The Vanishing Man
R. Austin Freeman
Part 3 out of 6
sentence a man whom he knew to be innocent?"
"Certainly. It has been done. There is a case of a judge who sentenced a
man to death and allowed the execution to take place, notwithstanding
that he--the judge--had actually seen the murder committed by another
man. But that was carrying correctness of procedure to the verge of
"It was, with a vengeance," I agreed. "But to return to the case of John
Bellingham. Supposing that after the Court has decided that he is dead
he should turn up alive? What then?"
"Ah! It would then be his turn to make an application, and the Court,
having fresh evidence laid before it, would probably decide that he was
"And meantime his property would have been dispersed?"
"Probably. But you will observe that the presumption of death would have
arisen out of his own proceedings. If a man acts in such a way as to
create a belief that he is dead, he must put up with the consequences."
"Yes, that is reasonable enough," said I. And then, after a pause, I
asked: "Is there any immediate likelihood of proceedings of the kind
"I understood from what you said just now that Mr. Hurst was
contemplating some action of the kind. No doubt you had your information
from a reliable quarter." This answer Mr. Jellicoe delivered without
moving a muscle, regarding me with the fixity of a spectacled
I smiled feebly. The operation of pumping Mr. Jellicoe was rather like
the sport of boxing with a porcupine, being chiefly remarkable as a
demonstration of the power of passive resistance. I determined, however,
to make one more effort, rather, I think, for the pleasure of witnessing
his defensive manoeuvres than with the expectation of getting anything
out of him. I accordingly "opened out" on the subject of the "remains."
"Have you been following these remarkable discoveries of human bones
that have been appearing in the papers?" I asked.
He looked at me stonily for some moments, and then replied:
"Human bones are rather more within your province than mine, but, now
that you mention it, I think I recall having read of some such
discoveries. They were disconnected bones, I believe?"
"Yes; evidently parts of a dismembered body."
"So I should suppose. No, I have not followed the accounts. As we get on
in life our interests tend to settle into grooves, and my groove is
chiefly connected with conveyancing. These discoveries would be of more
interest to a criminal lawyer."
"I thought that you might, perhaps, have connected them with the
disappearance of your client."
"Why should I? What could be the nature of the connection?"
"Well," I said, "these are the bones of a man--"
"Yes; and my client was a man with bones. That is a connection,
certainly, though not a very specific or distinctive one. But perhaps
you had something more particular in your mind."
"I had," I replied. "The fact that some of the bones were actually found
on land belonging to your client seemed to me rather significant."
"Did it, indeed?" said Mr. Jellicoe. He reflected for a few moments,
gazing steadily at me the while, and then continued: "In that I am
unable to follow you. It would have seemed to me that the finding of
human remains upon a certain piece of land might conceivably throw a
_prima facie_ suspicion upon the owner or occupant of that land as being
the person who deposited them. But the case that you suggest is the one
case in which this would be impossible. A man cannot deposit his own
"No, of course not. I was not suggesting that he deposited them
himself, but merely that the fact of their being deposited on his land,
in a way, connected these remains with him."
"Again," said Mr. Jellicoe, "I fail to follow you, unless you are
suggesting that it is customary for murderers who mutilate bodies to be
punctilious in depositing the dismembered remains upon land belonging to
their victims. In which case I am sceptical as to your facts. I am not
aware of the existence of any such custom. Moreover, it appears that
only a portion of the body was deposited on Mr. Bellingham's land, the
remaining portions having been scattered broadcast over a wide area. How
does that agree with your suggestion?"
"It doesn't, of course," I admitted. "But there is another fact that I
think you will admit to be more significant. The first remains that were
discovered were found at Sidcup. Now, Sidcup is close to Eltham; and
Eltham is the place where Mr. Bellingham was last seen alive."
"And what is the significance of this? Why do you connect the remains
with one locality rather than the various other localities in which
other portions of the body have been found?"
"Well," I replied, rather gravelled by this very pertinent question,
"the appearances seem to suggest that the person who deposited these
remains started from the neighbourhood of Eltham, where the missing man
was last seen."
Mr. Jellicoe shook his head. "You appear," said he, "to be confusing the
order of deposition with the order of discovery. What evidence is there
that the remains found at Sidcup were deposited before those found
"I don't know that there is any," I admitted.
"Then," said he, "I don't see how you support your suggestion that the
person started from the neighbourhood of Eltham."
On consideration, I had to admit that I had nothing to offer in support
of my theory; and having thus shot my last arrow in this very unequal
contest, I thought it time to change the subject.
"I called in at the British Museum the other day," said I, "and had a
look at Mr. Bellingham's last gift to the nation. The things are very
well shown in that central case."
"Yes. I was very pleased with the position they have given to the
exhibit, and so would my poor old friend have been. I wished, as I
looked at the case, that he could have seen it. But perhaps he may,
"I am sure I hope he will," said I, with more sincerity, perhaps, than
the lawyer gave me credit for. For the return of John Bellingham would
most effectually have cut the Gordian knot of my friend Godfrey's
difficulties. "You are a good deal interested in Egyptology yourself,
aren't you?" I added.
"Greatly interested," replied Mr. Jellicoe, with more animation than I
had thought possible in his wooden face. "It is a fascinating subject,
the study of this venerable civilisation, extending back to the
childhood of the human race, preserved for ever for our instruction in
its own unchanging monuments like a fly in a block of amber. Everything
connected with Egypt is full of an impressive solemnity. A feeling of
permanence, of stability, defying time and change, pervades it. The
place, the people, and the monuments alike breathe of eternity."
I was mightily surprised at this rhetorical outburst on the part of this
dry and taciturn lawyer. But I liked him the better for the touch of
enthusiasm that made him human, and determined to keep him astride of
"Yet," said I, "the people must have changed in the course of
"Yes, that is so. The people who fought against Cambyses were not the
race that marched into Egypt five thousand years before--the dynastic
people whose portraits we see on the early monuments. In those fifty
centuries the blood of Hyksos and Syrians and Ethiopians and Hittites,
and who can say how many more races, must have mingled with that of the
old Egyptians. But still the national life went on without a break; the
old culture leavened the new peoples, and the immigrant strangers ended
by becoming Egyptians. It is a wonderful phenomenon. Looking back on it
from our own time, it seems more like a geological period than the
life-history of a single nation. Are you at all interested in the
"Yes, decidedly, though I am completely ignorant of it. The fact is that
my interest is of quite recent growth. It is only of late that I have
been sensible of the glamour of things Egyptian."
"Since you made Miss Bellingham's acquaintance, perhaps?" suggested Mr.
Jellicoe, himself as unchanging in aspect as an Egyptian effigy.
I suppose I must have reddened--I certainly resented the remark--for he
continued in the same even tone: "I made the suggestion because I know
that she takes an intelligent interest in the subject and is, in fact,
quite well informed on it."
"Yes; she seems to know a great deal about the antiquities of Egypt, and
I may as well admit that your surmise was correct. It was she who showed
me her uncle's collection."
"So I had supposed," said Mr. Jellicoe. "And a very instructive
collection it is, in a popular sense; very suitable for exhibition in a
public museum, though there is nothing in it of unusual interest to the
expert. The tomb furniture is excellent of its kind and the cartonnage
case of the mummy is well made and rather finely decorated."
"Yes, I thought it quite handsome. But can you explain to me why, after
taking all that trouble to decorate it, they should have disfigured it
with those great smears of bitumen?"
"Ah!" said Mr. Jellicoe, "that is quite an interesting question. It is
not unusual to find mummy-cases smeared with bitumen; there is a mummy
of a priestess in the next gallery which is completely coated with
bitumen excepting the gilded face. Now, this bitumen was put on for a
purpose--for the purpose of obliterating the inscriptions and thus
concealing the identity of the deceased from the robbers and desecrators
of tombs. And there is the oddity of this mummy of Sebek-hotep.
Evidently there was an intention of obliterating the inscriptions. The
whole of the back is covered thickly with bitumen, and so are the feet.
Then the workers seem to have changed their minds and left the
inscriptions and decoration untouched. Why they intended to cover it,
and why, having commenced, they left it partially covered only, is a
mystery. The mummy was found in its original tomb and quite
undisturbed, so far as tomb-robbers are concerned. Poor Bellingham was
greatly puzzled as to what the explanation could be."
"Speaking of bitumen," said I, "reminds me of a question that has
occurred to me. You know that this substance has been used a good deal
by modern painters and that it has a very dangerous peculiarity; I mean
its tendency to liquefy, without any very obvious reason, long after it
"Yes, I know. Isn't there some story about a picture of Reynolds' in
which bitumen had been used? A portrait of a lady, I think. The bitumen
softened, and one of the lady's eyes slipped down on to her cheek; and
they had to hang the portrait upside down and keep it warm until the eye
slipped back into its place. But what was your question?"
"I was wondering whether the bitumen used by the Egyptian artists has
ever been known to soften after this great lapse of time."
"Yes, I think it has. I have heard of instances in which the bitumen
coatings of mummy cases have softened under certain circumstances and
become quite 'tacky.' But, bless my soul! here am I gossiping with you
and wasting your time, and it is nearly a quarter to nine!"
My guest rose hastily, and I, with many apologies for having detained
him, proceeded to fulfil my promise to guide him to his destination. As
we sallied forth together the glamour of Egypt faded by degrees, and
when he shook my hand stiffly at the gate of the Bellinghams' house, all
his vivacity and enthusiasm had vanished, leaving the taciturn lawyer,
dry, uncommunicative, and not a little suspicious.
THE NEW ALLIANCE
The "Great Lexicographer"--tutelary deity of my adopted habitat--has
handed down to shuddering posterity a definition of the act of eating
which might have been framed by a dyspeptic ghoul. "Eat: to devour with
the mouth." It is a shocking view to take of so genial a function:
cynical, indelicate, and finally unforgivable by reason of its very
accuracy. For, after all, that is what eating amounts to, if one must
needs express it with such crude brutality. But if "the ingestion of
alimentary substances"--to ring a modern change upon the older
formula--is in itself a process material even unto carnality, it is
undeniable that it forms a highly agreeable accompaniment to more
And so, as the lamplight, re-enforced by accessory candles, falls on the
little table in the first-floor room looking on Fetter Lane--only now
the curtains are drawn--the conversation is not the less friendly and
bright for a running accompaniment executed with knives and forks, for
clink of goblet and jovial gurgle of wine-flask. On the contrary, to one
of us, at least--to wit, Godfrey Bellingham--the occasion is one of
uncommon festivity, and his boyish enjoyment of the simple feast makes
pathetic suggestions of hard times, faced uncomplainingly, but keenly
The talk flitted from topic to topic, mainly concerning itself with
matters artistic, and never for one moment approaching the critical
subject of John Bellingham's will. From the stepped pyramid of Sakkara
with its encaustic tiles to mediaeval church floors; from Elizabethan
woodwork to Mycaenaean pottery, and thence to the industrial arts of the
Stone Age and the civilisation of the Aztecs. I began to suspect that my
two legal friends were so carried away by the interest of the
conversation that they had forgotten the secret purpose of the meeting,
for the dessert had been placed on the table (by Mrs. Gummer with the
manner of a bereaved dependant dispensing funeral bakemeats), and still
no reference had been made to the "case." But it seemed that Thorndyke
was but playing a waiting game; was only allowing the intimacy to ripen
while he watched for the opportunity. And that opportunity came, even as
Mrs. Gummer vanished spectrally with a tray of plates and glasses.
"So you had a visitor last night, Doctor," said Mr. Bellingham. "I mean
my friend Jellicoe. He told us he had seen you, and mighty curious he
was about you. I have never known Jellicoe to be so inquisitive before.
What did you think of him?"
"A quaint old cock. I found him highly amusing. We entertained one
another for quite a long time with cross questions and crooked answers;
I affecting eager curiosity, he replying with a defensive attitude of
universal ignorance. It was a most diverting encounter."
"He needn't have been so close," Miss Bellingham remarked, "seeing that
all the world will be regaled with our affairs before long."
"They are proposing to take the case into Court, then?" said Thorndyke.
"Yes," said Mr. Bellingham. "Jellicoe came to tell me that my cousin,
Hurst, has instructed his solicitors to make the application and to
invite me to join him. Actually he came to deliver an ultimatum from
Hurst--But, I mustn't disturb the harmony of this festive gathering with
"Now, why mustn't you?" asked Thorndyke. "Why is a subject in which we
are all keenly interested to be _tabu_? You don't mind telling us about
it, do you?"
"No, of course not. But what do you think of a man who buttonholes a
doctor at a dinner-party to retail a list of his ailments?"
"It depends on what his ailments are," replied Thorndyke. "If he is a
chronic dyspeptic and wishes to expound the virtues of Doctor Snaffler's
Purple Pills for Pimply People, he is merely a bore. But if he chances
to suffer from some rare and choice disease, such as Trypanosomiasis or
Acromegaly, the doctor will be delighted to listen."
"Then are we to understand," Miss Bellingham asked, "that we are rare
and choice products, in a legal sense?"
"Undoubtedly," replied Thorndyke. "The case of John Bellingham is, in
many respects, unique. It will be followed with the deepest interest by
the profession at large, and especially by medical jurists."
"How gratifying that should be to us!" said Miss Bellingham. "We may
even attain undying fame in textbooks and treatises; and yet we are not
so very much puffed up with our importance."
"No," said her father; "we could do without the fame quite well, and
so, I think, could Hurst. Did Berkeley tell you of the proposal that he
"Yes," said Thorndyke; "and I gather from what you say that he has
"Yes. He sent Jellicoe to give me another chance, and I was tempted to
take it; but my daughter was strongly against any compromise, and
probably she is right. At any rate, she is more concerned than I am."
"What view did Mr. Jellicoe take?" Thorndyke asked.
"Oh, he was very cautious and reserved, but he didn't disguise his
feeling that I should be wise to take a certainty in lieu of a very
problematical fortune. He would certainly like me to agree, for he
naturally wishes to get the affair settled and pocket his legacy."
"And have you definitely refused?"
"Yes; quite definitely. So Hurst will apply for permission to presume
death and prove the will, and Jellicoe will support him; he says he has
"I suppose I shall oppose the application, though I don't quite know on
"Before you take any definite steps," said Thorndyke, "you ought to give
the matter very careful consideration. I take it that you have very
little doubt that your brother is dead. And if he is dead, any benefit
that you may receive under the will must be conditional on the previous
assumption or proof of death. But perhaps you have taken advice?"
"No, I have not. As our friend the Doctor has probably told you, my
means--or rather, the lack of them--do not admit of my getting
professional advice. Hence my delicacy about discussing the case with
"Then do you propose to conduct your case in person?"
"Yes; if it is necessary for me to appear in Court, as I suppose it will
be, if I oppose the application."
Thorndyke reflected for a few moments, and then said gravely:
"You had much better not appear in person to conduct your case, Mr.
Bellingham, for several reasons. To begin with, Mr. Hurst is sure to be
represented by a capable counsel, and you will find yourself quite
unable to meet the sudden exigencies of a contest in Court. You will be
out-manoeuvred. Then there is the judge to be considered."
"But surely one can rely on the judge dealing fairly with a man who is
unable to afford a solicitor and counsel?"
"Undoubtedly, as a rule, a judge will give an unrepresented litigant
every assistance and consideration. English judges in general are
high-minded men with a deep sense of their great responsibilities. But
you cannot afford to take any chances. You must consider the exceptions.
A judge has been a counsel, and he may carry to the bench some of the
professional prejudices of the bar. Indeed, if you consider the absurd
licence permitted to counsel in their treatment of witnesses, and the
hostile attitude adopted by some judges towards medical and other
scientific men who have to give their evidence, you will see that the
judicial mind is not always quite as judicial as one would wish,
especially when the privileges and immunities of the profession are
concerned. Now, your appearance in person to conduct your case must,
unavoidably, cause some inconvenience to the Court. Your ignorance of
procedure and legal details must occasion some delay; and if the judge
should happen to be an irritable man he might resent the inconvenience
and delay. I don't say that that would affect his decision--I don't
think it would--but I am sure that it would be wise to avoid giving
offence to the judge. And, above all, it is most desirable to be able to
detect and reply to any manoeuvres on the part of the opposing counsel,
which you certainly would not be able to do."
"This is excellent advice, Doctor Thorndyke," said Bellingham, with a
grim smile; "but I am afraid I shall have to take my chance."
"Not necessarily," said Thorndyke. "I am going to make a little
proposal, which I will ask you to consider without prejudice as a mutual
accommodation. You see, your case is one of exceptional interest--it
will become a textbook case, as Miss Bellingham has prophesied; and,
since it lies within my specialty, it will be necessary for me, in any
case, to follow it in the closest detail. Now, it would be much more
satisfactory to me to study it from within than from without, to say
nothing of the credit which would accrue to me if I should be able to
conduct it to a successful issue. I am therefore going to ask you to put
your case in my hands and let me see what can be done with it. I know
this is an unusual course for a professional man to take, but I think it
is not improper under the circumstances."
Mr. Bellingham pondered in silence for a few moments, and then, after a
glance at his daughter, began rather hesitatingly: "It is exceedingly
generous of you, Doctor Thorndyke--"
"Pardon me," interrupted Thorndyke, "it is not. My motives, as I have
explained, are purely egoistic."
Mr. Bellingham laughed uneasily and again glanced at his daughter, who,
however, pursued her occupation of peeling a pear with calm deliberation
and without lifting her eyes. Getting no help from her, he asked: "Do
you think that there is any possibility whatever of a successful issue?"
"Yes, a remote possibility--very remote, I fear, as things look at
present; but if I thought the case absolutely hopeless I should advise
you to stand aside and let events take their course."
"Supposing the case to come to a favourable termination, would you allow
me to settle your fees in the ordinary way?"
"If the choice lay with me," replied Thorndyke, "I should say 'yes' with
pleasure. But it does not. The attitude of the profession is very
definitely unfavourable to 'speculative' practice. You may remember the
well-known firm of Dodson and Fogg, who gained thereby much profit, but
little credit. But why discuss contingencies of this kind? If I bring
your case to a successful issue I shall have done very well for myself.
We shall have benefited one another mutually. Come now, Miss Bellingham,
I appeal to you. We have eaten salt together, to say nothing of pigeon
pie and other cates. Won't you back me up, and at the same time do a
kindness to Doctor Berkeley?"
"Why, is Doctor Berkeley interested in our decision?"
"Certainly he is, as you will appreciate when I tell you that he
actually tried to bribe me secretly out of his own pocket."
"Did you?" she asked, looking at me with an expression that rather
"Well, not exactly," I replied, mighty hot and uncomfortable, and
wishing Thorndyke at the devil with his confidences. "I merely mentioned
that the--the--solicitor's costs, you know, and that sort of thing--but
you needn't jump on me, Miss Bellingham; Doctor Thorndyke did all that
was necessary in that way."
She continued to look at me thoughtfully as I stammered out my excuses,
and then said: "I wasn't going to. I was only thinking that poverty has
its compensations. You are all so very good to us; and, for my part, I
should accept Doctor Thorndyke's generous offer most gratefully, and
thank him for making it so easy for us."
"Very well, my dear," said Mr. Bellingham; "we will enjoy the sweets of
poverty, as you say--we have sampled the other kind of thing pretty
freely--and do ourselves the pleasure of accepting a great kindness,
most delicately offered."
"Thank you," said Thorndyke. "You have justified my faith in you, Miss
Bellingham, and in the power of Doctor Berkeley's salt. I understand
that you place your affairs in my hands?"
"Entirely and thankfully," replied Mr. Bellingham. "Whatever you think
best to be done we agree to beforehand."
"Then," said I, "let us drink success to the Cause. Port, if you please,
Miss Bellingham; the vintage is not recorded, but it is quite wholesome,
and a suitable medium for the sodium chloride of friendship." I filled
her glass, and, when the bottle had made its circuit, we stood up and
solemnly pledged the new alliance.
"There is just one thing that I would say before we dismiss the subject
for the present," said Thorndyke. "It is a good thing to keep one's own
counsel. When you get formal notice from Mr. Hurst's solicitors that
proceedings are being commenced, you may refer them to Mr. Marchmont of
Gray's Inn, who will nominally act for you. He will actually have
nothing to do, but we must preserve the fiction that I am instructed by
a solicitor. Meanwhile, and until the case goes into Court, I think it
very necessary that neither Mr. Jellicoe nor anyone else should know
that I am to be connected with it. We must keep the other side in the
dark, if we can."
"We will be as secret as the grave," said Mr. Bellingham; "and, as a
matter of fact, it will be quite easy, since it happens, by a curious
coincidence, that I am already acquainted with Mr. Marchmont. He acted
for Stephen Blackmore, you remember, in that case that you unravelled so
wonderfully. I knew the Blackmores."
"Did you?" said Thorndyke. "What a small world it is! And what a
remarkable affair that was! The intricacies and cross-issues made it
quite absorbingly interesting; and it is noteworthy for me in another
respect, for it was one of the first cases in which I was associated
with Doctor Jervis."
"Yes, and a mighty useful associate I was," remarked Jervis, "though I
did pick up one or two facts by accident. And, by the way, the Blackmore
case had certain points in common with your case, Mr. Bellingham. There
was a disappearance and a disputed will, and the man who vanished was a
scholar and an antiquarian."
"Cases in our specialty are apt to have certain general resemblances,"
said Thorndyke; and as he spoke he directed a keen glance at his junior,
the significance of which I partly understood when he abruptly changed
"The newspaper reports of your brother's disappearance, Mr. Bellingham,
were remarkably full of detail. There were even plans of your house and
that of Mr. Hurst. Do you know who supplied the information?"
"No, I don't," replied Mr. Bellingham. "I know that I didn't. Some
newspaper men came to me for information, but I sent them packing. So, I
understand, did Hurst; and as for Jellicoe, you might as well
cross-examine an oyster."
"Well," said Thorndyke, "the Press-men have queer methods of getting
'copy'; but still, someone must have given them that description of your
brother and those plans. It would be interesting to know who it was.
However, we don't know; and now let us dismiss these legal topics, with
suitable apologies for having introduced them."
"And perhaps," said I, "we may as well adjourn to what we will call the
drawing-room--it is really Barnard's den--and leave the housekeeper to
wrestle with the debris."
We migrated to the cheerfully shabby little apartment, and, when Mrs.
Gummer had served coffee, with gloomy resignation (as who should say:
"If you will drink this sort of stuff I suppose you must, but don't
blame _me_ for the consequences"), I settled Mr. Bellingham in Barnard's
favourite lop-sided easy chair--the depressed seat of which suggested
its customary use by an elephant of sedentary habits--and opened the
"I wonder if Miss Bellingham would give us a little music?" I said.
"I wonder if she could?" was the smiling response. "Do you know," she
continued, "I have not touched a piano for nearly two years? It will be
quite an interesting experiment--to me; but if it fails, you will be the
sufferers. So you must choose."
"My verdict," said Mr. Bellingham, "is _fiat experimentum_, though I
won't complete the quotation, as that would seem to disparage Doctor
Barnard's piano. But before you begin, Ruth, there is one rather
disagreeable matter that I want to dispose of, so that I may not disturb
the harmony with it later."
He paused, and we all looked at him expectantly.
"I suppose, Doctor Thorndyke," he said, "you read the newspapers?"
"I don't," replied Thorndyke. "But I ascertain, for purely business
purposes, what they contain."
"Then," said Mr. Bellingham, "you have probably met with some accounts
of the finding of certain human remains, apparently portions of a
"Yes, I have seen those reports and filed them for future reference."
"Exactly. Well, now, it can hardly be necessary for me to tell you that
those remains--the mutilated remains of some poor murdered creature, as
there can be no doubt they are--have seemed to have a very dreadful
significance for me. You will understand what I mean; and I want to ask
you if--if they have made a similar suggestion to you."
Thorndyke paused before replying, with his eyes bent thoughtfully on
the floor, and we all looked at him anxiously.
"It is very natural," he said at length, "that you should associate
these remains with the mystery of your brother's disappearance. I should
like to say that you are wrong in doing so, but if I did I should be
uncandid. There are certain facts that do, undoubtedly, seem to suggest
a connection, and, up to the present, there are no definite facts of a
Mr. Bellingham sighed deeply and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
"It is a horrible affair!" he said huskily; "horrible! Would you mind,
Doctor Thorndyke, telling us just how the matter stands in your
opinion--what the probabilities are, for and against?"
Again Thorndyke reflected awhile, and it seemed to me that he was not
very willing to discuss the subject. However, the question had been
asked pointedly, and eventually he answered:
"At the present stage of the investigation it is not very easy to state
the balance of probabilities. The matter is still quite speculative. The
bones which have been found hitherto (for we are dealing with a
skeleton, not with a body) have been exclusively those which are useless
for personal identification; which is, in itself, a rather curious and
striking fact. The general character and dimensions of the bones seem to
suggest a middle-aged man of about your brother's height, and the date
of deposition appears to be in agreement with the date of his
"Is it known, then, when they were deposited?" Mr. Bellingham asked.
"In the case of those found at Sidcup it seems possible to deduce an
approximate date. The watercress-bed was cleaned out about two years
ago, so they could not have been lying there longer than that; and their
condition suggests that they could not have been there much less than
two years, as there is apparently not a vestige of the soft structures
left. Of course, I am speaking from the newspaper reports only; I have
no direct knowledge of the matter."
"Have they found any considerable part of the body yet? I haven't been
reading the papers myself. My little friend, Miss Oman, brought a great
bundle of 'em for me to read, but I couldn't stand it; I pitched the
whole boiling of 'em out of the window."
I thought I detected a slight twinkle in Thorndyke's eye, but he
answered quite gravely:
"I think I can give you the particulars from memory, though I won't
guarantee the dates. The original discovery was made, apparently quite
accidentally, at Sidcup on the fifteenth of July. It consisted of a
complete left arm, minus the third finger and including the bones of the
shoulder--the shoulder-blade and collar-bone. This discovery seems to
have set the local population, especially the juvenile part of it,
searching all the ponds and streams of the neighbourhood--"
"Cannibals!" interjected Mr. Bellingham.
"With the result that there was dredged up out of a pond near St. Mary
Cray, in Kent, a right thigh-bone. There is a slight clue to identity in
respect of this bone, since the head of it has a small patch of what is
called 'eburnation'--that is a sort of porcelain-like polish that occurs
on the parts of bones that form a joint when the natural covering of
cartilage is destroyed by disease. It is produced by the unprotected
surface of one bone grinding against the similarly unprotected surface
"And how," Mr. Bellingham asked, "would that help the identification?"
"It would indicate," replied Thorndyke, "that the deceased had probably
suffered from rheumatoid arthritis--what is commonly known as rheumatic
gout--and he would probably have limped slightly and complained of some
pain in the right hip."
"I am afraid that doesn't help us much," said Mr. Bellingham; "for, you
see, John had a pretty pronounced limp from another cause, an old injury
to his left ankle; and as to complaining of pain--well, he was a hardy
old fellow and not much given to making complaints of any kind. But
don't let me interrupt you."
"The next discovery," continued Thorndyke, "was made near Lee, by the
police this time. They seem to have developed sudden activity in the
matter, and in searching the neighbourhood of West Kent they dragged out
of a pond near Lee the bones of a right foot. Now, if it had been the
left instead of the right we might have had a clue, as I understand that
your brother had fractured his left ankle, and there might have been
some traces of the injury on the foot itself."
"Yes," said Mr. Bellingham, "I suppose there might. The injury was
described as a Pott's fracture."
"Exactly. Well, now, after this discovery at Lee it seems that the
police set on foot a systematic search of all the ponds and small pieces
of water around London, and on the twenty-third, they found in the
Cuckoo Pits in Epping Forest, not far from Woodford, the bones of a
right arm (including those of the shoulder, as before), which seem to be
part of the same body."
"Yes," said Mr. Bellingham, "I heard of that. Quite close to my old
house. Horrible! horrible! It gave me the shudders to think of it--to
think that poor old John may have been waylaid and murdered when he was
actually coming to see me. He may even have got into the grounds by the
back gate, if it was left unfastened, and been followed in there and
murdered. You remember that a scarab from his watch-chain was found
there? But is it clear that this arm was the fellow of the arm that was
found at Sidcup?"
"It seems to agree in character and dimensions," said Thorndyke, "and
the agreement is strongly supported by a discovery that was made two
"What is that?" Mr. Bellingham demanded.
"It is the lower half of a trunk which the police dredged out of a
rather deep pond on the skirts of the forest at Loughton--Staple's Pond,
it is called. The bones found were the pelvis--that is, the two
hipbones--and six vertebrae, or joints of the backbone. Having
discovered these, the police dammed the stream and pumped the pond dry,
but no other bones were found; which is rather odd, as there should have
been a pair of ribs belonging to the upper vertebra--the twelfth dorsal
vertebra. It suggests some curious questions as to the method of
dismemberment; but I mustn't go into unpleasant details. The point is
that the cavity of the right hip-joint showed a patch of eburnation
corresponding to that on the head of the right thigh-bone that was found
at St. Mary Cray. So there can be very little doubt that these bones are
all part of the same body."
"I see," grunted Mr. Bellingham; and he added, after a moment's
thought: "Now, the question is, Are these bones the remains of my
brother John? What do you say, Doctor Thorndyke?"
"I say that the question cannot be answered on the facts at present
known to us. It can only be said that they may be, and that some of the
circumstances suggest that they are. But we can only wait for further
discoveries. At any moment the police may light upon some portion of the
skeleton which will settle the question definitely one way or the
"I suppose," said Mr. Bellingham, "I can't be of any service to you in
the matter of identification?"
"Indeed you can," said Thorndyke, "and I was going to ask you to assist
me. What I want you to do is this: Write down a full description of your
brother, including every detail known to you, together with an account
of every illness or injury from which you know him to have suffered; and
also the names and, if possible, the addresses of any doctors, surgeons,
or dentists who may have attended him at any time. The dentists are
particularly important, as their information would be invaluable if the
skull belonging to these bones should be discovered."
Mr. Bellingham shuddered.
"It's a shocking idea," he said; "but, of course, you are quite right.
You must have the facts if you are to form an opinion. I will write out
what you want and send it to you without delay. And now, for God's sake,
let us throw off this nightmare, for a little while, at least! What is
there, Ruth, among Doctor Barnard's music that you can manage?"
Barnard's collection in general inclined to the severely classical, but
we disinterred from the heap a few lighter works of an old-fashioned
kind, including a volume of Mendelssohn's _Lieder ohne Worte_, and with
one of these Miss Bellingham made trial of her skill, playing it with
excellent taste and quite adequate execution. That, at least, was her
father's verdict; for, as to me, I found it the perfection of happiness
merely to sit and look at her--a state of mind that would have been in
no wise disturbed even by _Silvery Waves_ or _The Maiden's Prayer_.
Thus with simple, homely music, and conversation always cheerful and
sometimes brilliant, slipped away one of the pleasantest evenings of my
life, and slipped away all too soon. St. Dunstan's clock was the fly in
the ointment, for it boomed out intrusively the hour of eleven just as
my guests were beginning thoroughly to appreciate one another; and
thereby carried the sun (with a minor paternal satellite) out of the
firmament of my heaven. For I had, in my professional capacity, given
strict injunctions that Mr. Bellingham should on no account sit up late;
and now, in my social capacity, I had smilingly to hear "the doctor's
orders" quoted. It was a scurvy return for all my care.
When Mr. and Miss Bellingham departed, Thorndyke and Jervis would have
gone too; but noting my bereaved condition, and being withal
compassionate and tender of heart, they were persuaded to stay awhile
and bear me company in a consolatory pipe.
THE EVIDENCE REVIEWED
"So the game has opened," observed Thorndyke, as he struck a match. "The
play has begun with a cautious lead off by the other side. Very
cautious, and not very confident."
"Why do you say 'not very confident'?" I asked.
"Well, it is evident that Hurst--and, I fancy, Jellicoe too--is anxious
to buy off Bellingham's opposition, and at a pretty long price, under
the circumstances. And when we consider how very little Bellingham has
to offer against the presumption of his brother's death, it looks as if
Hurst hadn't much to say on his side."
"No," said Jervis, "he can't hold many trumps or he wouldn't be willing
to pay four hundred a year for his opponent's chance; and that is just
as well, for it seems to me that our own hand is a pretty poor one."
"We must look through our hand and see what we do hold," said Thorndyke.
"Our trump card at present--a rather small one, I am afraid--is the
obvious intention of the testator that the bulk of the property should
go to his brother."
"I suppose you will begin your inquiries now," said I.
"We began them some time ago--the day after you brought us the will, in
fact. Jervis has been through the registers and has ascertained that no
interment under the name of John Bellingham has taken place since the
disappearance; which was just what we expected. He has also discovered
that some other person has been making similar inquiries; which, again,
is what we expected."
"And your own investigations?"
"Have given negative results for the most part. I found Doctor Norbury,
at the British Museum, very friendly and helpful; so friendly, in fact,
that I am thinking whether I may not be able to enlist his help in
certain private researches of my own, with reference to the changes
effected by time in the physical properties of certain substances."
"Oh; you haven't told me about that," said Jervis.
"No: I haven't really commenced to plan my experiments yet, and they
will probably lead to nothing when I do. It occurred to me that,
possibly, in the course of time, certain molecular changes might take
place in substances such as wood, bone, pottery, stucco, and other
common materials, and that these changes might alter their power of
conducting or transmitting molecular vibrations. Now, if this should
turn out to be the case, it would be a fact of considerable importance,
medico-legal and otherwise; for it would be possible to determine
approximately the age of any object of known composition by testing its
reactions to electricity, heat, light and other molecular vibrations. I
thought of seeking Doctor Norbury's assistance because he can furnish me
with materials for experiment of such great age that the reactions, if
any, should be extremely easy to demonstrate. But to return to our case.
I learned from him that John Bellingham had certain friends in
Paris--collectors and museum officials--whom he was in the habit of
visiting for the purpose of study and exchange of specimens. I have
made inquiries of all of these, and none of them had seen him during his
last visit. In fact, I have not yet discovered anyone who had seen
Bellingham in Paris on this occasion. So his visit there remains a
mystery for the present."
"It doesn't seem to be of much importance, since he undoubtedly came
back," I remarked; but to this Thorndyke demurred.
"It is impossible to estimate the importance of the unknown," said he.
"Well, how does the matter stand," asked Jervis, "on the evidence that
we have? John Bellingham disappeared on a certain date. Is there
anything to show what was the manner of his disappearance?"
"The facts in our possession," said Thorndyke, "which are mainly those
set forth in the newspaper report, suggest several alternative
possibilities; and in view of the coming inquiry--for they will, no
doubt, have to be gone into in Court, to some extent--it may be worth
while to consider them. There are five conceivable hypotheses"--here
Thorndyke checked them on his fingers as he proceeded--"First, he may
still be alive. Second, he may have died and been buried without
identification. Third, he may have been murdered by some unknown person.
Fourth, he may have been murdered by Hurst and his body concealed.
Fifth, he may have been murdered by his brother. Let us examine these
"First, he may still be alive. If he is, he must either have disappeared
voluntarily, have lost his memory suddenly and not been identified, or
have been imprisoned--on a false charge or otherwise. Let us take the
first case--that of voluntary disappearance. Obviously, its
improbability is extreme."
"Jellicoe doesn't think so," said I. "He thinks it quite on the cards
that John Bellingham is alive. He says that it is not a very unusual
thing for a man to disappear for a time."
"Then why is he applying for a presumption of death?"
"Just what I asked him. He says that it is the correct thing to do; that
the entire responsibility rests on the Court."
"That is all nonsense," said Thorndyke. "Jellicoe is the trustee for his
absent client, and, if he thinks that client is alive, it is his duty to
keep the estate intact; and he knows that perfectly well. We may take it
that Jellicoe is of the same opinion as I am: that John Bellingham is
"Still," I urged, "men do disappear from time to time, and turn up again
after years of absence."
"Yes, but for a definite reason. Either they are irresponsible vagabonds
who take this way of shuffling off their responsibilities, or they are
men who have been caught in a net of distasteful circumstances. For
instance, a civil servant or a solicitor or a tradesman finds himself
bound for life to a locality and an occupation of intolerable monotony.
Perhaps he has an ill-tempered wife, who, after the amiable fashion of a
certain type of woman, thinking that her husband is pinned down without
a chance of escape, gives a free rein to her temper. The man puts up
with it for years, but at last it becomes unbearable. Then he suddenly
disappears; and small blame to him. But this was not Bellingham's case.
He was a wealthy bachelor with an engrossing interest in life, free to
go whither he would and to do whatsoever he wished. Why should he
disappear? The thing is incredible.
"As to his having lost his memory and remained unidentified, that, also,
is incredible in the case of a man who had visiting-cards and letters in
his pocket, whose linen was marked, and who was being inquired for
everywhere by the police. As to his being in prison, we may dismiss that
possibility, inasmuch as a prisoner, both before and after conviction,
would have full opportunity of communicating with his friends.
"The second possibility, that he may have died suddenly and been buried
without identification, is highly improbable; but, as it is conceivable
that the body might have been robbed and the means of identification
thus lost, it remains as a possibility that has to be considered, remote
as it is.
"The third hypothesis, that he may have been murdered by some unknown
person, is, under the circumstances, not wildly improbable; but, as the
police were on the look out and a detailed description of the missing
man's person was published in the papers, it would involve the complete
concealment of the body. But this would exclude the most probable form
of the crime--the casual robbery with violence. It is therefore
possible, but highly improbable.
"The fourth hypothesis is that Bellingham was murdered by Hurst. Now the
one fact which militates against this view is that Hurst apparently had
no motive for committing the murder. We are assured by Jellicoe that no
one but himself knew the contents of the will, and if this is so--but,
mind, we have no evidence that it is so--Hurst would have no reason to
suppose that he had anything material to gain by his cousin's death.
Otherwise the hypothesis presents no inherent improbabilities. The man
was last seen alive at Hurst's house. He was seen to enter it and he was
never seen to leave it--we are still taking the facts as stated in the
newspapers, remember--and it now appears that he stands to benefit
enormously by that man's death."
"But," I objected, "you are forgetting that, directly the man was
missed, Hurst and the servants together searched the entire house."
"Yes. What did they search for?"
"Why, for Mr. Bellingham, of course."
"Exactly; for Mr. Bellingham. That is, for a living man. Now how do you
search a house for a living man? You look in all the rooms. When you
look in a room, if he is there, you see him; if you do not see him, you
assume that he is not there. You don't look under the sofa or behind the
piano, you don't pull out large drawers or open cupboards. You just look
into the rooms. That is what these people seem to have done. And they
did not see Mr. Bellingham. But Mr. Bellingham's corpse might have been
stowed away out of sight in any one of the rooms that they looked into."
"That is a grim thought," said Jervis; "But it is perfectly true. There
is no evidence that the man was not lying dead in the house at the very
time of the search."
"But even so," said I, "there was the body to be disposed of somehow.
Now how could he possibly have got rid of the body without being
"Ah!" said Thorndyke, "now we are touching on a point of crucial
importance. If anyone should ever write a treatise on the art of
murder--not an exhibition of literary fireworks like De Quincey's, but a
genuine working treatise--he might leave all other technical details to
take care of themselves if he could describe some really practicable
plan for disposing of the body. That is, and always has been, the great
stumbling-block to the murderer: to get rid of the body. The human
body," he continued, thoughtfully regarding his pipe, just as, in the
days of my pupilage, he was wont to regard the black-board chalk, "is a
very remarkable object. It presents a combination of properties that
makes it singularly difficult to conceal permanently. It is bulky and of
an awkward shape, it is heavy, it is completely incombustible, it is
chemically unstable, and its decomposition yields great volumes of
highly odorous gases, and it nevertheless contains identifiable
structures of the highest degree of permanence. It is extremely
difficult to preserve unchanged, and it is still more difficult
completely to destroy. The essential permanence of the human body is
well shown in the classical case of Eugene Aram; but a still more
striking instance is that of Seqenen-Ra the Third, one of the last kings
of the seventeenth Egyptian dynasty. Here, after a lapse of some four
thousand years, it has been possible to determine, not only the cause of
death and the manner of its occurrence, but the way in which the king
fell, the nature of the weapon with which the fatal wound was inflicted,
and even the position of the assailant. And the permanence of the body
under other conditions is admirably shown in the case of Doctor Parkman,
of Boston, U.S.A., in which identification was actually effected by
means of remains collected from the ashes of a furnace."
"Then we may take it," said Jervis, "that the world has not yet seen
the last of John Bellingham."
"I think we may regard that as almost a certainty," replied Thorndyke.
"The only question--and a very important one--is as to when the
reappearance may take place. It may be to-morrow or it may be centuries
hence, when all the issues involved have been forgotten."
"Assuming," said I, "for the sake of argument, that Hurst did murder him
and that the body was concealed in the study at the time the search was
made. How could it have been disposed of? If you had been in Hurst's
place, how would you have gone to work?"
Thorndyke smiled at the bluntness of my question.
"You are asking me for an incriminating statement," said he, "delivered
in the presence of a witness too. But, as a matter of fact, there is no
use in speculating _a priori_; we should have to reconstruct a purely
imaginary situation, the circumstances of which are unknown to us, and
we should almost certainly reconstruct it wrong. What we may fairly
assume is that no reasonable person, no matter how immoral, would find
himself in the position that you suggest. Murder is usually a crime of
impulse, and the murderer a person of feeble self-control. Such persons
are most unlikely to make elaborate and ingenious arrangements for the
disposal of the bodies of their victims. Even the cold-blooded
perpetrators of the most carefully planned murders appear, as I have
said, to break down at this point. The almost insuperable difficulty of
getting rid of a human body is not appreciated until the murderer
suddenly finds himself face to face with it.
"In the case that you are suggesting, the choice would seem to lie
between burial on the premises or dismemberment and dispersal of the
fragments; and either method would be pretty certain to lead to
"As illustrated by the remains of which you were speaking to Mr.
Bellingham," Jervis remarked.
"Exactly," Thorndyke answered, "though we could hardly imagine a
reasonably intelligent criminal adopting a watercress-bed as a
"No. That was certainly an error of judgment. By the way, I thought it
best to say nothing while you were talking to Bellingham, but I noticed
that, in discussing the possibility of those being the bones of his
brother, you made no comment on the absence of the third finger of the
left hand. I am sure you didn't overlook it, but isn't it a point of
"As to identification? Under the present circumstances, I think not. If
there were a man missing who had lost that finger it would, of course,
be an important fact. But I have not heard of any such man. Or, again,
if there were any evidence that the finger had been removed before
death, it would be highly important. But there is no such evidence. It
may have been cut off after death, and there is where the real
significance of its absence lies."
"I don't quite see what you mean," said Jervis.
"I mean that, if there is no report of any missing man who had lost that
particular finger, the probability is that the finger was removed after
death. And then arises the interesting question of motive. Why should it
have been removed? It could hardly have become detached accidentally.
What do you suggest?"
"Well," said Jervis, "it might have been a peculiar finger; a finger,
for instance, with some characteristic deformity, such as an ankylosed
joint, which would be easy to identify."
"Yes; but that explanation introduces the same difficulty. No person
with a deformed or ankylosed finger has been reported as missing."
Jervis puckered up his brows and looked at me.
"I'm hanged if I see any other explanation," he said. "Do you,
I shook my head.
"Don't forget which finger it is that is missing," said Thorndyke. "The
third finger on the left hand."
"Oh, I see!" said Jervis. "The ring-finger. You mean it may have been
removed for the sake of a ring that wouldn't come off."
"Yes. It would not be the first instance of the kind. Fingers have been
severed from dead hands--and even from living ones--for the sake of
rings that were too tight to be drawn off. And the fact that it is the
left hand supports this suggestion; for a ring that was inconveniently
tight would be worn by preference on the left hand, as that is usually
slightly smaller than the right. What is the matter, Berkeley?"
A sudden light had burst upon me, and I suppose my countenance betrayed
"I am a confounded fool!" I exclaimed.
"Oh, don't say that," said Jervis. "Give your friends a chance."
"I ought to have seen this long ago and told you about it. John
Bellingham did wear a ring, and it was so tight that, when once he had
got it on, he could never get it off again."
"Do you happen to know on which hand he wore it?" Thorndyke asked.
"Yes. It was the left hand; because Miss Bellingham, who told me about
it, said that he would never have been able to get the ring on at all
but for the fact that his left hand was slightly smaller than his
"There it is, then," said Thorndyke. "With this new fact in our
possession, the absence of this finger furnishes the starting-point of
some very curious speculations."
"As, for instance?" said Jervis.
"Ah, under the circumstances, I must leave you to pursue those
speculations independently. I am now acting for Mr. Bellingham."
Jervis grinned and was silent for a while, refilling his pipe
thoughtfully; but when he had got it alight he resumed.
"To return to the question of the disappearance; you don't consider it
highly improbable that Bellingham might have been murdered by Hurst?"
"Oh, don't imagine that I am making an accusation. I am considering the
various probabilities merely in the abstract. The same reasoning applies
to the Bellinghams. As to whether any of them did commit the murder,
that is a question of personal character. I certainly do not suspect the
Bellinghams after having seen them, and with regard to Hurst, I know
nothing, or at least very little, to his disadvantage."
"Do you know anything?" asked Jervis.
"Well," Thorndyke said, with some hesitation, "it seems a thought unkind
to rake up the little details of a man's past, and yet it has to be
done. I have, of course, made the usual routine inquiries concerning
the parties to this affair, and this is what they have brought to
"Hurst, as you know, is a stockbroker--a man of good position and
reputation; but, about ten years ago, he seems to have committed an
indiscretion, to put it mildly, which nearly got him into rather serious
difficulties. He appears to have speculated rather heavily and
considerably beyond his means, for when a sudden spasm of the market
upset his calculations, it turned out that he had been employing his
clients' capital and securities. For a time it looked as if there was
going to be serious trouble; then, quite unexpectedly, he managed to
raise the necessary amount in some way and settle all claims. Whence he
got the money has never been discovered to this day, which is a curious
circumstance, seeing that the deficiency was rather over five thousand
pounds; but the important fact is that he did get it and that he paid up
all that he owed. So that he was only a potential defaulter, so to
speak; and, discreditable as the affair undoubtedly was, it does not
seem to have any direct bearing on this present case."
"No," Jervis agreed, "though it makes one consider his position with
more attention than one would otherwise."
"Undoubtedly," said Thorndyke. "A reckless gambler is a man whose
conduct cannot be relied on. He is subject to sudden vicissitudes of
fortune which may force him into other kinds of wrongdoing. Many an
embezzlement has been preceded by an unlucky plunge on the turf."
"Assuming the responsibility for this disappearance to lie between Hurst
and--and the Bellinghams," said I, with an uncomfortable gulp as I
mentioned the name of my friends, "to which side does the balance of
"To the side of Hurst, I should say, without doubt," replied Thorndyke.
"The case stands thus--on the facts presented to us: Hurst appears to
have had no motive for killing the deceased (as we will call him); but
the man was seen to enter his house, was never seen to leave it, and was
never again seen alive. Bellingham, on the other hand, had a motive, as
he believed himself to be the principal beneficiary under the will. But
the deceased was not seen at his house, and there is no evidence that he
went to the house or to the neighbourhood of the house, excepting the
scarab that was found there. But the evidence of the scarab is vitiated
by the fact that Hurst was present when it was picked up, and that it
was found on a spot over which Hurst had passed only a few minutes
previously. Until Hurst is cleared, it seems to me that the presence of
the scarab proves nothing against the Bellinghams."
"Then your opinions on the case," said I, "are based entirely on the
facts that have been made public."
"Yes, mainly. I do not necessarily accept those facts just as they are
presented, and I may have certain views of my own on the case. But if I
have, I do not feel in a position to discuss them. For the present,
discussion has to be limited to the facts and inferences offered by the
"There!" exclaimed Jervis, rising to knock out his pipe, "that is where
Thorndyke has you. He lets you think you're in the very thick of the
'know' until one fine morning you wake up and discover that you have
only been a gaping outsider; and then you are mightily astonished--and
so are the other side, too, for that matter. But we must really be off
now, mustn't we, reverend senior?"
"I suppose we must," replied Thorndyke; and, as he drew on his gloves,
he asked: "Have you heard from Barnard lately?"
"Oh, yes," I answered. "I wrote to him at Smyrna to say that the
practice was flourishing and that I was quite happy and contented, and
that he might stay away as long as he liked. He writes by return that he
will prolong his holiday if an opportunity offers, but will let me know
"Gad," said Jervis, "it was a stroke of luck for Barnard that Bellingham
happened to have such a magnificent daughter--there! don't mind me, old
man. You go in and win--she's worth it, isn't she, Thorndyke?"
"Miss Bellingham is a very charming young lady," replied Thorndyke. "I
am most favourably impressed by both the father and the daughter, and I
only trust that we may be able to be of some service to them." With this
sedate little speech Thorndyke shook my hand, and I watched my two
friends go on their way until their fading shapes were swallowed up in
the darkness of Fetter Lane.
A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY
It was some two or three mornings after my little supper-party that, as
I stood in the consulting-room brushing my hat preparatory to starting
on my morning round, Adolphus appeared at the door to announce two
gentlemen waiting in the surgery. I told him to bring them in, and a
moment later Thorndyke entered, accompanied by Jervis. I noted that they
looked uncommonly large in the little apartment, especially Thorndyke,
but I had no time to consider this phenomenon, for the latter, when he
had shaken my hand, proceeded at once to explain the object of their
"We have come to ask a favour, Berkeley," he said; "to ask you to do us
a very great service in the interests of your friends, the Bellinghams."
"You know I shall be delighted," I said warmly. "What is it?"
"I will explain. You know--or perhaps you don't--that the police have
collected all the bones that have been discovered and deposited them in
the mortuary at Woodford, where they are to be viewed by the coroner's
jury. Now, it has become imperative that I should have more definite and
reliable information about them than I can get from the newspapers. The
natural thing would be for me to go down and examine them myself, but
there are circumstances that make it very desirable that my connection
with the case should not leak out. Consequently, I can't go myself,
and, for the same reason, I can't send Jervis. On the other hand, as it
is now stated pretty openly that the police consider the bones to be
almost certainly those of John Bellingham, it would seem perfectly
natural that you, as Godfrey Bellingham's doctor, should go down to view
them on his behalf."
"I should like to go," I said. "I would give anything to go; but how is
it to be managed? It would mean a whole day off and leaving the practice
to take care of itself."
"I think that could be arranged," said Thorndyke; "and the matter is
really important for two reasons. One is that the inquest opens
to-morrow, and someone certainly ought to be there to watch the
proceedings on Godfrey's behalf; and the other is that our client has
received notice from Hurst's solicitors that the application would be
heard in the Probate Court in a few days."
"Isn't that rather sudden?" I asked.
"It certainly suggests that there has been a good deal more activity
than we were given to understand. But you see the importance of the
affair. The inquest will be a sort of dress rehearsal for the Probate
Court, and it is quite essential that we should have a chance of
estimating the management."
"Yes, I see that. But how are we to manage about the practice?"
"We shall find you a substitute."
"Through a medical agent?"
"Yes," said Jervis. "Turcival will find us a man; in fact, he has done
it. I saw him this morning; he has a man who is waiting up in town to
negotiate for the purchase of a practice and who would do the job for a
couple of guineas. Quite a reliable man. Only say the word, and I will
run off to Adam Street and engage him definitely."
"Very well. You engage the locum tenens, and I will be prepared to start
for Woodford as soon as he turns up."
"Excellent!" said Thorndyke. "That is a great weight off my mind. And if
you could manage to drop in this evening and smoke a pipe with us we
could talk over the plan of campaign and let you know what items of
information we are particularly in want of."
I promised to turn up at King's Bench Walk as soon after half-past eight
as possible, and my two friends then took their departure, leaving me to
set out in high spirits on my scanty round of visits.
It is surprising what different aspects things present from different
points of view; how relative are our estimates of the conditions and
circumstances of life. To the urban workman--the journeyman baker or
tailor, for instance, labouring year in year out in a single building--a
holiday ramble on Hampstead Heath is a veritable voyage of discovery;
whereas to the sailor the shifting panorama of the whole wide world is
but the commonplace of the day's work.
So I reflected as I took my place in the train at Liverpool Street on
the following day. There had been a time when a trip by rail to the
borders of Epping Forest would have been far from a thrilling
experience; now, after vegetating in the little world of Fetter Lane, it
was quite an adventure.
The enforced inactivity of a railway journey is favourable to thought,
and I had much to think about. The last few weeks had witnessed
momentous changes in my outlook. New interests had arisen, new
friendships had grown up; and, above all, there had stolen into my life
that supreme influence that, for good or for evil, according to my
fortune, was to colour and pervade it even to its close. Those few days
of companionable labour in the reading-room, with the homely
hospitalities of the milk-shop and the pleasant walks homeward through
the friendly London streets, had called into existence a new world--a
world in which the gracious personality of Ruth Bellingham was the one
dominating reality. And thus, as I leaned back in a corner of the
railway carriage with an unlighted pipe in my hand, the events of the
immediate past, together with those more problematical ones of the
impending future, occupied me rather to the exclusion of the business of
the moment, which was to review the remains collected in the Woodford
mortuary, until, as the train approached Stratford, the odours of the
soap and bone-manure factories poured in at the open window and (by a
natural association of ideas) brought me back to the object of my quest.
As to the exact purpose of this expedition, I was not very clear; but I
knew that I was acting as Thorndyke's proxy and thrilled with pride at
the thought. But what particular light my investigations were to throw
upon the intricate Bellingham case I had no very definite idea. With a
view to fixing the course of procedure in my mind, I took Thorndyke's
written instructions from my pocket and read them over carefully. They
were very full and explicit, making ample allowance for my lack of
experience in medico-legal matters:--
1. Do not appear to make minute investigations or in any way
2. Ascertain if all the bones belonging to each region are
present, and if not, which are missing.
3. Measure the extreme length of the principal bones and compare
those of opposite sides.
4. Examine the bones with reference to the age, sex, and muscular
development of the deceased.
5. Note the presence or absence of signs of constitutional
disease, local disease of bone or adjacent structures, old or
recent injuries, and any other departures from the normal or
6. Observe the presence or absence of adipocere and its position,
7. Note any remains of tendons, ligaments, or other soft
8. Examine the Sidcup hand with reference to the question as to
whether the finger was separated before or after death.
9. Estimate the probable period of submersion and note any changes
(as, e.g., mineral or organic staining) due to the character of
the water or mud.
10. Ascertain the circumstances (immediate and remote) that led to
the discovery of the bones and the names of the persons
concerned in those circumstances.
11. Commit all information to writing as soon as possible, and make
plans and diagrams on the spot, if circumstances permit.
12. Preserve an impassive exterior; listen attentively but without
eagerness; ask as few questions as possible; pursue any inquiry
that your observations on the spot may suggest.
These were my instructions, and, considering that I was going merely to
inspect a few dry bones, they appeared rather formidable; in fact, the
more I read them over the greater became my misgivings as to my
qualifications for the task.
As I approached the mortuary it became evident that some, at least, of
Thorndyke's admonitions were by no means unnecessary. The place was in
charge of a police-sergeant, who watched my approach suspiciously; and
some half-dozen men, obviously newspaper reporters, hovered about the
entrance like a pack of jackals. I presented the coroner's order which
Mr. Marchmont had obtained, and which the sergeant read with his back
against the wall, to prevent the newspaper men from looking over his
My credentials being found satisfactory, the door was unlocked and I
entered, accompanied by three enterprising reporters, whom, however, the
sergeant summarily ejected and locked out, returning to usher me into
the presence and to observe my proceedings with intelligent but highly
The bones were laid out on a large table and covered with a sheet, which
the sergeant slowly turned back, watching my face intently as he did so
to note the impression that the spectacle made upon me. I imagine that
he must have been somewhat disappointed by my impassive demeanour, for
the remains suggested to me nothing more than a rather shabby set of
"student's osteology." The whole collection had been set out (by the
police-surgeon, as the sergeant informed me) in their proper anatomical
order; notwithstanding which I counted them over carefully to make sure
that none were missing, checking them by the list with which Thorndyke
had furnished me.
"I see you have found the left thigh-bone," I remarked, observing that
this did not appear in the list.
"Yes," said the sergeant; "that turned up yesterday evening in a big
pond called Baldwin's Pond in the Sand-pit plain, near Little Monk
"Is that near here?" I asked.
"In the forest up Loughton way," was the reply.
I made a note of the fact (on which the sergeant looked as if he was
sorry he had mentioned it), and then turned my attention to a general
consideration of the bones before examining them in detail. Their
appearance would have been improved and examination facilitated by a
thorough scrubbing, for they were just as they had been taken from their
respective resting-places, and it was difficult to decide whether their
reddish-yellow colour was an actual stain or due to a deposit on the
surface. In any case, as it affected them all alike, I thought it an
interesting feature and made a note of it. They bore numerous traces of
their sojourn in the various ponds from which they had been recovered,
but these gave me little help in determining the length of time during
which they had been submerged. They were, of course, encrusted with mud,
and little wisps of pond-weed stuck to them in places; but these facts
furnished only the vaguest measure of time.
Some of the traces were, indeed, more informing. To several of the
bones, for instance, there adhered the dried egg-clusters of the common
pond-snail, and in one of the hollows of the right shoulder-blade (the
"infra-spinous fossa") was a group of the mud-built tubes of the red
river-worm. These remains gave proof of a considerable period of
submersion, and since they could not have been deposited on the bones
until all the flesh had disappeared, they furnished evidence that some
time--a month or two, at any rate--had elapsed since this had happened.
Incidentally, too, their distribution showed the position in which the
bones had lain, and though this appeared to be of no importance in the
existing circumstances, I made careful notes of the situation of each
adherent body, illustrating their position by rough sketches.
The sergeant watched my proceedings with an indulgent smile.
"You're making a regular inventory, sir," he remarked, "as if you were
going to put 'em up for auction. I shouldn't think those snails' eggs
would be much help in identification. And all that has been done
already," he added as I produced my measuring-tape.
"No doubt," I replied; "but my business is to make independent
observations, to check the others, if necessary." And I proceeded to
measure each of the principal bones separately and to compare those of
the opposite sides. The agreement in dimensions and general
characteristics of the pairs of bones left little doubt that all were
parts of one skeleton, a conclusion that was confirmed by the eburnated
patch on the head of the right thigh-bone and the corresponding patch in
the socket of the right hip-bone. When I had finished my measurements I
went over the entire series of bones in detail, examining each with the
closest attention for any of those signs which Thorndyke had indicated,
and eliciting nothing but a monotonously reiterated negative. They were
distressingly and disappointingly normal.
"Well, sir, and what do you make of 'em?" the sergeant asked cheerfully
as I shut up my note-book and straightened my back. "Whose bones are
they? Are they Mr. Bellingham's, think ye?"
"I should be very sorry to say whose bones they are," I replied. "One
bone is very much like another, you know."
"I suppose it is," he agreed; "but I thought that, with all that
measuring and all those notes, you might have arrived at something
definite." Evidently he was disappointed in me; and I was somewhat
disappointed in myself when I contrasted Thorndyke's elaborate
instructions with the meagre result of my investigations. For what did
my discoveries amount to? And how much was the inquiry advanced by the
few entries in my note-book?
The bones were apparently those of a man of fair though not remarkable
muscular development; over thirty years of age, but how much older I was
unable to say. His height I judged roughly to be five feet eight inches,
but my measurements would furnish data for a more exact estimate by
Thorndyke. Beyond this the bones were quite uncharacteristic. There were
no signs of disease either local or general, no indications of injuries
either old or recent, no departures of any kind from the normal or
usual; and the dismemberment had been effected with such care that there
was not a single scratch on any of the separated surfaces. Of adipocere
(the peculiar waxy or soapy substance that is commonly found in bodies
that have slowly decayed in damp situations) there was not a trace; and
the only remnant of the soft structures was a faint indication, like a
spot of dried glue, of the tendon on the tip of the right elbow.
The sergeant was in the act of replacing the sheet, with the air of a
showman who has just given an exhibition, when there came a sharp
rapping on the mortuary door. The officer finished spreading the sheet
with official precision, and having ushered me out into the lobby,
turned the key and admitted three persons, holding the door open after
they had entered for me to go out. But the appearance of the new-comers
inclined me to linger. One of them was a local constable, evidently in
official charge; a second was a labouring man, very muddy and wet, who
carried a small sack; while in the third I thought I scented a
The sergeant continued to hold the door open.
"Nothing more I can do for you, sir?" he asked genially.
"Is that the divisional surgeon?" I inquired.
"Yes. I am the divisional surgeon," the new-comer answered. "Did you
want anything of me?"
"This," said the sergeant, "is a medical gentleman who has got
permission from the coroner to inspect the remains. He is acting for the
family of the deceased--I mean, for the family of Mr. Bellingham," he
added in answer to an inquiring glance from the surgeon.
"I see," said the latter. "Well, they have found the rest of the trunk,
including, I understand, the ribs that were missing from the other part.
Isn't that so, Davis?"
"Yes, sir," replied the constable. "Inspector Badger says all the ribs
is here, and all the bones of the neck as well."
"The inspector seems to be an anatomist," I remarked.
The sergeant grinned. "He's a very knowing gentleman, is Mr. Badger. He
came down here this morning quite early and spent a long time looking
over the bones and checking them by some notes in his pocket-book. I
fancy he's got something on, but he was precious close about it."
Here the sergeant shut up rather suddenly--perhaps contrasting his own
conduct with that of his superior.
"Let us have these new bones out on the table," said the police-surgeon.
"Take that sheet off, and don't shoot them out as if they were coals.
Hand them out carefully."
The labourer fished out the wet and muddy bones one by one from the
sack, and as he laid them on the table the surgeon arranged them in
their proper relative positions.
"This has been a neatly executed job," he remarked; "none of your clumsy
hacking with a chopper or a saw. The bones have been cleanly separated
at the joints. The fellow who did this must have had some anatomical
knowledge, unless he was a butcher, which, by the way, is not
impossible. He has used his knife uncommonly skilfully, and you notice
that each arm was taken off with the scapula attached, just as a butcher
takes off a shoulder of mutton. Are there any more bones in that bag?"
"No, sir," replied the labourer, wiping his hands with an air of
finality on the posterior aspect of his trousers; "that's the lot."
The surgeon looked thoughtfully at the bones as he gave a final touch
to their arrangement, and remarked:
"The inspector is right. All the bones of the neck are there. Very odd.
Don't you think so?"
"I mean that this very eccentric murderer seems to have given himself
such an extraordinary amount of trouble for no reason that one can see.
There are these neck vertebrae, for instance. He must have carefully
separated the skull from the atlas instead of just cutting through the
neck. Then there is the way he divided the trunk; the twelfth ribs have
just come in with this lot, but the twelfth dorsal vertebra to which
they belong was attached to the lower half. Imagine the trouble he must
have taken to do that, and without cutting or hacking the bones about,
either. It is extraordinary. This is rather interesting, by the way.
Handle it carefully."
He picked up the breast-bone daintily--for it was covered with wet
mud--and handed it to me with the remark: "That is the most definite
piece of evidence we have."
"You mean," I said, "that the union of the two parts into a single mass
fixes this as the skeleton of an elderly man?"
"Yes, that is the obvious suggestion, which is confirmed by the deposit
of bone in the rib-cartilages. You can tell the inspector, Davis, that I
have checked this lot of bones and that they are all here."
"Would you mind writing it down, sir?" said the constable. "Inspector
Badger said I was to have everything in writing."
The surgeon took out his pocket-book, and, while he was selecting a
suitable piece of paper, he asked: "Did you form any opinion as to the
height of the deceased?"
"Yes, I thought he would be about five feet eight" (here I caught the
sergeant's eyes fixed on me with a knowing leer).
"I made it five eight and a half," said the police-surgeon; "but we
shall know better when we have seen the lower leg-bones. Where was this
lot found, Davis?"
"In the pond just off the road in Lord's Bushes, sir, and the inspector
has gone off now to--"
"Never mind where he's gone," interrupted the sergeant. "You just answer
questions and attend to your business."
The sergeant's reproof conveyed a hint to me on which I was not slow to
act. Friendly as my professional colleague was, it was clear that the
police were disposed to treat me as an interloper who was to be kept out
of the "know" as far as possible. Accordingly I thanked my colleague and
the sergeant for their courtesy, and bidding them adieu until we should
meet at the inquest, took my departure and walked away quickly until I
found an inconspicuous position from which I could keep the door of the
mortuary in view. A few moments later I saw Constable Davis emerge and
stride away up the road.
I watched his rapidly diminishing figure until he had gone as far as I
considered desirable, and then I set forth in his wake. The road led
straight away from the village, and in less than half a mile entered the
outskirts of the forest. Here I quickened my pace to close up somewhat,
and it was well that I did so, for suddenly he diverged from the road
into a green lane, where for a while I lost sight of him. Still
hurrying forward, I again caught sight of him just as he turned off into
a narrow path that entered a beech wood with a thickish undergrowth of
holly, along which I followed him for several minutes, gradually
decreasing the distance between us, until suddenly there fell on my ear
a rhythmical, metallic sound like the clank of a pump. Soon after I
caught the sound of men's voices, and then the constable struck off the
path into the wood.
I now advanced more cautiously, endeavouring to locate the search party
by the sound of the pump, and when I had done this I made a little
detour so that I might approach from the opposite direction to that from
which the constable had appeared.
Still guided by the noise of the pump, I at length came out into a small
opening among the trees and halted to survey the scene. The centre of
the opening was occupied by a small pond, not more than a dozen yards
across, by the side of which stood a builder's handcart. The little
two-wheeled vehicle had evidently been used to convey the appliances
which were deposited on the ground near it, and which consisted of a
large tub--now filled with water--a shovel, a rake, a sieve, and a
portable pump, the latter being fitted with a long delivery hose. There
were three men besides the constable, one of whom was working the handle
of the pump, while another was glancing at a paper that the constable
had just delivered to him. He looked up sharply as I appeared, and
viewed me with unconcealed disfavour.
"Hallo, sir!" said he. "You can't come here."
Now, seeing that I actually was here, this was clearly a mistake, and I
ventured to point out the fallacy.
"Well, I can't allow you to stay here. Our business is of a private
"I know exactly what your business is, Inspector Badger."
"Oh, do you?" said he, surveying me with a foxy smile. "And I expect I
know what yours is, too. But we can't have any of you newspaper gentry
spying on us just at present, so you just be off."
I thought it best to undeceive him at once, and accordingly, having
explained who I was, I showed him the coroner's permit, which he read
with manifest annoyance.
"This is all very well, sir," said he as he handed me back the paper,
"but it doesn't authorise you to come spying on the proceedings of the
police. Any remains that we discover will be deposited in the mortuary,
where you can inspect them to your heart's content; but you can't stay
here and watch us."
I had no defined object in keeping a watch on the inspector's
proceedings; but the sergeant's indiscreet hint had aroused my
curiosity, which was further excited by Mr. Badger's evident desire to
get rid of me. Moreover, while we had been talking, the pump had stopped
(the muddy floor of the pond being now pretty fully exposed), and the
inspector's assistant was handling the shovel impatiently.
"Now, I put it to you, Inspector," said I, persuasively, "is it politic
of you to allow it to be said that you refused an authorised
representative of the family facilities for verifying any statements
that you may make hereafter?"
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I mean that if you should happen to find some bone which could be
identified as part of the body of Mr. Bellingham, that fact would be of
more importance to his family than to anyone else. You know that there
is a very valuable estate and a rather difficult will."
"I didn't know it, and I don't see the bearing of it now" (neither did
I, for that matter); "but if you make such a point of being present at
the search, I can't very well refuse. Only you mustn't get in our way,
On hearing this conclusion, his assistant, who looked like a
plain-clothes officer, took up his shovel and stepped into the mud that
formed the bottom of the pond, stooping as he went and peering among the
masses of weed that had been left stranded by the withdrawal of the
water. The inspector watched him anxiously, cautioning him from time to
time to "look out where he was treading"; the labourer left the pump and
craned forward from the margin of the mud, and the constable and I
looked on from our respective points of vantage. For some time the
search was fruitless. Once the searcher stooped and picked up what
turned out to be a fragment of decayed wood; then the remains of a
long-deceased jay were discovered, examined, and rejected. Suddenly the
man bent down by the side of a small pool that had been left in one of
the deeper hollows, stared intently into the mud, and stood up.
"There's something here that looks like a bone, sir," he sang out.
"Don't grub about, then," said the inspector. "Drive your shovel right
into the mud where you saw it and bring it to the sieve."
The man followed out these instructions, and as he came shorewards with
a great pile of the slimy mud on his shovel we all converged on the
sieve, which the inspector took up and held over the tub, directing the
constable and labourer to "lend a hand," meaning thereby that they were
to crowd round the tub and exclude me as completely as possible. This,
in fact, they did very effectively with his assistance, for, when the
shovelful of mud had been deposited on the sieve, the four men leaned
over it and so nearly hid it from view that it was only by craning over,
first on one side and then on the other, that I was able to catch an
occasional glimpse of it and to observe it gradually melting away as the
sieve, immersed in the water, was shaken to and fro.
Presently the inspector raised the sieve from the water and stooped over
it more closely to examine its contents. Apparently the examination
yielded no very conclusive results, for it was accompanied by a series
of rather dubious grunts.
At length the officer stood up, and turning to me with a genial but foxy
smile, held out the sieve for my inspection.
"Like to see what we have found, Doctor?" said he.
I thanked him and stooped over the sieve. It contained the sort of
litter of twigs, skeleton leaves, weed, pond-snails, dead shells, and
fresh-water mussels that one would expect to strain out from the mud of
an ancient pond; but in addition to these there were three small bones
which at the first glance gave me quite a start until I saw what they
The inspector looked at me inquiringly. "H'm?" said he.
"Yes," I replied. "Very interesting."
"Those will be human bones, I fancy; h'm?"
"I should say so, undoubtedly," I answered.
"Now," said the inspector, "could you say, off-hand, which finger those
bones belong to?"
I smothered a grin (for I had been expecting this question), and
"I can say off-hand that they don't belong to any finger. They are the
bones of the left great toe."
The inspector's jaw dropped. "The deuce they are!" he muttered. "H'm. I
thought they looked a bit stout."
"I expect," said I, "that if you go through the mud close to where this
came from you'll find the rest of the foot."
The plain-clothes man proceeded at once to act on my suggestion, taking
the sieve with him to save time. And sure enough, after filling it twice
with the mud from the bottom of the pool, the entire skeleton of the
foot was brought to light.
"Now you're happy, I suppose," said the inspector when I had checked the
bones and found them all present.
"I should be more happy," I replied, "if I knew what you were searching
for in this pond. You weren't looking for the foot, were you?"
"I was looking for anything that I might find," he answered. "I shall go
on searching until we have the whole body. I shall go through all the
streams and ponds around here, except Connaught Water. That I shall
leave to the last, as it will be a case of dredging from a boat and
isn't so likely as the smaller ponds. Perhaps the head will be there;
it's deeper than any of the others."
It now occurred to me that as I had learned all that I was likely to
learn, which was little enough, I might as well leave the inspector to
pursue his researches unembarrassed by my presence. Accordingly I
thanked him for his assistance and departed by the way I had come.
But as I retraced my steps along the shady path I speculated profoundly
on the officer's proceedings. My examination of the mutilated hand had
yielded the conclusion that the finger had been removed either after
death or shortly before, but more probably after. Someone else had
evidently arrived at the same conclusion, and had communicated his
opinion to Inspector Badger; for it was clear that that gentleman was in
full cry after the missing finger. But why was he searching for it here
when the hand had been found at Sidcup? And what did he expect to learn
from it when he found it? There is nothing particularly characteristic
about a finger, or, at least, the bones of one; and the object of the
present researches was to determine the identity of the person of whom
these bones were the remains. There was something mysterious about the
affair, something suggesting that Inspector Badger was in possession of
private information of some kind. But what information could he have?
And whence could he have obtained it? These were questions to which I
could find no answer, and I was still fruitlessly revolving them when I
arrived at the modest inn where the inquest was to be held, and where I
proposed to fortify myself with a correspondingly modest lunch as a
preparation for my attendance at that inquiry.
THE CROWNER'S QUEST
The proceedings of that fine old institution, the coroner's court, are
apt to have their dignity impaired by the somewhat unjudicial
surroundings amidst which they are conducted. The present inquiry was to
be held in a long room attached to the inn, ordinarily devoted, as its
various appurtenances testified, to gatherings of a more convivial
Hither I betook myself after a protracted lunch and a meditative pipe,
and, being the first to arrive--the jury having already been sworn and
conducted to the mortuary to view the remains--whiled away the time by
considering the habits of the customary occupants of the room by the
light of the objects contained in it. A wooden target with one or two
darts sticking in it hung on the end wall and invited the Robin Hoods of
the village to try their skill; a system of incised marks on the oaken
table made sinister suggestions of shove-halfpenny; and a large open
box, filled with white wigs, gaudily coloured robes and wooden spears,
swords and regalia, crudely coated with gilded paper, obviously
appertained to the puerile ceremonials of the Order of Druids.
I had exhausted the interest of these relics and had transferred my
attentions to the picture gallery when the other spectators and the
witnesses began to arrive. Hastily I seated myself in the only
comfortable chair besides the one placed at the head of the table,
presumably for the coroner; and I had hardly done so when the latter
entered accompanied by the jury. Immediately after them came the
sergeant, Inspector Badger, one or two plain-clothes men, and finally
the divisional surgeon.
The coroner took his seat at the head of the table and opened his book,
and the jury seated themselves on a couple of benches on one side of the
long table. I looked with some interest at the twelve "good men and
true." They were a representative group of British tradesmen, quiet,
attentive, and rather solemn; but my attention was particularly
attracted by a small man with a very large head and a shock of
upstanding hair whom I had diagnosed, after a glance at his intelligent
but truculent countenance and the shiny knees of his trousers, as the
village cobbler. He sat between the broad-shouldered foreman, who looked
like a blacksmith, and a dogged, red-faced man whose general aspect of
prosperous greasiness suggested the calling of a butcher.
"The inquiry, gentlemen," the coroner commenced, "upon which we are now
entering concerns itself with two questions. The first is that of
identity: Who was this person whose body we have just viewed? The second
is, How, when, and by what means did he come by his death? We will take
the identity first and begin with the circumstances under which the body
Here the cobbler stood up and raised an excessively dirty hand.
"I rise, Mr. Chairman," said he, "to a point of order." The other
jurymen looked at him curiously and some of them, I regret to say,
grinned. "You have referred, sir," he continued, "to the body which we
have just viewed. I wish to point out that we have not viewed a body: we
have viewed a collection of bones."
"We will refer to them as the remains, if you prefer it," said the
"I do prefer it," was the reply, and the objector sat down.
"Very well," rejoined the coroner, and he proceeded to call the
witnesses, of whom the first was the labourer who had discovered the
bones in the watercress-bed.
"Do you happen to know how long it was since the beds had been cleaned
out previously?" the coroner asked, when the witness had told the story
of the discovery.
"They was cleaned out by Mr. Tapper's orders just before he gave them
up. That will be a little better than two years ago. In May it were. I
helped to clean 'em. I worked on this very same place and there wasn't
no bones there then."
The coroner glanced at the jury. "Any questions, gentlemen?" he asked.
The cobbler directed an intimidating scowl at the witness and demanded:
"Were you searching for bones when you came on these remains?"
"Me!" exclaimed the witness. "What should I be searching for bones for?"
"Don't prevaricate," said the cobbler sternly; "answer the question: Yes
"No; of course I wasn't."
The juryman shook his enormous head dubiously as though implying that
he would let it pass this time but it mustn't happen again; and the
examination of the witnesses continued, without eliciting anything that
was new to me or giving rise to any incident, until the sergeant had
described the finding of the right arm in the Cuckoo Pits.
"Was this an accidental discovery?" the coroner asked.
"No. We had instructions from Scotland Yard to search any likely ponds
in this neighbourhood."
The coroner discreetly forbore to press this matter any farther, but my
friend the cobbler was evidently on the qui vive, and I anticipated a
brisk cross-examination for Mr. Badger when his turn came. The inspector
was apparently of the same opinion, for I saw him cast a glance of the
deepest malevolence at the too inquiring disciple of St. Crispin. In
fact, his turn came next, and the cobbler's hair stood up with unholy
The finding of the lower half of the trunk in Staple's Pond at Loughton
was the inspector's own achievement, but he was not boastful about it.
The discovery, he remarked, followed naturally on the previous one in
the Cuckoo Pits.
"Had you any private information that led you to search this particular
neighbourhood?" the cobbler asked.
"We had no private information whatever," replied Badger.
"Now I put it to you," pursued the juryman, shaking a forensic, and very
dirty, forefinger at the inspector; "here are certain remains found at
Sidcup; here are certain other remains found at St. Mary Cray, and
certain others at Lee. All those places are in Kent. Now isn't it very
remarkable that you should come straight down to Epping Forest, which is
in Essex, and search for those bones and find 'em?"
"We were making a systematic search of all likely places," replied
"Exactly," said the cobbler, with a ferocious grin, "that's just my
point. I say, isn't it very funny that, after finding remains in Kent
some twenty miles from here with the River Thames between, you should
come here to look for the bones and go straight to Staple's Pond, where
they happen to be--and find 'em?"
"It would have been more funny," Badger replied sourly, "if we'd gone
straight to a place where they happened _not_ to be--and found them."
A gratified snigger arose from the other eleven good men and true, and
the cobbler grinned savagely; but before he could think of a suitable
rejoinder the coroner interposed.
"The question is not very material," he said, "and we mustn't embarrass
the police by unnecessary inquiries."
"It's my belief," said the cobbler, "that he knew they were there all
"The witness has stated that he had no private information," said the
coroner; and he proceeded to take the rest of the inspector's evidence,
watched closely by the critical juror.
The account of the finding of the remains having been given in full, the
police-surgeon was called and sworn; the jurymen straightened their
backs with an air of expectancy, and I turned over a page of my
"You have examined the bones at present lying in the mortuary and
forming the subject of this inquiry?" the coroner asked.
"Will you kindly tell us what you have observed?"
"I find that the bones are human bones, and are, in my opinion, all
parts of the same person. They form a skeleton which is complete with
the exception of the skull, the third finger of the left hand, the
knee-caps, and the leg-bones--I mean the bones between the knees and the
"Is there anything to account for the absence of the missing finger?"
"No. There is no deformity and no sign of its having been amputated
during life. In my opinion it was removed after death."
"Can you give us any description of the deceased?"
"I should say that these are the bones of an elderly man, probably over
sixty years of age, about five feet eight and a half inches in height,
of rather stout build, fairly muscular, and well preserved. There are no
signs of disease excepting some old-standing rheumatic gout of the right
"Can you form any opinion as to the cause of death?"
"No. There are no marks of violence or signs of injury. But it will be
impossible to form any opinion as to the cause of death until we have
seen the skull."
"Did you note anything else of importance?"
"Yes. I was struck by the appearance of anatomical knowledge and skill
on the part of the person who dismembered the body. The knowledge of
anatomy is proved by the fact that the corpse has been divided into
definite anatomical regions. For instance, the bones of the neck are
complete and include the top joint of the backbone known as the atlas;
whereas a person without anatomical knowledge would probably take off
the head by cutting through the neck. Then the arms have been separated
with the scapula (or shoulder-blade) and clavicle (or collar-bone)
attached, just as an arm would be removed for dissection.
"The skill is shown by the neat way in which the dismemberment has been
carried out. The parts have not been rudely hacked asunder, but have
been separated at the joints so skilfully that I have not discovered a
single scratch or mark of the knife on any of the bones."
"Can you suggest any class of person who would be likely to possess the
knowledge and skill to which you refer?"
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