is pretty certain to turn up, sooner or later. Of course, until it does, there is no real criminal case; and even when we've got the body, we may not be much nearer getting the murderer. Excepting the man Frood, there is no one who seems to have had any motive for making away with her; and if it was just a casual robbery with murder it is unlikely that we shall ever spot the man at all."

Having given expression to this rather pessimistic view, the sergeant rose, and, picking up his helmet, took his departure, after promising to let me know of any further developments.

As soon as he was gone, I wrote down the substance of what he had said, and then embodied it in a report for Thorndyke. While I was thus occupied, the afternoon post was delivered, and included a packet from the London photographer, to whom I had written, enclosing two copies of the photograph of Angelina that Mr. Japp had handed to the sergeant. Of these, I enclosed one copy in my communication to Thorndyke, on the bare chance that it might be of some assistance to him, and, having closed up the large envelope and stamped it, I went forth to drop it into the post-box.

CHAPTER IX—JETSAM

That portion of Chatham High-street which lies adjacent to the River Medway presents a feature that is characteristic of old riverside towns in the multitude of communications between the street and the shore. Some of these are undisguised entrances to wharves, some are courts or small thoroughfares lined with houses and leading to landing-stages, while others are mere passages or flights of steps, opening obscurely and inconspicuously on the street by narrow apertures, unnoticed by the ordinary wayfarer and suggesting the burrows of some kind of human water-rat.

In the days that followed the sergeant's visit to me I made the acquaintance of all of them. Now I would wander down the cobbled cartway that led to a wharf, there to cast a searching eye over the muddy fore-shore or scan the turbid water at high tide as it eddied between the barges and around the piles. Or I would dive into the mouths of the burrows, creeping down slimy steps and pursuing the tortuous passages through a world of uncleanness until I came out upon the shore, where the fresh smell of seaweed mingled with odours indescribable. I began to be an object of curiosity—and perhaps of some suspicion—to the denizens of the little, ruinous, timber houses that lined these alleys, and of frank interest to the children who played around the rubbish heaps or dabbled in the grey mud. But never did my roving eye light upon that which it sought with such dreadful expectation.

One afternoon, about a week after the sergeant's visit, when I was returning home from one of these explorations, I observed a man on my doorstep as I approached the house. His appearance instantly aroused my attention, for he was dressed in the amphibious style adopted by waterside dwellers, and he held something in his hand at which he looked from time to time. Before I reached the door it had opened and admitted him, and when I arrived I found him in the hall nervously explaining his business to Mrs. Dunk.

"Here is the doctor," said the latter; "you'd better tell him about it."

The man turned to me and held out an amazingly dirty fist. "I've got something here, sir," said he, "what belongs to you, I think." Here he unclosed his hand and exhibited a little cardboard box bearing one of Dr. Partridge's labels. It was smeared with mud and grime, but I recognized it instantly; indeed, when I took it with trembling fingers from his palm and looked at it closely, the name, "Mrs. Frood," was still decipherable under the smears of dirt.

"Where did you find this?" I asked.

"I picked it up on the strand," he replied, "about halfway betwixt the Sun Pier and the end of Ship Alley, and just below spring tide high-water mark. Is it any good?"

"Yes," I answered; "it is very important. I will get you to walk along with me to the police station."

"What for?" he demanded suspiciously. "I don't want no police stations. If it's any good, give us what you think it's worth, and have done with it."

I gave him half-a-crown to allay his suspicions, and then said: "You had better come with me to the station. I expect the police will want you to show them exactly where you found this box and help them to search the place; and I will see that you are paid for your trouble."

"But look 'ere, mister," he objected; "what's the police got to do with this 'ere box?"

I explained the position to him briefly, and then, suddenly, his face lit up. "I know," he said excitedly. "I seen the bills stuck up on the dead-'ouse door. And d'you mean to say as this 'ere box was 'ers? Cos if it was it's worth more 'n 'arf-a-crown."

"Perhaps it is," said I. "We will hear what the sergeant thinks," and with this I opened the door and went out, and my new acquaintance now followed with the greatest alacrity, taking the opportunity, as we walked along, to remind me of my promise and to offer tentative suggestions as to the scale of remuneration for his services.

Our progress along the High-street was not unnoticed. Doubtless, we appeared a somewhat ill-assorted pair, for I observed a good many persons turn to look at us curiously, and when we passed the office, on the opposite side of the road, I saw Bundy's face rise above the curtain with an expression of undissembled curiosity.

On arriving at the station, I inquired for Sergeant Cobbledick, and was fortunate enough to find him in his office. As I entered with my companion, he bestowed on the latter a quick glance of professional interest and then greeted me with a genial smile. It was hardly necessary for me to state my business, for the single quick glance of his experienced eye at my companion had furnished the diagnosis. I had only to produce the box and indicate the finder.

"This looks like a lead," said he, reaching his helmet down from a peg. "What's your name, sonny, and where do you live?"

Sonny affirmed, with apparent reluctance, that his name was Samuel Hooper and that his abode was situated in Foul Anchor Alley; and when these facts had been committed to writing by the sergeant, the latter put on his helmet and invited the said Hooper to "come along," evidently assuming that I was to form one of the party.

As we approached the office this time I saw Bundy from afar off; and by the time we were abreast of the house he was joined by Japp, who must have stood upon tip-toe to bring his eyes above the curtain. Both men watched us with intense interest, and we had barely passed the house when Bundy's head suddenly disappeared, and a few moments later its owner emerged from the doorway and hurriedly crossed the road.

"What is in the wind, Doctor?" he asked, as he came up with us. "Japp is in a rare twitter. Have they found the body?"

"No," I answered; "only the little box that was in her hand-bag. We are going to have a look at the place where it was found."

"To see if the bag is there, too?" said he. "It probably is, unless it has been picked up already. I think I'll come along with you, if you don't object. Then I can give Japp all the news."

I did not object, nor did the sergeant—verbally; but his expression conveyed to me that he would willingly have dispensed with Mr. Bundy's society. However, he was a suave and tactful man, and he made the best of the unwelcome addition to the party, even going so far as to offer the box for Bundy's inspection.

"It is pretty dirty," the latter observed, holding it delicately in his fingers. "Wasn't it wrapped in paper when you gave it to her, Doctor?"

"It was wrapped up in paper when I found it," said Hooper, "but I took off the paper to see what was inside, and, yer see, my 'ands wasn't very clean, a-grubbin' about in the mud." In conclusive confirmation of this statement, he exhibited them to us, and then gave them a perfunctory wipe on his trousers.

"What struck me," said Bundy, "was that it doesn't seem to have been in the water."

"It hadn't," said Hooper. "The outside paper was quite clean when I picked it up."

"It looks," observed the sergeant, "as if they had turned out the bag and thrown away what they didn't want; and then they probably threw away the bag, too. It is ten chances to one that it has been picked up, but if it hasn't it will probably be somewhere along the high-water mark. How are the tides, Hooper?"

"Just past the bottom of the nips," was the reply; and a few moments later our guide added; "It's down here," and plunged into what looked like an open doorway. We followed, one at a time, cautiously descending a flight of very filthy stone steps and stooping to avoid knocking our heads against the overhanging story of an ancient timber house. At the bottom we proceeded, still in single file, along a narrow, crooked passage between grimy walls and ruinous tarred fences until, after many twistings and turnings, we came to a flight of rough wooden steps, thickly coated with yellow mud and slimy sea-grass, which led down to the shore.

"Now," said the sergeant, turning up the bottoms or his trousers, "show us exactly where you picked the box up."

"It was just oppersight that there schooner," said our guide, taking his way along the muddy streak between the two lines of jetsam that corresponded to the springtide and neap-tide high-water marks; "betwixt her and the wharf."

We followed him, picking our way daintly, and, having inspected the spot that he indicated, squeezed in between the schooner's bilge and the piles and raked over the rubbish that the tide had deposited on the shore.

"Was you looking for anything in partickler?" Hooper asked.

"We are looking for a small leather handbag," replied the sergeant, "or anything else we can find."

"A 'and-bag wouldn't 'ave been 'ere long," Hooper remarked. "Somebody would 'ave twigged it pretty quick, unless it got hidden under something big." He straightened himself up and gave a searching look up and down the shore; and then suddenly he started off with an air of definite purpose. Glancing in the direction towards which he was shaping his course, I observed, in the corner of a stage that jutted out from the quay, a heap of miscellaneous rubbish surmounted by the mortal remains of a large hamper. It looked a likely spot and we all followed, though not at his pace, being somewhat more fastidious as to where we stepped. Consequently he arrived considerably before us, and having flung away the hamper, began eagerly to grub among the underlying raffle. Just as we had come within a dozen yards of him, anxiously making the perilous passage over a stretch of peculiarly slimy mud, he stood up with a howl of triumph, and we all stopped to look at him. His arm was raised above his head, and from his hand hung by its handle a little morocco bag.

"There's no need to ask you to identify it, Doctor," said the sergeant, as he despoiled the water-rat of his prize. "It fits your description to a T."

Nevertheless, he handed it to me, drawing my attention to the initials "A. F." stamped on the leather. I turned it over gloomily, noting that it showed signs of having been in the water—though not, apparently, for any considerable time—and that none of its contents remained excepting a handkerchief tucked into an inner pocket, and returned it to him without remark.

"Now, look here, Hooper," said he, "I want you to stay down here and keep an eye on this shore until I send some of our men up, and then you can stay and help them, if you like. And remember that anything that you find—no matter what it is—you keep and hand over to me or my men; and you will be paid the full value and a reward for finding it as well. Do you understand that?"

"I do," replied Hooper. "That's a fair orfer, and you can depend on me to do the square thing. I'll stay down here until your men come."

Thereupon we left him, pursuing our way along the shore and keeping an attentive eye on all the rubbish and litter that we passed, until we came to a set of rough wooden steps by the Ship Pier.

"I had no authority to offer to pay that chap," said the sergeant, as we walked up Ship Alley, "but the superintendent has put me on to work at this case, and I'm not going to lose any chances for the sake of a few shillings. It is well to keep in with these waterside people."

"Have you published a list of things that are likely to turn up?" Bundy asked.

"We've posted up a description of the missing woman with full details of her dress and belongings," replied the sergeant. "But perhaps a list of the things that might be washed up would be useful. People are such fools. Yes, it's a good idea. I'll have a list printed of everything that might get loose and be picked up, and stick it up on the wharves and waterside premises. Then there will be nothing left to their imagination."

At the top of Ship Alley he halted, and having thanked me warmly for my prompt and timely information, turned towards Chatham Town, leaving me and Bundy to retrace our steps westward.

"That was a bit of luck," the latter remarked, "finding that bag; and he hardly deserved it. He ought to have had that piece of shore under observation from the first. But he was wise to make an acceptable offer to that bodysnatcher, Hooper. I expect he lives on the shore, watching for derelict corpses and any unconsidered trifles that the river may throw up. I see there is a reward of two pounds for the body."

"You have seen the bills, then?"

"Yes. We have got one to stick up in the office window. Rather gruesome, isn't it?"

"Horrible," I said; and for a while we walked on in silence. Presently Bundy exclaimed: "By Jove! I had nearly forgotten. I have a message for you. It is from Japp. He is taking a distinguished American archaeologist for a personally conducted tour round the town to show him the antiquities, and he thought you might like to join the party."

"That is very good of him," said I. "It sounds as if it should be rather interesting."

"It will be," said Bundy. "Japp is an enthusiast in regard to architecture and ancient buildings, and he is quite an authority on the antiquities of this town. You'd better come. The American—his name is Willard—is going to charter a photographer to come round with us and take records of all the objects of interest, and we shall be able to get copies of any photographs that we want. What do you say?"

"When does the demonstration take place?"

"The day after tomorrow. We shall do the Cathedral in the morning and the castle and the town in the afternoon. Shall I tell Japp you will join the merry throng?"

"Yes, please; and convey my very warm thanks for the invitation."

"I will," said he, halting as we arrived at the office, "unless you would like to come in and convey the joyful tidings yourself."

"No," he replied, "I won't come in now. I will get home and change my boots."

"Yes, by Jingo!" Bundy agreed, with a rueful glance at his own delicate shoes. "Mudlarking calls for a special outfit. And I clean my own shoes; but I'd rather do that than face Mrs. Dunk."

With this he retired up the steps, and I turned homeward, deciding to profit by his last remark and forestall unfavourable comment by shedding my boots on the doormat.

CHAPTER X—WHICH DEALS WITH ANCIENT MONUMENTS AND A BLUE BOAR

On arriving home, I found awaiting me a letter from Dr. Thorndyke suggesting—in response to a general invitation that I had given him some time previously—that he should come down on Saturday to spend the week-end with me. Of course, I adopted the suggestion with very great pleasure, not a little flattered at receiving so distinguished a guest; and now I was somewhat disposed to regret my engagement to attend Mr. Japp's demonstration. However, as Thorndyke was not due until lunch time, I should have an opportunity of modifying my arrangement, if necessary.

But, as events turned out, I congratulated myself warmly on not having missed the morning visit to the Cathedral. It was a really remarkable experience; and not the least interesting part of it to me was the revelation of the inner personality of my friend, Mr. Japp. That usually dry and taciturn man of business was transfigured in the presence of the things that he really loved. He glowed with enthusiasm; he exhaled the very spirit of mediaeval romance; at every pore he exuded strange and recondite knowledge. Obedient to his behest, the ancient building told the vivid story of its venerable past, presented itself in its rude and simple beginnings; exhibited the transformations that had marked the passing centuries; peopled itself with the illustrious departed, whose heirs we were and whose resting-places we looked upon; and became to us a living thing whose birth and growth we could watch, whose vicissitudes and changing conditions we could trace until they brought us to its august old age. Under his guidance we looked down the long vista of the past, from the time when simple masons scalloped the Norman capitals within, while illustrious craftsmen fashioned the wonderful west doorway, to that last upheaval that swept away the modern shoddy and restored to the old fabric its modest comeliness.

Architectural antiquities, however, are not the especial concern of this history, though they were not without a certain influence in its unfolding. Accordingly, I shall not follow our progress—attended by the indispensable photographic recording angel—through nave and aisles, form choir to transepts, and from tower to undercroft. At the close of a delightful morning I betook myself homeward, charged with new and varied knowledge, and with a cordial invitation to my guest to join the afternoon's expedition if he were archaeologically inclined.

Apparently he was, for when, shortly after his arrival, I conveyed the invitation to him he accepted at once.

"I always take the opportunity," said he, "of getting what is practically first-hand information. Your friend, Mr. Japp, is evidently an enthusiast; he has expert technical knowledge, and he has apparently filled in his detail by personal investigation. A man like that can tell you more in an hour than guide-books could tell you in a lifetime. We had better get a large-scale map of the town to enable us to follow the description, unless you have one."

"I haven't," said I, "but we can get one on the way to the rendezvous. You got my report, I suppose?"

"Yes," he replied, "I got it yesterday. That, in fact, was what determined me to come down. The discovery of that bag upon the shore dispels to some extent the ambiguity of our data. The finding of the brooch did not enlighten us much. It might simply have been dropped and picked up by some casual wayfarer. In fact, that is what the appearances suggested, for it is manifestly improbable that a person who had committed a crime would take the risk of pawning the product of robbery with violence in the very neighbourhood where the crime had been committed, and after an interval of time which would allow of the hue and cry having already been raised. Your sergeant is probably right in assuming that the man with the mole had nothing to do with the affair. But the finding of this bag is a different matter. It connects that disappearance with the river and it offers a strong suggestion of crime."

"Don't you think it possible that she might have fallen into the river accidentally?" I asked.

"It is possible," he admitted. "But that is where the significance of the brooch comes in. If she had fallen into the river from some wharf or pier, there does not seem to be any reason why the brooch should have become detached and fallen on land—as it apparently did. The finding of the bag where it had been thrown up by the river, and of the brooch on shore, suggests a struggle on land previous to the fall into the water. You don't happen, I suppose, to know what the bag contained?"

"I don't—excepting the packet of tablets that I gave her. When the bag was found, it was empty; at least, it contained only the handkerchief, as I mentioned in my report."

"Yes," he said reflectively. "By the way, I must compliment you on those reports. They are excellent, and with regard to this one, there are two or three rather curious circumstances. First, as to the packet of tablets. You mention that it had not been unwrapped and that, when it was found, the paper was quite clean. Therefore it had never been in the water. Therefore it had been taken out of the bag—by somebody with moderately clean hands—before the latter was dropped into the river; and it must have been thrown away on the shore above highwater mark. Incidentally, since the disappearance occurred—presumably—on the evening of the 26th of April, and the packet was found on the 7th of May, it had been lying on the shore for a full ten days. Perhaps there is nothing very remarkable in that; but the point is that Mrs. Frood was carrying the bag in her hand and she would almost certainly have dropped it if there had been any struggle. How, then, did the bag come to be in the river, and how came some of its contents to be found on the shore clean and free from any traces of submersion?"

"We can only suppose," said I, with an inward shudder—for the discussion of these hideous details made my very flesh creep—"that the murderer picked up the bag when he had thrown the body into the river, took out any articles of value, if there were any, and threw the rest on the shore."

"Yes," agreed Thorndyke, a little doubtfully, "that would seem to be what happened. And in that case, we should have to assume that the place where the packet was found was, approximately, the place where the crime was committed. For, as the packet was never immersed, it could not have been carried to that place by the tide, and one cannot think of any other agency by which it could have been moved. Its clean and unopened condition seems to exclude human agency. The question then naturally arises, Is the place where the packet was found, a place at, or near, which the tragedy could conceivably have occurred? What do you say to that?"

I considered for a few moments, recalling the intricate and obscure approach of the shore and the absence of anything in the nature of a public highway.

"I can only say," I replied at length, "that it seems perfectly inconceivable that Mrs. Frood could have been at that place, or even near it, unless she went there for some specific purpose—unless, for instance, she were lured there in some way. It is a place that is, I should say, unknown to any but the waterside people."

"We must go there and examine the place carefully," said he, "for if it is, as you say, a place to which no one could imaginably have strayed by chance, that fact has an important evidential bearing."

"Do you think it quite impossible that the package could have been carried to that place and dropped there?"

"Not impossible, of course," he replied, "but I can think of no reasonably probable way in which it could have happened, supposing the murderer to have pocketed it, and afterwards to have thrown it away. That would be a considered and deliberate act; and it is almost inconceivable that he should not have opened the packet to see what was inside, and that he should have dropped it on the dry beach when the river was close at hand. Remember that the bag was found quite near, and that it had been in the water."

"And assuming the crime to have been committed at that place, what would it prove?"

"In the first place," he replied, "it would pretty definitely exclude the theory of accidental death. Then it would suggest at least a certain amount of premeditation, since the victim would have had, as you say, to be enticed to that unlikely spot. And it would suggest that the murderer was a person acquainted with the locality."

"One of the waterside people," said I. "They are a pretty shady lot, but I don't see why any of them should want to murder her."

"It is not impossible," said he. "She was said to be shopping in Chatham, and she might have had a well-filled purse and allowed it to be seen. But that is mere speculation. The fact is that we have no data at present. We know practically nothing about Mrs. Frood. We can't say if she had any secret enemies, or if there was anyone who might have profited by her death or have had any motive for making away with her."

"We know something about her husband," said I, "and that he has disappeared in a rather mysterious fashion; and that his disappearance coincides with that of his wife."

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed, "those are significant facts. But we mustn't lose sight of the legal position. Until the body is recovered, there is no evidence of death. Until the death is proved, no charge of murder can be sustained. When the body is found it will probably furnish some evidence as to bow the death occurred, if it is recovered within a reasonable time. As a matter of fact, it is rather remarkable that it has not yet been found. The death occurred—presumably—nearly a fortnight ago. Considering how very much frequented this river is, it is really rather unaccountable that the body has not come to light. But I suppose it is time that we started for the rendezvous."

I looked at my watch and decided that it was, and we accordingly set forth in the direction of the office, which was the appointed meeting-place, calling at a stationer's to provide ourselves each with a map. We chose the six inch town plan, which contained the whole urban area, including the winding reaches of the river, folding them so as to show at an opening the peninsula on which the city of Rochester is built.

"A curious loop of the river, this," said Thorndyke, scanning the map as we went along. "Rather like that of the Thames at the Isle of Dogs. You notice that there are quite a number of creeks on the low shore at both sides. Those will be places to watch. A floating body has rather a tendency to get carried into shallow creeks and to stay there. But I have no doubt the longshoremen are keeping an eye on them as a reward has been offered. Perhaps we might be able to go down and have a look at the shore when we have finished our perambulation of the town."

"I don't see why not," I replied, though, to tell the truth, I was not very keen on this particular exploration. To Thorndyke this quest was just an investigation to be pursued with passionless care and method. To me it was a tragedy that would colour my whole life. To him, Angelina was but a missing woman whose disappearance had to be explained by patient inquiry. To me she was a beloved friend whose loss would leave me with a life-long sorrow. Of course, he was not aware of this; he had no suspicion of the shuddering horror that his calm, impersonal examination of the evidential details produced in me. Nor did I intend that he should. It was my duty and my privilege to give him what assistance I could, and keep my emotions to myself.

"You will bear in mind," said he, as we approached the office, "that my connexion with the case of Mrs. Frood is not to be referred to. I am simply a friend staying with you for a day or two."

"I won't forget," said I, "though I don't quite see why it should matter."

"It probably doesn't matter at all," he replied. "But one never knows. Facts which might readily be spoken of before a presumably disinterested person might be withheld from one who was known to be collecting evidence for professional purposes. At any rate, I make it a rule to keep out of sight as far as possible."

These observations brought us to the office, where we found our three friends together with a young man, who was apparently acting as deputy during the absence of the partners, and the photographer. I presented Thorndyke to my friends, and when the introduction had been made Mr. Japp picked up his hat, and turned to the deputy.

"You know where to find me, Stevens," he said, "if I should be really wanted—really, you understand. But I don't particularly want to be found. Shall we start now? I propose to begin at the bridge, follow the Highstreet as far as Eastgate House, visit Restoration House, trace the city wall on the southwest side, and look over the castle. By that time we shall be ready for tea. After tea we can trace the north-east part of the wall and the gates that opened through it, and that will finish our tour of inspection."

Hereupon the procession started, Mr. Japp and his guest leading, Thorndyke, Bundy, and I following, and the photographer bringing up the rear.

"Let me see," said Bundy, looking up at Thorndyke with a sort of pert shyness, "weren't you down here a week or two ago?"

"Yes," replied Thorndyke; "and I think I had the honour of being inspected by you while I was reading your proclamation respecting a certain lost key."

"You had," said Bundy; "in fact, I may say that you raised false hopes in my partner and me. We thought you were going to find it."

"What, for ten shillings!" exclaimed Thorndyke.

"We would have raised the fee if you had made a firm offer," said Bundy, removing his eyeglass to polish it with his handkerchief. "It was a valuable key. Belonged to a gate that encloses part of the city wall."

"Indeed!" said Thorndyke. "I don't wonder you were anxious about it considering what numbers of dishonest persons there are about. Ha! Here is the bridge. Let us hear what Mr. Japp has to say about it."

Mr. Japp's observations were concise. Having cast a venomous glance at the unlovely structure, he turned his back on it and remarked acidly: "That is the new bridge. It is, as you see, composed of iron girders. It is not an antiquity, and I hope it never will be. Let us forget it and go on to the Guildhall." He strode forward doggedly and Bundy turned to us with a grin.

"Poor old Japp," said he, "he does hate that bridge. He has an engraving of the old stone one in his rooms, and I've seen him stand in front of it and groan. And really you can't wonder. It is an awful come-down. Just think what the town must have looked like from across the river when that stone bridge was standing."

Here we halted opposite the Guildhall, and when we had read the inscription, admired the magnificent ship weathercock—said to be a model of the Rodney—and listened to Japp's observations on the architectural features of the building, the photographer was instructed to operate on its exterior while we entered to explore the Justice Room and examine the portraits. From the Guildhall we passed on to the Corn Exchange, the quaint and handsome overhanging clock of which had evidently captured Mr. Willard's fancy.

"That clock," said he, "is a stroke of genius. It gives a character to the whole street. But what in creation induced your City Fathers to allow that charming little building to be turned into a picture theatre?"

Japp shook his head and groaned. "You may well ask that," said he, glaring viciously at the inane posters and the doorway, decorated in the film taste. "If good Sir Cloudesley Shovel, who gave it to the town, could rise from his grave and look at it, now he'd—bah! The crying need of this age is some means of protecting historic buildings from town councils. To these men an ancient building is just old-fashioned—out-of-date; a thing to be pulled down and replaced by something smart and up-to-date in the corrugated iron line." He snorted fiercely, and as the photographer dismounted his camera, he turned and led the way up the street. I lingered to help the photographer with his repacking, and meanwhile Thorndyke and Bundy walked on together, chatting amicably and suggesting to my fancy an amiable mastiff accompanied by a particularly well-groomed fox terrier.

"Do you usually give your patients a week-end holiday?" Bundy was inquiring as I overtook them.

"I haven't any patients," replied Thorndyke. "My medical practice is conducted mostly in the Law Courts."

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Bundy. "Do you mean that you live by resuscitating moribund jurymen and fattening up murderers for execution, and that sort of thing?"

"Not at all," replied Thorndyke. "Nothing so harmless. I am what is known as a Medical Expert. I give opinions on medical questions that affect legal issues."

"Then you are really a sort of lawyer?"

"Yes. A medico-legal hybrid; a sort of centaur or merman, with a doctor's head and a lawyer's tail."

"Well," said Bundy, "there are some queer professions; I once knew a chap in the furniture trade who described himself as a 'worm-eater'—drilled worm-holes in faked antiques, you know."

"And what," asked Thorndyke, "might be the analogy that you are suggesting? You don't propose to associate me with the diet of worms, I hope."

"Certainly not," said Bundy, "though I suppose your practice is sometimes connected with exhumations. But I was thinking that you must know quite a lot about crime."

"A good deal of my practice is concerned with criminal cases," Thorndyke admitted.

"Then you will be rather interested in our local mystery. Has the doctor told you about it?"

"You mean the mystery of the disappearing lady? But of what interest should it be to me? I was not acquainted with her."

"I meant a professional interest. But I suppose you are not taking a 'bus-man's holiday': don't want to be bothered with mysteries that don't concern you. Still, I should like to hear your expert opinion on the case."

"You mistake my functions," said Thorndyke. "A common witness testifies to facts known to himself. An expert witness interprets facts presented to him by others. Present me your facts, and I will try to give you an interpretation of them."

"But there are no facts. That is what constitutes the mystery."

"Then there is nothing to interpret. It is a case for the police, and not for the scientific expert."

Here our conversation was interrupted by our arrival at the House of the Six Poor Travellers, and by a learned disquisition by Japp on the connotation of the word Proctor—which, it appeared, was sometimes used in the Middle Ages in the sense of a cadger or swindler. Thence we proceeded to Eastgate House, where Japp mounted his hobby and discoursed impressively on the subject of ceilings, taking as his text a specimen modelled in situ, and bearing the date 1590.

"The fellow who put up that ceiling," said he, "took his time about it, no doubt. But his work has lasted three hundred and fifty years. That is the best way to save time. Your modern plasterer will have his ceiling up in a jiffy; and it will be down in a jiffy, and to do all over again. And never worth looking at at all."

Mr. Willard nodded. "It is very true," said he. "What is striking me in looking at all this old work is the great economy of time that is effected by taking pains and using good material, to say nothing of the beauty of the things created."

"If he goes on talking like that," whispered Bundy, "Japp'll kiss him. We must get them out of this."

Mercifully—if such a catastrophe was imminent—the ceiling discourse brought our inspection here to an end. From Eastgate House we went back to the Maidstone-road, and when we had inspected Restoration House, began to trace out the site of the city wall, which Thorndyke carefully marked on his map, to Japp's intense gratification. This perambulation brought us to the castle—which was dealt with rather summarily, as Mr. Willard had already examined it—and we then returned to the office for tea, which Bundy prepared and served with great success in his own sitting-room, while Japp dotted in with red ink on Thorndyke's map the entire city wall, including the part which we had yet to trace; and ridiculously small the ancient city looked when thus marked out on the modern town.

After tea we retraced our steps to the site of the East Gate, and, having inspected a large fragment of the wall at the end of an alley, traced its line across the Highstreet, and then proceeded down Free School-lane to the fine angle-bastion at the northern corner of the lane. Thence we followed the scanty indications as far as the site of the North Gate, and thereafter through a confused and rather unlovely neighbourhood until, on the edge of the marshes, we struck into a narrow lane, enclosed by a dilapidated tarred fence, a short distance along which we came to a closed gate, which I recognized as the one through which I had passed with Bundy on the day when we were made acquainted with the tragic history of Bill the Bargee. As Japp unlocked the gate and admitted us to the space of waste land, Bundy remarked to Thorndyke: "That is the gate that the missing key belonged to. You see there is no harm done so far. The wall is still there."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "and not much improved in appearance by your builders' attentions. Those patches suggest the first attempts of an untalented dental student at conservation."

"They are rather a disfigurement," said Japp. "But the men had to have a job found for them, and that is the result. Perhaps they won't show so much in the photograph."

While the photographer was setting up his camera and making the exposure, Japp explained the relation of this piece of wall to the North Gate and the Gate that faced the bridge, and marked its position on Thorndyke's map.

"And that," he continued, "concludes our perambulation. The photographer is chartered by Mr. Willard, but I understand that we are at liberty to secure copies of the photographs, if we want them. Is that not so, Mr. Willard?"

"Surely," was the cordial reply; "only I stipulate that they shall be a gift from me, and I shall ask a favour in return. If there is a plate left, I should like to have a commemorative group taken, so that when I recall this pleasant day, I can also recall the pleasant society in which I spent it."

We all acknowledged the kindly compliment with a bow, and as the photographer announced that he had a spare plate, we grouped ourselves against a portion of undisfigured wall, removed our hats, and took up easy and graceful postures on either side of Mr. Willard. When the exposure had been made, and the photographer proceeded to pack up his apparatus, Thorndyke tendered his very hearty thanks to Mr. Japp and his friend for their hospitality.

"It has been a great privilege," said he, "to be allowed to share in the products of so much study and research, and I assure you it is far from being unappreciated. Whenever I revisit Rochester—which I hope to do before long—I shall think of you gratefully, and of your very kind and generous friend, Mr. Willard."

Our two hosts made suitable acknowledgments; and while these compliments were passing, I turned to Bundy.

"Can we get down to the shore from here?" I asked. "Thorndyke was saying that he would like to have a look at the river. If it is accessible from here we might take it on the way home."

"It isn't difficult to get at," replied Bundy. "If he wants to get a typical view of the river with the below-bridge traffic, by far the best place is Blue Boar Pier. It isn't very far, and it is on your way home-more or less. I'll show you the way there if you like. Japp is dining with Willard, so he won't want me."

I accepted the offer gladly, and as the exchange of compliments seemed to be completed and our party was moving towards the gate, I tendered my thanks for the day's entertainment and bade my hosts farewell, explaining that we were going riverwards. Accordingly we parted at the gate, Japp and Willard turning towards the town, while Thorndyke, Bundy, and I retraced our steps towards the marshes.

At the bottom of the lane Bundy paused to explain the topography. "That path," said he, "leads to Gas House road and the marshes by the North Shore. But there isn't much to see there. If we take this other track we shall strike Blue Boar-lane, which will take us to the pier. From there we can get a view of the whole bend of the river right across to Chatham."

Thorndyke followed the description closely with the aid of his map, marking off our present position with a pencil. Then we struck into a rough cart-track, with the wide stretch of the marshes on our left, and, following this, we presently came out into the lower part of Blue Boar-lane and turned our faces towards the river. We had not gone far when I observed a man approaching whose appearance seemed to be familiar. Bundy also observed him, for he exclaimed: "Why, that is old Cobbledick! Out of uniform, too. Very irregular. I shall have to remonstrate with him. I wonder what he has been up to. Prowling about the river bank in search of clues, I expect. And he'll suspect us of being on the same errand."

Bundy's surmise appeared to be correct, for as the sergeant drew nearer and recognized us, his face took on an expression of shrewd inquiry. But I noticed with some surprise that his curiosity seemed to be principally concerned with Thorndyke, at whom he gazed with something more than common attention. Under the circumstances I should have passed him with a friendly greeting, but he stopped, and, having wished me "Good evening," said: "Could I have a few words with you, Doctor?" upon which I halted, and Thorndyke and Bundy walked on slowly. The sergeant looked after them, and, turning his back to them, drew from his pocket with a mysterious air a small dirty brown bundle, which he handed to me.

"I wanted you just to have a look at that," he said.

I opened out the bundle, though I had already tentatively recognized it. But when it was unrolled it was unmistakable. It was poor Angelina's scarf.

"I thought there couldn't be any doubt about it," the sergeant said cheerfully when I had announced the identification. "Your description was so clear and exact. Well, this gives us a pretty fair kick-off. You can see that it has been in the water-some time, too. So we know where to look for the body. The mysterious thing is, though, that we've still got to look for it. It ought to have come up on the shore days ago. And it hasn't. There isn't a longshoreman for miles up and down that isn't on the look-out for it. You can see them prowling along the seawalls and searching the creeks in their boats. I can't think how they can have missed it. The thing is getting serious."

"Serious?" I repeated.

"Well," he explained, "there's no need for me to point out to a medical gentleman like you that bodies don't last for ever, especially in mild weather such as we've been having, and in a river where the shore swarms with rats and shore-crabs. Every day that passes is making the identification more difficult."

The horrible suggestions that emerged from his explanation gave me a sensation of physical sickness. I fidgeted uneasily, but still I managed to rejoin huskily: "There's the clothing, you know."

"So there is," he agreed; "and very good means of identification in an ordinary case—accidental drowning, for instance. But this is a criminal case. I don't want to have to depend on the clothing."

"Was the scarf found floating?" I asked, a little anxious to change the subject to one less gruesome.

"No," he replied. "It was on the shore by the small creek just below Blue Boar Pier, under an empty fish-trunk. One of the Customs men from the watch-house found it. He noticed the trunk lying out on the shore as he was walking along and went out to see if there was anything in it. Then, when he found it was empty, he turned it over, and there was the scarf. He recognized it at once—there's a list of the articles stuck up on the watch-house—and kept it to bring to me. But it happened that I came down here—as I do every day—just after he'd found it. But I mustn't keep you here talking, though I'm glad I met you and got your confirmation about this scarf."

He smiled benignly and raised his hat, whereupon I wished him "Good evening" and went on my way with a sigh of relief. He was a pleasant, genial man, but his matter-of-fact way of looking at this tragedy that had eaten so deeply into my peace of mind, was to me positively harrowing. But, of course, he did not understand my position in the case.

"Well," said Bundy, when I hurried up, "what's the news? Old Cobbledick was looking mighty mysterious. And wasn't he interested in us? Why he's gazing after us still. Has he had a bite? Because if he hasn't, I have. Some beastly mosquito."

"Don't rub it." said Thorndyke, as Bundy clapped his hand to his cheek. "Leave it alone. We'll put a spot of ammonia or iodine on it presently."

"Very well," replied Bundy, with a grimace expressive of resignation. "I am in the hands of the Faculty. What sort of fish was it that Isaak Walton Cobbledick had hooked? Or is it a secret?"

"I don't think there is any secrecy about it," said I. "One of the Customs men has found Mrs. Frood's scarf," and I repeated what the sergeant had told me as to the circumstances.

"It is a gruesome affair," said Bundy, "this search for these ghastly relics. Look at those ghouls down on the shore there. I suppose that is the fish-trunk."

As he spoke, we came out on the shore to the right of the pier and halted to survey the rather unlovely prospect. Outside the stunted sea-wall a level stretch of grey-green grass extended to the spring high-water mark, beyond which a smooth sheet of mud—now dry and covered with multitudinous cracks—spread out to the slimy domain of the ordinary tides. At the edge of the dry mud lay a derelict fish-trunk around which a group of bare-legged boys had gathered—and all along the shore, on the faded grass, on the dry mud and wading in the soft slime, the human water-rats were to be seen, turning over drift-rubbish, prying under stranded boats or grubbing in the soft mud. Hard by, on the grass near the sea-wall, an old ship's long-boat had been hauled up above tide-marks to a permanent berth and turned into a habitation by the erection in it of a small house. A short ladder gave access to it from without and the resident had laid down a little causeway of flat stones leading to the wall.

"Mr. Noah seems to be at home," observed Bundy, as we approached the little amphibious residence to inspect it. He pointed to a thin wisp of smoke that issued from the iron chimney; and, almost as he spoke, the door opened and an old man came out into the open stern-sheets of the boat with a steaming tin pannikin in his hand. His appearance fitted his residence to a nicety; for whereas the latter appeared to have been constructed chiefly from driftwood and wreckage, his costume suggested a collection of assorted marine salvage, with a leaning towards oil-skin.

"Mr. Noah" cast a malevolent glance at the searchers; then, having fortified himself with a pull at the pannikin, he turned a filmy blue eye on us.

"Good evening," said Thorndyke. "There seems to be a lot of business-doing here," and he indicated the fish-trunk and the eager searchers.

The old man grunted contemptuously. "Parcel of fules," said he, "a-busyin' theirselves with what don't concern 'em, and lookin' in the wrong place at that."

"Still," said Bundy, "they have found something here."

"Yes," the old man admitted, "they have. And that's why they ain't goin' to find anything more." He refreshed himself with a drink of—presumably—tea, and continued: "But the things is a-beginning to come up. It's about time she come up. But she won't come up here."

"Where do you suppose she will come up?" asked Bundy.

The old man regarded him with a cunning leer. "Never you mind where she'll come up," said he. "It ain't no consarn o' yourn."

"But how do you know where she'll come up?" Bundy persisted.

"I knows," the old scarecrow replied conclusively, "becos I do. Becos I gets my livin' along-shore, and it's my business for to know."

Having made this pronouncement, Mr. Noah looked inquiringly into the pannikin, emptied it at a draught, and, turning abruptly, retired into the ark, shutting the door after him with a care suited to its evident physical infirmity.

"I wonder if he really does know," said Bundy, as we walked away past the Customs watch-house.

"We can fairly take it that he doesn't," said Thorndyke, "seeing that the matter is beyond human calculation. But I have no doubt that he knows the places where bodies and other floating objects are most commonly washed ashore, and we may assume that he is proposing to devote his probably extensive leisure to the exploration of those places. It wouldn't be amiss to put the sergeant in communication with him."

"Probably the sergeant knows him," said I, "but I will mention the matter the next time I see him."

At the top of Blue Boar-lane Bundy halted and held out his hand to Thorndyke. "This is the parting of the ways," said he.

"Oh, no, it isn't," replied Thorndyke. "You've got to have your mosquito-bite treated. Never neglect an insect-bite, especially on the face."

"As a matter of fact," said I, "you have got to come and have dinner with us. We can't let you break up the party in this way."

"It's very nice of you to ask me," he began, hesitatingly, a little shy, as I guessed, of intruding on me and my visitor; but I cut him short, and, hooking my arm through his, led him off, an obviously willing captive. And if his presence hindered me from discussing with Thorndyke the problem that had occasioned his visit, that was of no consequence, since we should have the following day to ourselves; and he certainly contributed not a little to the cheerfulness of the proceedings. Indeed, I seemed to find in his high spirits something a little pathetic; a suggestion that the company or two live men—one of them a man of outstanding intellect—was an unusual treat, and that his life with old Japp and the predatory females might be a trifle dull. He took to Thorndyke amazingly, treating him with a sort of respectful cheekiness, like a schoolboy dining with a favourite head-master; while Thorndyke, fully appreciative of his irresponsible gaiety, developed a quiet humour and playfulness which rather took me by surprise. The solemn farce of the diagnosis and treatment of the mosquito bite was an instance; when Thorndyke, having seated the patient in the surgery chair and invested him with a large towel, covered the table with an assortment of preposterous instruments and bottles of reagents, and proceeded gravely to examine the bite through a lens until Bundy was as nervous as a cat, and then to apply the remedy with meticulous precision on the point of a fine sable brush.

It was a pleasant evening, pervaded by a sense of frivolous gaiety that was felt gratefully by the two elder revellers and was even viewed indulgently by Mrs. Dunk. As to Bundy, his high spirits flowed unceasingly—but, I may add, with faultless good manners—and when, at length, he took his departure, he shook our hands with a warmth which, again, I found slightly pathetic.

"I have had a jolly evening!" he exclaimed, looking at me with a queer sort of wistfulness. "It has been a red-letter day"; and with this he turned abruptly and walked away.

We watched him from the threshold, bustling jauntily along the pavement; and as I looked at him, there came unbidden to my mind the recollection of that other figure that I had watched from this same threshold, walking away in the fading light—walking into the fog that was to swallow her up and hide her from my sight for ever.

From these gloomy reflections I was recalled by Thorndyke's voice.

"A nice youngster, that, Strangeways. Gay and sprightly, but not in the least shallow. I often think that there was a great deal of wisdom in that observation of Spencer's, that happy people are the greatest benefactors to mankind. Your friend, Bundy, has helped me to renew my youth; and who could have done one a greater service?"

CHAPTER XI—THE MAN WITH THE MOLE

When I had seen my guest off by the last train on Saturday night, I walked homeward slowly, cogitating on the results of his visit. It seemed to me that they were very insignificant. In the morning we had explored the piece of shore on which the bag and the box of tablets had been found, making our way to it by the narrow and intricate alleys which seemed to be the only approach; and we had reached the same conclusion. It was an impossible place.

"If we assume," said Thorndyke, "as we must, on the apparent probabilities, that the tragedy occurred here, we must assume that there are some significant circumstances that are unknown to us. Mrs. Frood could not have strayed here by chance. We can think of no business that could have brought her here; and since she was neither a child nor a fool, she could not have been enticed into such an obviously sinister locality without some plausible pretext. There is evidently something more than meets the eye."

"Something, you mean, connected with her past life and the people she knew?"

"Exactly. I am having careful inquiries made on the subject in likely quarters, including the various theatrical photographers. They form quite a promising' source of information, as they are not only able to give addresses but they can furnish us with photographs of members of the companies who would have been colleagues, and, at least, acquaintances."

"If you come across any photographs of Mrs. Frood," I said, "I should like to see them."

"You shall," he replied. "I shall certainly collect all I can get, on the chance that they may help us with the identification of the body; which may possibly present some difficulty."

Here I was reminded of Cobbledick's observations, and, distasteful as they were, I repeated them to Thorndyke.

"The sergeant is quite right," said he. "This is apparently a criminal case, involving a charge of wilful murder. To sustain that charge, the prosecution will have to produce incontestable evidence as to the identity of the deceased. Clothing alone would not be sufficient to secure a conviction. The body would have to be identified. And the sergeant's anxiety is quite justified. Have you had any experiences of bodies recovered from the water?"

"Yes," I replied; "and I don't like to think of them." I shuddered as I spoke, for his question had recalled to my memory the incidents or a professional visit to Poplar Mortuary. There rose before my eyes the picture of a long black, box with a small glass window in the lid, and of a thing that appeared at that window; a huge, bloated, green and purple thing, with groups or radiating wrinkles, and in the middle a button-like object that looked like the tip of a nose. It was a frightful picture; and yet I knew that when the river that we stood by should give up its dead—

I put the thought away with a shiver and asked faintly: "About the man Frood. Don't you think that his disappearance throws some light on the mystery?"

"It doesn't throw much light," replied Thorndyke, "because nothing is known about it. Obviously the coincidence in time of the disappearance, added to the known character of the man and his relations with his wife, make him an object of deep suspicion. His whereabouts will have to be traced and his time accounted for. But I have ascertained that the police know nothing about him, and my own inquiries have come to nothing, so far. He seems to have disappeared without leaving a trace. But I shall persevere. Your object—and mine—is to clear up the mystery, and if a crime has been committed, to bring the criminal to justice."

So that was how the matter stood; and it did not appear to me that much progress had been made towards the elucidation of the mystery. As to the perpetrator or that crime, he remained a totally unknown quantity, unless the deed could be fixed on the missing man, Frood. And so matters remained for some days. Then an event occurred which seemed to promise some illumination of the darkness; a promise that it failed to fulfil.

It was about a week after Thorndyke's visit. I had gone out after lunch to post off to him the set of photographs which had been delivered to me by the photographer with my own set. I went into the post-office to register the package, and here I found Bundy in the act of sending off a parcel. When we had transacted our business we strolled out together, and he asked: "What are you going to do now, Doctor?"

"I was going to walk down to Blue Boar Pier," said I, "to see if anything further has been discovered."

"Should I be in the way if I walked there with you?" he asked. "I've got nothing to do at the moment. But perhaps you would rather go alone. You've had a good deal of my society lately."

"Not more than I wanted, Bundy," I answered. "You are my only chum here, and you are not unappreciated, I can assure you."

"It's nice of you to say that," he rejoined, with some emotion. "I've sometimes felt that I was rather thrusting my friendship on you."

"Then don't ever feel it again," said I. "It has been a bit of luck for me to find a man here whom I could like and chum in with."

He murmured a few words of thanks, and we walked on for a while without speaking. Presently, as we turned into the lane by the Blue Boar Inn, he said, a little hesitatingly. "Don't you think, Doc, that it is rather a mistake to let your mind run so much on this dreadful affair? It seems to be always in your thoughts. And it isn't good for you to think so much about it. I've noticed you quite a lot, and you haven't been the same since—since it happened. You have looked worried and depressed."

"I haven't felt the same," said I. "It has been a great grief to me."

"But," he urged, "don't you think you should try to forget it? After all, she was little more than an acquaintance."

"She was a great deal more than that, Bundy," said I. "While she was alive, I would not admit even to myself that my feeling towards her was anything more than ordinary friendship. But it was; and now that she is gone, there can be no harm in recognizing the fact, or even in confessing it to you, as we are friends."

"Do you mean, Doc," he said in a low voice, "that you were in love with her?"

"That is what it comes to, I suppose," I answered. "She was the only woman I had ever really cared for."

"And did she know it?" he asked.

"Of course she didn't," I replied indignantly. "She was a lady and a woman of honour. Of course she never dreamed that I cared for her, or she would never have let me visit her."

For a few moments he walked at my side in silence. Then he slipped his arm through mine, and pressing it gently with his hand, said softly and very earnestly: "I'm awfully sorry, Doc. It is frightfully hard luck for you, though it couldn't have been much better even if—but it's no use talking of that. I am sorry, old chap. But still, you know, you ought to try to put it away. She wouldn't have wished you to make yourself unhappy about her."

"I know," said I. "But I feel that the office belongs to me, who cared most for her, to see that the mystery of her death is cleared up and that whoever wronged her is brought to justice."

He made no reply to this but walked at my side with his arm linked in mine, meditating with an air of unwonted gravity.

When we reached the head of the pier the place was deserted excepting for one man; a sea-faring person, apparently, who was standing with his back to us, studying intently the bills that were stuck on the wall of the lookout. As we were passing, my eye caught the word "Wanted" on a new bill, and pausing to read it over the man's shoulder, I found that it was a description of the unknown man—"with a mole on the left side of his nose"—who had pawned the opal brooch. Bundy read it, too, and as we walked away he remarked: "They are rather late in putting out those bills. I should think that gentleman will have left the locality long ago, unless he was a local person"; an opinion with which I was disposed to agree.

After a glance round the shore and at "the Ark"—which was closed but of which the chimney emitted a cheerful smoke suggestive of culinary activities on the part of "Mr. Noah "—we sauntered up past the head of the creek, along the rough path by the foundry, and out upon the upper shore.

"Well, I'm hanged!" exclaimed Bundy, glancing back at the watch-house, "that chap is still reading that bill. He must be a mighty slow reader, or he must find it more thrilling than I did. Perhaps he knows somebody with a mole on his nose."

I looked back at the motionless figure; and at that moment another figure appeared and advanced, as we had done, to look over the reader's shoulder.

"Why, that looks like old Cobbledick—come to admire his own literary productions. There's vanity for you. Hallo! What's up now?"

As Bundy spoke, the reader had turned to move away and had come face to face with the sergeant. For a moment both men had stood stock still; then there was a sudden, confused movement on both sides, with the final result that the sergeant fell, or was knocked, down and that the stranger raced off, apparently in our direction. He disappeared at once, being hidden from us by the foundry buildings, and we advanced towards the end of the fenced lane by which we had come, to intercept him, waiting by the edge of a trench or dry ditch.

"Here he comes," said Bundy, a trifle nervously, as rapid footfalls became audible in the narrow, crooked lane. Suddenly the man appeared, running furiously, and as he caught sight of us, he whipped out a large knife, and, flourishing it with a menacing air, charged straight at us. I watched an opportunity to trip him up; but as he approached Bundy pulled me back with such energy that he and I staggered on the brink of the ditch, capsized, and rolled together to the bottom. By the time we had managed to scramble up, the man had disappeared into the wilderness of sheds, scrap-heaps, derelict boilers, and stray railway-waggons that filled the area of land between the foundry and the coal-wharves and jetties.

"Come on, Bundy," said I, as my companion stood tenderly rubbing various projecting portions of his person; "we mustn't lose sight of him."

But Bundy showed no enthusiasm; and at this moment a rapid crescendo of heavy foot-falls was followed by the emergence of the sergeant, purple-faced and panting, from the end of the lane.

"Which way did he go?" gasped Cobbledick.

I indicated the wilderness, briefly explaining how the fugitive had escaped us, whereupon the sergeant started forward at a lumbering trot and we followed. But it was an unfavourable hunting-ground, for the bulky litter—the heaps of coal-dust, the wagons, the cranes, the piles of condemned machinery, mingled with clumps of bushes—gave the fugitive every opportunity to disappear. And, in fact, he had disappeared without leaving a trace. Presently we came out on a wharf beside which a schooner was berthed; a trim-looking little craft with a white under-body and black top-sides, bearing a single big yard on her fore-mast and the name Anna on her counter. She was all ready for sea and was apparently waiting for high water, for her deck was all clear and a man on it was engaged in placidly coiling a rope on the battened hatch while another watched him from the door of the deckhouse. On this peaceful scene the sergeant burst suddenly and hailing the rope-coiler demanded:

"Have you seen a man run past here?"

The mariner dropped the rope, and looking up drowsily, repeated: "Have I seen a mahn?"

"Yes, a sea-faring man with a mole on his nose."

The mariner brightened up perceptibly. "Please?" said he.

"A sailor-man with a mole on his nose."

"Ach!" exclaimed the mariner. "Vos it tied on?"

"Tied on!" the sergeant snorted impatiently. "Of course it wasn't. It grew there."

Here the second mariner apparently asked some question, for our friend turned to him and replied: "Ja. Maulwurf"; on which I heard Bundy snigger softly.

"No, no," I interposed; "not that sort of mole. A kind of wart, you know. Das Mal."

On this the second mariner fell out of the deckhouse door, and the pair burst into yells of laughter, rolling about the deck in agonies of mirth, wiping their eyes, muttering Maulwurf, Maulwurf, and screeching like demented hyenas.

"Well," Cobbledick demanded impatiently, "have you seen him '"

The mariner shook his head. "No," he replied, shakily. "I have not any mahn seen."

"Well, why couldn't you say so at first" the sergeant growled.

"I vos zo zubbraised," the mariner explained, glancing at his shipmate; and the pair burst out into fresh howls of laughter.

The sergant turned away with a sort of benevolent contempt and ran his eye despairingly over the wilderness. "I suppose we had better search this place," said he, "though he is pretty certain to have got away."

At his suggestion we separated and examined the possible hiding-places systematically, but, of course, with no result. Once only I had a momentary hope that we had not lost our quarry, when the sergeant suddenly stooped and began cautiously to stalk an abandoned boiler surrounded by a clump of bushes; but when the grinning countenance of Bundy appeared at the opposite end and that reprobate crept out stealthily and proceeded to stalk the sergeant, the last hope faded.

"I certainly thought I saw someone moving in those bushes," said Cobbledick, with a disappointed air.

"So did Mr. Bundy," said I "You must have seen one another."

The sergeant glanced suspiciously at our colleague, but made no remark; and we continued our rather perfunctory search. At length we gave it up and slowly returned to the neighbourhood of the pier. By this time the tide had turned, and a few loiterers were standing about watching the procession of barges moving downstream on the ebb. Among them was a grave-looking, sandy-haired man who leaned against the watch-house, smoking reflectively as he surveyed the river. To this philosopher Cobbledick addressed himself, explaining, as he was in plain clothes:

"Good afternoon. I am a police officer and I am looking for a man who is described on that bill." Here he indicated the poster.

The philosopher turned a pale grey, and somewhat suspicious eye on him, and having removed his pipe, expectorated thoughtfully but made no comment on the statement.

"A sea-faring man," continued the sergeant, "with a mole on the left side of his nose." He looked enquiringly at the philosopher, who replied impassively:

"Nhm—nhm."

"Do you happen to have seen a man answering that description?"

"Nhm—nhm," was the slightly ambiguous reply.

"You have seen him?" the sergeant asked, eagerly.

"Aye."

"Do you know if he belongs to any of the craft that trade here?"

"Nhm—nhm."

"Do you happen to know which particular vessel he belongs to?"

"Aye," was the answer, accompanied by a grave nod.

"Can you tell me," the sergeant asked patiently, "which vessel that is, and where she is at present?"

Our friend replaced his pipe and took a long draw at it, gazing meditatively at a schooner which was moving swiftly down the river under the power of an auxiliary motor, and setting her sails as she went. I had noticed her already, and observed that she had a white underbody and black top-sides, and that she carried a single long yard on her fore-mast. At length our friend removed his pipe, expectorated, and nodded gravely at the schooner.

"Yon," said he, and replaced his pipe, as a precaution, I supposed, against unnecessary loquacity.

Cobbledick gazed wistfully at the receding schooner. "Pity," said he. "I should have liked to have a look at that fellow."

"You could get the schooner held up at Sheerness, couldn't you?" I asked.

"Yes; I could send a 'phone message to Garrison Point Fort. But, you see, she's a foreigner. Might make trouble. And he is probably not the man we want. After all, it's only a matter of a mole."

"Maulwurf," murmured Bundy.

"Yes," said the sergeant, with a faint grin; "those beggars were laughing at us. Well, it can't be helped."

We stood for a moment or two watching the schooner set one sail after another. Presently Bundy observed:

"Methinks, Sergeant, that Mr. Noah is trying to attract your attention."

We glanced towards the Ark, the tenant of which was seated in the stern-sheets, scrubbing a length of rusty chain. As he caught the sergeant's eye, he beckoned mysteriously, whereupon we descended the bank, and, picking our way across the muddy grass by his little causeway of stepping-stones, approached the foot of the short ladder.

"Well, Israel," said the sergeant, resting his hands on the gunwale of the old boat as he made a rapid survey of the interior, "giving the family plate a bit of a polish, eh?"

"Plate!" exclaimed the old man, holding up the chain, which, as I now saw, had a number of double hooks linked to it, "this ain't plate. 'Tis what we calls a creeper."

"A creeper," repeated the sergeant, looking at it with renewed interest. "Ha, yes, hm. A creeper, hey? Well, Israel, what's a-doing? Have you got something to show us?"

The old man laid down the creeper and the scrubbing-brush—which had a strong suggestion of salvage in its appearance—and moved towards the door of the Ark. "Come along inside," said he.

Cobbledick mounted the ladder and motioned me to follow, which I did, while Bundy discretely sauntered away and sat down on the bank. On entering, I observed that the Ark followed closely the constructional traditions. Like its classical prototype, it was "pitched with pitch, within and without," and was furnished with a single small window, let into the door and hermetically sealed.

Seeing that our host looked at me with some disfavour, the tactful sergeant hastened to make us known to one another.

"This is Dr. Strangeways, Israel. He was Mrs. Frood's doctor, and he knows all about this affair. This, Doctor, is Mr. Israel Bangs, the eminent long-shoreman, a sort of hereditary Grand Duke of the Rochester foreshore."

I bowed ceremoniously, and the Grand Duke acknowledged the introduction with a sour grin. Then, lifting the greasy lid of a locker, he dived into it and came to the surface, as it were, with a small shoe in his hand.

"What do you say to that?" he demanded, holding the shoe under the sergeant's nose. The sergeant said nothing, but looked at me; and I, suddenly conscious of the familiar sickening sensation, could do no more than nod in reply. Soiled, muddy and sodden as it was, the poor little relic instantly and vividly recalled the occasion when I had last seen it, then all trim and smart, peeping coyly beneath the hem of the neat brown skirt.

"Where did you find it, Israel?" asked Cobbledick.

"Ah," said Bangs, with a sly leer, "that's tellin', that is. Never you mind where I found it. There's the shoe."

"Don't be a fool, Israel," said the sergeant.' "What use do you suppose the shoe is to me if I don't know where you found it? I've got to put it in evidence, you know."

"You can put it where you like, so long as you pays for it," the old rascal replied, doggedly. "The findin' of it's my business."

There ensued a lengthy wrangle, but the sergeant, though patient and polite, was firm. Eventually Israel gave way.

"Well," he said, "if you undertakes not to let on to Sam Hooper or any of his lot, I'll tell you. I found it on the mud, side of the long crik betwixt Blue Boar Head and Gas-'us Point."

The sergeant made a note of the locality, and, after having sworn not to divulge the secret to Sam Hooper or any other of the shore-rat fraternity, and having ascertained that Israel had no further information to dispose of, rose to depart; and, I noticed that, as we passed out towards the ladder, he seemed to bestow a glance of friendly recognition on the creeper.

"Well," said Bundy, when we rejoined him, "what had Mr. Noah to say? I hope you remembered me kindly to my old friends, Shem, Ham, and Japhet."

"He has found one of Mrs. Frood's shoes," answered the sergeant, producing it from his pocket and offering it for inspection. Bundy glanced at it indifferently, and then remarked: "It seems to answer the description, but, for my part, I don't quite see the use of all this searching and prying. It only proves what we all know. There's no doubt that she fell into the river. The question is, how did she get there? It is not likely that it was an accident, and, if it wasn't, it must have been a crime. What we want to know is, who is the criminal?"

Cobbledick pocketed the shoe with an impatient gesture. "That's the way they always talk," said he. "They will always begin at the wrong end. The question, 'Who is the murderer?' does not arise until it is certain that there has been a murder; and it can't be certain that there has been a murder until it is certain that the missing person is dead. And that certainty can hardly be established until the body is found. But, in the meantime, these articles are evidence enough to justify us in making other inquiries, and they may give us a hint where to look for the body. They do, in fact. They suggest that the body is probably not very far away, and more likely to be up-stream than down."

"I don't see how they do," said Bundy.

"I do," retorted the sergeant, "and that's enough for me."

Bundy, with his customary discretion, took this as closing the discussion, and further—as I guessed—surmising that the sergeant might wish to have a few words with me alone, took his leave of us when we reached the vicinity of the office.

"That is not a bad idea of old Israel's," said Cobbledick, when Bundy had gone. "The, creeper, I mean."

"What about it?" I asked.

"You know what a creeper is used for, I suppose," said he. "In the old days, the revenue boats used to trail them along over the bottom in shallow water where they suspected that the smugglers had sunk their tubs. You see they couldn't always get a chance to land the stuff. Then they used to fill the spirits into a lot of little ankers or tubs, lash them together into a sort of raft and sink the raft close in-shore, on a dark night, in a marked place where their pals could go some other night and fish them up. Well the revenue cutters knew most of those places and used to go there and drift over them trailing creepers. Of course, if there were any tubs there, the creepers hooked on to the lashings and up they came."

"But what do you suppose is Israel's idea?" I asked. "Why, as the body ought to have come up long before this, and it hasn't, he thinks it has been sunk. It might have been taken up the river in a boat, and sunk in mid-stream with a weight of some sort. Or it might have got caught by a lost anchor or on some old moorings. That would account for its not coming up and for these odd-ments getting detached and drifting ashore. So old Israel is going to get to work with a creeper. I expect he spends his nights creeping over the likely spots, and that is what makes him so deuced secret about the place where he found that shoe. He reckons that the body is somewhere thereabouts."

I made no comment on this rather horrible communication. Of course, it was necessary that the body should be searched for, since its discovery was the indispensable condition of the search for the murderer. But I did not want to hear more of the dreadful details than was absolutely unavoidable.

When we reached the Guildhall, I halted and was about to take leave of the sergeant when he said, somewhat hesitatingly:

"Do you remember, Doctor, when you met me last Saturday, you had a gentleman with you?"

"I remember," said I.

"Now, I wonder if you would think I was taking a liberty if I were to ask what that gentleman's name was. I had an idea that I knew his face."

"Of course it wouldn't be a liberty," I replied. "His name is Thorndyke; Dr. John Thorndyke."

"Ah!" exclaimed Cobbledick, "I thought I couldn't be mistaken. It isn't the sort of face that one would forget. I once heard him give evidence at the Old Bailey. Wonderful evidence it was, too. Since then I've read reports of his investigations from time to time. He's a marvellous man. The way he has of raking up evidence from nowhere is perfectly astonishing. Did you happen to talk to him about this case at all?"

"Well, you see, Sergeant," I answered, rather evasively, "he had come down here for the week-end as my guest—"

"Exactly, exactly," Cobbledick interrupted, unconsciously helping me to avoid answering his question, "he came down for a rest and a change, and wouldn't want to be bothered with professional matters. Still, you know, I think he would be interested in this case. It is quite in his own line. It is a queer case; a very queer case in some respects."

"In what respects?" I asked.

It was Cobbledick's turn to be evasive. He had apparently said more than he had intended, and now drew in his horns perceptibly.

"Why," he replied, "when you come to think of—of the—er—the character of the lady, for instance. Why should anyone want to do her any harm? And then there is the mystery as to how it happened, and the place, and—in fact, there are a number of things that are difficult to understand. But I mustn't keep you standing here. If you should happen to see Dr. Thorndyke again, it might be as well to tell him about the case. It would be sure to interest him; and if he should, by any chance, want to know anything that you are not in a position to tell him, why, you know where I am to be found. I shouldn't want to make any secrets with him. And he might spot something that we haven't noticed."

I promised to follow the sergeant's advice, and, having bid him adieu, turned back, and walked slowly homeward. As I went I reflected profoundly on my conversation with Cobbledick; from which, as it seemed to me, two conclusions emerged. First, there were elements in this mystery that were unknown to me. I had supposed that the essence of the mystery was the mere absence of data. But it now appeared from the sergeant's utterances, and still more from his evasions, that he saw farther into the affair than I did; either because he had more facts, or because, by reason of his greater experience, the facts meant more to him than they did to me. The second conclusion was that he was in some way in difficulties; that he was conscious of an inability to interpret satisfactorily the facts that were known to him. His evident eagerness to get into touch with Thorndyke made this pretty clear; and the two conclusions together suggested a further question. How much did Thorndyke know? Did he know all that the sergeant knew? Did he perchance know more? From the scanty data with which I had supplied him, might he possibly have drawn some illuminating inferences that had carried his understanding of the case beyond either mine or Cobbledick's? It was quite possible. Thorndyke's great reputation rested upon his extraordinary power of inference and constructive reasoning from apparently unilluminating facts. The facts in this case seemed unilluminating enough. But they might not be so to him. And again I recalled how both he and the sergeant seemed to look to the finding of the body as probably furnishing the solution of the mystery.

CHAPTER XII—THE PRINTS OF A VANISHED HAND

Mr. Bundy's opinion that no particular significance attached to the finding of further relics of the missing woman was one that I was myself disposed to adopt. The disappearance of poor Angelina was an undeniable fact, and there seemed to be no doubt that her body had fallen, or been cast, into the river. On these facts, the recovery of further articles belonging to her, and presumably detached from the body, shed no additional light. From the body itself, whenever it should be surrendered by the river, one hoped that something fresh might be learned. But all that anyone could say was that Angelina Frood had disappeared, that her disappearance was almost certainly connected with a crime, and that the agents of that crime and their motives for committing it were alike an impenetrable mystery, a mystery that the finding of further detached articles tended in no way to solve.

I shall, therefore, pass somewhat lightly over the incidents of the succeeding discoveries, notwithstanding the keen interest in them displayed by Sergeant Cobbledick and even by Thorndyke. On Monday, the 25th of May, the second shoe was found (to Israel Bangs' unspeakable indignation) by Samuel Hooper of Foul Anchor Alley, who discovered it shortly after high-water, lying on the gridiron close to Gas-house Point, and brought it in triumph to the police station.

After this, there followed a long interval, occupied by a feverish contest between Israel Bangs and Samuel Hooper. But the luck fell to the experienced Israel. On Saturday, the 20th of June, that investigator, having grounded his boat below a wharf between Gas-house Point and the bridge, discovered a silver-headed hat-pin lying on the shore between two of the piles of the wharf. Its identity was unmistakable. The silver poppy-head that crowned the pin was no trade production that might have had thousands of indistinguishable fellows. It was an individual work wrought by an artist in metal, and excepting its fellow, there was probably not another like it in the world.

The discovery of this object roused a positive frenzy of search. The stretch of muddy shore between Gas-house Point and the bridge literally swarmed with human shore-rats, male and female, adult and juvenile. Every day, and all the day, excepting at high-water, Israel Bangs hovered in his oozy little basket of a boat on the extreme edge of the mud, scanning every inch of slime, and glowering fiercely at the poachers ashore who were raking over his preserves. But nothing came of it. Day after day passed. The black and odorous mud was churned up by countless feet; the pebbles were sorted out severally by innumerable filthy hands; every derelict pot, pan, box, or meat-tin was picked up again and again, and explored to its inmost recesses. But in vain. Not a single relic of any kind was brought to light by' all those searchings and grubbings in the mud. Presently the searchers began to grow discouraged. Some of them gave up the search; others migrated to the shore beyond the bridge, and were to be seen wading in the mud below the Esplanade, the cricket-ground, or the boat-building yards. So the month of June ran out, and the third month began. And still there was no sign of the body.

Meanwhile I watched the two professional investigators, and noted a certain similarity in their outlook and methods. Both were keenly interested in the discoveries; and both, I observed, personally examined the localities of the finds. The sergeant conducted me to each spot in turn, making appropriate, but not very illuminating, comments; and I perceived that he was keeping a careful account of time and place. So, too, with Thorndyke, who had now taken to coming down regularly each week-end. He visited each spot where anything had been found, marking it carefully on his map, together with a reference number, and inquiring minutely as to the character of the object, its condition, and the state of the tide and the hour of the day when it was discovered; all of which particulars he entered in his note-book under the appropriate reference number.

Both of my friends, too, expressed increasing surprise and uneasiness at the non-appearance of the body. The sergeant was really worried, and he expressed his sentiments in a tone of complaint as if he felt that he was not being fairly treated.

"It's getting very serious, Doctor," he protested.

"Nearly three months gone—three summer months, mind you—and not a sign of it. I don't like the look of things at all. This case means a lot to me. It's my chance. It's a detective-inspector's job, and if I bring it off it'll be a big feather in my cap. I want to get a conviction, and so far I haven't got the material for a coroner's verdict. I've half a mind to do a bit of creeping myself."

Thorndyke's observations on the case were much to the same effect. Discussing it one Saturday afternoon at the beginning of July, when I had met him at Strood Station and was walking with him into Rochester, he said:

"My feeling is that the crux of this case is going to be the question of identity—if the body ever comes to light. Of course, if it doesn't, there is no case: it is simply an unexplained disappearance. But if the body is found and is unrecognizable excepting by clothing and other extrinsic evidence, it will be hard to get a conviction even if the unrecognizable corpse should give some clue to the circumstances of death."

"I suppose," said I, "the police are searching for Nicholas Frood."

"I doubt it," he replied. "They are not likely to be wasting efforts to find a murderer when there is no evidence that a murder has been committed. What could they do if they did find him? The woman was not in his custody or even living with him. And his previous conduct is not relevant in the absence of evidence of his wife's death."

"You said you were making some inquiries yourself."

"So I am. And I am not without hopes of picking up his tracks. But that is a secondary matter. What we have to settle beyond the shadow of a doubt is the question, 'What has become of Angelina Frood? Is she dead' And, if she is, what was the cause and what were the circumstances of her death?' The evidence in our possession points to the conclusion that she is dead, and that she met her death by foul means. That is the belief that the known facts produce. But we have got to turn that belief into certainty. Then it will be time to inquire as to the identity of the criminal."

"Do you suppose the body would be unrecognizable now?"

"I feel no doubt that it would be quite unrecognizable by ordinary means if it has been in the water all this time. But it would still be identifiable in the scientific sense, if we could only obtain the necessary data. It could, for instance, be tested by the Bertillon measurements, if we had them; and it would probably yield finger-prints, clear enough to recognize, long after the disappearance of all facial character or bodily traits."

"Would it really?" I exclaimed.

"Certainly," he replied. "Even if the whole outer skin of the hand had come off bodily, like a glove, as it commonly does in long-submerged bodies, that glove-like cast would yield fairly clear finger-prints if property treated—with dilute formalin, for instance. And then the fingers from which the outer skin had become detached would still yield recognizable finger-prints, if similarly treated; for you must remember that the papillary ridges which form the finger-print pattern, are in the true skin. The outer skin is merely moulded on them. But, unfortunately, the question is one of merely academic interest to us as we have no original finger-prints of Mrs. Frood's by which to test the body. The only method of scientific identification that seems to be available is that of anthropometric measurements, as employed by Bertillon."

"But," I objected, "the Bertillon system is based on the existence of a record of the measurements of the person to be identified. We have no record of the measurements of Mrs. Frood."

"True," he agreed. "But you may remember that Dr. George Bertillon was accustomed to apply his system, not only to suspected persons who had been arrested, but also to stray garments, hat, gloves, shoes, and so forth, that came into the possession of the police. But it is clear that, if such garments can be compared with a table of recorded measurements, they can be used as standards of comparison to determine the identity of a dead body. Of course, the measurements would have to be taken, both of the garments and of the body, by someone having an expert knowledge of anthropometrical methods."

"Of course," I agreed. "But it seems a sound method. I must mention it to Cobbledick. He has the undoubted shoes, and I have no doubt that he could get a supply of worn garments from Mrs. Gillow."

"Yes," said Thorndyke. "And, speaking of Mrs. Gillow reminds me of another point that I have been intending to inquire into. You mentioned to me that Mrs. Gillow told you, at the time of the disappearance, that she had been expecting a tragedy of some kind. She must have had some grounds for that expectation."

"She said it was nothing but a vague, general impression."

"Still, there must have been something that gave her that impression. Don't you think it would be well to question her a little more closely?"

"Perhaps it might," said I, not very enthusiastically. "We are close to the house now. We can call in and see her, if you like."

"I think we ought to leave no stone unturned," said he; and a minute or two later, when we arrived opposite the office, he remarked, looking across attentively at the two houses: "I don't see our friend Bundy's face at the window."

"No," I replied, "he is playing tennis somewhere up at the Vines. But here is Mrs. Gillow, herself, all dressed up and evidently going out visiting."

The landlady had appeared at the door just as we were crossing the road. Perceiving that we were bearing down on her, she paused, holding the door ajar. I ran up the steps, and having wished her "good afternoon" asked if she had time to answer one or two questions.

"Certainly," she replied, "though I mustn't stay long because I have promised to go to tea with my sister at Frinsbury. I usually go there on a Saturday. Perhaps we had better go into poor Mrs. Frood's room."

She opened the door of the sitting-room, and we all went in and sat down.

"I have been talking over this mysterious affair, Mrs. Gillow," said I, "with my friend, Dr. Thorndyke, who is a lawyer, and he suggested that you might be able to throw some light on it. You remember that you had had some forebodings of some sort of trouble or disaster."

"I had," she replied, dismally, "but that was only because she always seemed so worried and depressed, poor dear. And, of course, I knew about that good-for-nothing husband of hers. That was all. Sergeant Cobbledick asked me the same question, but I had nothing to tell him."

"Did the sergeant examine the rooms?" asked Thorndyke.

"Yes, he looked over the place, and he opened her little davenport—it isn't locked—and read through one or two letters that he found there, but he didn't take them away. All he took with him was a few torn-up letters that he found in the waste-paper basket."

"If those other letters are still in the davenport," said Thorndyke, "I think it would be well for us to look through them carefully, if you don't mind, Mrs. Gillow."

"I don't see that there could be any harm in it," she replied. "I've never touched anything in her rooms, myself, since she went away. I thought it better not to. I haven't even washed up her tea-things. There they are, just as she left them, poor lamb. But if you are going to look through those letters, I will ask you to excuse me, or I shall keep my sister waiting for tea."

"Certainly, Mrs. Gillow," said I. "Don't let us detain you. And, by the way," I added, as I walked with her to the door, "it would be as well not to say anything to anybody about my having come here with my friend."

"Very well, sir," she replied. "I think you are right. The least said, the soonest mended"; and with this profound generalization she went out and I shut the street door after her.

When I returned to the sitting-room I found Thorndyke engaged in a minute examination of the tea-things, and in particular of the spoon. I proceeded at once to the davenport, and, finding it unlocked, lifted the desk-lid and peered into the interior. It contained a supply of papers and envelopes, neatly stacked, and one or two letters, which I took out. They all appeared to be from the same person—the Miss Cumbers, of whom I had heard—and a rapid glance at the contents showed that they were of no use as a source of information. I passed them to Thorndyke—who had laid down the spoon and was now looking inquisitively about the room—who scanned them rapidly and returned them to me.

"There is nothing in them," said he. "Possibly the contents of the waste-paper basket were more illuminating. But I suspect not, as the sergeant appears to be as much in the dark as we are. Shall we have a look at the bedroom before we go?"

I saw no particular reason for doing so, but, assuming that he knew best, I made no objection. Going out into the hall, we entered the deserted bed-room, the door of which was locked, though the key had not been removed. At the threshold Thorndyke paused and stood for nearly half a minute looking about the room in the same queer, inquisitive way that I had noticed in the other room, as if he were trying to fix a mental picture of it. Meanwhile, full of the Bertillon system, I had walked across to the wardrobe to see what garments were available for measurement. I had my hand on the knob of the door when my glance fell on two objects on the dressing-table; an empty tumbler and a small water-bottle, half-full. There was nothing very remarkable about these objects, taken by themselves, but, even from where I stood, I could see that both bore a number of finger-marks which stood out conspicuously on the plain glass.

"By Jove!" I exclaimed. "Here is the very thing that you were speaking of. Do you see what it is?"

Apparently he had, for he had already taken his gloves out of his pocket and was putting them on.

"Don't touch them, Strangeways," said he, as I was approaching to inspect them more closely. "If these are Mrs. Frood's finger-prints they may be invaluable. We mustn't confuse them by adding our own."

"Whose else could they be?" I asked.

"They might be Sergeant Cobbledick's," he replied. "The sergeant has been in here." He drew a chair up to the table, and, taking a lens from his pocket, began systematically to examine the markings.

"They are a remarkably fine set," he remarked, "and a complete set—the whole ten digits. Whoever made them held the bottle in the right hand and the tumbler in the left. And I don't think they are the sergeant's. They are too small and too clear and delicate."

"No," I agreed, "and the probabilities are against their being his. There is no reason why he should have wanted to take a drink of water during the few minutes that he spent here. It would have been different if it had been a beer bottle. But it would have been quite natural for Mrs. Frood to drink a glass of water while she was dressing or before she started out."

"Yes," said he. "Those are the obvious probabilities. But we must turn them into certainties if we can. Probabilities are not good data to work from. But the question is now, what are we to do? I have a small camera with me, but it would not be very convenient to take the photographs here, and it would occupy a good deal of time. On the other hand, these things would be difficult to pack without smearing the finger-prints. We want a couple of small boxes."

"Perhaps," said I, "we may find something that will do if we take a look round."

"Yes," he agreed, "we must explore the place. Meanwhile, I think I will develop up these prints for our immediate information, as we have to try to find some others to verify them."

He went back to the sitting-room, where he had put down the two cases that he always brought with him: a small suit-case that contained his toilet necessaries and a similar-sized case covered with green canvas which had been rather a mystery to me. I had never seen it open, and had occasionally speculated on the nature of its contents. My curiosity was now to be satisfied, for, when he returned with it in his hand he explained: "This is what I call my research-case. It contains the materials and appliances for nearly every kind of medico-legal investigation, and I hardly ever travel without it."

He placed it on a chair and opened it, when I saw that it formed a complete portable laboratory, containing, among other things a diminutive microscope, a little folding camera, and an insufflator, or powder-spray. The latter he now took from its compartment, and, lifting the tumbler with his gloved hand, stood it on a corner of the mantelpiece and blew over it with the insufflator a cloud of impalpably fine white powder, which settled evenly on the surface of the glass. He then tapped the tumbler gently once or twice with a lead pencil, when most of the powder coating either jarred off or crept down the surface. Finally, he blew at it lightly, which removed the rest of the powder, leaving the finger-prints standing out on the clear glass as if they had been painted on with Chinese white.

While he was operating in the same manner on the water-bottle—having first emptied it into the ewer—I examined the tumbler with the aid of his lens. The markings were amazingly clear and distinct. Through the lens I could see, not only the whole of the curious, complicated ridge-pattern, but even the rows of little round spots that marked the orifices of the sweat glands. For the first time, I realized what a perfect means of identification these remarkable imprints furnished.

"Now," said Thorndyke, when he had finished with the bottle, "the two questions are, where shall we look for confirmatory finger-prints, and where are we to get the boxes that we want for packing these things? You said that Mrs. Frood had a kitchen."

"Yes. But won't you try the furniture here; the wardrobe door, for instance. The dark, polished mahogany ought to give good prints."

"An excellent suggestion, Strangeways," said he. "We might even find the sergeant's finger-prints, as he has probably had the wardrobe open."

He sprayed the three doors of the wardrobe, and when he had tapped them and blown away the surplus powder, there appeared near the edge of each a number of finger-marks, mostly rather indistinct, and none of them nearly so clear as those on the glass.

"This is very satisfactory," said Thorndyke. "They are poor prints, but you can see quite plainly that there are two pairs of hands, one pair much larger than the other; and the prints of the larger hands are evidently not the same pattern as those on the glass, whereas those of the smaller ones are quite recognizable as the same, in spite of their indistinctness. As the large ones are almost certainly Cobbledick's, the small ones are pretty certainly Mrs. Frood's. But we mustn't take anything for granted. Let us go down to the kitchen. We shall have a better chance there."

The door of the basement staircase was still unlocked, as Mrs. Gillow had described it. I threw it open, and we descended together, I carrying the insufflator and he bearing the tumbler and bottle in his gloved hands. When he had put the two articles down on the kitchen table, he proceeded to powder first the kitchen door and then the side-door that gave on to the passage between the two houses. Both of them were painted a dark green and both yielded obvious finger-marks, and though these were mere oval smudges, devoid of any trace of pattern, their size and their groupings showed clearly enough that they appertained to a small hand. But we got more conclusive confirmation from a small aluminium frying-pan that had been left on the gas stove; for, on powdering the handle, Thorndyke brought into view a remarkably clear thumbprint, which was obviously identical with that on the water-bottle.

"I think," said he, "that settles the question. If Mrs. Gillow has not touched anything in these premises—as she assures us that she has not—then we can safely assume that these are Mrs. Frood's finger-prints."

"Are you going to annex the frying-pan to produce in evidence?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "This verification is for our own information: to secure us against the chance of producing Cobbledick's finger-prints to identify the body. I propose, for the present, to say nothing to anyone as to our possessing this knowledge. When the time comes we can tell what we know. Until then we shall keep our own counsel."

Once more I found myself dimly surprised at my friend's apparently unnecessary secrecy, but, assuming that he knew best, I made no comment, but watched with somewhat puzzled curiosity his further proceedings. His interest in the place was extraordinary. In a queer, catlike fashion he prowled about the premises, examining the most trivial objects with almost ludicrous attention. He went carefully through the cooking appliances and the glass and china; he peered into cupboards, particularly into a large, deep cupboard in which spare crockery was stored, and which was, oddly enough, provided with a Yale lock; he sorted out the meagre contents of the refuse-bin, and incidentally salved from it a couple of cardboard boxes that had originally contained groceries, and he explored the, now somewhat unsavoury, larder.

"I suppose," he said reflectively, "the dustman must have used the side door. Do you happen to know?"

"I don't," said I, inwardly wondering what the deuce the dustman had to do with the case. "I understand that the door of the passage was not used."

"But she couldn't have had the dust-bin carried up the stairs and out at the front door," he objected.

"I should think not," said I. "Perhaps we could judge better if we had a look at the passage."

He adopted the suggestion and we opened the side-door—which had a Yale night-latch—and went out into the covered passage that was common to the two houses. The door that opened on to the street was bolted on the inside, but the bolts were in good working order, as we ascertained by drawing them gently; so this gave no evidence one way or the other. Then Thorndyke carefully examined the hard gravel floor of the passage, apparently searching for dropped fragments, or the dustman's foot-prints; but though there were traces suggesting that the side-doors had been used, there were no perceptible tracks leading to the street or in any way specifically suggestive of dustmen.

"Japp seems fond of Yale locks," observed Thorndyke, indicating the second side-door, which was also fitted with one. "I wonder where he keeps his dust-bin."

"Would it be worth while to ask him?" said I, more and more mystified by this extraordinary investigation.

"No," he replied, very definitely. "A question often gives more information than it elicits."

"It might easily do that in my case," I remarked with a grin; upon which he laughed softly and led the way back into the house. There I gathered up the two boxes and the insufflator and made my way up to the bed-room, he following with the tumbler and the water-bottle. Then came the critical business of packing these two precious objects in the boxes in such a way as to protect the finger-prints from contact with the sides; which was accomplished very neatly with the aid of a number of balls or plasticine from the inexhaustible research-case.

"This is a little disappointing," said Thorndyke, looking at the hair-brush and comb as he took off his gloves. "I had hoped to collect a useful sample of hair. But her excessive tidiness defeats us. There seems to be only one or two short hairs and one full length. However, we may as well have them. They won't be of much use for comparison with the naked eye, but even a single hair can be used as a colour control under the microscope."

He combed the brush until the last hair was extracted from it, and then drew the little collection from the comb and arranged it on a sheet of paper. There were six short hairs, from two to four inches long, and one long hair, which seemed to have been broken off, as it had no bulb.

"Many ladies keep a combing-bag," he remarked, as; he bestowed the collection in a seed-envelope from the: research-case; "but I gather from your description that Mrs. Frood's hair was luxuriant enough to render that economy unnecessary. At any rate, there doesn't seem to be such a bag. And now I think we have finished, and we haven't done so badly."

"We have certainly got an excellent set of fingerprints," said I. "But it seems rather doubtful whether there will ever be an opportunity of using them; and if there isn't, we shan't be much more forward for our exploration. Of course, there is the hair."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "there is the hair. That may be quite valuable. And perhaps there are some other matters—but time will show."

With this somewhat cryptic conclusion he proceeded with great care to pack the two boxes in his suit-case, wedging them with his pyjamas so that they should not get shaken in transit.

As we walked home I reflected on Thorndyke's last remark. It seemed to contain a suggestion that the mystery of Angelina's death was not so complete to him as it was to me. For my own part, I could see no glimmer of light in any direction. She seemed to have vanished without leaving a trace excepting those few derelict objects which had been washed ashore and which told us nothing. But was it possible that those objects bore some significance that I had overlooked? That they were charged with some message that I had failed to decipher? I recalled a certain reticence on the part of Cobbledick which had made me suspect him of concealing from me some knowledge that he held or some inferences that he had drawn; and now there was this cryptic remark of Thorndyke's, offering the same suggestion. Might it possibly be that the profound obscurity was only in my own mind, the product of my inexperience, and that to these skilled investigators the problem presented a more intelligible aspect? It might easily be. I determined cautiously to approach the question.

"You seemed," said I, "to imply, just now, that there are certain data for forming hypotheses as to the solution of this mystery that envelops the disappearance of Mrs. Frood. But I am not aware of any such data. Are you?"

"Your question, Strangeways," he replied, "turns on the meaning of the word 'aware.' If two men, one literate and the other illiterate, look at a page of a printed book, both may be said to be aware of it; that is to say that in both it produces a retinal image which makes them conscious of it as a visible object having certain optical properties. In the case of the illiterate man the perception of the optical properties is the total effect. But the literate man has something in his consciousness already, and this something combines, as it were, with the optical perception, and makes him aware of certain secondary properties of the printed characters. To both, the page yields a visual impression; but to one only does it yield what we may call a psychical impression. Are they both aware of the page?"

"I appreciate your point," said I, with a sour smile, "and I seem to be aware of a rather skilful evasion of my question."

He smiled in his turn and rejoined: "Your question was a little indirect. Shall we have it in a more direct form?"

"What I wanted to know," said I, "though I suppose I have no right to ask, is whether there appears to you to be any prospect whatever of finding any solution of the mystery of Mrs. Frood's death."

"The answer to that question," he replied, "is furnished by my own proceedings. I am not a communicative man, as you may have noticed, but I will say this much: that I have taken, and am taking, a good deal of trouble with this case, and am prepared to take more, and that I do not usually waste my efforts on problems that appear to be unsolvable. I am not disposed to say more than that, excepting to refer you again to the instance of the printed page and to remind you that whatever I know I have either learned from you or from the observation, in your company, of objects equally visible to both of us."

This reply, if not very illuminating, at least answered my question, as it conveyed to me that I was not likely to get much more information out of my secretive friend. Nevertheless, I asked: "About the man Frood: you were saying that you had some hopes of running him to earth."

"Yes, I have made a start. I have ascertained that he did apparently set out for Brighton the day before Mrs. Frood's disappearance, but he never arrived there. That is all I know at present. He was seen getting into the Brighton train, but he did not appear at the Brighton barrier—my informant had the curiosity to watch all the passengers go through—and he never made the visit which was the ostensible object of his journey. So he must have got out at an intermediate station. It may he difficult to trace him, but I am not without hope of succeeding eventually. Obviously, his whereabouts on the fatal day is a matter that has to be settled. At present he is the obvious suspect; but if an alibi should be proved in his case, a search would have to be initiated in some other direction."

This conversation brought us to my house in time to relieve Mrs. Dunk's anxieties on the subject of dinner; and as the daylight was already gone, the photographic operations were postponed until the following morning. Indeed, Thorndyke had thought of taking the objects to his chambers, where a more efficient outfit was available, but, on reflection, he decided to take the photographs in my presence so that I could, if necessary, attest their genuineness on oath. Accordingly, on the following morning, we very carefully extracted the tumbler and the bottle from their respective boxes and set them up, with a black coat of mine for a background, at the end of a table. Then Thorndyke produced his small folding camera—which pulled out to a surprising length—and, having fitted it with a short-focus objective, made the exposures, and developed the plates in a dark cupboard by the light of a little red lamp from the research case. When the plates were dry we inspected them through a lens, and found them microscopically sharp. Finally, at Thorndyke's suggestion, I scratched my initials with a needle in the corner of each plate.

"Well," I said, when he had finished, "you have got the evidence that you wanted, and in a very complete form. It remains to be seen now whether you will ever get an opportunity to use it."

"Don't be pessimistic, Strangeways," said he. "We have had exceptional luck in getting this splendid series of finger-prints. Let us hope that Fortune will not desert us after making us these gifts."

"What is to be done with the originals?" I asked.

"Shall I put them back where we found them?"

"I think not," he replied. "If you have a safe or a secure lock-up cupboard, where they could be put away, out of sight, and from whence they could be produced if necessary, I will ask you to take charge of them."

There was a cupboard with a good lock in the old bureau that I had found in my bedroom, and to this I conveyed the precious objects and locked them in. And so ended—at least, for the present—the episode of our raid on poor Angelina's abode.

CHAPTER XIII—THE DISCOVERY IN BLACK BOY-LANE

On a fine, sunny afternoon, about ten days after our raid on Angelina's rooms (it was Tuesday, the 14th of July, to be exact), I was sitting in my dining-room, from which the traces of lunch had just been removed, idly glancing over the paper, and considering the advisability of taking a walk, when I heard the door-bell ring. There was a short interval; then the door was opened, and the sounds of strife and wrangling that followed this phenomenon informed me that the visitor was Mr. Bundy, between whom and Mrs. Dunk there existed a state of chronic warfare. Presently the dining-room door opened—in time for me to catch a concluding growl of defiance from Mrs. Dunk—and that lady announced gruffly: "Mr. Bundy."

My visitor tripped in smilingly, "all teeth and eyeglass," as his inveterate enemy had once expressed it, holding a Panama hat, which had temporarily superseded the velour.

"Well, John," said he, "coming out to play?" He had lately taken to calling me John; in fact, a very close and pleasant intimacy had sprung up between us. It dated from the occasion when I had confided to him my unfortunate passion for poor Angelina. That confidence he had evidently taken as a great compliment, and the matter of it had struck a sympathetic chord in his kindly nature. From that moment there had been a sensible change in his manner towards me. Beneath his habitual flippancy there was an undertone of gentleness and sympathy, and even of affection. Nor had I been unresponsive. Like Thorndyke, I found in his sunny temperament, his invariable cheerfulness and high spirits, a communicable quality that took effect on my own state of mind. And then I had early recognized that, in spite of his apparent giddiness, Bundy was a man of excellent intelligence and considerable strength of character. So the friendship had ripened naturally enough.

I rose from my chair and, dropping the paper, stretched myself. "You are an idle young dog," said I. "Why aren't you at work?"

"Nothing doing at the office except some specifications. Japp is doing them. Come out and have a roll round."

"Well, Jimmy," said I. "Your name is Jimmy, isn't it?"

"No, it is not," he replied with dignity. "I am called Peter—like the Bishop of Rumtifoo, and, by a curious coincidence, for the very same reason."

"Let me see," said I, falling instantly into the trap, "what was that reason?"

"Why, you see," he replied impressively, "the Bishop was called Peter because that was his name."

"Look here, young fellow my lad," said I, "you'll get yourself into trouble if you come up here pulling your elder's legs."

"It was only a gentle tweak, old chap," said he. "Besides, you aren't so blooming senile, after all. You are only cutting your first crop of whiskers. Are you coming out? I saw old Cobble dick just now, turning down Blue Boar Lane and looking as miserable as a wet cat."

"What was he looking miserable about?"

"The slump in relics, I expect. He is making no head way with his investigation. I fancy he had reckoned on getting an inspectorship out of this case, whereas, if he doesn't reach some sort of conclusion, he is likely to get his rapples knucked, as old Miss Barman would say. I suspect he was on his way to the Ark to confer with Mr. Noah. What do you say to a stroll in the direction of Mount Ararat?"

It was a cunning suggestion on the part of Bundy, for it drew me instantly. Repulsive as old Israel's activities were to me, the presence of those finger-prints, securely locked up in my bureau, had created in me a fresh anxiety to see the first state of the investigation completed so that the search for the murderer could be commenced in earnest. Not that my presence would help the sergeant, but that I was eager to hear the tidings of any new discovery.

Bundy's inference had been quite correct. We arrived at the head of the Blue Boar pier just in time to see the sergeant slowly descending the ladder, watched gloomily by Israel Bangs. As the former reached terra firma he turned round and then observed us.

"Any news, Sergeant?" I asked, as he approached across the grass.

He shook his head discontentedly. "No," he replied, "not a sign; not a vestige. It's a most mysterious affair. The things seemed to be coming up quite regularly until that hatpin was found. Then everything came to an end. Not a trace of anything for nigh upon a month. And what, in the name of Fortune, can have become of the body? That's what I can't make out. If this goes on much longer, there won't be any body: and then we shall be done. The case will have to be dropped."

He took off his hat (he was in plain clothes as usual) and wiped his forehead, looking blankly first at me and then at Bundy. The latter also took off his hat and whisked out his handkerchief, bringing with it a little telescope which fell to the ground and was immediately picked up by the sergeant. "Neat little glass, this," he remarked, dusting it with his handkerchief. "It's lucky it fell on the turf." He took off the cap, and pulling out the tubes, peered vaguely through it up and down the river. Presently he handed it to me. "Look at those craft down below the dockyard," said he.

I took the little instrument from him and pointed it at the group of small, cutter-rigged vessels that he had indicated, of which the telescope, small as it was, gave a brilliantly sharp picture.

"What are they?" I asked. "Oyster dredgers?"

"No," he replied. "They are bawleys with their shrimp-trawls down. But there are plenty of oyster dredgers in the lower river and out in the estuary, and what beats me is why none of them ever brings up anything in the trawls or dredges—anything in our line, I mean."

"What did you expect them to bring up?" Bundy asked.

"Well, there are the things that have washed ashore, and there are the other things that haven't washed ashore yet. And then there is the body."

"Mr. Noah would have something to say if they brought that up," said Bundy. "By the way, what had he got to say when you called on him?"

"Old Bangs? Why he is getting a bit shirty. Wants me to pay him for all the time he has lost on creeping and searching. Of course, I can't do that, I didn't employ him."

"Did he find the hat-pin that you spoke of?" Bundy asked.

"Yes; and he has been grubbing round the place where he found it ever since, as if he thought hat-pins grew there."

"Still," said Bundy, "it is not so unreasonable. A hatpin couldn't have floated ashore. If the hat came off, the two hat-pins must have fallen out at pretty much the same time and place."

"Yes," the sergeant agreed, reflectively, "that seems to be common sense; and, if it is, the other hat-pin ought to be lying somewhere close by. I must go and have a look there myself." He again reflected for a few moments and then asked: "Would you like to see the place where Israel found the pin?"

As I had seen the place already and had shown it to Thorndyke, I left Bundy to answer.

"Why not?" he assented, rather, I suspected, to humour the sergeant than because he felt any particular interest in the place. Thereupon Cobbledick, whose enthusiasm appeared to have been revived by Bundy's remark, led the way briskly towards the wilderness by the coal-wharves, through that desolate region and along a cart-track that skirted the marshes until we came out into a sort of lesser wilderness to the west of Gas-House Road. Here the sergeant slipped through a large hole in a corrugated iron fence which gave access to a wharf littered with the unpresentable debris resulting from the activities of a firm of ship-knackers. Advancing to the edge of the wharf, Cobbledick stood for a while looking down wistfully at the expanse of unspeakable mud that the receding tide had uncovered.

"I suppose it is too dirty to go down," he said in a regretful tone.

Bundy's assent to this proposition was most emphatic and unqualified, and the sergeant had to content himself with a bird's-eye view. But he made a very thorough inspection, walking along the edge of the wharf, scrutinizing its base, pile by pile, and giving separate attention to each pot, tin, or scrap of driftwood on the slimy surface. He even borrowed Bundy's telescope to enable him to examine the more distant parts of the mud, until the owner of the instrument was reduced to the necessity of standing behind him, for politeness' sake, to get a comfortable yawn.

"Well," said Cobbledick, at long last, handing back the telescope, "I suppose we must give it up. But it's disappointing."

"I don't quite see why," said Bundy. "You have found enough to prove that the body is in the river, and no number of further relics would prove any more."

"No, there's some truth in that," Cobbledick agreed. "But I don't like the way that everything seems to have come to a stop." He crawled dejectedly through the hole in the fence and walked on for a minute or two without speaking. Presently he halted and looked about him. "I suppose Black Boy-lane will be our best way," he remarked.

"Which is Black Boy-lane?" I asked.

"It is the lane we came down after we left Japp and Willard that day," Bundy explained.

"I remember," said I, "but I didn't know it had a name."

"It was named after a little inn that used to stand somewhere near the top; but it was pulled down years ago. Here's the lane."

We entered the little, tortuous alley that wound between the high, tarred fences, and as it was too narrow for us to walk abreast, Bundy dropped behind. A little way up the lane I noticed an old hat lying on the high grass at the foot of the fence. Bundy apparently noticed it, too, for just after we had passed it I heard the sound of a kick, and the hat flew over my shoulder. At the same moment, and impelled by the same kick, a small object, which I at first thought to be a pebble, hopped swiftly along the ground in front of us, then rolled a little way, and finally came to rest, when I saw that it was a button. I should probably have passed it without further notice, having no use for stray buttons. But the more thrifty sergeant stooped and picked it up; and the instant that he looked at it he stopped dead.

"My God! Doctor," he exclaimed, holding it out towards me. "Look at this!"

I took it from him, though I had recognized it at a glance. It was a small bronze button with a Tudor Rose embossed on it.

"This is a most amazing thing," said Cobbledick.

"There can't be any doubt as to what it is."

"Not the slightest," I agreed. "It is certainly one of the buttons from Mrs. Frood's coat. The question is, how on earth did it get here?"

"Yes," said the sergeant, "that is the question; and a very difficult question, too."

"Aren't you taking rather a lot for granted?" suggested Bundy, to whom I had passed the little object for inspection. "It doesn't do to jump at conclusions too much. Mrs. Frood isn't likely to have had her buttons made to order. She must have bought them somewhere. She might even have bought them in Rochester. In any case, there must be thousands of others like them."

"I suppose there must be," I admitted, "though I have never seen any buttons like them."

"Neither have I," said Cobbledick, "and I am going to stick to the obvious probabilities. The missing woman wore buttons like this, and I shall assume that this is one of her buttons unless someone can prove that it isn't."

"But how do you account for one of her buttons being here?" Bundy objected.

"I don't account for it," retorted Cobbledick. "It's a regular puzzle. Of course, someone—a child, for instance—might have picked it up on the shore and dropped it here. But that is a mere guess, and not a very likely one. The obvious thing to do is to search this lane thoroughly and see if there are any other traces; and that is what I am going to do now. But don't let me detain you two gentlemen if you had rather not stay."

"I shall certainly stay and help you, Sergeant," said I; and Bundy, assuming the virtue of enthusiasm, if he had it not, elected also to stay and join in the search.

"We had better go back to the bottom of the lane," said Cobbledick, "and go through the grass at the foot of the fence from end to end. I will take the right hand side and you take the left."

We retraced our steps to the bottom of the lane and began a systematic search, turning over the grass and weeds and exposing the earth inch by inch. It was a slow process and would have appeared a singular proceeding had any wayfarer passed through and observed us, but fortunately it was an unfrequented place, and no one came to spy upon us. We had traversed nearly half the lane when Bundy stood up and stretched himself. "I don't know what your back is made of, John," said he. "Mine feels as if it was made of broken bottles. How much more have we got to do?"

"We haven't done half yet," I replied, also standing up and rubbing my lumbar region; and at this moment the sergeant, who was a few yards ahead, hailed us with a triumphant shout. We both turned quickly and beheld him standing with one arm raised aloft and the hand grasping a silver-topped hat-pin.

"What do you say to that, Mr. Bundy?" he demanded as we hurried forward to examine the new "find." 'Shall we be jumping at conclusions if we say that this hat-pin is Mrs. Frood's?"

"No," Bundy admitted after a glance at the silver poppy-head. "This seems quite distinctive, and, of course, it confirms the button. But I don't understand it in the least. How can they have come here?"

"We won't go into that," said the sergeant, in a tone of suppressed excitement that showed me pretty clearly that he had already gone into it. "They are here. And now the question arises, what became of the hat? It couldn't have dropped off down at the wharf, or this hat-pin wouldn't be here; but it must have fallen off when both hat-pins were gone. Now what can have become of it?"

"It might have been picked up and taken possession of by some woman," I suggested. "It was a good hat, and if the body was brought here soon after the crime, as it must have been, it wouldn't have been much damaged. But why trouble about the hat? Appearances suggest that the body was either brought up or taken down this lane. That is the new and astonishing fact that needs explaining."

"We don't want to do any explaining now," said Cobbledick. "We are here to collect facts. If we can find out what became of the hat, that may help us when we come to consider the explanations."

"Well, it obviously isn't here," said I.

"No," he agreed, "and it wouldn't have been left here. A murderer mightn't have noticed the button, or even the hat-pin, on a dark, foggy night. But he'd have noticed the hat; and he wouldn't have left it where it must have been seen, and probably led to inquiries. He might have taken it with him, or he might have got rid of it. I should say he would have got rid of it. What is on the other side of these fences?"

We all hitched ourselves up the respective fences far enough to look over. On the one side was a space of bare, gravelly ground with thin patches of grass and numerous heaps of cinder; on the other was an area of old waste land thickly covered with thistles, ragwort, and other weeds. The sergeant elected to begin with the latter, as the less frequented and therefore more probably undisturbed. Setting his foot on the buttress of a post, he went over the fence with surprising agility, considering his figure, and was lost to view; but we could hear him raking about among the herbage close to the fence, and from time to time I stood on the buttress and was able to witness his proceedings. First he went to the bottom of the lane and from that point returned by the fence, searching eagerly among the high weeds. I saw him thus proceed, apparently to the top of the lane in the neighbourhood of the remains of the city wall. Thence he came back, but now at a greater distance from the fence, and as he was still eagerly peering and probing amongst the weeds, it was evident that he had had no success. Suddenly, when he was but a few yards away, he uttered an exclamation and ran forward. Then I saw him stoop, and the next moment he fairly ran towards me holding the unmistakable brown straw hat with the dull green ribbon.

"That tells us what we wanted to know," he said breathlessly, handing the hat to me as he climbed over the fence; "at least, I think it does. I'll tell you what I mean—but not now," he added in a lower tone, though not unheard by Bundy, as I inferred later.

"I suppose we need hardly go on with the search any further?" I suggested, having had enough of groping amongst the grass.

"Well, no," he replied. "I shall go over it again later on, but we've got enough to think about for the present. By the way, Mr. Bundy, I've found something belonging to you. Isn't this your property?"

He produced from his pocket a largish key, to which was attached a wooden label legibly inscribed "Japp and Bundy, High-street, Rochester."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Bundy, "it is Japp's precious key! Where on earth did you find it, Sergeant?"

"Right up at the top," was the reply. "Close to the old wall."

"Now, I wonder how the deuce it got there," said Bundy. "Some fool must have thrown it over the fence from pure mischief. However, here it is. You know there was a reward of ten shillings for finding it, Sergeant. I had better settle up at once. You needn't make any difficulties about it," he added, as the sergeant seemed disposed to decline the payment. "It won't come out of my pocket. It is the firm's business."

On this understanding Cobbledick pocketed the proffered note and we walked on up the lane, the sergeant slightly embarrassed, as we approached the town, by the palpably unconcealable hat. Very little was said by any of us, for these new discoveries, with the amazing inferences that they suggested, gave us all abundant material for thought. The sergeant walked with eyes bent on the ground, evidently cogitating profoundly; my mind surged with new speculations and hypotheses, while Bundy, if not similarly preoccupied, refrained from breaking in on our meditations.

When, at length, by devious ways, we reached the Highstreet in the neighbourhood of the Corn Exchange, we halted, and the sergeant looked at me as if framing a question. Bundy glanced up at the quaint old clock, and remarked:

"It is about time I got back to the office. Mustn't leave poor old Japp to do all the work, though he never grumbles. So I will leave you here."

I realized that this was only a polite excuse to enable the sergeant to have a few words with me alone, and I accepted it as such.

"Good-bye, then," said I, "if you must be off, and in case I don't see you before, I shall expect you to dinner on Saturday if you've got the evening free. Dr. Thorndyke is coming down for the week-end, and I know you enjoy ragging him."

"He is pretty difficult to get a rise out of, all the same," said Bundy, brightening up perceptibly at the invitation. "But I shall turn up with very great pleasure." He bestowed a mock ceremonious salute on me and the sergeant, and, turning away, bustled off in the direction of the office. As soon as he was out of earshot Cobbledick opened the subject of the new discoveries.

"This is an extraordinary development of our case, Doctor," said he. "I didn't want to discuss it before Mr. Bundy, though he is really quite a discreet gentleman, and pretty much on the spot, too. But he isn't a party to the case, and it is better not to talk too freely. You see the points that these fresh finds raise?"

"I see that they put a new complexion on the affair, but to me they only make the mystery deeper and more incomprehensible."

"In a way they do," Cobbledick agreed, "but, on the other hand, they put the case on a more satisfactory footing. For instance, we understand now why the body has never come to light. It was never in the river at all. Then as to the perpetrator; he was a local man—or, at least, there was a local man in it; a man who knew the town and the waterside neighbourhood thoroughly. No stranger would have found Black Boy-lane. Very few Rochester people know it."

"But," I asked, "what does the finding of these things suggest to you?"

"Well," he replied, "it suggests several questions. Let me just put these things away in my office, and then we can talk the matter over." He went into his office, and shortly returned relieved—very much relieved—of the conspicuous hat. We turned towards the bridge, and he resumed: "The first question and the most important one is, which way was the body travelling? It is obvious that it was carried through Black Boy-lane. But in which direction? Towards the town or towards the river? When you think of the circumstances; when you recall that it was a foggy night when she disappeared; it seems at first more probable that the crime might have been committed in, or near, the lane, and the body carried down to the river. But when you consider all the facts, that doesn't seem possible. There is that box of tablets, picked up dry and clean on Chatham Hard. That seems to fix the locality where the crime occurred."

"And there is the brooch," said I.

"I don't attach much importance to that," he replied. "It might have been picked up anywhere. But the box of tablets couldn't have got from Black Boy-lane to Chatham except by the river, and it hadn't been in the river. But the hat seems to me to settle the question. You see, one hat-pin was found on the shore and the other in the lane near the hat. Now, one hat-pin might have dropped out and left the hat still fixed on the head. But when the hat came off, the pins must have come off with it. The hat came off near the top of the lane. If both the pins had been in it they would both have come out there.

"But one pin was found on the shore; therefore when the body was at the shore the hat must have been still on the head, though it had probably got loosened by all the dragging about in the boat and in landing the body. You agree to that, Doctor?"

"Yes, it seems undeniable," I answered.

"Very well," said he. "Then the body was being carried up the lane. The next question is: was it being carried by one person or by more than one? Well, I think you will agree with me, Doctor, that it could hardly have been done by one man. It is quite a considerable distance from the shore to the top of the lane. She was a goodsized woman, and a dead body is a mighty awkward thing to carry at the best of times. I should say there must have been at least two men."

"It certainly does seem probable," I admitted.

"I think so," said he. "Then we come to another question. Was it really a dead body? Or might the woman have been merely insensible?"

"Good God, Sergeant!" I exclaimed. "You don't think it possible that it could have been a case of forcible abduction, and that Mrs. Frood is still alive?"

"I wouldn't say it was impossible," he replied, "but I certainly don't think it is the case. You see, nearly three months have passed and there is no sign of her. But in modern England you can't hide a full-grown, able-bodied woman who has got all her wits about her. No, Doctor, I am afraid we must take the view that the woman who was carried up Black Boy-lane was a dead woman. All I want to point out is that the other view is a bare possibility, and that we mustn't forget it."

"But," I urged, "don't you think that the fact that she was being carried towards the town strongly suggests that she was alive? Why on earth should a murderer bring a body, at great risk of discovery, from the river, where it could easily have been disposed of, up into the town? It seems incredible."

"It does," he agreed. "It's a regular facer. But, on the other hand, suppose she was alive. What could they have done with her? How could they have kept her out of sight all this time? And why should they have done it?"

"As to the motive," said I, "that is incomprehensible in any case. But what do you suppose actually happened?"

"My theory of it is," he replied, "that two men, at least, did the job. Both may have been local waterside men, or there may have been a stranger with a water-rat in his pay. I imagine the crime was committed at Chatham, somewhere near the Sun Pier, and that the body was put in a boat and brought up here. It was a densely foggy night, you remember, so there would have been no great difficulty; and there wouldn't be many people about. The part of it that beats me is what they meant to do with the body. They seem to have brought it deliberately from Chatham right up into Rochester Town; and they have got rid of it somehow. They must have had some place ready to stow it in, but what that place can have been, I can't form the ghost of a guess. It's a fair knock-out."

"You don't suppose old Israel Bangs knows anything about it?" I suggested.

The sergeant shook his head. "I've no reason to suppose he does," he replied. "And it is a bad plan to make guesses and name names."

We walked up and down the Esplanade for nearly an hour, discussing various possibilities; but we could make nothing of the incredible thing that seemed to have happened in spite of its incredibility. At last we gave it up and returned to the Guildhall, where, as we parted, he said a little hesitatingly: "I heard you tell Mr. Bundy that Dr. Thorndyke was coming down for the week-end. It wouldn't be amiss if you were to put the facts of the case before him. It's quite in his line, and I think he would be interested to hear about it; and he might see something that I have missed. But, of course, it must be in strict confidence."

I promised to try to find an opportunity to get Thorndyke's opinion on the case, and with this we separated, the sergeant retiring to his office and I making my way homeward to prepare a report for dispatch by the last post.

CHAPTER XIV—SERGEANT COBBLEDICK IS ENLIGHTENED

The custom which had grown upon my part of meeting Thorndyke at the station on the occasion of his visits was duly honoured on the present occasion, for the surprising discoveries in Black Boy-lane, which I had described in my report to him, made me eager to hear his comments. Unfortunately, on this occasion, he had come down by an unusually late train, and the opportunity for discussion was limited to the time occupied by the short walk from Rochester Station to my house. For it was close upon dinner time, and I rather expected to find Bundy awaiting us.

"Your report was quite a thrilling document," he remarked, as we came out of the station approach. "These new discoveries seem to launch us on a fresh phase of the investigation."

"Do they seem to you to offer any intelligible suggestions?" I asked.

"There is no lack of suggestions," he replied. "To a person of ordinary powers of imagination, a number of hypotheses must present themselves. But, of course, the first thing to consider is not what might have happened, but what did happen, and what we can safely infer from those happenings. We can apparently take it as proved that the body was carried through the lane; and everything goes to show that it was carried from the river towards the town. The first clear inference is that we can completely exclude accident, pure and simple. The body—living or dead—may be assumed to have been carried by some person or persons. We can dismiss the idea that the woman walked up the lane. But if someone carried the body, someone is definitely implicated. The affair comes unquestionably into the category of crime."

"That doesn't carry us very far," I said, with a sense of disappointment.

"It carries us a stage farther than our previous data did, for it excludes accident, which they did not. Then it suggests not only premeditation, but arrangement. If the body was brought up from the river, there must have been some place known to, and probably prepared by, those who brought it, in which it could be deposited; and that place must have been more secure than the river from which it was brought. But the river, itself, was a very secure hiding-place, especially if the body had been sunk with weights. Now, this is all very remarkable. If you consider the extraordinary procedure; the seizure of the victim at Chatham; the conveyance of the body from thence to this considerable distance; the landing of it at the wharf; the conveyance of it by an apparently selected route—at enormous risk of discovery, in spite of the fog to an appointed destination: I say, Strangeways, that if you consider this astounding procedure, you cannot fail to be convinced that there was some definite purpose behind it."

"Yes," I agreed, "that seems to be so. But what could the purpose be? It appears perfectly incomprehensible. It only makes the mystery more unsolvable than ever."

"Not at all," he rejoined. "There is nothing so hopeless to investigate as the perfectly obvious and commonplace. As soon as an apparently incomprehensible motive appears, we are within sight of a solution. There may be innumerable explanations of a common-place action; but an outrageously unreasonable action; pursued with definite and considered purpose, can admit of but one or two. The action, with its underlying purpose, must be adjusted to some unusual conditions. We have only to consider to what conditions it could be adjusted, and which, if any, of those conditions actually exist, and the explanation of the apparently incomprehensible action comes into view. But here we are at our destination, and there is our friend, Bundy, standing on the doorstep. By the way, I have brought one or two photographs of Mrs. Frood for you to look at."

We arrived in time to intervene and put an end to a preliminary skirmish between the irrepressible Bundy and Mrs. Dunk, and when greetings had been exchanged, Thorndyke went up to his room to wash and deposit his luggage.

"Well, John," said Bundy, when he had hung up his hat, "it is very pleasant to see my old friend after this long separation. Very good of him, too, to invite an insignificant outsider like me to meet his distinguished colleague. You are a benefactor to me, John."

"Don't talk nonsense, Peterkin," said I. "You know we are always glad to see you. I invite you for my own pleasure and Thorndyke's, not for yours."

Bundy gave my arm a grateful squeeze. "Good old John," said he. "Nothing like doing it handsomely. But here is the great man himself," he added, as Thorndyke entered the dining-room, carrying a cardboard box, "with instruments of magic. He's going to do a conjuring trick."

Thorndyke opened the box and delicately picked out four photographs, all mounted and all of cabinet size, which he stood up in a row on the mantelpiece. Two of them were from the same negative, one being printed in red carbon, the other in sepia. The remaining two were ordinary silver prints of the conventional trade type.

Bundy looked at the collection with not unnatural surprise.

"Where did these, things come from?" he asked.

"They came from London," replied Thorndyke, "where things of this kind grow. Strangeways asked me to get him some samples. How do you like them? My own preference is for the carbons, and of the two I think I like the red chalk print the better."

I ran my eye along the row and found myself in strong agreement with Thorndyke. It was not only that the carbon prints had the advantage of the finer medium. The treatment was altogether more artistic, and the likeness seemed better, in spite of a rather over-strong top-lighting.

"Yes," I said, "the carbons are infinitely superior to the silver prints, and of the two I think the red is the better because it emphasises the shadows less."

"Is the likeness as good as in the silver prints?" Thorndyke asked.

"Better, I think. The expression is more natural and spontaneous. What do you say, Peter?"

As I spoke I looked at him, not for the first time, for I had already been struck by the intense concentration with which he had been examining the two carbons. And it was not only concentration. There was a curious expression of surprise, as if something in the appearance of the portraits puzzled him.

He looked up with a perplexed frown. "As to the likeness," said he, "I don't know that I am a particularly good judge. I only saw her once or twice. But, as far as I remember, it seems to be quite a good likeness, and there can be no question as to the superiority, in an artistic sense, of the carbons. And I agree with you that the shadows are less harsh in the red than in the sepia. Who is the photographer?"

He picked up the red print and, turning it over, looked at the back. Then, finding that the back of the card was blank, he picked up the sepia print and inspected it in the same way, but with the same result. There was no photographer's name either on the back or front.

"I have an impression," said Thorndyke, "that the carbons were done a City photographer. But my man will know. He got them for me."

Bundy set the two photographs back in their places, still, as it seemed to me, with the air of a man who is trying vainly to remember something. But, at this moment, Mrs. Dunk entered with the soup tureen, and we forthwith took our places at the table.

We had finished our soup, and I was proceeding to effect the dismemberment of an enormous sole, when Bundy, having fortified himself with a sip of Chablis, cast a malignant glance at Thorndyke.

"I have got some bad news for you, Doctor," said he.

"Which doctor are you addressing?" Thorndyke asked. "There's only one now," replied Bundy. "T'other one has been degraded to the rank of John."

"That happens to be my rank, too," observed Thorndyke.

"Oh, but I couldn't think of taking such a liberty," Bundy protested, "though it is very gracious and condescending of you to suggest it. No, your rank and tine will continue to be that of doctor."

"And what is your bad news??'

"It is a case of a lost opportunity," said Bundy. "'Of all the sad words of tongue or pen,' and so on. It might have been ten shillings. But it never will now. Cobbledick has got your ten bob."

"Do you mean that Cobbledick has found the missing key?"

"Even so, alackaday! The chance is gone for ever."

"Where did he find it?" Thorndyke asked.

"Ah!" exclaimed Bundy. "There it is again. The tragedy of it! He wasn't looking for it at all. He just fell over it in a field where he was searching for relics of Mrs. Frood."

"Your description," said Thorndyke "is deficient in geographical exactitude. Could you bring your ideas of locality to a somewhat sharper focus? There are probably several fields in the neighbourhood of Rochester."

"So there are," said Bundy. "Quite a lot. But this particular field lies on the right, or starboard, side of a small thoroughfare called Black Boy-lane."

"Let me see," said Thorndyke. "Isn't that the lane that we went down after leaving our friends on the day of the Great Perambulation?"

"Yes," replied Bundy, looking at him in astonishment, "but how did you know its name?" (He was, of course, not aware of my report to Thorndyke describing the discoveries and the place.)

"That," said Thorndyke "is an irrelevant question. Now when you say 'the right-hand side'—"

"I mean the right-hand side looking towards the town, of course. As a matter of fact, Cobbledick found the key among the thistles near to the fence, and quite close to the outside of the city wall."

"How do you suppose it got there?" Thorndyke asked.

"I've no idea. Someone must have taken it out of the gate and thrown it over the fence. That is obvious. But who could have done it I can't imagine. Of course, you suspect Cobbledick, but that is only jealousy."

The exchange of schoolboy repartee continued without a sensible pause on either side. But yet I seemed to detect in Thorndyke's manner a certain reflectiveness underlying the levity of his verbal conflict with Bundy; a reflectiveness that seemed to have had its origin in the "news" that the latter had communicated. Of course, I had said nothing, in my report, about the finding of the key. Why should I? Those reports referred exclusively to matters connected with the disappearance of poor Angelina. The loss and the recovery of the key were items of mere local gossip with which Thorndyke could have no concern excepting in connexion with Bundy's facetious fiction. And yet it had seemed to me that Thorndyke showed quite a serious interest in the announcement. However, he made no further reference to the matter, and the conversation drifted to other topics.

It was almost inevitable that, sooner or later, some reference should be made to the discoveries in the lane. It was Bundy, of course, who introduced the subject; and I was amazed by the adroit way in which Thorndyke conveyed the impression of complete ignorance, without making any statement, and the patient manner in which he listened to the account of the adventure, and even elicited amplified details by judicious questions. But he eluded all Bundy's efforts to extract an opinion on the significance of the discoveries.

"But," the latter protested, "you said that if I would give you the facts, you would give me the explanation."

"The explanation is obvious," said Thorndyke. "If you found these objects in the lane, they must have been dropped there."

"Well, of course they must," said Bundy. "That is quite obvious."

"Exactly," agreed Thorndyke. "That is what I am pointing out."

"But why was the body being carried up the lane? And where was it being carried to?"

"Ah," protested Thorndyke, "but now you are going beyond your facts. You haven't proved that there was any body there at all."

"But there must have been, or the things couldn't have dropped off it."

"But you haven't proved that they did drop off it. They may have, or they may not. That is a question of fact; and as I impressed on you on a previous occasion, evidence as to fact is the function of the common witness. The expert witness explains the significance of facts furnished by others. I have explained the facts that you have produced, and now you ask me to explain something that isn't a fact at all. But that is not my function. I am an expert."

"I see," said Bundy; "and now I understand why judges are so down on expert witnesses. It is my belief that they are a parcel of impostors. Wasn't Captain Bunsby an expert witness? Or was he only an oracle?"

"It is a distinction without a difference," replied Thorndyke. "Captain Bunsby is the classical instance of oracular safety. It was impossible to dispute the correctness of his pronouncements."

"Principally," said I, "because no one could make head or tail of them."

"But that was the subtlety of the method," said Thorndyke. "A statement cannot be contested until it is understood. From which it follows that if you would deliver a judgment that cannot be disputed, you must take proper precautions against the risk of being understood."

Bundy adjusted his eye-glass and fixed on Thorndyke a glare of counterfeit defiance. "I am going to take an early opportunity of seeing you in the witness-box," said he. "It will be the treat of my life."

"I must try to give you that treat," replied Thorndyke. "I am sure you will be highly entertained, but I don't think you will be able to dispute my evidence."

"I don't suppose I shall," Bundy retorted with a grin, "if it is of the same brand as the sample that I have heard."

Here the arrival of Mrs. Dunk with the coffee ushered in a truce between the disputants, and when I had filled the cups Thorndyke changed the subject by recalling the incidents of our perambulation with Japp and Mr. Willard; and Bundy, apparently considering that enough chaff had been cut for one evening, entered into a discussion on the conditions of life in mediaeval Rochester with a zest and earnestness that came as a refreshing change, after so much frivolity. So the evening passed pleasantly away until ten o'clock, when Bundy rose to depart.

"Shall we see him home, Thorndyke?" said I. "We can do with a walk after our pow-wow."

"Somebody ought to see him home," said Thorndyke. "He looks comparatively sober now, but wait till he gets out into the air." (Bundy's almost ascetic abstemiousness in respect of wine, I should explain, had become a mild joke between us.) "But I think I won't join the bacchanalian procession. I have a letter to write, and I can get it done and posted by the time you come back."

As we walked towards the office arm-in-arm—Bundy keeping up the fiction of a slight unsteadiness of gait—my guest once more expressed enjoyment of our little festivals.

"I suppose," said he, "Dr. Thorndyke is really quite a big bug in his way."

"Yes," I replied; "he is in the very front rank; in fact, I should say that he is the greatest living authority on his subject."

"Yes," said Bundy, thoughtfully, "one feels that he is a great man, although he is so friendly and so perfectly free from side. I hope I don't cheek him too much."

"He doesn't seem to resent it," I answered, "and he certainly doesn't object to your society. He expressly said, when he wrote last, that he hoped to see something of you."

"That was awfully nice of him," Bundy said with very evident gratification; and he added, after a pause: "Lord! John, what a windfall it was for me when you came down with that letter from old Turcival. It has made life a different thing for me."

"I am glad to hear it, Peter," said I; "but you haven't got all the benefit. It was a bit of luck for me to strike a live bishop in my new habitat, and a Rumtifoozlish one at that. But here we are at the episcopal palace. Shall I assist your lordship up the steps?"

We carried out the farce to its foolish end, staggering together up the steps, at the top of which I propped him securely against the door and rang the bell, with the comfortable certainty that there was no one in the house to disturb.

"Good night, John, old chap," he said cordially, as I retired.

"Good night, Peter, my child," I responded; and so took my way homeward to my other guest.

I arrived at my house in time to meet Thorndyke returning from the adjacent pillar-box, and we went in together.

"Well," said he, "I suppose we had better turn in, according to what is, I believe, the custom of this household, and turn out betimes in the morning, for a visit, perhaps, to Black Boy-lane."

"Yes," I replied, "we may as well turn in now. You are not going to leave these photographs there, are you?"

"They are your photographs," he replied; "that is, if you care to have them. I brought them down for you."

I thanked him very warmly for the gift, and gathered up the portraits carefully, replacing them, for the present, in their box. Then we turned out the lights and made our way up to our respective bedrooms.

At breakfast on the following morning Thorndyke opened the subject of our investigation by cross-examining me on the matter of my report, and the more detailed account that Bundy had given.

"What does Sergeant Cobbledick think of the new developments?" he asked, when I had given him all the detail that I could.

"In a way he is encouraged. He is glad to get something more definite to work on. But for the present he seems to be high and dry. He gave me quite a learned exposition of the possibilities of the case, but he had to admit when he had finished that he was still in the dark so far as any final conclusion was concerned. He even suggested that I should put the facts before you—he recognized you when we met him on the road near Blue Boar Pier—and ask if you could make any suggestion."

"Can you recall the sergeant's exposition of the case?"

"I think so. It made rather an impression on me at the time," and here I repeated, as well as I could remember them, the various inferences that Cobbledick had drawn from the presence in the lane of the things that we had found. Thorndyke listened with deep attention, nodding his head approvingly as each point was made.

"A very admirable analysis, Strangeways," he said when I had finished. "It does the sergeant great credit. So far as it goes, it is an excellent interpretation of the facts that are in his possession. There are, perhaps, one or two points that he has overlooked."

"If there are," said I, "it would be a great kindness to draw his attention to them. He is naturally anxious to get on with the case, and he has taken endless trouble over it."

"I shall be very glad to give him a hint or two," said Thorndyke. "After breakfast I should like to go over the ground with you, and then we might go along to the station and see if he is in his office."

I agreed to this program, and as soon as we had finished our breakfast we went forth, making our way by Free School-lane and The Common to the marshes west of Gas House-road. From there we entered Black Boy-lane at the lower end, and slowly followed its windings, Thorndyke looking about him attentively, and occasionally peering over the fences, which his stature enabled him to do without climbing. At the top of the lane, where it opened into a paved thoroughfare, we observed no less a personage than Sergeant Cobbledick, standing on the pavement and looking at the few adjacent houses with an expression of profound speculation. His speculative attitude changed suddenly to one of eager interest when he saw us; and on my presenting him to Thorndyke, he stood stiffly at "attention" and raised his hat with an air that I can only describe as reverent.

"Dr. Strangeways was telling me, just now," said Thorndyke, "of your very interesting observations on these new developments. He also said that you would like to talk the matter over with me."

"I should, indeed, sir," the sergeant said, earnestly; "and if I might suggest it, my office will be very quiet, being Sunday, and I could show you the things that have been found, if you would like to see them."

"As to the things that have been found," said Thorndyke, "I am prepared to take them as read. They have been properly identified. But we could certainly talk more conveniently in your office."

In a few minutes we turned into a narrow street which brought us to the side of the Guildhall, and the sergeant, having shown us into his office and given some instructions to a constable, entered and locked the door.

"Now, Sergeant," said Thorndyke, "tell us what your difficulty is."

"I've got several difficulties, Sir," replied Cobbledick. "In the first place, here is a body being carried up the lane. You agree with me, Sir, that it was going up and not down?"

"Yes; your reasons seem quite conclusive."

"Well, then, Sir, the next question is, was this a dead body, or was the woman drugged or insensible? The fact that she was being taken from the river towards the town suggests that she was alive and being taken to some house where she could be hidden; but, of course, a dead body might be taken to a house to be destroyed by burning or to be dismembered or even buried, say under the cellar. I must say my own feeling is that it was a dead body."

"The reasons you gave Dr. Strangeways for thinking so seem to be quite sound. Let us proceed on the assumption that it was a dead body."

"Well, Sir," said Cobble dick, gloomily, "there you are. That's all. We have got a body brought up from the river. We can trace it up to near the top of the lane. But there we lose it. It seems to have vanished into smoke. It was being taken up into the town; but where? There's nothing to show. We come out into the paved streets, and, of course, there isn't a trace. We seem to have come to the end of our clues; and I am very much afraid that we shan't get any more."

"There," said Thorndyke, "I am inclined to agree with you, Sergeant. You won't get any more clues for the simple reason that you have got them all."

"Got them all!" exclaimed Cobbledick, staring in amazement at Thorndyke.

"Yes," was the calm reply; "at least, that is how it appears to me. Your business now is not to search for more clues but to extract the meaning from the facts that you possess. Come, now, Sergeant," he continued, "let us take a bird's-eye view of the case, as it were, reconstructing the investigation in a sort of synopsis. I will read the entries from my note-book."

"On Saturday, the 26th of April, Mrs. Frood disappeared. On the 1st of May the brooch was found at the pawn-brokers. On the 7th of May the box of tablets and the bag were found on the shore at Chatham, apparently fixing the place of the crime. On the 9th of May the scarf was found at Blue Boar Head. On the 15th of May a shoe was found in the creek between Blue Boar Head and Gas House Point. On the 25th of May the second shoe was found on the gridiron near Gas House Point. On the 20th of June a hat-pin was found on the shore a little west of the last spot; always creeping steadily up the river, you notice."

"Yes," said Cobbledick, "I noticed that, and I'm hanged if I can account for it in any way,"

"Never mind," said Thorndyke. "Just note the fact. Then on the 14th of July four articles were found; near the bottom of the lane a button; near the middle of the lane a hat-pin, and, abreast of it in the field, the hat, itself. Finally, at the top of the lane, in the field, you found the missing key."

"I don't see what the key has got to do with it," said the sergeant. "It don't seem to me to be in the picture."

"Doesn't it?" said Thorndyke. "Just consider a moment, Sergeant. But perhaps you have forgotten the date on which the key disappeared?"

"I don't know that I ever noticed when it was lost."

"It wasn't lost," said Thorndyke. "It was taken away—probably out of the gate—and afterwards thrown over the fence. But I daresay Dr. Strangeways can give you the date."

I reflected for a few moments. "Let me see," said I. "It was a good while ago, and I remember that it was a Saturday, because the men who were filling the holes in the city wall had knocked off at noon for a week-end. Now when was it? I went to the wine merchant's that day, and—". I paused with a sudden shock of recollection. "Why!" I exclaimed. "It was the Saturday; the day Mrs. Frood disappeared!"

Cobbledick seemed to stiffen in his chair as he suddenly turned a startled look at Thorndyke.

"Yes," agreed the latter; "the key disappeared during the morning of the 26th of April and Mrs. Frood disappeared on the evening of the same day. That is a coincidence in time. And if you consider what gate it was that this key unlocked; that it gave entrance—and also excluded entrance—to an isolated, enclosed area of waste land in which excavations and fillings-in are actually taking place; I think you will agree that there is matter for investigation."

As Thorndyke was speaking Cobbledick's eyes opened wider and wider, and his mouth exhibited a like change.

"Good Lord, Sir!" he exclaimed at length, "you mean to say—"

"No, I don't," Thorndyke interrupted with a smile. "I am merely drawing your attention to certain facts which seem to have escaped it. You said that there was no hint of a place to which the body could have been conveyed. I point out a hint which you have overlooked. That is all."

"It is a pretty broad hint, too," said Cobbledick, "and I am going to lose no time in acting on it. Do you happen to know, Doctor, who employed the workmen?"

"I gathered that Japp and Bundy had the contract to repair the wall. At any rate, they were supervising the work, and they will be able to tell you where to find the foreman. Probably they have a complete record of the progress of the work. You know Mr. Japp's address on Boley Hill, I suppose, and Mr. Bundy lives over the office."

"I'll call on him at once," said Cobbledick, "and see if he can give me the particulars, and I'll get him to lend me the key. I suppose you two gentlemen wouldn't care to come and have a look at the place with me?"

"I don't see why not," said Thorndyke. "But I particularly wish not to appear in connexion with the case, so I will ask you to say nothing to anyone of your having spoken to me about it, and, of course, we go to the place alone."

"Certainly," the sergeant agreed emphatically. "We don't want any outsiders with us. Then if you will wait for me here I will get back as quickly as I can. I hope Mr. Bundy is at home."

He snatched up his hat and darted out of the office, full of hope and high spirits. Thorndyke's suggestion had rejuvenated him.

"It seems to me," I said, when he had gone, "a rather remarkable thing that you should have remembered all the circumstances of the loss of this key."

"It isn't really remarkable at all," he replied. "I heard of it after the woman had disappeared. But as soon as she had disappeared, the loss of this particular key at this particular time became a fact of possible evidential importance. It was a fact that had to be noted and remembered. The connexion of the tragedy with the river seemed to exclude it for a time; but the discoveries in the lane at once revived its importance. The fundamental rule, Strangeways, of all criminal investigation is to note everything, relevant or irrelevant, and forget nothing."

"It is an excellent rule," said I, "but it must be a mighty difficult one to carry out"; and for a while we sat, each immersed in his own reflections.

The sergeant returned in an incredibly short space of time, and he burst into the office with a beaming face, flourishing the key. "I found him at home," said he, "and I've got all the necessary particulars, so we can take a preliminary look round." He held the door open, and when we had passed out, he led the way down the little street at a pace that would have done credit to a sporting lamp-lighter. A. very few minutes brought us to the gate, and when he had opened it and locked it behind us, he stood looking round the weed-grown enclosure as if doubtful where to begin.

"Which patch in the wall is the one they were working at when the key disappeared?" Thorndyke asked.

"The last but one to the left," was the reply.

"Then we had better have a look at that, first," said Thorndyke. "It was a ready-made excavation."

We advanced towards the ragged patch in the wall, and as we drew near I looked at it with a tumult of emotions that swamped mere anxiety and expectation. I could see what Thorndyke thought, and that perception amounted almost to conviction. Meanwhile, my colleague and the sergeant stepped close up to the patch and minutely examined the rough and slovenly joints of the stonework.

"There is no trace of its having been opened," said Thorndyke. "But there wouldn't be. I think we had better scrape up the earth at the foot of the wall. Something might easily have been dropped and trodden in in the darkness." He looked towards the shed, in which a couple of empty lime barrels still remained, and, perceiving there a decrepit shovel, he went and fetched it. Returning with it, he proceeded to turn up the surface of the ground at the foot of the wall, depositing each shovelful of earth on a bare spot, and spreading it out carefully. For some time there was no result, but he continued methodically, working from one end of the patch towards the other. Suddenly Cobbledick uttered an exclamation and stooped over a freshly deposited shovelful.

"By the Lord!" he ejaculated, "it is a true bill! You were quite right, sir." He stood up, holding out between his finger and thumb a small bronze button bearing an embossed Tudor Rose. Thorndyke glanced at me as I took the button from the sergeant and examined it.

"Yes," I said, "it is unquestionably one of her buttons."

"Then," said he, "we have got our answer. The solution of the mystery is contained in that patch of new rubble."

The sergeant's delight and gratitude were quite pathetic. Again and again he reiterated his thanks, regardless of Thorndyke's disclaimers and commendations of the officer's own skilful and patient investigation.

"All the same," said Cobbledick, as he locked the gate and pocketed the key, "we haven't solved the whole problem. We may say that we have found the body; but the problem of the crime and the criminal remains. I suppose, sir, you don't see any glimmer of light in that direction?"

"A glimmer, perhaps," replied Thorndyke, "but it may turn out to be but a mirage. Let us see the body. It may have a clearer message for us than we expect."

Beyond this rather cryptic suggestion he refused to commit himself; nor, when we had parted from the sergeant, could I get anything more definite out of him.

"It is useless to speculate," he said, by way of closing the subject. "We think that we know what is inside that wall. We may be right, but we may possibly be wrong. A few hours will settle our doubts. If the body is there, it may tell us all that we want to know."

This last observation left me more puzzled than ever.

The condition of the body might, and probably would, reveal the cause of death and the nature of the crime; but it was difficult to see how it could point out the identity of the murderer. However, the subject was closed for the time being, and Thorndyke resolutely refused to reopen it until the fresh data were available.

CHAPTER XV—THE END OF THE TRAIL

Shortly after breakfast on the following morning Sergeant Cobbledick made his appearance at my house. I found him in the consulting-room, walking about on tip-toe with his hat balanced in his hands, and evidently in a state of extreme nervous tension.

"I have got everything in train, Doctor," said he, declining a seat. "I dug up the foreman yesterday evening and he dug up one of his mates to give him a hand, if necessary; and I have the authority to open the wall. So we are all ready to begin. The two men have gone down to the place with their tools, and Mr. Bundy has gone with them to let them in. He didn't much want to go, but I thought it best that either he or Mr. Japp should be present. It is their wall, so to speak. I suppose you are coming to see the job done."

"Is there any need for me to be there?" I asked. Cobbledick looked at me in surprise. He had evidently assumed that I should be eager to see what happened. "Well," he replied, "you are the principal witness to the identity of the remains. You saw her last, you know. What is your objection, Doctor?"

I was not in a position to answer this question. I could not tell him what this last and most horrible search meant to me; and apart from my personal feelings in regard to poor Angelina, there was no objection at all, but, on the contrary, every reason why I should be present.

"It isn't a very pleasant affair," I replied, "seeing that I knew the lady rather well. However, if you think I had better be there, I will come down with you."

"I certainly think your presence would be a help," said he. "We don't know what may turn up, and you know more about her than anybody else."

Accordingly, I walked down with him, and when he had admitted me with his key—Bundy had presumably used the duplicate—he closed the gate and locked it from within. The actual operations had not yet commenced, but the foreman and his mate were standing by the wall, conversing affably with Bundy, who looked nervous and uncomfortable, evidently relishing his position no more than I did mine.

"This is a gruesome affair, John, isn't it?" he said in a low voice. "I don't see why old Cobbledick wanted to drag us into it. It will be an awful moment when they uncover her, if she is really there. I'm frightfully sorry for you, old chap."

"I should have had to see the body in any case," said I; "and this is less horrible than the river."

Here my attention was attracted by the foreman, who had just drawn a long-, horizontal chalk line across the patch of new rubble, a little below the middle.

"That's about the place where we left off that Saturday, so far as I remember," he said. "We had built up the outer case, and we filled in the hollow with loose bricks and stones, but we didn't put any mortar to them until Monday morning. Then we mixed up a lot of mortar, quite thin, so that it would run, and poured it on top of the loose stuff."

"Rum way of building a wall isn't it?" observed Cobbledick.

The foreman grinned. "It ain't what you'd call the highest class of masonry," he admitted. "But what can you expect to do with a gang of corner-boys who've never done a job of real work in their lives?"

"No, that's true," said the Sergeant. "But you made a soft job for the grave-diggers, didn't you? Why they'd only got to pick out the loose stuff and then dump it back on top when they'd put the body in. Then you came along on Monday morning and finished the job for them with one or two bucketsful of liquid mortar. How long would it have taken to pick out that loose stuff?"

"Lord bless yer," was the answer, "one man who meant business could have picked the whole lot out by hand in an hour; and he could have chucked it back in less. As you say, Sergeant, it was a soft job."

While they had been talking, the foreman's familiar demon had been making a tentative attack on the outer casing with a great, chisel-ended steel bar and a mason's hammer. The foreman now came to his aid with a sledge hammer, the first stroke of which caused the shoddy masonry to crack in all directions like pie-crust. Then the fractured pieces of the outer shell were prised off, revealing the "loose stuff" within. And uncommonly loose it was; so loose that the unjoined bricks and stones, with their adherent gouts of mortar, came away at the lightest touch of the great crow-bar.

As soon as a breach had been made at the top of the patch, the labourer climbed up and began flinging out the separated bricks and stones. Then he attacked a fresh course of the outer shell with a pick, and so exposed a fresh layer of the loose filling.

"There'll be a fresh job for the unemployed to build this up again," the sergeant observed with a sardonic smile.

"Ah," replied the foreman, "there generally is a fresh job when you take on a crowd of casuals. Wonderful provident men are casuals. Don't they take no thought for the morrow! What O!"

At this moment the labourer stood upright on his perch and laid down his pick. "Well, I'm blowed!" he exclaimed. "This is a rum go, this is."

"What's a rum go?" demanded the foreman.

"Why, here's a whole bed of dry quick-lime," was the reply.

"Ha !" exclaimed the sergeant, knitting his brows anxiously.

The foreman scrambled up, and after a brief inspection confirmed the man's statement. "Quick-lime it is, sure enough. Just hand me up that shovel, Sergeant."

"Be careful," Cobbledick admonished, as he passed the shovel up. "Don't forget what there probably is underneath."

The foreman took the shovel and began very cautiously to scrape away the surface, flinging the scrapings of lime out on to the ground, where they were eagerly scrutinized by the sergeant, while the labourer picked out the larger lumps and cast them down. Thus the work went on for about a quarter of an hour, without any result beyond the accumulation on the ground below of a small heap of lime. At length I noticed the foreman pause and look attentively at the lime that he had just scraped up in his shovel.

"Here's something that I don't fancy any of our men put in," he said, picking the object out and handing it down to the Sergeant. The latter took it from him and held it out for me to see. It was another of Angelina's coat buttons.

In the course of the next few minutes two more buttons came to light, and almost immediately afterwards I saw the labourer stoop suddenly and stare down at the lime with an expression that made my flesh creep, as he pointed something out to the foreman.

"Ah!" the latter exclaimed. "Here she is! But, my word! There ain't much left of her. Look at this, Sergeant."

Very gingerly, and with an air of shuddering distaste, he picked something out of the lime and held it up; and even at that distance I could see that it was a human ulna. Cobbledick took it from him with the same distasteful and almost fearful manner, and held it towards me for inspection. I glanced at it and looked away. "Yes," I said. "It is a human arm bone."

On this, Cobbledick beckoned for the labourer to come down, and, taking out his official note-book, wrote something in pencil and tore out the leaf.

"Take this down to the station and give it to Sergeant Brown. He will tell you what else to do." He gave the paper to the man, and having let him out of the gate, came back and climbed up to the exposed surface of the excavation, where I saw him draw on a pair of gloves and then stoop and begin to pick over the lime.

"This is a horrid business, isn't it?" said Bundy. "Why the deuce couldn't Cobbledick carry on by himself? I don't see that it is our affair. Do you think we need stay?"

"I don't see why you need. You have finished your part of the business. You have seen the wall opened. I am afraid I must stay a little longer, as Cobbledick may want me to identify some of the other objects that may be found. But I shan't stay very long. There is really no question of the identity of the body, and there is no doubt now that the body is there. Detailed identification is a matter for the coroner."

As we were speaking, we walked slowly away from the wall among the mounds of rubbish, now beginning to be hidden under a dense growth of nettles, ragwort and thistles. It was a desolate, neglected place, sordid of aspect and contrasting unpleasantly in its modern squalor with the dignified decay of the ancient wall. We had reached the further fence and were just turning about, when the sergeant hailed me with a note of excitement in his voice. I hurried across and found him standing up with his eyes fixed on something that lay in the palm of his gloved hand.

"This seems to be the ring that you described to me, Doctor," said he. "Will you just take a look at it?"

He reached down and I received in my hand the little trinket of deep-toned, yellow gold that I remembered so well. I turned it over in my palm, and as I looked on its mystical signs, its crude, barbaric workmanship and the initials "A. C." scratched inside, the scene in that dimly lighted room—years ago, it seemed to me now—rose before me like a vision. I saw the gracious figure in the red glow of the lamp and heard the voice that was never again to sound in my ears, telling the story of the little bauble, and for a few moments, the dreadful present faded into the irredeemable past.

"There isn't any doubt about it, is there, Doctor?" the sergeant asked anxiously.

"None, whatever," I replied. "It is unquestionably Mrs. Frood's ring."

"That's a mercy," said Cobbledick; "because we shall want every atom of identification that we can get. The body isn't going to help us much. This lime has done its work to a finish. There's nothing left, so far as I can see, but the skeleton and the bits of metal belonging to the clothing. Would you like to come up and have a look, Doctor? There isn't much to see yet, but I have uncovered some of the bones."

"I don't think I will come up, Sergeant, thank you," said I. "When you have finished, I shall have to look over what has been found, as I shall have to give evidence at the inquest. And I think I need hardly stay any longer. There is no doubt now about the identity, so far as we are concerned, at any rate."

"No," he agreed. "There is no doubt in my mind, so I need not keep you any longer if you want to be off. But, before you go, there is one little matter that I should like to speak to you about." He climbed down to the ground, and, walking away with me a little distance, continued:

"You see, Doctor, some medical man will have to examine the remains, so as to give evidence before the coroner. If it is impossible to identify them as the remains of Mrs. Frood, it will have to be given in evidence that they are the remains of a person who might have been Mrs. Frood; that they are the remains of a woman of about her size and age, I mean. Of course, the choice of the medical witness doesn't rest with the police, but if you would care to take on the job, our recommendation would have weight with the coroner. You see, you are the most suitable person to make the examination, as you actually knew her."

I shook my head emphatically. "For that very reason, Sergeant, I couldn't possibly undertake the duty. Even doctors have feelings, you know. Just imagine how you would feel, yourself, pawing over the bones of a woman who had once been your friend."

Cobbledick looked disappointed. "Yes," he admitted, "I suppose there is something in what you say. But I didn't think doctors troubled about such things very much; and you have got such an eye for detail—and such a memory. However, if you'd rather not, there is an end of the matter."

He climbed back regretfully to the opening in the wall, and I rejoined Bundy. "I have finished here now," said I. "That was a ring of hers that Cobbledick had found. Are you staying any longer?"

"Not if you are going away," he replied. "I am not wanted now, and I can't stick this charnel-house atmosphere; it is getting on my nerves. Let us clear out."

We walked towards the entrance with a feeling of relief at escaping from the gruesome place, and had arrived within a few yards of it when there came a loud knocking at the gate, at which Bundy started visibly.

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed, "it's like Macbeth. Here, take my key and let the beggars in, whoever they are."

I unlocked the gate and threw it open, when I saw, standing in the lane, two men, bearing on their shoulders a rough, unpainted coffin, and accompanied by the labourer, who carried a large sieve. I stood aside to let them pass in, and when they had entered, Bundy and I walked out, shutting and locking the gate after us. We made our way up the lane in silence, for there was little to say but much to think about; indeed, I would sooner have been alone, but the gruesome atmosphere of the place we had come from seemed to have affected Bundy's spirits so much that I thought it only kind to ask him to come back to lunch with me; an invitation that he accepted with avidity.

During lunch we discussed the tragic discovery, and Bundy, now that he had escaped from physical contact with the relics of mortality, showed his usual shrewd common sense.

"Well;" he said, "the mystery of poor Angelina Frood is solved at last—at least, so far as it is ever likely to be."

"I hope not," I replied, "for the essential point of the mystery is not solved at all. It has only just been completely propounded. We now know beyond a doubt that she was murdered, and that the murder was a deliberate crime, planned in advance. What we want to know—at least, what I want to know, and shall never rest until I do know—is, who committed this diabolical crime?"

"I am afraid you never will know, John," said he. "There doesn't seem to be the faintest clue."

"What do you mean?" I demanded. "You seem to have forgotten Nicholas Frood."

Bundy shook his head. "You are deluding yourself, John. Nicholas seems, from your account of him, to be quite capable of having murdered his wife. But is there anything to connect him with the crime? If there is, you have never told me of it. And the law demands positive evidence. You can't charge a man with murder because he seems a likely person and you don't know of anybody else. What have you got against him in connexion with this present affair?"

"Well, for instance, I know that he was prowling about this town, and that he was trying to find out where she lived."

"But why not?" demanded Bundy. "She was a runaway wife, and he was her husband."

"Then I happen to have noticed that he carried a sheath-knife."

"But do you know that she was killed with a sheath-knife?"

"No, I don't," I answered savagely. "But I say again that I shall never rest until the price of her death has been paid. There must be some clue. The murder could not have been committed without a motive, and it must be possible to discover what that motive was. Somebody must have stood to benefit in some way by her death; and I am going to find that person, or those persons, if I give up the rest of my life to the search."

"I am sorry to hear you say that, John," he said as he rose to depart. "It sounds as if you were prepared to spend the rest of your life chasing a will-o'-the-wisp. But we are premature. The inquest may bring to light some new evidence that will put the police on the murderer's track. You must remember that they have been engaged in tracing the body up to now. When the inquest has been held and the facts are known they will be able to begin the search for the murderers. And I wish them and you good luck."

I was rather glad when he was gone, for his dispassionate estimate of the difficulties of the case only served to confirm my own secret hopelessness. For I could not deny that these wretches seemed to have covered up their tracks completely. In the three months that had passed no whisper of any suspicious circumstance had been heard.

From the moment when poor Angelina had faded from my sight into the fog to that of her dreadful reappearance in the old wall, no human eye seemed to have seen her. And now that she had come back, what had she to tell us of the events of that awful night? The very body, on which Thorndyke had relied for evidence, at least, of the manner of the crime, had dwindled to a mere skeleton such as might have been exhumed from some ancient tomb. The cunning of the murderer had outwitted even Thorndyke.

The thought of my friend reminded me that I had to report to him the results of the opening of the wall; results very different from what he had anticipated when he had given the sergeant the too-fruitful hint. I accordingly wrote out a detailed report, so far as my information went; but I held it back until the last post in case anything further should come to my knowledge. And it was just as well that I did; for about eight o'clock, Cobbledick called to give me the latest tidings.

"Well, Doctor," he said, with a smile of concentrated benevolence, "I have got everything in going order. I have seen the coroner and made out a list of witnesses. You are one of them, of course; in fact, you are the star witness. You were the last person to see her alive, and you were present at the exhumation. Dr. Baines—he's rather a scientific gentleman—is to make the post-mortem examination, and tell us the cause of death, if he can. He won't have much to go on. The lime has eaten up everything—it would, naturally, after three months—but the bones look quite uninjured, so far as I could judge."

"When does the inquest open?" I asked.

"The day after to-morrow. I've got your summons with me, and I may as well give it to you now."

I looked at the little blue paper and put it in my pocketbook. "Do you think the coroner will get through the case in one day?" I asked.

"No, I am sure he won't," replied Cobbledick. "It is an important case, and there will be a lot of witnesses. There will be the evidence as to the building of the wall; then the opening of it and the description of what we found in it; then the identification of the remains—that is you, principally; and then there will be all the other evidence, the pawnbroker, Israel Bangs, Hooper, and the others. And then, of course, there will be the question as to the guilty parties. That is the most important of all."

"I didn't know you had any evidence on that subject," said I.

"I haven't much," he replied. "From the time when she disappeared nobody saw her alive or dead, and, of course, nothing has ever been heard of any occurrence that might indicate a crime. All we have to go on—and it is mighty little—is the fact that she was hiding from her husband, and that he was trying to find her. Also that he had made one attempt on her life. That is where your evidence will come in, and that of the matron at the 'Poor Travellers.' I've had a talk with her."

"Do you know anything of Frood's movements about the time of the disappearance?"

"Practically nothing, excepting that he went away from his lodgings the day before. You see, we were not in a position to start tracing possible criminals. We had no real evidence of any crime. We knew that the woman had disappeared, and she appeared to have got into the river. But there was nothing to show how. It looked suspicious, but it wasn't a case. So long as no body was forthcoming there was no evidence of death, and nobody could have been charged. Even if we had found the body in the river, unless there had been distinct traces of violence, it would have been merely a case of 'found dead,' or 'found drowned.' But now the affair is on a different footing entirely. The body has been discovered under conditions which furnish prima facie evidence of murder, whatever the cause of death may turn out to have been. There is sure to be a verdict of wilful murder—not that the police are dependent on the coroner's verdict. So now we can get a move on and look for the murderer."

"What chance do you think there is of finding him?" I asked.

"Well," said Cobbledick with a benevolent smile, "we mustn't be too cock-sure. But, leaving the husband out of the question and taking the broad facts, it doesn't look so unpromising. This wasn't a casual crime—fortunately. There's nothing so hopeless as a casual crime, done for mere petty robbery. But this crime was thought out. The place of burial was selected in advance. The key of the place was obtained, so that the murderer could not only get in but could lock himself—or more probably themselves—in and work secure from chance disturbance. And the time seems to have been selected; a week-end, with two whole nights to do the job in. All this points to very definite premeditation; and that points to a very definite motive. The person who planned this crime had something considerable to gain by Mrs. Frood's death; it may have been profit or it may have been the satisfaction of revenge.

"Well, that is a pretty good start. When we know what property she had, who comes into it at her death, if any of it is missing, and if so, what has become of it; we can judge concerning the first case. And if we find that she had any enemies besides her husband; anyone whom she had injured or who owed her a grudge; then we can judge of the second case.

"Then there is another set of facts. This murderer couldn't have been a complete stranger to the place. He knew about the wall and what was going on there. He knew the river and he possessed, or had command of, a boat. He knew the waterside premises and he knew his way—or had someone to show him the way—across the marshes and up Black Boy-lane. One, at least, of the persons concerned in this affair was a local man who knew the place well. So you see, Doctor, we have got something to go on, after all."

I listened to the sergeant's exposition with deep interest and no little revival of my drooping hopes. It was a most able summary of the case, and I felt that I should have liked Thorndyke to hear it; in fact, I determined to embody it in the amplification of my report. With the facts thus fully and lucidly collated, it did really seem as though the perpetrator of this foul crime must inevitably fall into our hands. Having refreshed the sergeant with a couple of glasses of port, I shook his hand warmly and wished him the best of success in the investigation that he was conducting with so much ability.

When he had gone I wrote a full account of our interview to add to my previous report, and expressed the hope that Thorndyke would be able to be present at the inquest, when I myself should "be and appear" at the appointed place to give evidence on the day after the morrow.

CHAPTER XVI—THE INQUIRY AND A SURPRISE

On the morning of the inquest I started from my house well in advance of time, and in a distinctly uncomfortable frame of mind. Perhaps it was that the formal inquiry brought home to me with extra vividness the certainty that my beloved friend was gone from me for ever, and that she had died in circumstances of tragedy and horror. Not that I had ever had any doubt, but now the realization was more intense. Again, I should have to give evidence. I should have to reconstitute for the information of strangers scenes and events that had for me a certain sacred intimacy. And then, above all, I should have to view—and that not cursorily—the decayed remains of the woman who had been so much to me. That would be naturally expected from a medical man and no one would guess at what it would cost me to bring myself to this last dreadful meeting.

Walking down the High-street thus wrapped in gloomy reflections, it was with mixed feelings that I observed Bundy advancing slowly towards me, having evidently awaited my arrival. In some respects I would sooner have been alone, and yet his kindly, sympathetic companionship was not altogether unwelcome.

"Good morning, John," said he. "I hope I am not de trop. It is a melancholy errand for you, poor old chap, and I can't do much to make it less so, but I thought we might walk down together. You know how sorry I am for you, John."

"Yes, I know and appreciate, and I am always glad to see you, Peter. But why are you going there! Have you had a summons?"

"No, I have no information to give. But I am interested in the case, of course, so I am going to attend as a spectator. So is Japp, though he is really a legitimately interested party. In fact, I am rather surprised they didn't summon him as a witness."

"So am I. He really knows more about the poor girl than I do. But, of course, he knows nothing of the circumstances of her death."

By this time we had arrived at the Guildhall, and here we encountered Sergeant Cobbledick, who was evidently on the look-out for me.

"I am glad you came early, Doctor," said he. "I want you just to pop round to the mortuary. You know the way. There's a tray by the side of the coffin with all her belongings on it. I'll get you to take a careful look at them, so that you can tell the jury that they are really her things. And you had better run your eye over the remains. You might be able to spot something of importance. At any rate, they will expect you to have viewed the body, as you are the principal witness to its identity. I've told the constable on duty to let you in. And, of course, you can go in, too, Mr. Bundy, if you want to."

"I don't think I do, thank you," replied Bundy. But he walked round with me to the mortuary, where the constable unlocked the door as he saw us approaching. I mentioned my name to the officer, but he knew me by sight, and now held the door open and followed me in, while Bundy halted at the threshold, and stood, rather pale and awe-stricken, looking in at the long table and its gruesome burden.

The tray of which Cobbledick had spoken was covered with a white table-cloth, and on this the various objects were arranged symmetrically like the exhibits in a museum. At the top was the hat, flanked on either side by a silver-headed hat-pin. The carefully smoothed scarf was spread across horizontally, the six coat-buttons were arranged in a straight vertical line, and the two shoes were placed at the bottom centre. At one side was the hand-bag, and at the other, to balance it, the handkerchief with its neatly embroidered initials; and on this were placed the Zodiac ring, the wedding ring, the box of tablets, and the brooch. On the lateral spaces the various other objects were arranged with the same meticulous care for symmetrical effect: a neat row of hair pins, a row of hooks and eyes, one or two rows of buttons from the dress and under garments, the little metal jaws of the purse, two rows of coins, silver and bronze, a pair of glove-fasteners with scorched fragments of leather adhering, a little pearl handled knife, a number of metal clasps and fastenings and other small metallic objects derived from the various garments, and a few fragments of textiles, scorched as if by fire; a couple of brown shreds, apparently from the stockings, a cindery fragment of the brown coat, and a few charred and brittle tatters of linen.

I looked over the pitiful collection while the constable stood near the door and probably watched me. There was something unspeakably pathetic in the spectacle of these poor fragments of wreckage, thus laid out, and seeming, in the almost grotesque symmetry of their disposal, to make a mute appeal for remembrance and justice. This was all that was left of her; this and what was in the coffin.

So moved was I by the fight of these relics, thus assembled and presented in a sort of tragic synopsis, that it was some time before I could summon the resolution to look upon her very self, or at least upon such vestiges of her as had survived the touch of "decay's effacing fingers." But the time was passing, and it had to be. At last I turned to the coffin, and, lifting the unfastened lid, looked in.

It could have been no different from what I had expected; but yet the shock of its appearance seemed to strike me a palpable blow. Someone had arranged the bones in their anatomical order; and there the skeleton lay on the bottom of the coffin, dry, dusty, whitened with the powder of lime, such a relic as might have been brought to light by the spade of some excavator in an ancient barrow or prehistoric tomb. And yet this thing was she—Angelina! That grisly skull had once been clothed by her rich, abundant hair! That grinning range of long white teeth had once sustained the sweet, pensive mouth that I remembered so well. It was incredible. It was horrible. And yet it was true.

For some moments I stood as if petrified, holding up the coffin lid and gazing at the fearful shape in a trance of horror. And then suddenly I felt, as it were, a clutching at my throat and the vision faded into a blur as my eyes filled. Hastily I clapped down the coffin lid and strode towards the door with the tears streaming down my face.

Vaguely I was aware of Bundy taking my arm and pressing it to his side, of his voice as he murmured shakily, "Poor old John!" Passively I allowed him to lead me to a quiet corner above a flight of steps leading down to the river, where I halted to wipe my eyes, faintly surprised to note that he was wiping his eyes too; and that his face was pale and troubled. But if I was surprised, I was grateful, too; and never had my heart inclined more affectionately towards him than in this moment of trial that had been lightened by his unobtrusive sympathy and perfect understanding.

We stayed for a few minutes, looking down on the river and talking of the dead woman and the sad and troubled life from which this hideous crime had snatched her; then, as the appointed time approached, we made our way to the room in which the inquiry was to be held. As we entered, a pleasant-looking, shrewd-faced man, who looked like a barrister and who had been standing by a constable, approached and accosted me.

"Dr. Strangeways? My name is Anstey. I do most of the court work in connexion with Thorndyke's cases, and I am representing him here to-day. He had hoped to come down, himself, but he had to go into the country on some important business, so I have to come to keep the nest warm—to watch the proceedings and make a summary of the evidence. You mentioned to him that the case would take more than one day."

"Yes," I answered, "that is what I understand. Will Dr. Thorndyke be here to-morrow?"

"Yes; he has arranged definitely to attend to-morrow. And I think he expects by then to have some information of importance to communicate."

"Indeed!" I said eagerly. "Do you happen to know the nature of it?"

Anstey laughed. "My dear Doctor," said he, "you have met Thorndyke, and you must know by now that he is about as communicative as a Whitstable native. No one ever knows what cards he holds."

"Yes," I agreed, "he is extraordinarily secretive. Unnece