The Vanishing Man
R. Austin Freeman
Part 2 out of 6
"'The bones found 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
"'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
"'I should rather not answer that question,' was the guarded response.
"'One more question,' our correspondent urged. 'The ground landlord, Mr.
John Bellingham; is not he 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
"'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
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 no wise relevant.
Then, too, there was the missing finger. No reference to any such injury
or deformity had been made in the original report of the disappearance,
though it could hardly have been overlooked. But it was useless to
speculate without facts. 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
which 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.
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 shadow 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
"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
"Certainly not, Miss Oman. So you find the lady doctor no use, after
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
"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, hulking, 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 maid-servant, 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
"I am 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
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 a 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 the 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
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
"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."
"Well, I have several hours free every day--usually, the whole of the
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 books, look
up passages (you could do that without using your right hand), and put
in book-marks. 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 longhand."
"Oh, but how kind of you, Doctor 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
"I wish you would. It may seem rather cheek for a comparative stranger
like me to make such a proposal to a lady; but if you'd been a man--in
these 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 and evidently brand-new books in
"Well, I'm sure!" he exclaimed genially; "here are pretty goings on.
Doctor and patient giggling like a pair of schoolgirls! What's the
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
"It would give him a fearful lot of pleasure," I said. "It would,
"Then why not?" said Mr. Bellingham. "We don't mind being under an
obligation to the Doctor, do we?"
"Oh, it wasn'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
"Yes, if you say so, I do; and most thankfully."
She accompanied the acceptance with a gracious smile that was in itself
a large payment 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
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 bookworms 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 eye-sight) 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
"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
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
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 note-book. It introduced me to a new 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 barely 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 pre-historic
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
task-mistress 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 hours
and a half.
"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
"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
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
"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 seated side by side at a little
marble-topped table, retracing the ground that we had covered in the
afternoon's work and discussing various points of interest over a joint
"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
quite 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
"Oh, he is an Egyptologist, too, and quite an enthusiast. He has a
really 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
"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 that 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 thoroughfare.
"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
"Yes; and not the will only. There was the absurd allowance that he made
my father. That was a ridiculous arrangement, and very unfair, too. He
ought to have divided up the property 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 again. 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
"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 the
square 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 wide-spreading 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 and 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 longhand?"
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 is this 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, good-bye 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 about 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
JOHN BELLINGHAM'S WILL
The task upon which I had embarked so lightheartedly, 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 longhand; 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 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
patients, while they gave me intervals of enforced rest, were far from
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
"I've brought you this from Mr. Bellingham," she said. "There's a note
"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 I brought it 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,"
"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
note-books, 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 Doctor 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 note-books. 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 more before going to bed and
there would be an hour or two to spare in the morning. Finally I locked
the note-books, 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 wrapped 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?"
"Is it a copy of the will?" he asked.
I answered "yes," and added that I had full permission to show it to
"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,
"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 the envelope 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 to keep 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 my cabinets marked
B, C, 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
"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
"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, chapel or other authorised place for
the reception of the 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
conditions 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.
"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 Barker, 32 Wadbury Crescent, London, S.W., 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 outside the general boundary of these 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 elsewhere. 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 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 Mr. Rapper's yard--is
certainly not conducive to a vivid realisation of the doctrine of the
"No; but this absurd anxiety to be buried in some particular place has
nothing to do with religious belief; it is mere 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 chamber. 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 be 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 named 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 that 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
"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 a
legacy of 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 a 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
"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
"And what will the Court do?"
Thorndyke smiled drily. "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 interested parties 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 that he can not; 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, and that, if it was successful, Hurst should pay
him four hundred pounds a year for life: the arrangement to hold good in
"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
"Hey ho!" exclaimed Thorndyke; "that is a queer proposal; a very queer
"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
"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 that 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 curiae_,
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
"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 like a rather 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 excavations 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
John 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, of course, 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 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
"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 and 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 supper question: how will this day week suit
"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
"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
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 incident of the North Syrian
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 I had arrived to find a pile of books with the places duly
marked and the blue covered quarto note-books 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
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."
"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
"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 quite mistaken. It isn't
benevolence on Doctor Thorndyke's part; it is 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 is work done for love
instead of for payment. However, I will do what 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
"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 savants
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 comely 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 outside 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
A wave of relief had 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 newborn intimacy.
"Are you scornful?" she asked, with a shade of disappointment, as I made
"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
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
portrait 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
even 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 just 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 eclecticism 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 that 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: ARTEMIDORE EUPsUChI]."
"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 was
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 so 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 Amen-hetep
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 Sebek-hotep, 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
"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 once one 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 Sebek-hotep must have been a fine-looking man."
"The mask on the case is a portrait, I suppose?"
"Yes; in fact, it is 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 the 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 the
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 that they have found?"
"Oh, they are the remains of some poor creature who seems to have been
murdered and cut in 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 out and pursue them up the court."
"Do you think he suspects that these remains may be those of your
"I think so, though he has said nothing to that effect, and, of course,
I have not made any such 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 am 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 want to 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
"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 assented 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 in and gossiped with Mr.
Bellingham, chiefly about the work that 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
"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 there 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.
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 pretty
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," I said. "It is very good of you to look in on
me. I am ashamed to give you all this trouble about such a trifling
She rapped her knuckles impatiently on the table.
"Never mind about the trouble," she exclaimed tartly.
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
"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 in 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'd better let me do your shopping and manage
the whole business," was her final verdict.
This was precisely what I had 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 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 up her
"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
on _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
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
"Well, then, I don't."
"In that case you'd 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 finger missing. The police think it is
a highly important clue. I don't know quite 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
"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 a personal friend. His address is Forty-nine Nevill's
"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
"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
"The '_late_ John Bellingham,' hey! How do you know he is the late John
"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
"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
"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
"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 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 to be 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
"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
"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
"But the Court may decide that he is dead and he may nevertheless be
"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; 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
"Do you mean to say that a judge would be justified in giving a decision
which he knew privately to be contrary to the facts? Or that he might
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