The Vanishing Man
R. Austin Freeman
Part 4 out of 6
"It would, of course, be possessed by a surgeon or medical student, and
possibly by a butcher."
"You think that the person who dismembered this body may have been a
surgeon or a medical student?"
"Yes; or a butcher. Someone accustomed to the dismemberment of bodies
and skilful with the knife."
Here the cobbler suddenly rose to his feet.
"I rise, Mr. Chairman," said he, "to protest against the statement that
has just been made."
"What statement?" demanded the coroner.
"Against the aspersion," continued the cobbler, with an oratorical
flourish, "that has been cast upon a honourable calling."
"I don't understand you," said the coroner.
"Doctor Summers has insinuated that this murder was committed by a
butcher. Now a member of that honourable calling is sitting on this
"You let me alone," growled the butcher.
"I will not let you alone," persisted the cobbler. "I desire--"
"Oh, shut up, Pope!" This was from the foreman, who, at the same moment,
reached out an enormous hairy hand with which he grabbed the cobbler's
coat-tails and brought him into a sitting posture with a thump that
shook the room.
But Mr. Pope, though seated, was not silenced. "I desire," said he, "to
have my protest put on record."
"I can't do that," said the coroner, "and I can't allow you to interrupt
"I am acting," said Mr. Pope, "in the interests of my friend here and
the members of a honourable----"
But here the butcher turned on him savagely, and, in a hoarse
"Look here, Pope; you've got too much of what the cat licks--"
"Gentlemen! gentlemen!" the coroner protested, sternly; "I cannot permit
this unseemly conduct. You are forgetting the solemnity of the occasion
and your own responsible positions. I must insist on more decent and
There was profound silence, in the midst of which the butcher concluded
in the same hoarse whisper:
"--licks 'er paws with."
The coroner cast a withering glance at him, and turning to the witness,
resumed the examination.
"Can you tell us, Doctor, how long a time has elapsed since the death of
"I should say not less than eighteen months, but probably more. How much
more it is impossible from inspection alone to say. The bones are
perfectly clean--that is, clean of all soft structures--and will remain
substantially in their present condition for many years."
"The evidence of the man who found the remains in the watercress-bed
suggests that they could not have been there more than two years. Do the
appearances, in your opinion, agree with that view?"
"There is one more point, Doctor; a very important one. Do you find
anything in any of the bones, or all of them together, which would
enable you to identify them as the bones of any particular individual?"
"No," replied Dr. Summers; "I found no peculiarity that could furnish
the means of personal identification."
"The description of a missing individual has been given to us," said the
coroner; "a man, fifty-nine years of age, five feet eight inches in
height, healthy, well preserved, rather broad in build, and having an
old Pott's fracture of the left ankle. Do the remains that you have
examined agree with that description?"
"Yes, in so far as agreement is possible. There is no disagreement."
"The remains might be those of that individual?"
"They might; but there is no positive evidence that they are. The
description would apply to a large proportion of elderly men, except as
to the fracture."
"You found no signs of such a fracture?"
"No. Pott's fracture affects the bone called the fibula. That is one of
the bones that has not yet been found, so there is no evidence on that
point. The left foot was quite normal, but then it would be in any case,
unless the fracture had resulted in great deformity."
"You estimated the height of the deceased as half an inch greater than
that of the missing person. Does that constitute a disagreement?"
"No; my estimate is only approximate. As the arms are complete and the
legs are not, I have based my calculations on the width across the two
arms. But measurement of the thigh-bones gives the same result. The
length of the thigh-bones is one foot seven inches and five-eighths."
"So the deceased might not have been taller than five feet eight?"
"That is so: from five feet eight to five feet nine."
"Thank you. I think that is all we want to ask you, Doctor; unless the
jury wish to put any questions."
He glanced uneasily at that august body, and instantly the irrepressible
Pope rose to the occasion.
"About that finger that is missing," said the cobbler. "You say that it
was cut off after death."
"That is my opinion."
"Now, can you tell us why it was cut off?"
"No, I cannot."
"Oh, come now, Doctor Summers, you must have formed some opinion on the
Here the coroner interposed. "The Doctor is only concerned with evidence
arising out of the actual examination of the remains. Any personal
opinions or conjectures that he may have formed are not evidence, and he
must not be asked about them."
"But, sir," objected Pope, "we want to know why that finger was cut off.
It couldn't have been took off for no reason. May I ask, sir, if the
person who is missing had anything peculiar about that finger?"
"Nothing is stated to that effect in the written description," replied
"Perhaps," suggested Pope, "Inspector Badger can tell us."
"I think," said the coroner, "we had better not ask the police too many
questions. They will tell us anything that they wish to be made public."
"Oh, very well," snapped the cobbler. "If it's a matter of hushing it up
I've got no more to say; only I don't see how we are to arrive at a
verdict if we don't have the facts put before us."
All the witnesses having now been examined, the coroner proceeded to sum
up and address the jury.
"You have heard the evidence, gentlemen, of the various witnesses, and
you will have perceived that it does not enable us to answer either of
the questions that form the subject of this inquiry. We now know that
the deceased was an elderly man, about sixty years of age, and about
five feet eight or nine in height; and that his death took place from
eighteen months to two years ago. That is all we know. From the
treatment to which the body has been subjected we may form certain
conjectures as to the circumstances of his death. But we have no actual
knowledge. We do not know who the deceased was or how he came by his
death. Consequently, it will be necessary to adjourn this inquiry until
fresh facts are available, and as soon as that is the case, you will
receive due notice that your attendance is required."
The silence of the Court gave place to the confused noise of moving
chairs and a general outbreak of eager talk, amidst which I rose and
made my way out into the street. At the door I encountered Dr. Summers,
whose dog-cart was waiting close by.
"Are you going back to town now?" he asked.
"Yes," I answered; "as soon as I can catch a train."
"If you jump into my cart I'll run you down in time for the five-one.
You'll miss it if you walk."
I accepted his offer thankfully, and a minute later was spinning briskly
down the road to the station.
"Queer little devil, that man, Pope," Dr. Summers remarked. "Quite a
character; socialist, labourite, agitator, general crank; anything for a
"Yes," I answered, "that was what his appearance suggested. It must be
trying for the coroner to get a truculent rascal like that on a jury."
Summers laughed. "I don't know. He supplies the comic relief. And then,
you know, those fellows have their uses. Some of his questions were
"So Badger seemed to think."
"Yes, by Jove," chuckled Summers, "Badger didn't like him a bit; and I
suspect the worthy inspector was sailing pretty close to the wind in his
"You think he really has some private information?"
"Depends upon what you mean by 'information.' The police are not a
speculative body. They wouldn't be taking all this trouble unless they
had a pretty straight tip from somebody. How are Mr. and Miss
Bellingham? I used to know them slightly when they lived here."
I was considering a discreet answer to this question when we swept into
the station yard. At the same moment the train drew up at the platform,
and, with a hurried hand-shake and hastily spoken thanks, I sprang from
the dog-cart and darted into the station.
During the rather slow journey homewards I read over my notes and
endeavoured to extract from the facts they set forth some significance
other than that which lay on the surface, but without much success. Then
I fell to speculating on what Thorndyke would think of the evidence at
the inquest and whether he would be satisfied with the information that
I had collected. These speculations lasted me, with occasional
digressions, until I arrived at the Temple and ran up the stairs rather
eagerly to my friend's chambers.
But here a disappointment awaited me. The nest was empty with the
exception of Polton, who appeared at the laboratory door in his white
apron, with a pair of flat-nosed pliers in his hand.
"The Doctor has had to go down to Bristol to consult over an urgent
case," he explained, "and Doctor Jervis has gone with him. They'll be
away a day or two, I expect, but the Doctor left this note for you."
He took a letter from a shelf, where it had been stood conspicuously on
edge, and handed it to me. It was a short note from Thorndyke
apologising for his sudden departure and asking me to give Polton my
notes with any comments that I had to make.
"You will be interested to learn," he added, "that the application will
be heard in the Probate Court the day after to-morrow. I shall not be
present, of course, nor will Jervis, so I should like you to attend and
keep your eyes open for anything that may happen during the hearing and
that may not appear in the notes that Marchmont's clerk will be
instructed to take. I have retained Dr. Payne to stand by and help you
with the practice, so that you can attend the Court with a clear
This was highly flattering and quite atoned for the small
disappointment; with deep gratification at the trust that Thorndyke had
reposed in me, I pocketed the letter, handed my notes to Polton, wished
him "Good evening," and betook myself to Fetter Lane.
WHICH CARRIES THE READER INTO THE PROBATE COURT
The Probate Court wore an air of studious repose when I entered with
Miss Bellingham and her father. Apparently the great and inquisitive
public had not become aware of the proceedings that were about to take
place, or had not realised their connection with the sensational
"Mutilation Case"; but barristers and Press-men, better informed, had
gathered in some strength, and the hum of their conversation filled the
air like the droning of the voluntary that ushers in a cathedral
As we entered, a pleasant-faced, elderly gentleman rose and came forward
to meet us, shaking Mr. Bellingham's hand cordially and saluting Miss
Bellingham with a courtly bow.
"This is Mr. Marchmont, Doctor," said the former, introducing me; and
the solicitor, having thanked me for the trouble I had taken in
attending at the inquest, led us to a bench, at the farther end of which
was seated a gentleman whom I recognised as Mr. Hurst.
Mr. Bellingham recognised him at the same moment and glared at him
"I see that scoundrel is here!" he exclaimed in a distinctly audible
voice, "pretending that he doesn't see me, because he is ashamed to look
me in the face, but--"
"Hush! hush! my dear sir," exclaimed the horrified solicitor; "we
mustn't talk like that, especially in this place. Let me beg you--let me
entreat you to control your feelings, to make no indiscreet remarks; in
fact, to make no remarks at all," he added, with the evident conviction
that any remarks that Mr. Bellingham might make would be certain to be
"Forgive me, Marchmont," Mr. Bellingham replied contritely. "I will
control myself; I will really be quite discreet. I won't even look at
him again--because, if I do, I shall probably go over and pull his
This particular form of discretion did not appear to be quite to Mr.
Marchmont's liking, for he took the precaution of insisting that Miss
Bellingham and I should sit on the farther side of his client, and thus
effectually separate him from his enemy.
"Who's the long-nosed fellow talking to Jellicoe?" Mr. Bellingham asked.
"That is Mr. Loram, K.C., Mr. Hurst's counsel; and the convivial-looking
gentleman next to him is our counsel, Mr. Heath, a most able man
and"--here Mr. Marchmont whispered behind his hand--"fully instructed by
At this juncture the judge entered and took his seat; the usher
proceeded with great rapidity to swear in the jury, and the Court
gradually settled down into that state of academic quiet which it
maintained throughout the proceedings, excepting when the noisy
swing-doors were set oscillating by some bustling clerk or reporter.
The judge was a somewhat singular-looking old gentleman, very short as
to his face and very long as to his mouth; which peculiarities, together
with a pair of large and bulging eyes (which he usually kept closed),
suggested a certain resemblance to a frog. And he had a curious
frog-like trick of flattening his eyelids--as if in the act of
swallowing a large beetle--which was the only outward and visible sign
of emotion that he ever displayed.
As soon as the swearing-in of the jury was completed Mr. Loram rose to
introduce the case; whereupon his lordship leaned back in his chair and
closed his eyes, as if bracing himself for a painful operation.
"The present proceedings," Mr. Loram explained, "are occasioned by the
unaccountable disappearance of Mr. John Bellingham, of 141 Queen Square,
Bloomsbury, which occurred about two years ago, or, to be more precise,
on the twenty-third of November, nineteen hundred and two. Since that
date nothing has been heard of Mr. Bellingham, and, as there are certain
substantial reasons for believing him to be dead, the principal
beneficiary under his will, Mr. George Hurst, is now applying to the
Court for permission to presume the death of the testator and prove the
will. As the time which has elapsed since the testator was last seen
alive is only two years, the application is based upon the circumstances
of the disappearance, which were, in many respects, very singular, the
most remarkable feature of that disappearance being, perhaps, its
suddenness and completeness."
Here the judge remarked in a still, small voice that "It would, perhaps,
have been even more remarkable if the testator had disappeared gradually
"No doubt, my Lord," agreed Mr. Loram; "but the point is that the
testator, whose habits had always been regular and orderly, disappeared
on the date mentioned without having made any of the usual provisions
for the conduct of his affairs, and has not since then been seen or
With this preamble Mr. Loram proceeded to give a narrative of the events
connected with the disappearance of John Bellingham, which was
substantially identical with that which I had read in the newspapers;
and having laid the actual facts before the jury, he went on to discuss
their probable import.
"Now, what conclusion," he asked, "will this strange, this most
mysterious train of events suggest to an intelligent person who shall
consider it impartially? Here is a man who steps forth from the house of
his cousin or his brother, as the case may be, and forthwith, in the
twinkling of an eye, vanishes from human ken. What is the explanation?
Did he steal forth and, without notice or hint of his intention, take
train to some seaport, thence to embark for some distant land, leaving
his affairs to take care of themselves and his friends to speculate
vainly as to his whereabouts? Is he now in hiding abroad, or even at
home, indifferent alike to the safety of his own considerable property
and the peace of mind of his friends? Or is it that death has come upon
him unawares by sickness, by accident, or, more probably, by the hand of
some unknown criminal? Let us consider the probabilities.
"Can he have disappeared by his own deliberate act? Why not? it may be
asked. Men undoubtedly do disappear from time to time, to be discovered
by chance or to reappear voluntarily after intervals of years and find
their names almost forgotten and their places filled by new-comers. Yes;
but there is always some reason for a disappearance of this kind, even
though it be a bad one. Family discords that make life a weariness;
pecuniary difficulties that make life a succession of anxieties;
distaste for particular circumstances and surroundings from which there
seems no escape; inherent restlessness and vagabond tendencies, and so
"Do any of these explanations apply to the present case? No, they do
not. Family discords--at least those capable of producing chronic
misery--appertain exclusively to the married state. But the testator was
a bachelor with no encumbrances whatever. Pecuniary anxieties can be
equally excluded. The testator was in easy, in fact, in affluent
circumstances. His mode of life was apparently agreeable and full of
interest and activity, and he had full liberty to change it if he
wished. He had been accustomed to travel, and could do so again without
absconding. He had reached an age when radical changes do not seem
desirable. He was a man of fixed and regular habits, and his regularity
was of his own choice and not due to compulsion or necessity. When last
seen by his friends, as I shall prove, he was proceeding to a definite
destination with the expressed intention of returning for purposes of
his own appointing. He did return and then vanished, leaving those
"If we conclude that he has voluntarily disappeared and is at present in
hiding, we adopt an opinion that is entirely at variance with all these
weighty facts. If, on the other hand, we conclude that he has died
suddenly, or has been killed by an accident or otherwise, we are
adopting a view that involves no inherent improbabilities and that is
entirely congruous with the known facts; facts that will be proved by
the testimony of the witnesses whom I shall call. The supposition that
the testator is dead is not only more probable than that he is alive; I
submit that it is the only reasonable explanation of the circumstances
of his disappearance.
"But this is not all. The presumption of death which arises so
inevitably out of the mysterious and abrupt manner in which the testator
disappeared has recently received most conclusive and dreadful
confirmation. On the fifteenth of July last there were discovered at
Sidcup the remains of a human arm--a left arm, gentlemen, from the hand
of which the third, or ring, finger was missing. The doctor who has
examined that arm will tell you that that finger was cut off either
after death or immediately before; and his evidence will prove
conclusively that that arm must have been deposited in the place where
it was found just about the time when the testator disappeared. Since
that first discovery, other portions of the same mutilated body have
come to light; and it is a strange and significant fact that they have
all been found in the immediate neighbourhood of Eltham or Woodford. You
will remember, gentlemen, that it was either at Eltham or Woodford that
the testator was last seen alive.
"And now observe the completeness of the coincidence. These human
remains, as you will be told presently by the experienced and learned
medical gentleman who has examined them most exhaustively, are those of
a man of about sixty years of age, about five feet eight inches in
height, fairly muscular and well preserved, apparently healthy, and
rather stoutly built. Another witness will tell you that the missing
man was about sixty years of age, about five feet eight inches in
height, fairly muscular and well preserved, apparently healthy, and
rather stoutly built. And--another most significant and striking
fact--the testator was accustomed to wear upon the third finger of his
left hand--the very finger that is missing from the remains that were
found--a most peculiar ring, which fitted so tightly that he was unable
to get it off after once putting it on; a ring, gentlemen, of so
peculiar a pattern that had it been found on the body must have
instantly established the identity of the remains. In a word, gentlemen,
the remains which have been found are those of a man exactly like the
testator; they differ from him in no respect whatever; they display a
mutilation which suggests an attempt to conceal an identifying
peculiarity which he undoubtedly presented; and they were deposited in
their various hiding-places about the time of the testator's
disappearance. Accordingly, when you have heard these facts proved by
the sworn testimony of competent witnesses, together with the facts
relating to the disappearance, I shall ask you for a verdict in
accordance with that evidence."
Mr. Loram sat down, and adjusting a pair of pince-nez, rapidly glanced
over his brief while the usher was administering the oath to the first
This was Mr. Jellicoe, who stepped into the box and directed a stony
gaze at the (apparently) unconscious judge. The usual preliminaries
having been gone through, Mr. Loram proceeded to examine him.
"You were the testator's solicitor and confidential agent, I believe?"
"I was--and am."
"How long have you known him?"
"Judging from your experience of him, should you say that he was a
person likely to disappear voluntarily and suddenly to cease to
communicate with his friends?"
"Kindly give your reasons for that opinion."
"Such conduct on the part of the testator would be entirely opposed to
his habits and character as they are known to me. He was exceedingly
regular and business-like in his dealings with me. When travelling
abroad he always kept me informed as to his whereabouts, or, if he was
likely to be beyond reach of communications, he always advised me
beforehand. One of my duties was to collect a pension which he drew from
the Foreign Office, and on no occasion, previous to his disappearance,
has he ever failed to furnish me punctually with the necessary
"Had he, so far as you know, any reasons for wishing to disappear?"
"When and where did you last see him alive?"
"At six o'clock in the evening, on the fourteenth of October, nineteen
hundred and two, at 141 Queen Square, Bloomsbury."
"Kindly tell us what happened on that occasion."
"The testator had called for me at my office at a quarter past three,
and asked me to come with him to his house to meet Doctor Norbury. I
accompanied him to 141 Queen Square, and shortly after we arrived Doctor
Norbury came to look at some antiquities that the testator proposed to
give to the British Museum. The gift consisted of a mummy with the four
Canopic jars and other tomb-furniture, which the testator stipulated
should be exhibited together in a single case and in the state in which
they were then presented. Of these objects, the mummy only was ready for
inspection. The tomb-furniture had not yet arrived in England, but was
expected within a week. Doctor Norbury accepted the gift on behalf of
the Museum, but could not take possession of the objects until he had
communicated with the Director and obtained his formal authority. The
testator accordingly gave me certain instructions concerning the
delivery of the gift, as he was leaving England that evening."
"Are those instructions relevant to the subject of this inquiry?"
"I think they are. The testator was going to Paris, and perhaps from
thence to Vienna. He instructed me to receive and unpack the
tomb-furniture on its arrival, and to store it, with the mummy, in a
particular room, where it was to remain for three weeks. If he returned
within that time he was to hand it over in person to the Museum
authorities; if he had not returned within that time, he desired me to
notify the Museum authorities that they were at liberty to take
possession of and remove the collection at their convenience. From these
instructions I gathered that the testator was uncertain as to the length
of his absence from England and the extent of his journey."
"Did he state precisely where he was going?"
"No. He said that he was going to Paris and perhaps to Vienna, but he
gave no particulars and I asked for none."
"Do you, in fact, know where he went?"
"No. He left the house at six o'clock wearing a long, heavy overcoat
and carrying a suit-case and an umbrella. I wished him 'Good-bye' at the
door and watched him walk away as if going towards Southampton Row. I
have no idea where he went, and I never saw him again."
"Had he no other luggage than the suit-case?"
"I do not know, but I believe not. He was accustomed to travel with the
bare necessaries, and to buy anything further that he wanted _en
"Did he say nothing to the servants as to the probable date of his
"There were no servants excepting the caretaker. The house was not used
for residential purposes. The testator slept and took his meals at his
club, though he kept his clothes at the house."
"Did you receive any communication from him after he left?"
"No. I never heard from him again in any way. I waited for three weeks
as he had instructed me, and then notified the Museum authorities that
the collection was ready for removal. Five days later Doctor Norbury
came and took formal possession of it, and it was transferred to the
"When did you next hear of the testator?"
"On the twenty-third of November following at a quarter past seven in
the evening. Mr. George Hurst came to my rooms, which are over my
office, and informed me that the testator had called at his house during
his absence and had been shown into the study to wait for him. That on
his--Mr. Hurst's--arrival it was found that the testator had disappeared
without acquainting the servants with his intended departure, and
without being seen by anyone to leave the house. Mr. Hurst thought this
so remarkable that he had hastened up to town to inform me. I also
thought it a remarkable circumstance, especially as I had received no
communication from the testator, and we both decided that it was
advisable to inform the testator's brother, Godfrey, of what had
"Accordingly Mr. Hurst and I proceeded as quickly as possible to
Liverpool Street and took the first train available to Woodford, where
Mr. Godfrey Bellingham then resided. We arrived at his house at five
minutes to nine, and were informed by the servant that he was not at
home, but that his daughter was in the library, which was a detached
building situated in the grounds. The servant lighted a lantern and
conducted us through the grounds to the library, where we found Mr.
Godfrey Bellingham and Miss Bellingham. Mr. Godfrey had only just come
in and had entered by the back gate, which had a bell that rang in the
library. Mr. Hurst informed Mr. Godfrey of what had occurred, and then
we all left the library to walk up to the house. A few paces from the
library I noticed by the light of the lantern, which Mr. Godfrey was
carrying, a small object lying on the lawn. I pointed it out to him and
he picked it up, and then we all recognised it as a scarab that the
testator was accustomed to wear on his watch-chain. It was fitted with a
gold wire passed through the suspension hole and a gold ring. Both the
wire and the ring were in position, but the ring was broken. We went to
the house and questioned the servants as to visitors; but none of them
had seen the testator, and they all agreed that no visitor whatsoever
had come to the house during the afternoon, or evening. Mr. Godfrey and
Miss Bellingham both declared that they had neither seen nor heard
anything of the testator, and were both unaware that he had returned to
England. As the circumstances were somewhat disquieting, I communicated,
on the following morning, with the police and requested them to make
inquiries; which they did, with the result that a suit-case, bearing the
initials 'J.B.', was found to be lying unclaimed in the cloak-room at
Charing Cross Station. I was able to identify the suit-case as that
which I had seen the testator carry away from Queen Square. I was also
able to identify some of the contents. I interviewed the cloak-room
attendant, who informed me that the suit-case had been deposited on the
twenty-third at about 4.15 P.M. He had no recollection of the person who
deposited it. It remained unclaimed in the possession of the railway
company for three months, and was then surrendered to me."
"Were there any marks or labels on it showing the route by which it had
"There were no labels on it and no marks other than the initials 'J.B.'"
"Do you happen to know the testator's age?"
"Yes. He was fifty-nine on the eleventh of October, nineteen hundred and
"Can you tell us what his height was?"
"Yes. He was exactly five feet eight inches."
"What sort of health had he?"
"So far as I know his health was good. I am not aware that he suffered
from any disease. I am only judging by his appearance, which was that of
a healthy man."
"Should you describe him as well preserved or otherwise?"
"I should describe him as a well-preserved man for his age."
"How should you describe his figure?"
"I should describe him as rather broad and stout in build, and fairly
muscular, though not exceptionally so."
Mr. Loram made a rapid note of these answers, and then said:
"You have told us, Mr. Jellicoe, that you have known the testator
intimately for twenty-seven years. Now, did you ever notice whether he
was accustomed to wear any rings upon his fingers?"
"He wore upon the third finger of his left hand a copy of an antique
ring which bore the device of the Eye of Osiris. That was the only ring
he ever wore as far as I know."
"Did he wear it constantly?"
"Yes, necessarily; because it was too small for him, and having once
squeezed it on he was never able to get it off again."
This was the sum of Mr. Jellicoe's evidence, and at its conclusion the
witness glanced inquiringly at Mr. Bellingham's counsel. But Mr. Heath
remained seated, attentively considering the notes that he had just
made, and finding that there was to be no cross-examination, Mr.
Jellicoe stepped down from the box. I leaned back on my bench, and,
turning my head, observed Miss Bellingham deep in thought.
"What do you think of it?" I asked.
"It seems very complete and conclusive," she replied. And then, with a
sigh, she murmured: "Poor old Uncle John! How horrid it sounds to talk
of him in this cold-blooded, business-like way, as 'the testator,' as if
he were nothing but a sort of algebraical sign."
"There isn't much room for sentiment, I suppose, in the proceedings of
the Probate Court," I replied. To which she assented, and then asked:
"Who is this lady?"
"This lady" was a fashionably dressed young woman who had just bounced
into the witness-box and was now being sworn. The preliminaries being
finished, she answered Miss Bellingham's question and Mr. Loram's by
stating that her name was Augustina Gwendoline Dobbs, and that she was
housemaid to Mr. George Hurst, of "The Poplars," Eltham.
"Mr. Hurst lives alone, I believe?" said Mr. Loram.
"I don't know what you mean by that," Miss Dobbs began; but the
"I mean that I believe he is unmarried?"
"Well, and what about it?" the witness demanded tartly.
"I am asking you a question."
"I know that," said the witness viciously; "and I say that you've no
business to make any such insinuations to a respectable young lady when
there's a cook-housekeeper and a kitchenmaid living in the house, and
him old enough to be my father----"
Here his lordship flattened his eyelids with startling effect, and Mr.
Loram interrupted: "I make no insinuations. I merely ask, Is your
employer, Mr. Hurst, an unmarried man, or is he not?"
"I never asked him," said the witness sulkily.
"Please answer my question--yes or no?"
"How can I answer your question? He may be unmarried or he may not. How
do I know? I'm not a private detective."
Mr. Loram directed a stupefied gaze at the witness, and in the ensuing
silence a plaintive voice came from the bench:
"Is the point material?"
"Certainly, my lord," replied Mr. Loram.
"Then, as I see that you are calling Mr. Hurst, perhaps you had better
put the question to him. He will probably know."
Mr. Loram bowed, and as the judge subsided into his normal state of coma
he turned to the triumphant witness.
"Do you remember anything remarkable occurring on the twenty-third of
November the year before last?"
"Yes. Mr. John Bellingham called at our house."
"How did you know he was Mr. John Bellingham?"
"I didn't; but he said he was, and I supposed he knew."
"At what time did he arrive?"
"At twenty minutes past five in the evening."
"What happened then?"
"I told him that Mr. Hurst had not come home yet, and he said he would
wait for him in the study and write some letters; so I showed him into
the study and shut the door."
"What happened next?"
"Nothing. Then Mr. Hurst came home at his usual time--a quarter to
six--and let himself in with his key. He went straight through into the
study, where I supposed Mr. Bellingham still was, so I took no notice,
but laid the table for two. At six o'clock Mr. Hurst came into the
dining-room--he has tea in the City and dines at six--and when he saw
the table laid for two he asked the reason. I said I thought Mr.
Bellingham was staying to dinner.
"'Mr. Bellingham!' says he. 'I didn't know he was here. Why didn't you
tell me?' he says. 'I thought he was with you, sir,' I said. 'I showed
him into the study,' I said. 'Well, he wasn't there when I came in,' he
said, 'and he isn't there now,' he said. 'Perhaps he has gone to wait in
the drawing-room,' he said. So we went and looked in the drawing-room,
but he wasn't there. Then Mr. Hurst said he thought Mr. Bellingham must
have got tired of waiting and gone away; but I told him I was quite sure
he hadn't, because I had been watching all the time. Then he asked me if
Mr. Bellingham was alone or whether his daughter was with him, and I
said that it wasn't that Mr. Bellingham at all, but Mr. John Bellingham,
and then he was more surprised than ever. I said we had better search
the house to make sure whether he was there or not, and Mr. Hurst said
he would come with me; so we went all over the house and looked in all
the rooms, but there was not a sign of Mr. Bellingham in any of them.
Then Mr. Hurst got very nervous and upset, and when he had just snatched
a little dinner he ran off to catch the six-thirty train up to town."
"You say that Mr. Bellingham could not have left the house because you
were watching all the time. Where were you while you were watching?"
"I was in the kitchen. I could see the front gate from the kitchen
"You say that you laid the table for two. Where did you lay it?"
"In the dining-room, of course."
"Could you see the front gate from the dining-room?"
"No, but I could see the study door. The study is opposite the
"Do you have to come upstairs to get from the kitchen to the
"Yes, of course you do!"
"Then might not Mr. Bellingham have left the house while you were coming
up the stairs?"
"No, he couldn't have done."
"Because it would have been impossible."
"But why would it have been impossible?"
"Because he couldn't have done it."
"I suggest that Mr. Bellingham left the house quietly while you were on
"No, he didn't."
"How do you know he did not?"
"I am quite sure he didn't."
"What makes you feel sure he did not?"
"I am quite certain he didn't."
"But how can you be certain?"
"Because I should have seen him if he had."
"But I mean when you were on the stairs."
"He was in the study when I was on the stairs."
"How do you know he was in the study?"
"Because I showed him in there and he hadn't come out."
Mr. Loram paused and took a deep breath, and his lordship flattened his
"Is there a side gate to the premises?" the barrister resumed wearily.
"Yes. It opens into a narrow lane at the side of the house."
"And there is a French window in the study, is there not?"
"Yes; it opens on to the small grass plot opposite the side gate."
"Were the window and the gate locked, or would it have been possible for
Mr. Bellingham to let himself out into the lane?"
"The window and the gate both have catches on the inside. He could have
got out that way, but, of course, he didn't."
"Well, no gentleman would go creeping out by the back way like a thief."
"Did you look to see if the French window was shut and fastened after
you missed Mr. Bellingham?"
"I looked at it when we shut the house up for the night. It was then
shut and fastened on the inside."
"And the side gate?"
"That was shut and latched. You have to slam the gate to make the latch
fasten, so no one could have gone out of that gate without being heard."
Here the examination-in-chief ended, and Mr. Loram sat down with an
audible sigh of relief. Miss Dobbs was about to step down from the
witness-box when Mr. Heath rose to cross-examine.
"Did you see Mr. Bellingham in a good light?" he asked.
"Pretty good. It was dark outside, but the hall-lamp was alight."
"Kindly look at this"--here a small object was passed across to the
witness. "It is a trinket that Mr. Bellingham is stated to have carried
suspended from his watch-guard. Can you remember if he was wearing it in
that manner when he came to the house?"
"No, he was not."
"You are sure of that?"
"Thank you. And now I want to ask you about the search that you have
mentioned. You say that you went all over the house. Did you go into the
"No--at least, not until Mr. Hurst had gone to London."
"When you did go in, was the window fastened?"
"Could it have been fastened from the outside?"
"No; there is no handle outside."
"What furniture is there in the study?"
"There is a writing-table, a revolving-chair, two easy chairs, two large
bookcases, and a wardrobe that Mr. Hurst keeps his overcoats and hats
"Does the wardrobe lock?"
"Was it locked when you went in?"
"I'm sure I don't know. I don't go about trying the cupboards and
"What furniture is there in the drawing-room?"
"A cabinet, six or seven chairs, a Chesterfield sofa, a piano, a
silver-table, and one or two occasional tables."
"Is the piano a grand or an upright."
"It is an upright grand."
"In what position is it placed?"
"It stands across a corner near the window."
"Is there sufficient room behind it for a man to conceal himself?"
Miss Dobbs was amused and did not dissemble. "Oh, yes," she sniggered,
"there's plenty of room for a man to hide behind it."
"When you searched the drawing-room, did you look behind the piano?"
"No, I didn't?" Miss Dobbs replied scornfully.
"Did you look under the sofa?"
"What did you do, then?"
"We opened the door and looked into the room. We were not looking for a
cat or a monkey; we were looking for a middle-aged gentleman."
"And am I to take it that your search over the rest of the house was
conducted in a similar manner?"
"Certainly. We looked into the rooms, but we did not search under the
beds or in the cupboards."
"Are all the rooms in the house in use as living or sleeping rooms?"
"No; there is one room on the second floor that is used as a store and
lumber room, and one on the first floor that Mr. Hurst uses to store
trunks and things that he is not using."
"Did you look in those rooms when you searched the house?"
"Have you looked in them since?"
"I have been in the lumber-room since, but not in the other. It is
always kept locked."
At this point an ominous flattening became apparent in his lordship's
eyelids, but these symptoms passed off when Mr. Heath sat down and
indicated that he had no further questions to ask.
Miss Dobbs once more prepared to step down from the witness-box, when
Mr. Loram shot up like a jack-in-the-box.
"You have made certain statements," said he, "concerning the scarab
which Mr. Bellingham was accustomed to wear suspended from his
watch-guard. You say that he was not wearing it when he came to Mr.
Hurst's house on the twenty-third of November, nineteen hundred and two.
Are you quite sure of that?"
"I must ask you to be very careful in your statement on this point. The
question is a highly important one. Do you swear that the scarab was not
hanging from his watch-guard?"
"Yes, I do."
"Did you notice the watch-guard particularly?"
"No, not particularly."
"Then what makes you so sure that the scarab was not attached to it?"
"It couldn't have been."
"Why could it not?"
"Because if it had been there I should have seen it."
"What kind of a watch-guard was Mr. Bellingham wearing?"
"Oh, an ordinary sort of watch-guard."
"I mean, was it a chain or a ribbon or a strap?"
"A chain, I think--or perhaps a ribbon--or it might have been a strap."
His lordship flattened his eyelids, but made no further sign, and Mr.
"Did you or did you not notice what kind of watch-guard Mr. Bellingham
"I did not. Why should I? It was no business of mine."
"But yet you are sure about the scarab?"
"Yes, quite sure."
"You noticed that, then?"
"No, I didn't. How could I when it wasn't there?"
Mr. Loram paused and looked helplessly at the witness; a suppressed
titter arose from the body of the Court, and a faint voice from the
"Are you _quite_ incapable of giving a straightforward answer?"
Miss Dobbs' only reply was to burst into tears; whereupon Mr. Loram
abruptly sat down and abandoned his re-examination.
The witness-box vacated by Miss Dobbs was occupied successively by Dr.
Norbury, Mr. Hurst, and the cloak-room attendant, none of whom
contributed any new facts, but merely corroborated the statements made
by Mr. Jellicoe and the housemaid. Then came the labourer who discovered
the bones at Sidcup, and who repeated the evidence that he had given at
the inquest, showing that the remains could not have been lying in the
watercress-bed more than two years. Finally Dr. Summers was called, and,
after he had given a brief description of the bones that he had
examined, was asked by Mr. Loram:
"You have heard the description that Mr. Jellicoe has given of the
"Does that description apply to the person whose remains you examined?"
"In a general way, it does."
"I must ask you for a direct answer--yes or no. Does it apply?"
"Yes. But I ought to say that my estimate of the height of the deceased
is only approximate."
"Quite so. Judging from your examination of those remains and from Mr.
Jellicoe's description, might those remains be the remains of the
testator, John Bellingham?"
"Yes, they might."
On receiving this admission Mr. Loram sat down, and Mr. Heath
immediately rose to cross-examine.
"When you examined these remains, Doctor Summers, did you discover any
personal peculiarities which would enable you to identify them as the
remains of any one individual rather than any other individual of
similar size, age, and proportions?"
"No. I found nothing that would identify the remains as those of any
As Mr. Heath asked no further questions, the witness received his
dismissal, and Mr. Loram informed the Court that that was his case. The
judge bowed somnolently, and then Mr. Heath rose to address the Court on
behalf of the respondent. It was not a long speech, nor was it enriched
by any displays of florid rhetoric; it concerned itself exclusively with
a rebutment of the arguments of the counsel for the petitioner.
Having briefly pointed out that the period of absence was too short to
give rise of itself to the presumption of death, Mr. Heath continued:
"The claim therefore rests upon evidence of a positive character. My
learned friend asserts that the testator is presumably dead, and it is
for him to prove what he has affirmed. Now, has he done this? I submit
that he has not. He has argued with great force and ingenuity that the
testator, being a bachelor, a solitary man without wife or child,
dependent or master, public or private office or duty, or any bond,
responsibility, or any other condition limiting his freedom of action,
had no reason or inducement for absconding. This is my learned friend's
argument, and he has conducted it with so much skill and ingenuity that
he has not only succeeded in proving his case; he has proved a great
deal too much. For if it is true, as my learned friend so justly argues,
that a man thus unfettered by obligations of any kind has no reason for
disappearing, is it not even more true that he has no reason for _not_
disappearing? My friend has urged that the testator was at liberty to go
where he pleased, when he pleased, and how he pleased; and that
therefore there was no need for him to abscond. I reply, if he was at
liberty to go away, whither, when, and how he pleased, why do we express
surprise that he has made use of his liberty? My learned friend points
out that the testator notified to nobody his intention of going away and
has acquainted no one with his whereabouts; but, I ask, whom should he
have notified? He was responsible to nobody; there was no one dependent
upon him; his presence or absence was the concern of nobody but himself.
If circumstances suddenly arising made it desirable that he should go
abroad, why should he not go? I say there was no reason whatever.
"My learned friend has said that the testator went away leaving his
affairs to take care of themselves. Now, gentlemen, I ask you if this
can fairly be said of a man whose affairs are, as they have been for
years, in the hands of a highly capable, completely trustworthy agent
who is better acquainted with them than the testator himself? Clearly it
"To conclude this part of the argument: I submit that the circumstances
of the so-called disappearance of the testator present nothing out of
the ordinary. The testator is a man of ample means, without any
responsibilities to fetter his movements and has been in the constant
habit of travelling, often into remote and distant regions. The mere
fact that he has been absent somewhat longer than usual affords no
ground whatever for the drastic proceeding of presuming his death and
taking possession of his property.
"With reference to the human remains which have been mentioned in
connection with the case I need say but little. The attempt to connect
them with the testator has failed completely. You yourselves have Heard
Doctor Summers state on oath that they cannot be identified as the
remains of any particular person. That would seem to dispose of them
effectually. I must remark upon a very singular point that has been
raised by the learned counsel for the petitioner, which is this:
"My learned friend points out that these remains were discovered near
Eltham and near Woodford and that the testator was last seen alive at
one of these two places. This he considers for some reason to be a
highly significant fact. But I cannot agree with him. If the testator
had been last seen alive at Woodford and the remains had been found at
Woodford, or if he had disappeared from Eltham and the remains had been
found at Eltham, that would have had some significance. But he can only
have been last seen at one of the places, whereas the remains have been
found at both places. Here again my learned friend seems to have proved
"But I need not occupy your time further. I repeat that, in order to
justify us in presuming the death of the testator, clear and positive
evidence would be necessary. That no such evidence has been brought
forward. Accordingly, seeing that the testator may return at any time
and is entitled to find his property intact, I shall ask you for a
verdict that will secure to him this measure of ordinary justice."
At the conclusion of Mr. Heath's speech the judge, as if awakening from
a refreshing nap, opened his eyes; and uncommonly shrewd, intelligent
eyes they were, when the expressive eyelids were duly tucked up out of
the way. He commenced by reading over a part of the will and certain
notes--which he appeared to have made in some miraculous fashion with
his eyes shut--and then proceeded to review the evidence and the
counsels' arguments for the instruction of the jury.
"Before considering the evidence which you have heard, gentlemen," he
said, "it will be well for me to say a few words to you on the general
legal aspects of the case which is occupying our attention."
"If a person goes abroad or disappears from his home and his ordinary
places of resort and is absent for a long period of time, the
presumption of death arises at the expiration of seven years from the
date on which he was last heard of. That is to say, that the total
disappearance of an individual for seven years constitutes presumptive
evidence that the said individual is dead; and the presumption can be
set aside only by the production of evidence that he was alive at some
time within that period of seven years. But if, on the other hand, it
is sought to presume the death of a person who has been absent for a
shorter period than seven years, it is necessary to produce such
evidence as shall make it highly probable that the said person is dead.
Of course, presumption implies supposition as opposed to actual
demonstration; but, nevertheless, the evidence in such a case must be of
a kind that tends to create a very strong belief that death has
occurred; and I need hardly say that the shorter the period of absence,
the more convincing must be the evidence.
"In the present case, the testator, John Bellingham, has been absent
somewhat under two years. This is a relatively short period, and in
itself gives rise to no presumption of death. Nevertheless, death has
been presumed in a case where the period of absence was even shorter and
the insurance recovered; but here the evidence supporting the belief in
the occurrence of death was exceedingly weighty.
"The testator in this case was a shipmaster, and his disappearance was
accompanied by the disappearance of the ship and the entire ship's
company in the course of a voyage from London to Marseilles. The loss of
the ship and her crew was the only reasonable explanation of the
disappearance, and, short of actual demonstration, the facts offered
convincing evidence of the death of all persons on board. I mention this
case as an illustration. You are not dealing with speculative
probabilities. You are contemplating a very momentous proceeding, and
you must be very sure of your ground. Consider what it is that you are
asked to do.
"The petitioner asks permission to presume the death of the testator in
order that the testator's property may be distributed among the
beneficiaries under the will. The granting of such permission involves
us in the gravest responsibility. An ill-considered decision might be
productive of a serious injustice to the testator, an injustice that
could never be remedied. Hence it is incumbent upon you to weigh the
evidence with the greatest care, to come to no decision without the
profoundest consideration of all the facts.
"The evidence that you have heard divides itself into two parts--that
relating to the circumstances of the testator's disappearance, and that
relating to certain human remains. In connection with the latter I can
only express my surprise and regret that the application was not
postponed until the completion of the coroner's inquest, and leave you
to consider the evidence. You will bear in mind that Doctor Summers has
stated explicitly that the remains cannot be identified as those of any
particular individual, but that the testator and the unknown deceased
had so many points of resemblance that they might possibly be one and
the same person.
"With reference to the circumstances of the disappearance, you have
heard the evidence of Mr. Jellicoe to the effect that the testator has
on no previous occasion gone abroad without informing him as to his
proposed destination. But in considering what weight you are to give to
this statement you will bear in mind that when the testator set out for
Paris after his interview with Doctor Norbury he left Mr. Jellicoe
without any information as to his specific destination, his address in
Paris, or the precise date when he should return, and that Mr. Jellicoe
was unable to tell us where the testator went or what was his business.
Mr. Jellicoe was, in fact, for a time without any means of tracing the
testator or ascertaining his whereabouts.
"The evidence of the housemaid, Dobbs, and of Mr. Hurst is rather
confusing. It appears that the testator came to the house, was shown
into a certain room, and when looked for later was not to be found. A
search of the premises showed that he was not in the house, whence it
seems to follow that he must have left it; but since no one was informed
of his intention to leave, and he had expressed the intention of staying
to see Mr. Hurst, his conduct in thus going away surreptitiously must
appear somewhat eccentric. The point that you have to consider,
therefore, is whether a person who is capable of thus departing in a
surreptitious and eccentric manner from a house, without giving notice
to the servants, is capable also of departing in a surreptitious and
eccentric manner from his usual places of resort without giving notice
to his friends or thereafter informing them of his whereabouts.
"The questions, then, gentlemen, that you have to ask yourselves before
deciding on your verdict are two: first, Are the circumstances of the
testator's disappearance and his continued absence incongruous with his
habits and personal peculiarities as they are known to you? and second,
Are there any facts which indicate in a positive manner that the
testator is dead? Ask yourselves these questions, gentlemen, and the
answers to them, furnished by the evidence that you have heard, will
guide you to your decision."
Having delivered himself of the above instructions, the judge applied
himself to the perusal of the will with professional gusto, in which
occupation he was presently disturbed by the announcement of the foreman
of the jury that a verdict had been agreed upon.
The judge sat up and glanced at the jury-box, and when the foreman
proceeded to state that "We find no sufficient reason for presuming the
testator, John Bellingham, to be dead," he nodded approvingly. Evidently
that was his opinion, too, as he was careful to explain when he conveyed
to Mr. Loram the refusal of the Court to grant the permission applied
The decision was a great relief to me, and also, I think, to Miss
Bellingham; but most of all to her father, who, with instinctive good
manners, since he could not suppress a smile of triumph, rose hastily
and stumped out of the Court, so that the discomfited Hurst should not
see him. His daughter and I followed, and as we left the Court she
remarked, with a smile:
"So our pauperism is not, after all, made absolute. There is still a
chance for us in the Chapter of Accidents--and perhaps even for poor old
The morning after the hearing saw me setting forth on my round in more
than usually good spirits. The round itself was but a short one, for my
list contained only a couple of "chronics," and this, perhaps,
contributed to my cheerful outlook on life. But there were other
reasons. The decision of the Court had come as an unexpected reprieve
and the ruin of my friends' prospects was at least postponed. Then, I
had learned that Thorndyke was back from Bristol and wished me to look
in on him; and, finally, Miss Bellingham had agreed to spend this very
afternoon with me, browsing round the galleries at the British Museum.
I had disposed of my two patients by a quarter to eleven, and three
minutes later was striding down Mitre Court, all agog to hear what
Thorndyke had to say with reference to my notes on the inquest. The
"oak" was open when I arrived at his chambers, and a modest flourish on
the little brass knocker of the inner door was answered by my quondam
"How good of you, Berkeley," he said, shaking hands genially, "to look
me up so early. I am all alone, just looking through the report of the
evidence in yesterday's proceedings."
He placed an easy chair for me, and, gathering up a bundle of
type-written papers, laid them aside on the table.
"Were you surprised at the decision?" I asked.
"No," he answered. "Two years is a short period of absence; but still,
it might easily have gone the other way. I am greatly relieved. The
respite gives us time to carry out our investigations without undue
"Did you find my notes of any use?" I asked.
"Heath did. Polton handed them to him, and they were invaluable to him
for his cross-examination. I haven't seen them yet; in fact, I have only
just got them back from him. Let us go through them together now."
He opened a drawer, and taking from it my note-book, seated himself, and
began to read through my notes with grave attention, while I stood and
looked shyly over his shoulder. On the page that contained my sketches
of the Sidcup arm, showing the distribution of the snails' eggs on the
bones, he lingered with a faint smile that made me turn hot and red.
"Those sketches look rather footy," I said; "but I had to put something
in my note-book."
"You didn't attach any importance, then, to the facts that they
"No. The egg-patches were there, so I noted the fact. That's all."
"I congratulate you, Berkeley. There is not one man in twenty who would
have the sense to make a careful note of what he considers an
unimportant or irrelevant fact; and the investigator who notes only
those things that appear significant is perfectly useless. He gives
himself no material for reconsideration. But you don't mean that these
egg-patches and worm-tubes appeared to you to have no significance at
"Oh, of course, they show the position in which the bones were lying."
"Exactly. The arm was lying, fully extended, with the dorsal side
uppermost. There is nothing remarkable in that. But we also learn from
these egg-patches that the hand had been separated from the arm before
it was thrown into the pond; and there is something very remarkable in
I leaned over his shoulder and gazed at my sketches, amazed at the
rapidity with which he had reconstructed the limb from my rough drawings
of the individual bones.
"I don't quite see how you arrived at it, though," I said.
"Well, look at your drawings. The egg-patches are on the dorsal surface
of the scapula, the humerus, and the bones of the fore-arm. But here you
have shown six of the bones of the hand: two metacarpals, the os magnum,
and three phalanges; and they all have egg-patches on the _palmar_
surface. Therefore the hand was lying palm upwards."
"But the hand may have been pronated."
"If you mean pronated in relation to the arm, that is impossible, for
the position of the egg-patches shows clearly that the bones of the arm
were lying in the position of supination. Thus the dorsal surface of the
arm and the palmar surface of the hand respectively were uppermost,
which is an anatomical impossibility so long as the hand is attached to
"But might not the hand have become detached after lying in the pond
"No. It could not have been detached until the ligaments had decayed,
and if it had been separated after the decay of the soft parts, the
bones would have been thrown into disorder. But the egg-patches are all
on the palmar surface, showing that the bones were still in their normal
relative positions. No, Berkeley, that hand was thrown into the pond
separately from the arm."
"But why should it have been?" I asked.
"Ah, there is a very pretty little problem for you to consider. And,
meantime, let me tell you that your expedition has been a brilliant
success. You are an excellent observer. Your only fault is that when you
have noted certain facts you don't seem fully to appreciate their
significance--which is merely a matter of inexperience. As to the facts
that you have collected, several of them are of prime importance."
"I am glad you are satisfied," said I, "though I don't see that I have
discovered much excepting those snails' eggs; and they don't seem to
have advanced matters very much."
"A definite fact, Berkeley, is a definite asset. Perhaps we may
presently find a little space in our Chinese puzzle which this fact of
the detached hand will just drop into. But, tell me, did you find
nothing unexpected or suggestive about those bones--as to their number
and condition, for instance?"
"Well, I thought it a little queer that the scapula and clavicle should
be there. I should have expected him to cut the arm off at the
"Yes," said Thorndyke; "so should I; and so it has been done in every
case of dismemberment that I am acquainted with. To an ordinary person,
the arm seems to join on to the trunk at the shoulder-joint, and that is
where he would naturally sever it. What explanation do you suggest of
this unusual mode of severing the arm?"
"Do you think the fellow could have been a butcher?" I asked,
remembering Dr. Summers' remark. "This is the way a shoulder of mutton
is taken off."
"No," replied Thorndyke. "A butcher includes the scapula in a shoulder
of mutton for a specific purpose, namely, to take off a given quantity
of meat. And also, as a sheep has no clavicle, it is the easiest way to
detach the limb. But I imagine a butcher would find himself in
difficulties if he attempted to take off a man's arm in that way. The
clavicle would be a new and perplexing feature. Then, too, a butcher
does not deal very delicately with his subject; if he has to divide a
joint, he just cuts through it and does not trouble himself to avoid
marking the bones. But you note here that there is not a single scratch
or score on any one of the bones, not even where the finger was removed.
Now, if you have ever prepared bones for a museum, as I have, you will
remember the extreme care that is necessary in disarticulating joints to
avoid disfiguring the articular ends of the bones with cuts and
"Then you think that the person who dismembered this body must have had
some anatomical knowledge and skill?"
"That is what has been suggested. The suggestion is not mine."
"Then I infer that you don't agree?"
Thorndyke smiled. "I am sorry to be so cryptic, Berkeley, but you
understand that I can't make statements. Still, I am trying to lead you
to make certain inferences from the facts that are in your possession."
"If I make the right inference, will you tell me?" I asked.
"It won't be necessary," he answered, with the same quiet smile. "When
you have fitted a puzzle together you don't need to be told that you
have done it."
It was most infernally tantalising. I pondered on the problem with a
scowl of such intense cogitation that Thorndyke laughed outright.
"It seems to me," I said, at length, "that the identity of the remains
is the primary question and that is a question of fact. It doesn't seem
any use to speculate about it."
"Exactly. Either these bones are the remains of John Bellingham or they
are not. There will be no doubt on the subject when all the bones are
assembled--if ever they are. And the settlement of that question will
probably throw light on the further question: Who deposited them in the
places in which they were found? But to return to your observations: did
you gather nothing from the other bones? From the complete state of the
neck vertebrae, for instance?"
"Well, it did strike me as rather odd that the fellow should have gone
to the trouble of separating the atlas from the skull. He must have been
pretty handy with the scalpel to have done it as cleanly as he seems to
have done; but I don't see why he should have gone about the business in
the most inconvenient way."
"You notice the uniformity of method. He has separated the head from the
spine, instead of cutting through the spine lower down, as most persons
would have done: he removed the arms with the entire shoulder-girdle,
instead of simply cutting them off at the shoulder-joints. Even in the
thighs the same peculiarity appears; for in neither case was the
knee-cap found with the thigh-bone, although it seems to have been
searched for. Now the obvious way to divide the leg is to cut through
the patellar ligament, leaving the knee-cap attached to the thigh. But
in this case, the knee-cap appears to have been left attached to the
shank. Can you explain why this person should have adopted this unusual
and rather inconvenient method? Can you suggest a motive for this
procedure, or can you think of any circumstances which might lead a
person to adopt this method by preference?"
"It seems as if he wished, for some reason, to divide the body into
definite anatomical regions."
Thorndyke chuckled. "You are not offering that suggestion as an
explanation, are you? Because it would require more explaining than the
original problem. And it is not even true. Anatomically speaking, the
knee-cap appertains to the thigh rather than to the shank. It is a
sesamoid bone belonging to the thigh muscles; yet in this case it has
been left attached, apparently, to the shank. No, Berkeley, that cat
won't jump. Our unknown operator was not preparing a skeleton as a
museum specimen; he was dividing a body up into convenient-sized
portions for the purpose of conveying them to various ponds. Now what
circumstances might have led him to divide it in this peculiar manner?"
"I am afraid I have no suggestion to offer. Have you?"
Thorndyke suddenly lapsed into ambiguity. "I think," he said, "it is
possible to conceive such circumstances, and so, probably, will you if
you think it over."
"Did you gather anything of importance from the evidence at the
inquest?" I asked.
"It is difficult to say," he replied. "The whole of my conclusions in
this case are based on what is virtually circumstantial evidence. I have
not one single fact of which I can say that it admits only of a single
interpretation. Still, it must be remembered that even the most
inconclusive facts, if sufficiently multiplied, yield a highly
conclusive total. And my little pile of evidence is growing, particle by
particle; but we mustn't sit here gossiping at this hour of the day; I
have to consult with Marchmont and you say that you have an early
afternoon engagement. We can walk together as far as Fleet Street."
A minute or two later we went our respective ways, Thorndyke towards
Lombard Street and I to Fetter Lane, not unmindful of those coming
events that were casting so agreeable a shadow before them.
There was only one message awaiting me, and when Adolphus had delivered
it (amidst mephitic fumes that rose from the basement, premonitory of
fried plaice), I pocketed my stethoscope and betook myself to Gunpowder
Alley, the aristocratic abode of my patient, joyfully threading the now
familiar passages of Gough Square and Wine Office Court, and meditating
pleasantly on the curious literary flavour that pervades these
little-known regions. For the shade of the author of _Rasselas_ still
seems to haunt the scenes of his Titanic labours and his ponderous but
homely and temperate rejoicings. Every court and alley whispers of books
and of the making of books; forms of type, trundled noisily on trollies
by ink-smeared boys, salute the wayfarer at odd corners; piles of
strawboard, rolls or bales of paper, drums of printing-ink or
roller-composition stand on the pavement outside dark entries; basement
windows give glimpses into Hadean caverns tenanted by legions of
printer's devils; and the very air is charged with the hum of press and
with odours of glue and paste and oil. The entire neighbourhood is given
up to the printer and binder; and even my patient turned out to be a
guillotine-knife grinder--a ferocious and revolutionary calling
strangely at variance with his harmless appearance and meek bearing.
I was in good time at my tryst, despite the hindrances of fried plaice
and invalid guillotinists; but, early as I was, Miss Bellingham was
already waiting in the garden--she had been filling a bowl with
flowers--ready to sally forth.
"It is quite like old times," she said, as we turned into Fetter Lane,
"to be going to the Museum together. It brings back the Tell el Amarna
tablets and all your kindness and unselfish labour. I suppose we shall
walk there to-day?"
"Certainly," I replied; "I am not going to share your society with the
common mortals who ride in omnibuses. That would be sheer, sinful waste.
Besides, it is more companionable to walk."
"Yes, it is; and the bustle of the streets makes one more appreciative
of the quiet of the Museum. What are we going to look at when we get
"You must decide that," I replied. "You know the collection much better
than I do."
"Well, now," she mused, "I wonder what you would like to see; or, in
other words, what I should like you to see. The old English pottery is
rather fascinating, especially the Fulham ware. I rather think I shall
take you to see that."
She reflected awhile, and then, just as we reached the gate of Staple
Inn, she stopped and looked thoughtfully down the Gray's Inn Road.
"You have taken a great interest in our 'case,' as Doctor Thorndyke
calls it. Would you like to see the churchyard where Uncle John wished
to be buried? It is a little out of our way, but we are not in a hurry,
I, certainly, was not. Any deviation that might prolong our walk was
welcome, and, as to the place--why, all places were alike to me if only
she were by my side. Besides, the churchyard was really of some
interest, since it was undoubtedly the "exciting cause" of the obnoxious
paragraph two of the disputed will. I accordingly expressed a desire to
make its acquaintance, and we crossed to the entrance to Gray's Inn
"Do you ever try," she asked, as we turned down the dingy thoroughfare,
"to picture to yourself familiar places as they looked a couple of
hundred years ago?"
"Yes," I answered, "and very difficult I find it. One has to manufacture
the materials for reconstruction, and then the present aspect of the
place will keep obtruding itself. But some places are easier to
reconstitute than others."
"That is what I find," said she. "Now Holborn, for example, is quite
easy to reconstruct, though I daresay the imaginary form isn't a bit
like the original. But there are fragments left, like Staple Inn and the
front of Gray's Inn; and then one has seen prints of the old Middle Row
and some of the taverns, so that one has some material with which to
help out one's imagination. But this road that we are walking in always
baffles me. It looks so old and yet is, for the most part, so new that I
find it impossible to make a satisfactory picture of its appearance,
say, when Sir Roger de Coverley might have strolled in Gray's Inn Walks,
or farther back, when Francis Bacon had chambers in the Inn."
"I imagine," said I, "that part of the difficulty is in the mixed
character of the neighbourhood. Here, on the one side, is old Gray's
Inn, not much changed since Bacon's time--his chambers are still to be
seen, I think, over the gateway; and there, on the Clerkenwell side, is
a dense and rather squalid neighbourhood which has grown up over a
region partly rural and wholly fugitive in character. Places like
Bagnigge Wells and Hockley in the Hole would not have had many buildings
that were likely to survive; and in the absence of surviving specimens
the imagination hasn't much to work from."
"I daresay you are right," said she. "Certainly, the purlieus of old
Clerkenwell present a very confused picture to me; whereas, in the case
of an old street like, say, Great Ormond Street, one has only to sweep
away the modern buildings and replace them with glorious old houses like
the few that remain, dig up the roadway and pavements and lay down
cobble-stones, plant a few wooden posts, hang up one or two oil-lamps,
and the transformation is complete. And a very delightful transformation
"Very delightful; which, by the way, is a melancholy thought. For we
ought to be doing better work than our forefathers; whereas what we
actually do is to pull down the old buildings, clap the doorways,
porticoes, panelling, and mantels in our museums, and then run up
something inexpensive and useful and deadly uninteresting in their
My companion looked at me and laughed softly. "For a naturally cheerful,
and even gay young man," said she, "you are most amazingly pessimistic.
The mantle of Jeremiah--if he ever wore one--seems to have fallen on
you, but without in the least impairing your good spirits excepting in
regard to matters architectural."
"I have much to be thankful for," said I. "Am I not taken to the Museum
by a fair lady? And does she not stay me with mummy cases and comfort me
"Pottery," she corrected; and then, as we met a party of grave-looking
women emerging from a side-street, she said: "I suppose those are lady
"Yes, on their way to the Royal Free Hospital. Note the gravity of their
demeanour and contrast it with the levity of the male student."
"I was doing so," she answered, "and wondering why professional women
are usually so much more serious than men."
"Perhaps," I suggested, "it is a matter of selection. A peculiar type of
woman is attracted to the professions, whereas every man has to earn his
living as a matter of course."
"Yes, I daresay that is the explanation. This is our turning."
We passed into Heathcote Street, at the end of which was an open gate
giving entrance to one of those disused and metamorphosed burial-grounds
that are to be met with in the older districts of London; in which the
dispossessed dead are jostled into corners to make room for the living.
Many of the headstones were still standing, and others, displaced to
make room for asphalted walks and seats, were ranged around by the
walls, exhibiting inscriptions made meaningless by their removal. It was
a pleasant enough place on this summer afternoon, contrasted with the
dingy street whence we had come, though its grass was faded and yellow
and the twitter of the birds in the trees mingled with the hideous
Board-school drawl of the children who played around the seats and the
few remaining tombs.
"So this is the last resting-place of the illustrious house of
Bellingham," said I.
"Yes; and we are not the only distinguished people who repose in this
place. The daughter of no less a person than Richard Cromwell is buried
here; the tomb is still standing--but perhaps you have been here before,
and know it."
"I don't think I have ever been here before; and yet there is something
about the place that seems familiar." I looked around, cudgelling my
brains for the key to the dimly reminiscent sensations that the place
evoked; until, suddenly, I caught sight of a group of buildings away to
the west, enclosed within a wall heightened by a wooden trellis.
"Yes, of course!" I exclaimed. "I remember the place now. I have never
been in this part before, but in that enclosure beyond which opens at
the end of Henrietta Street, there used to be and may be still, for all
I know, a school of anatomy, at which I attended in my first year; in
fact, I did my first dissection there."
"There was a certain gruesome appropriateness in the position of the
school," remarked Miss Bellingham. "It would have been really convenient
in the days of the resurrection men. Your material would have been
delivered at your very door. Was it a large school?"
"The attendance varied according to the time of the year. Sometimes I
worked there quite alone. I used to let myself in with a key and hoist
my subject out of a sort of sepulchral tank by means of a chain tackle.
It was a ghoulish business. You have no idea how awful the body used to
look, to my unaccustomed eyes, as it rose slowly out of the tank. It was
like the resurrection scenes that you see on some old tombstones, where
the deceased is shown rising out of his coffin while the skeleton,
Death, falls vanquished with his dart shattered and his crown toppling
"I remember, too, that the demonstrator used to wear a blue apron, which
created a sort of impression of a cannibal butcher's shop. But I am
afraid I am shocking you."
"No, you are not. Every profession has its unpresentable aspects, which
ought not to be seen by out-siders. Think of a sculptor's studio and of
the sculptor himself when he is modelling a large figure or group in the
clay. He might be a bricklayer or a road-sweeper if you judge by his
appearance. This is the tomb I was telling you about."
We halted before the plain coffer of stone, weathered and wasted by age,
but yet kept in decent repair by some pious hands, and read the
inscription, setting forth with modest pride, that here reposed Anna,
sixth daughter of Richard Cromwell, "The Protector." It was a simple
monument and commonplace enough, with the crude severity of the ascetic
age to which it belonged. But still, it carried the mind back to those
stirring times when the leafy shades of Gray's Inn Lane must have
resounded with the clank of weapons and the tramp of armed men; when
this bald recreation-ground was a rustic churchyard, standing amidst
green fields and hedgerows, and countrymen leading their pack-horses
into London through the Lane would stop to look in over the wooden gate.
Miss Bellingham looked at me critically as I stood thus reflecting, and
presently remarked, "I think you and I have a good many mental habits in
I looked up inquiringly, and she continued: "I notice that an old
tombstone seems to set you meditating. So it does me. When I look at an
ancient monument, and especially an old headstone, I find myself almost
unconsciously retracing the years to the date that is written on the
stone. Why do you think that is? Why should a monument be so stimulating
to the imagination? And why should a common headstone be more so than
"I suppose it is," I answered reflectively, "that a churchyard monument
is a peculiarly personal thing and appertains in a peculiar way to a
particular time. And the circumstance that it has stood untouched by the
passing years while everything around has changed, helps the imagination
to span the interval. And the common headstone, the memorial of some
dead and gone farmer or labourer who lived and died in the village hard
by, is still more intimate and suggestive. The rustic, childish
sculpture of the village mason and the artless doggerel of the village
schoolmaster, bring back the time and place and the conditions of life
much more vividly than the more scholarly inscriptions and the more
artistic enrichments of monuments of greater pretensions. But where are
your own family tombstones?"
"They are over in that farther corner. There is an intelligent, but
inopportune, person apparently copying the epitaphs. I wish he would go
away. I want to show them to you."
I now noticed, for the first time, an individual engaged, note-book in
hand, in making a careful survey of a group of old headstones. Evidently
he was making a copy of the inscriptions, for not only was he poring
attentively over the writing on the face of the stone, but now and again
he helped out his vision by running his fingers over the worn lettering.
"That is my grandfather's tombstone that he is copying now," said Miss
Bellingham; and even as she spoke, the man turned and directed a
searching glance at us with a pair of keen, spectacled eyes.
Simultaneously we uttered an exclamation of surprise; for the
investigator was Mr. Jellicoe.
"O! ARTEMIDORUS, FAREWELL!"
Whether or not Mr. Jellicoe was surprised to see us, it is impossible to
say. His countenance (which served the ordinary purposes of a face,
inasmuch as it contained the principal organs of special sense, with the
inlets to the alimentary and respiratory tracts) was, as an apparatus
for the expression of the emotions, a total failure. To a thought-reader
it would have been about as helpful as the face carved upon the handle
of an umbrella; a comparison suggested, perhaps, by a certain
resemblance to such an object. He advanced, holding his open note-book
and pencil, and having saluted us with a stiff bow and an old-fashioned
flourish of his hat, shook hands rheumatically and waited for us to
"This is an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Jellicoe," said Miss Bellingham.
"It is very good of you to say so," he replied.
"And quite a coincidence--that we should all happen to come here on the
"A coincidence, certainly," he admitted; "and if we had all happened not
to come--which must have occurred frequently--that also would have been
"I suppose it would," said she, "but I hope we are not interrupting
"Thank you, no. I had just finished when I had the pleasure of
"You were making some notes in reference to the case, I imagine," said
I. It was an impertinent question, put with malice aforethought for the
mere pleasure of hearing him evade it.
"The case?" he repeated. "You are referring, perhaps, to Stevens versus
the Parish Council?"
"I think Doctor Berkeley was referring to the case of my uncle's will,"
Miss Bellingham said quite gravely, though with a suspicious dimpling
about the corners of her mouth.
"Indeed," said Mr. Jellicoe. "There is a case, is there; a suit?"
"I mean the proceedings instituted by Mr. Hurst."
"Oh, but that was merely an application to the Court, and is, moreover,
finished and done with. At least, so I understand. I speak, of course,
subject to correction; I am not acting for Mr. Hurst, you will be
pleased to remember. As a matter of fact," he continued, after a brief
pause, "I was just refreshing my memory as to the wording of the
inscriptions on these stones, especially that of your grandfather,
Francis Bellingham. It has occurred to me that if it should appear by
the finding of the coroner's jury that your uncle is deceased, it would
be proper and decorous that some memorial should be placed here. But, as
the burial-ground is closed, there might be some difficulty about
erecting a new monument, whereas there would probably be none in adding
an inscription to one already existing. Hence these investigations. For
if the inscription on your grandfather's stone had set forth that 'here
rests the body of Francis Bellingham,' it would have been manifestly
improper to add 'also that of John Bellingham, son of the above.'
Fortunately the inscription was more discreetly drafted, merely
recording the fact that this monument is 'sacred to the memory of the
said Francis,' and not committing itself as to the whereabouts of the
remains. But perhaps I am interrupting you?"
"No, not at all," replied Miss Bellingham (which was grossly untrue; he
was interrupting _me_ most intolerably); "we were going to the British
Museum and just looked in here on our way."
"Ha," said Mr. Jellicoe, "now, I happen to be going to the Museum too,
to see Doctor Norbury. I suppose that is another coincidence?"
"Certainly it is," Miss Bellingham replied; and then she asked: "Shall
we walk there together?" and the old curmudgeon actually said
We returned to the Gray's Inn Road, where, as there was now room for us
to walk abreast, I proceeded to indemnify myself for the lawyer's
unwelcome company by leading the conversation back to the subject of the
"Was there anything, Mr. Jellicoe, in Mr. John Bellingham's state of
health that would make it probable that he might die suddenly?"
The lawyer looked at me suspiciously for a few moments and then
"You seem to be greatly interested in John Bellingham and his affairs."
"I am. My friends are deeply concerned in them, and the case itself is
of more than common interest from a professional point of view."
"And what is the bearing of this particular question?"
"Surely it is obvious," said I. "If a missing man is known to have
suffered from some affection, such as heart disease, aneurism, or
arterial degeneration, likely to produce sudden death, that fact will
surely be highly material to the question as to whether he is probably
dead or alive."
"No doubt you are right," said Mr. Jellicoe. "I have little knowledge of
medical affairs, but doubtless you are right. As to the question itself,
I am Mr. Bellingham's lawyer, not his doctor. His health is a matter
that lies outside my jurisdiction. But you heard my evidence in Court,
to the effect that the testator appeared, to my untutored observation,
to be a healthy man. I can say no more now."
"If the question is of any importance," said Miss Bellingham, "I wonder
they did not call his doctor and settle it definitely. My own impression
is that he was--or is--rather a strong and sound man. He certainly
recovered very quickly and completely after his accident."
"What accident was that?" I asked.
"Oh, hasn't my father told you? It occurred while he was staying with
us. He slipped from a high kerb and broke one of the bones of the left
"Yes, that was the name--Pott's fracture; and he broke both his
knee-caps as well. Sir Morgan Bennet had to perform an operation, or he
would have been a cripple for life. As it was, he was about again in a
few weeks, apparently none the worse excepting for a slight weakness of
the left ankle."
"Could he walk upstairs?" I asked.
"Oh, yes; and play golf and ride a bicycle."
"You are sure he broke both knee-caps?"
"Quite sure. I remember that it was mentioned as an uncommon injury, and
that Sir Morgan seemed quite pleased with him for doing it."
"That sounds rather libellous; but I expect he was pleased with the
result of the operation. He might well be."
Here there was a brief lull in the conversation, and, even as I was
trying to think of a poser for Mr. Jellicoe, that gentleman took the
opportunity to change the subject.
"Are you going to the Egyptian Rooms?" he asked.
"No," replied Miss Bellingham; "we are going to look at the pottery."
"Ancient or modern?"
"The old Fulham ware is what chiefly interests us at present; that of
the seventeenth century. I don't know whether you would call that
ancient or modern."
"Neither do I," said Mr. Jellicoe. "Antiquity and modernity are terms
that have no fixed connotation. They are purely relative and their
application in a particular instance has to be determined by a sort of
sliding scale. To a furniture collector, a Tudor chair or a Jacobean
chest is ancient; to an architect, their period is modern, whereas an
eleventh-century church is ancient; but to an Egyptologist, accustomed
to remains of a vast antiquity, both are products of modern periods
separated by an insignificant interval. And, I suppose," he added,
reflectively, "that to a geologist, the traces of the very earliest dawn
of human history appertain only to the recent period. Conceptions of
time, like all other conceptions, are relative."
"You appear to be a disciple of Herbert Spencer," I remarked.
"I am a disciple of Arthur Jellicoe, sir," he retorted. And I believed
By the time we had reached the Museum he had become almost genial; and,
if less amusing in this frame, he was so much more instructive and
entertaining that I refrained from baiting him, and permitted him to
discuss his favourite topic unhindered, especially since my companion
listened with lively interest. Nor, when we entered the great hall, did
he relinquish possession of us, and we followed submissively, as he led
the way past the winged bulls of Nineveh and the great seated statues,
until we found ourselves, almost without the exercise of our volition,
in the upper room amidst the glaring mummy cases that had witnessed the
birth of my friendship with Ruth Bellingham.
"Before I leave you," said Mr. Jellicoe, "I should like to show you that
mummy that we were discussing the other evening; the one, you remember,
that my friend, John Bellingham, presented to the Museum a little time
before his disappearance. The point that I mentioned is only a trivial
one, but it may become of interest hereafter if any plausible
explanation should be forthcoming." He led us along the room until we
arrived at the case containing John Bellingham's gift, where he halted
and gazed in at the mummy with the affectionate reflectiveness of the
"The bitumen coating was what we were discussing, Miss Bellingham,"
said he. "You have seen it, of course."
"Yes," she answered. "It is a dreadful disfigurement, isn't it?"
"Aesthetically it is to be deplored, but it adds a certain speculative
interest to the specimen. You notice that the black coating leaves the
principal decoration and the whole of the inscription untouched, which
is precisely the part that one would expect to find covered up; whereas
the feet and the back, which probably bore no writing, are quite thickly
encrusted. If you stoop down, you can see that the bitumen was daubed
freely into the lacings of the back, where it served no purpose, so that
even the strings are embedded." He stooped, as he spoke, and peered up
inquisitively at the back of the mummy, where it was visible between the
"Has Doctor Norbury any explanation to offer?" asked Miss Bellingham.
"None whatever," replied Mr. Jellicoe. "He finds it as great a mystery
as I do. But he thinks that we may get some suggestion from the Director
when he comes back. He is a very great authority, as you know, and a
practical excavator of great experience too. But I mustn't stay here
talking of these things, and keeping you from your pottery. Perhaps I
have stayed too long already. If I have I ask your pardon, and I will
now wish you a very good afternoon." With a sudden return to his
customary wooden impassivity, he shook hands with us, bowed stiffly, and
took himself off towards the curator's office.
"What a strange man that is," said Miss Bellingham, as Mr. Jellicoe
disappeared through the doorway at the end of the room, "or perhaps I
should say, a strange being, for I can hardly think of him as a man. I
have never met any other human creature at all like him."
"He is certainly a queer old fogey," I agreed.
"Yes, but there is something more than that. He is so emotionless, so
remote and aloof from all mundane concerns. He moves among ordinary men
and women, but as a mere presence, an unmoved spectator of their
actions, quite dispassionate and impersonal."
"Yes, he is astonishingly self-contained; in fact, he seems, as you say,
to go to and fro among men, enveloped in a sort of infernal atmosphere
of his own, like Marley's ghost. But he is lively and human enough as
soon as the subject of Egyptian antiquities is broached."
"Lively, but not human. He is always, to me, quite unhuman. Even when he
is most interested, and even enthusiastic, he is a mere personification
of knowledge. Nature ought to have furnished him with an ibis' head like
Tahuti; then he would have looked his part."
"He would have made a rare sensation in Lincoln's Inn if she had," said
I; and we both laughed heartily at the imaginary picture of Tahuti
Jellicoe, slender-beaked and top-hatted, going about his business in
Lincoln's Inn and the Law Courts.
Insensibly, as we talked, we had drawn near to the mummy of Artemidorus,
and now my companion halted before the case with her thoughtful grey
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