The Vanishing Man
R. Austin Freeman
Part 6 out of 6
was admittedly a dead human body; and that body was to be enclosed in a
sealed case. Could any more perfect or secure method of disposing of a
body be devised by the most ingenious murderer? The plan would have had
only one weak point: the mummy would be known to have left Queen Square
_after_ the disappearance of John Bellingham, and suspicion might in the
end have arisen. To this point I shall return presently; meanwhile we
will consider the second hypothesis--that the missing man was made away
with by Mr. Hurst.
"Now, there seemed to be no doubt that some person, purporting to be
John Bellingham, did actually visit Mr. Hurst's house; and he must
either have left that house or remained in it. If he left, he did so
surreptitiously; if he remained, there could be no reasonable doubt that
he had been murdered and that his body had been concealed. Let us
consider the probabilities in each case.
"Assuming--as everyone seems to have done--that the visitor was really
John Bellingham, we are dealing with a responsible, middle-aged
gentleman, and the idea that such a person would enter a house, announce
his intention of staying, and then steal away unobserved is very
difficult to accept. Moreover, he would appear to have come down to
Eltham by rail immediately on landing in England, leaving his luggage in
the cloak-room at Charing Cross. This pointed to a definiteness of
purpose quite inconsistent with his casual disappearance from the house.
"On the other hand, the idea that he might have been murdered by Hurst
was not inconceivable. The thing was physically possible. If Bellingham
had really been in the study when Hurst came home, the murder could have
been committed--by appropriate means--and the body temporarily concealed
in the cupboard or elsewhere. But, although possible, it was not at all
probable. There was no real opportunity. The risk and the subsequent
difficulties would be very great; there was not a particle of positive
evidence that a murder had occurred; and the conduct of Hurst in
immediately leaving the house in possession of the servants is quite
inconsistent with the supposition that there was a body concealed in it.
So that, while it is almost impossible to believe that John Bellingham
left the house of his own accord, it is equally difficult to believe
that he did not leave it.
"But there is a third possibility, which, strange to say, no one seems
to have suggested. Supposing that the visitor was not John Bellingham at
all, but someone who was personating him? That would dispose of the
difficulties completely. The strange disappearance ceases to be strange,
for a personator would necessarily make off before Mr. Hurst should
arrive and discover the imposture. But if we accept this supposition, we
raise two further questions: 'Who was the personator?' and 'What was the
object of the personation?'
"Now, the personator was clearly not Hurst himself, for he would have
been recognised by his housemaid; he was therefore either Godfrey
Bellingham or Mr. Jellicoe or some other person; and as no other person
was mentioned in the newspaper reports I confined my speculations to
"And, first, as to Godfrey Bellingham. It did not appear whether he was
or was not known to the housemaid, so I assumed--wrongly, as it turns
out--that he was not. Then he might have been the personator. But why
should he have personated his brother? He could not have already
committed the murder. There had not been time enough. He would have had
to leave Woodford before John Bellingham had set out from Charing Cross.
And even if he had committed the murder, he would have had no object in
raising this commotion. His cue would have been to remain quiet and know
nothing. The probabilities were all against the personator being Godfrey
"Then could it be Mr. Jellicoe? The answer to this question is contained
in the answer to the further question: What could have been the object
of the personation?
"What motive could this unknown person have had in appearing, announcing
himself as John Bellingham, and forthwith vanishing? There could only
have been one motive: that, namely, of fixing the date of John
Bellingham's disappearance--of furnishing a definite moment at which he
was last seen alive.
"But who was likely to have had such a motive? Let us see.
"I said just now that if Mr. Jellicoe had murdered John Bellingham and
disposed of the body in the mummy-case, he would have been absolutely
safe for the time being. But there would be a weak spot in his armour.
For a month or more the disappearance of his client would occasion no
remark. But presently, when he failed to return, inquiries would be set
on foot; and then it would appear that no one had seen him since he left
Queen Square. Then it would be noted that the last person with whom he
was seen was Mr. Jellicoe. It might, further, be remembered that the
mummy had been delivered to the Museum some time _after_ the missing man
was last seen alive. And so suspicion might arise and be followed by
disastrous investigations. But supposing it should be made to appear
that John Bellingham had been seen alive more than a month after his
interview with Mr. Jellicoe and some weeks after the mummy had been
deposited in the Museum? Then Mr. Jellicoe would cease to be in any way
connected with the disappearance, and henceforth would be absolutely
"Hence, after carefully considering this part of the newspaper report, I
came to the conclusion that the mysterious occurrence at Mr. Hurst's
house had only one reasonable explanation, namely, that the visitor was
not John Bellingham, but someone personating him; and that that someone
was Mr. Jellicoe.
"It remains to consider the case of Godfrey Bellingham and his daughter,
though I cannot understand how any sane person can have seriously
suspected either" (here Inspector Badger smiled a sour smile). "The
evidence against them was negligible, for there was nothing to connect
them with the affair save the finding of the scarab on their premises;
and that event, which might have been highly suspicious under other
circumstances, was robbed of any significance by the fact that the
scarab was found on a spot which had been passed a few minutes
previously by the other suspected party, Hurst. The finding of the
scarab did, however, establish two important conclusions; namely, that
John Bellingham had probably met with foul play, and that of the four
persons present when it was found, one at least had had possession of
the body. As to which of the four was the one, the circumstances
furnished only a hint, which was this: If the scarab had been purposely
dropped, the most likely person to find it was the one who dropped it.
And the person who discovered it was Mr. Jellicoe.
"Following up this hint, if we ask ourselves what motive Mr. Jellicoe
could have had for dropping it--assuming him to be the murderer--the
answer is obvious. It would not be his policy to fix the crime on any
particular person, but rather to set up a complication of conflicting
evidence which would occupy the attention of investigators and divert it
"Of course, if Hurst had been the murderer, he would have had a
sufficient motive for dropping the scarab, so that the case against Mr.
Jellicoe was not conclusive; but the fact that it was he who found it
was highly significant.
"This completes the analysis of the evidence contained in the original
newspaper report describing the circumstances of the disappearance. The
conclusions that followed from it were, as you will have seen:
"1. That the missing man was almost certainly dead, as proved by the
finding of the scarab after his disappearance.
"2. That he had probably been murdered by one or more of four persons,
as proved by the finding of the scarab on the premises occupied by two
of them and accessible to the others.
"3. That, of those four persons, one--Mr. Jellicoe--was the last person
who was known to have been in the company of the missing man; had had an
exceptional opportunity for committing the murder; and was known to have
delivered a dead body to the Museum subsequently to the disappearance.
"4. That the supposition that Mr. Jellicoe had committed the murder
rendered all the other circumstances of the disappearance clearly
intelligible, whereas on any other supposition they were quite
"The evidence of the newspaper report, therefore, clearly pointed to the
probability that John Bellingham had been murdered by Mr. Jellicoe and
his body concealed in the mummy-case.
"I do not wish to give you the impression that I, then and there,
believed that Mr. Jellicoe was the murderer. I did not. There was no
reason to suppose that the report contained all the essential facts, and
I merely considered it speculatively as a study in probabilities. But I
did decide that that was the only probable conclusion from the facts
that were given.
"Nearly two years passed before I heard anything more of the case. Then
it was brought to my notice by my friend, Doctor Berkeley, and I became
acquainted with certain new facts, which I will consider in the order in
which they became known to me.
"The first new light on the case came from the will. As soon as I had
read that document I felt convinced that there was something wrong. The
testator's evident intention was that his brother should inherit the
property, whereas the construction of the will was such as almost
certainly to defeat that intention. The devolution of the property
depended on the burial clause--clause two; but the burial arrangements
would ordinarily be decided by the executor, who happened to be Mr.
Jellicoe. Thus the will left the disposition of the property under the
control of Mr. Jellicoe, though his action could have been contested.
"Now, this will, although drawn up by John Bellingham, was executed in
Mr. Jellicoe's office, as is proved by the fact that it was witnessed by
two of his clerks. He was the testator's lawyer, and it was his duty to
insist on the will being properly drawn. Evidently he did nothing of the
kind, and this fact strongly suggested some kind of collusion on his
part with Hurst, who stood to benefit by the miscarriage of the will.
And this was the odd feature in the case; for whereas the party
responsible for the defective provisions was Mr. Jellicoe, the party who
benefited was Hurst.
"But the most startling peculiarity of the will was the way in which it
fitted the circumstances of the disappearance. It looked as if clause
two had been drawn up with those very circumstances in view. Since,
however, the will was ten years old, this was impossible. But if clause
two could not have been devised to fit the disappearance, could the
disappearance have been devised to fit clause two? That was by no means
impossible: under the circumstances it looked rather probable. And if it
had been so contrived, who was the agent in that contrivance? Hurst
stood to benefit, but there was no evidence that he even knew the
contents of the will. There remained only Mr. Jellicoe, who had
certainly connived at the misdrawing of the will for some purpose of his
own--some dishonest purpose.
"The evidence of the will, then, pointed to Mr. Jellicoe as the agent
in the disappearance, and, after reading it, I definitely suspected him
of the crime.
"Suspicion, however, is one thing and proof is another. I had not nearly
enough evidence to justify me in laying an information, and I could not
approach the Museum officials without making a definite accusation. The
great difficulty of the case was that I could discover no motive. I
could not see any way in which Mr. Jellicoe would benefit by the
disappearance. His own legacy was secure, whenever and however the
testator died. The murder and concealment apparently benefited Hurst
alone; and, in the absence of any plausible motive, the facts required
to be much more conclusive than they were."
"Did you form absolutely no opinion as to motive?" asked Mr. Jellicoe.
He put the question in a quiet, passionless tone, as if he were
discussing some _cause celebre_ in which he had nothing more than a
professional interest. Indeed, the calm, impersonal interest that he
displayed in Thorndyke's analysis, his unmoved attention, punctuated by
little nods of approval at each telling point in the argument, were the
most surprising features of this astounding interview.
"I did form an opinion," replied Thorndyke, "but it was merely
speculative, and I was never able to confirm it. I discovered that about
ten years ago Mr. Hurst had been in difficulties and that he had
suddenly raised a considerable sum of money, no one knew how or on what
security. I observed that this event coincided in time with the
execution of the will, and I surmised that there might be some
connection between them. But that was only a surmise; and, as the
proverb has it, 'He discovers who proves.' I could prove nothing, so
that I never discovered Mr. Jellicoe's motive, and I don't know it now."
"Don't you, really?" said Mr. Jellicoe, in something approaching a tone
of animation. He laid down the end of his cigarette, and, as he selected
another from the silver case, he continued: "I think that is the most
interesting feature of your really remarkable analysis. It does you
great credit. The absence of motive would have appeared to most persons
a fatal objection to the theory of, what I may call, the prosecution.
Permit me to congratulate you on the consistency and tenacity with which
you have pursued the actual, visible facts."
He bowed stiffly to Thorndyke (who returned his bow with equal
stiffness), lighted the fresh cigarette, and once more leaned back in
his chair with the calm, attentive manner of a man who is listening to a
lecture or a musical performance.
"The evidence, then, being insufficient to act upon," Thorndyke resumed,
"there was nothing for it but to wait for some new facts. Now, the study
of a large series of carefully conducted murders brings into view an
almost invariable phenomenon. The cautious murderer, in his anxiety to
make himself secure, does too much; and it is this excess of precaution
that leads to detection. It happens constantly; indeed, I may say that
it always happens--in those murders that are detected; of those that are
not we say nothing--and I had strong hopes that it would happen in this
case. And it did.
"At the very moment when my client's case seemed almost hopeless, some
human remains were discovered at Sidcup. I read the account of the
discovery in the evening paper, and, scanty as the report was, it
recorded enough facts to convince me that the inevitable mistake had
"Did it, indeed?" said Mr. Jellicoe. "A mere, inexpert, hearsay report!
I should have supposed it to be quite valueless from a scientific point
"So it was," said Thorndyke. "But it gave the date of the discovery and
the locality, and it also mentioned what bones had been found. Which
were all vital facts. Take the question of time. These remains, after
lying _perdu_ for two years, suddenly come to light just as the
parties--who have also been lying _perdu_--have begun to take action in
respect of the will; in fact, within a week or two of the hearing of the
application. It was certainly a remarkable coincidence. And when the
circumstances that occasioned the discovery were considered, the
coincidence became still more remarkable. For these remains were found
on land actually belonging to John Bellingham, and their discovery
resulted from certain operations (the clearing of the watercress-beds)
carried out on behalf of the absent landlord. But by whose orders were
those works undertaken? Clearly by the orders of the landlord's agent.
But the landlord's agent was known to be Mr. Jellicoe. Therefore these
remains were brought to light at this peculiarly opportune moment by the
action of Mr. Jellicoe. The coincidence, I say again, was very
"But what instantly arrested my attention on reading the newspaper
report was the unusual manner in which the arm had been separated; for,
besides the bones of the arm proper, there were those of what anatomists
call the 'shoulder-girdle'--the shoulder-blade and collar-bone. This was
very remarkable. It seemed to suggest a knowledge of anatomy, and yet no
murderer, even if he possessed such knowledge, would make a display of
it on such an occasion. It seemed to me that there must be some other
explanation. Accordingly, when other remains had come to light and all
had been collected at Woodford, I asked my friend Berkeley to go down
there and inspect them. He did so, and this is what he found:
"Both arms had been detached in the same peculiar manner; both were
complete, and all the bones were from the same body. The bones were
quite clean--of soft structures, I mean. There were no cuts, scratches,
or marks on them. There was not a trace of adipocere--the peculiar waxy
soap that forms in bodies that decay in water or in a damp situation.
The right hand had been detached at the time the arm was thrown into the
pond, and the left ring finger had been separated and had vanished. This
latter fact had attracted my attention from the first, but I will leave
its consideration for the moment and return to it later."
"How did you discover that the hand had been detached?" Mr. Jellicoe
"By the submersion marks," replied Thorndyke. "It was lying on the
bottom of the pond in a position which would have been impossible if it
had been attached to the arm."
"You interest me exceedingly," said Mr. Jellicoe. "It appears that a
medico-legal expert finds 'books in the running brooks, sermons in
bones, and evidence in everything.' But don't let me interrupt you."
"Doctor Berkeley's observations," Thorndyke resumed, "together with the
medical evidence at the inquest, led me to certain conclusions.
"Let me first state the facts which were disclosed.
"The remains which had been assembled formed a complete human skeleton
with the exception of the skull, one finger, and the legs from knee to
ankle, including both knee-caps. This was a very impressive fact; for
the bones that were missing included all those which could have been
identified as belonging or not belonging to John Bellingham; and the
bones that were present were the unidentifiable remainder.
"It had a suspicious appearance of selection.
"But the parts that were present were also curiously suggestive. In all
cases the mode of dismemberment was peculiar; for an ordinary person
would have divided the knee-joint leaving the knee-cap attached to the
thigh, whereas it had evidently been left attached to the shin-bone; and
the head would most probably have been removed by cutting through the
neck instead of being neatly detached from the spine. And all these
bones were also entirely free from marks or scratches such as would
naturally occur in an ordinary dismemberment, and all were quite free
from adipocere. And now as to the conclusions which I drew from these
facts. First, there was the peculiar grouping of the bones. What was the
meaning of that? Well, the idea of a punctilious anatomist was obviously
absurd, and I put it aside. But was there any other explanation? Yes,
there was. The bones had appeared in the natural groups that are held
together by ligaments; and they had separated at points where they were
attached principally by muscles. The knee-cap, for instance, which
really belongs to the thigh, is attached to it by muscle, but to the
shin-bone by a stout ligament. And so with the bones of the arm; they
are connected to one another by ligaments; but to the trunk only by
muscle, excepting at one end of the collar-bone.
"But this was a very significant fact. Ligament decays much more slowly
than muscle, so that in a body of which the muscles had largely decayed
the bones might still be held together by ligament. The peculiar
grouping therefore suggested that the body had been partly reduced to a
skeleton before it was dismembered; that it had then been merely pulled
apart and not divided with a knife.
"This suggestion was remarkably confirmed by the total absence of
knife-cuts or scratches.
"Then there was the fact that all the bones were quite free from
adipocere. Now, if an arm or a thigh should be deposited in water and
left undisturbed to decay, it is certain that large masses of adipocere
would be formed. Probably more than half of the flesh would be converted
into this substance. The absence of adipocere therefore proved that the
bulk of the flesh had disappeared or been removed from the bones before
they were deposited in the pond. That, in fact, it was not a body, but a
skeleton, that had been deposited.
"But what kind of skeleton? If it was the recent skeleton of a murdered
man, then the bones had been carefully stripped of flesh so as to leave
the ligaments intact. But this was highly improbable; for there could be
no object in preserving the ligaments. And the absence of scratches was
against this view.
"Then they did not appear to be graveyard bones. The collection was too
complete. It is very rare to find a graveyard skeleton of which many of
the small bones are not missing. And such bones are usually more or
less weathered and friable.
"They did not appear to be bones such as may be bought at an
osteological dealer's, for these usually have perforations to admit the
macerating fluid to the marrow cavities. Dealers' bones, too, are very
seldom all from the same body; and the small bones of the hand are
drilled with holes to enable them to be strung on catgut.
"They were not dissecting-room bones, as there was no trace of red-lead
in the openings for the nutrient arteries.
"What the appearances did suggest was that these were parts of a body
which had decayed in a very dry atmosphere (in which no adipocere would
be formed), and which had been pulled or broken apart. Also that the
ligaments which held the body--or rather skeleton--together were brittle
and friable, as suggested by the detached hand, which had probably
broken off accidentally. But the only kind of body that completely
answers this description is an Egyptian mummy. A mummy, it is true, has
been more or less preserved; but on exposure to the air of such a
climate as ours it perishes rapidly, the ligaments being the last of the
soft parts to disappear.
"The hypothesis that these bones were parts of a mummy naturally
suggested Mr. Jellicoe. If he had murdered John Bellingham and concealed
his body in the mummy-case, he would have a spare mummy on his hands,
and that mummy would have been exposed to the air and to somewhat rough
"A very interesting circumstance connected with these remains was that
the ring finger was missing. Now, fingers have on sundry occasions been
detached from dead hands for the sake of the rings on them. But in such
cases the object has been to secure a valuable ring uninjured. If this
hand was the hand of John Bellingham, there was no such object. The
purpose was to prevent identification; and that purpose would have been
more easily, and much more completely, achieved by sacrificing the ring,
by filing through it or breaking it off the finger. The appearances,
therefore, did not quite agree with the apparent purpose.
"Then, could there be any other purpose with which they agreed better?
Yes, there could.
"If it had happened that John Bellingham were known to have worn a ring
on that finger, and especially if that ring fitted tightly, the removal
of the finger would serve a very useful purpose. It would create an
impression that the finger had been removed on account of a ring, to
prevent identification; which impression would, in turn, produce a
suspicion that the hand was that of John Bellingham. And yet it would
not be evidence that could be used to establish identity. Now, if Mr.
Jellicoe were the murderer and had the body hidden elsewhere, vague
suspicion would be precisely what he would desire, and positive evidence
what he would wish to avoid.
"It transpired later that John Bellingham did wear a ring on that finger
and that the ring fitted very tightly. Whence it followed that the
absence of the finger was an additional point tending to implicate Mr.
"And now let us briefly review this mass of evidence. You will see that
it consists of a multitude of items, each either trivial or speculative.
Up to the time of the actual discovery I had not a single crucial fact,
nor any clue as to motive. But, slight as the individual points of
evidence were, they pointed with impressive unanimity to one person--Mr.
"The person who had the opportunity to commit the murder and dispose of
the body was Mr. Jellicoe.
"The deceased was last certainly seen alive with Mr. Jellicoe.
"An unidentified human body was delivered to the Museum by Mr. Jellicoe.
"The only person who could have a motive for personating the deceased
was Mr. Jellicoe.
"The only known person who could possibly have done so was Mr. Jellicoe.
"One of the two persons who could have had a motive for dropping the
scarab was Mr. Jellicoe. The person who found that scarab was Mr.
Jellicoe, although, owing to his defective eyesight and his spectacles,
he was the most unlikely person of those present to find it.
"The person who was responsible for the execution of the defective will
was Mr. Jellicoe.
"Then as to the remains. They were apparently not those of John
Bellingham, but parts of a particular kind of body. But the only person
who was known to have had such a body in his possession was Mr.
"The only person who could have had any motive for substituting those
remains for the remains of the deceased was Mr. Jellicoe.
"Finally, the person who caused the discovery of those remains at that
singularly opportune moment was Mr. Jellicoe.
"This was the sum of the evidence that was in my possession up to the
time of the hearing, and, indeed, for some time after, and it was not
enough to act upon. But when the case had been heard in Court, it was
evident either that the proceedings would be abandoned--which was
unlikely--or that there would be new developments.
"I watched the progress of events with profound interest. An attempt had
been made (by Mr. Jellicoe or some other person) to get the will
administered without producing the body of John Bellingham; and that
attempt had failed. The coroner's jury had refused to identify the
remains; the Probate Court had refused to presume the death of the
testator. As affairs stood, the will could not be administered.
"What would be the next move?
"It was virtually certain that it would consist in the production of
something which would identify the unrecognised remains as those of the
"But what would that something be?
"The answer to that question would contain the answer to another
question: Was my solution of the mystery the true solution?
"If I was wrong, it was possible that some of the undoubtedly genuine
bones of John Bellingham might presently be discovered; for instance,
the skull, the knee-cap, or the left fibula, by any of which the remains
could be positively identified.
"If I was right, only one thing could possibly happen. Mr. Jellicoe
would have to play the trump card that he had been holding back in case
the Court should refuse the application; a card that he was evidently
reluctant to play.
"He would have to produce the bones of the mummy's finger, together
with John Bellingham's ring. No other course was possible.
"But not only would the bones and the ring have to be found together.
They would have to be found in a place which was accessible to Mr.
Jellicoe, and so far under his control that he could determine the exact
time when the discovery should be made.
"I waited patiently for the answer to my question. Was I right or was I
"And in due course, the answer came.
"The bones and the ring were discovered in the well in the grounds of
Godfrey Bellingham's late house. That house was the property of John
Bellingham. Mr. Jellicoe was John Bellingham's agent. Hence it was
practically certain that the date on which the well was emptied was
settled by Mr. Jellicoe.
"The Oracle had spoken.
"The discovery proved conclusively that the bones were not those of John
Bellingham (for if they had been the ring would have been unnecessary
for identification). But if the bones were not John Bellingham's, the
ring was; from which followed the important corollary that whoever had
deposited those bones in the well had had possession of the body of John
Bellingham. And there could be no doubt that that person was Mr.
"On receiving this final confirmation of my conclusions, I applied
forthwith to Doctor Norbury for permission to examine the mummy of
Sebek-hotep, with the result that you are already acquainted with."
As Thorndyke concluded, Mr. Jellicoe regarded him thoughtfully for a
moment, and then said: "You have given us a most complete and lucid
exposition of your method of investigation, sir. I have enjoyed it
exceedingly, and should have profited by it hereafter--under other
circumstances. Are you sure you won't allow me to fill your glass?" He
touched the stopper of the decanter, and Inspector Badger ostentatiously
consulted his watch.
"Time is running on, I fear," said Mr. Jellicoe.
"It is, indeed," Badger assented emphatically.
"Well, I need not detain you long," said the lawyer. "My statement is a
mere narration of events. But I desire to make it, and you, no doubt,
will be interested to hear it."
He opened the silver case and selected a fresh cigarette, which,
however, he did not light. Inspector Badger produced a funereal
notebook, which he laid open on his knee; and the rest of us settled
ourselves in our chairs with no little curiosity to hear Mr. Jellicoe's
THE END OF THE CASE
A profound silence had fallen on the room and its occupants. Mr.
Jellicoe sat with his eyes fixed on the table as if deep in thought, the
unlighted cigarette in one hand, the other grasping the tumbler of
water. Presently Inspector Badger coughed impatiently and he looked up.
"I beg your pardon, gentlemen," he said. "I am keeping you waiting."
He took a sip from the tumbler, opened a matchbox and took out a match,
but apparently altering his mind, laid it down and commenced:
"The unfortunate affair which has brought you here to-night, had its
origin ten years ago. At that time my friend Hurst became suddenly
involved in financial difficulties--am I speaking too fast for you, Mr.
"No, not at all," replied Badger. "I am taking it down in shorthand."
"Thank you," said Mr. Jellicoe. "He became involved in serious
difficulties and came to me for assistance. He wished to borrow five
thousand pounds to enable him to meet his engagements. I had a certain
amount of money at my disposal, but I did not consider Hurst's security
satisfactory; accordingly I felt compelled to refuse. But on the very
next day, John Bellingham called on me with the draft of his will which
he wished me to look over before it was executed.
"It was an absurd will, and I nearly told him so; but then an idea
occurred to me in connection with Hurst. It was obvious to me, as soon
as I had glanced through the will, that, if the burial clause was left
as the testator had drafted it, Hurst had a very good chance of
inheriting the property; and, as I was named as the executor, I should
be able to give full effect to that clause. Accordingly, I asked for a
few days to consider the will, and I then called upon Hurst and made a
proposal to him; which was this: That I should advance him five thousand
pounds without security; that I should ask for no repayment, but that he
should assign to me any interest that he might have or acquire in the
estate of John Bellingham up to ten thousand pounds, or two-thirds of
any sum that he might inherit if over that amount. He asked if John had
yet made any will, and I replied, quite correctly, that he had not. He
inquired if I knew what testamentary arrangements John intended to make,
and again I answered, quite correctly, that I believed that John
proposed to devise the bulk of his property to his brother, Godfrey.
"Thereupon, Hurst accepted my proposal; I made him the advance and he
executed the assignment. After a few days' delay, I passed the will as
satisfactory. The actual document was written from the draft by the
testator himself; and a fortnight after Hurst had executed the
assignment, John signed the will in my office. By the provisions of that
will I stood an excellent chance of becoming virtually the principal
beneficiary, unless Godfrey should contest Hurst's claim and the Court
should override the conditions of clause two.
"You will now understand the motives which governed my subsequent
actions. You will also see, Doctor Thorndyke, how very near to the truth
your reasoning carried you; and you will understand, as I wish you to
do, that Mr. Hurst was no party to any of those proceedings which I am
about to describe.
"Coming now to the interview in Queen Square in October, nineteen
hundred and two, you are aware of the general circumstances from my
evidence in Court, which was literally correct up to a certain point.
The interview took place in a room on the third floor, in which were
stored the cases which John had brought with him from Egypt. The mummy
was unpacked, as were some other objects that he was not offering to the
Museum, but several cases were still unopened. At the conclusion of the
interview I accompanied Doctor Norbury down to the street door, and we
stood on the doorstep conversing for perhaps a quarter of an hour. Then
Doctor Norbury went away and I returned upstairs.
"Now the house in Queen Square is virtually a museum. The upper part is
separated from the lower by a massive door which opens from the hall and
gives access to the staircase, and which is fitted with a Chubb
night-latch. There are two latchkeys, of which John used to keep one and
I the other. You will find them both in the safe behind me. The
caretaker had no key and no access to the upper part of the house unless
admitted by one of us.
"At the time when I came in, after Doctor Norbury had left, the
caretaker was in the cellar, where I could hear him breaking coke for
the hot-water furnace. I had left John on the third floor opening some
of the packing cases by the light of a lamp with a tool somewhat like a
plasterer's hammer; that is, a hammer with a small axe-blade at the
reverse of the head. As I stood talking to Doctor Norbury, I could hear
him knocking out the nails and wrenching up the lids; and when I entered
the doorway leading to the stairs, I could still hear him. Just as I
closed the staircase door behind me, I heard a rumbling noise from
above; then all was still.
"I went up the stairs to the second floor, where, as the staircase was
all in darkness, I stopped to light the gas. As I turned to ascend the
next flight, I saw a hand projecting over the edge of the half-way
landing. I ran up the stairs, and there, on the landing, I saw John
lying huddled up in a heap at the foot of the top flight. There was a
wound at the side of his forehead from which a little blood was
trickling. The case-opener lay on the floor close by him and there was
blood on the axe-blade. When I looked up the stairs I saw a rag of torn
matting hanging over the top stair.
"It was quite easy to see what had happened. He had walked quickly out
on the landing with the case-opener in his hand. His foot had caught in
the torn matting and he had pitched head foremost down the stairs, still
holding the case-opener. He had fallen so that his head had come down on
the upturned edge of the axe-blade; he had then rolled over and the
case-opener had dropped from his hand.
"I lit a wax match and stooped down to look at him. His head was in a
very peculiar position, which made me suspect that his neck was broken.
There was extremely little bleeding from the wound; he was perfectly
motionless; I could detect no sign of breathing; and I felt no doubt
that he was dead.
"It was an exceedingly regrettable affair, and it placed me, as I
perceived at once, in an extremely awkward position. My first impulse
was to send the caretaker for a doctor and a policeman; but a moment's
reflection convinced me that there were serious objections to this
"There was nothing to show that I had not, myself, knocked him down with
the case-opener. Of course, there was nothing to show that I had; but we
were alone in the house with the exception of the caretaker, who was
down in the basement out of ear-shot.
"There would be an inquest. At the inquest, inquiries would be made as
to the will which was known to exist. But, as soon as the will was
produced, Hurst would become suspicious. He would probably make a
statement to the coroner and I should be charged with the murder. Or,
even if I were not charged, Hurst would suspect me and would probably
repudiate the assignment; and, under the circumstances, it would be
practically impossible for me to enforce it. He would refuse to pay and
I could not take my claim into Court.
"I sat down on the stairs just above poor John's body and considered the
matter in detail. At the worst, I stood a fair chance of hanging; at the
best, I stood to lose close upon fifty thousand pounds. These were not
"Supposing, on the other hand, I concealed the body and gave out that
John had gone to Paris. There was, of course, the risk of discovery, in
which case I should certainly be convicted of the murder. But if no
discovery occurred, I was not only safe from suspicion, but I secured
the fifty thousand pounds. In either case there was considerable risk,
but in one there was the certainty of loss, whereas in the other there
was a material advantage to justify the risk. The question was whether
it would be possible to conceal the body. If it were, then the
contingent profit was worth the slight additional risk. But a human body
is a very difficult thing to dispose of, especially to a person of so
little scientific culture as myself.
"It is curious that I considered this question for a quite considerable
time before the obvious solution presented itself. I turned over at
least a dozen methods of disposing of the body, and rejected them all as
impracticable. Then, suddenly, I remembered the mummy upstairs.
"At first it only occurred to me as a fantastic possibility that I could
conceal the body in the mummy-case. But as I turned over the idea, I
began to see that it was really practicable; and not only practicable
but easy; and not only easy but eminently safe. If once the mummy-case
was in the Museum, I was rid of it for ever.
"The circumstances were, as you, sir, have justly observed, singularly
favourable. There would be no hue and cry, no hurry, no anxiety; but
ample time for all the necessary preparations. Then the mummy-case
itself was curiously suitable. Its length was ample, as I knew from
having measured it. It was a cartonnage of rather flexible material and
had an opening behind, secured with a lacing so that it could be opened
without injury. Nothing need be cut but the lacing, which could be
replaced. A little damage might be done in extracting the mummy and in
introducing the deceased; but such cracks as might occur would all be
at the back and would be of no importance. For here again Fortune
favoured me. The whole of the back of the mummy-case was coated with
bitumen, and it would be easy when once the deceased was safely inside
to apply a fresh coat, which would cover up not only the cracks but also
the new lacing.
"After careful consideration, I decided to adopt the plan. I went
downstairs and sent the caretaker on an errand to the Law Courts. Then I
returned and carried the deceased up to one of the third-floor rooms,
where I removed his clothes and laid him out on a long packing-case in
the position in which he would lie in the mummy-case. I folded his
clothes neatly and packed them, with the exception of his boots, in a
suit-case that he had been taking to Paris and which contained nothing
but his night-clothes, toilet articles, and a change of linen. By the
time I had done this and thoroughly washed the oilcloth on the stairs
and landing, the caretaker had returned. I informed him that Mr.
Bellingham had started for Paris and then I went home. The upper part of
the house was, of course, secured by the Chubb lock, but I had also--_ex
abundantia cautelae_--locked the door of the room in which I had
deposited the deceased.
"I had, of course, some knowledge of the methods of embalming, but
principally of those employed by the ancients. Hence, on the following
day, I went to the British Museum library and consulted the most recent
works on the subject; and exceedingly interesting they were, as showing
the remarkable improvements that modern knowledge had effected in this
ancient art. I need not trouble you with details that are familiar to
you. The process that I selected as the simplest for a beginner was
that of formalin injection, and I went straight from the Museum to
purchase the necessary materials. I did not, however, buy an embalming
syringe: the book stated that an ordinary anatomical injecting syringe
would answer the purpose, and I thought it a more discreet purchase.
"I fear that I bungled the injection terribly, although I had carefully
studied the plates in a treatise on anatomy--Gray's, I think. However,
if my methods were clumsy, they were quite effectual. I carried out the
process on the evening of the third day; and when I locked up the house
that night, I had the satisfaction of knowing that poor John's remains
were secure from corruption and decay.
"But this was not enough. The great weight of a fresh body as compared
with that of a mummy would be immediately noticed by those who had the
handling of the mummy-case. Moreover, the damp from the body would
quickly ruin the cartonnage and would cause a steamy film on the inside
of the glass case in which it would be exhibited. And this would
probably lead to an examination. Clearly, then, it was necessary that
the remains of the deceased should be thoroughly dried before they were
enclosed in the cartonnage.
"Here my unfortunate deficiency in scientific knowledge was a great
drawback. I had no idea how this result would be achieved, and in the
end was compelled to consult a taxidermist, to whom I represented that I
wished to collect small animals and reptiles and rapidly dry them for
convenience of transport. By this person I was advised to immerse the
dead animals in a jar of methylated spirit for a week and then expose
them in a current of warm, dry air.
"But the plan of immersing the remains of the deceased in a jar of
methylated spirit was obviously impracticable. However, I bethought me
that we had in our collection a porphyry sarcophagus, the cavity of
which had been shaped to receive a small mummy in its case. I tried the
deceased in the sarcophagus and found that he just fitted the cavity
loosely. I obtained a few gallons of methylated spirit which I poured
into the cavity, just covering the body, and then I put on the lid and
luted it down air-tight with putty. I trust I do not weary you with
"I'll ask you to cut it as short as you can, Mr. Jellicoe," said Badger.
"It has been a long yarn and time is running on."
"For my part," said Thorndyke, "I find these details deeply interesting
and instructive. They fill in the outline that I had drawn by
"Precisely," said Mr. Jellicoe; "then I will proceed.
"I left the deceased soaking in the spirit for a fortnight and then took
him out, wiped him dry, and laid him on four cane-bottomed chairs just
over the hot-water pipes. I turned off the hot water in the other rooms
so as to concentrate the heat in these pipes, and I let a free current
of air pass through the room. The result interested me exceedingly. By
the end of the third day the hands and feet had become quite dry and
shrivelled and horny--so that the ring actually dropped off the shrunken
finger--the nose looked like a fold of parchment; and the skin of the
body was so dry and smooth that you could have engrossed a lease on it.
For the first day or two I turned the deceased at intervals so that he
should dry evenly, and then I proceeded to get the case ready. I
divided the lacing and extracted the mummy with great care--with great
care as to the case, I mean; for the mummy suffered some injury in the
extraction. It was very badly embalmed, and so brittle that it broke in
several places while I was getting it out; and when I unrolled it the
head separated and both the arms came off.
"On the sixth day after the removal from the sarcophagus, I took the
bandages that I had removed from Sebek-hotep and very carefully wrapped
the deceased in them, sprinkling powdered myrrh and gum benzoin freely
on the body and between the folds of the wrappings to disguise the faint
odour of the spirit and the formalin that still lingered about the body.
When the wrappings had been applied, the deceased really had a most
workmanlike appearance; he would have looked quite well in a glass case
even without the cartonnage, and I felt almost regretful at having to
put him out of sight for ever.
"It was a difficult business getting him into the case without
assistance, and I cracked the cartonnage badly in several places before
he was safely enclosed. But I got him in at last, and then, when I had
closed up the case with a new lacing, I applied a fresh layer of bitumen
which effectually covered up the cracks and the new cord. A dusty cloth
dabbed over the bitumen when it was dry disguised its newness, and the
cartonnage with its tenant was ready for delivery. I notified Doctor
Norbury of the fact, and five days later he came and removed it to the
"Now that the main difficulty was disposed of, I began to consider the
further difficulty to which you, sir, have alluded with such admirable
perspicuity. It was necessary that John Bellingham should make one more
appearance in public before sinking into final oblivion.
"Accordingly, I devised the visit to Hurst's house, which was calculated
to serve two purposes. It created a satisfactory date for the
disappearance, eliminating me from any connection with it, and by
throwing some suspicion on Hurst it would make him more amenable--less
likely to dispute my claim when he learned the provisions of the will.
"The affair was quite simple. I knew that Hurst had changed his servants
since I was last at his house, and I knew his habits. On that day I took
the suit-case to Charing Cross and deposited it in the cloak-room,
called at Hurst's office to make sure that he was there, and went from
thence direct to Cannon Street and caught the train to Eltham. On
arriving at the house, I took the precaution to remove my
spectacles--the only distinctive feature of my exterior--and was duly
shown into the study at my request. As soon as the housemaid had left
the room I quietly let myself out by the French window, which I closed
behind me but could not fasten, went out at the side gate and closed
that also behind me, holding the bolt of the latch back with my
pocket-knife so that I need not slam the gate to shut it.
"The other events of that day, including the dropping of the scarab, I
need not describe, as they are known to you. But I may fitly make a few
remarks on the unfortunate tactical error into which I fell in respect
of the bones. That error arose, as you have doubtless perceived, from
the lawyer's incurable habit of underestimating the scientific expert. I
had no idea that mere bones were capable of furnishing so much
information to a man of science.
"The way in which the affair came about was this: The damaged mummy of
Sebek-hotep, perishing gradually by exposure to the air, was not only an
eyesore to me: it was a definite danger. It was the only remaining link
between me and the disappearance. I resolved to be rid of it and cast
about for some means of destroying it. And then, in an evil moment, the
idea of utilising it occurred to me.
"There was an undoubted danger that the Court might refuse to presume
death after so short an interval; and if the permission should be
postponed, the will might never be administered during my lifetime.
Hence, if these bones of Sebek-hotep could be made to simulate the
remains of the deceased testator, a definite good would be achieved. But
I knew that the entire skeleton could never be mistaken for his. The
deceased had broken his knee-caps and damaged his ankle, injuries which
I assumed would leave some permanent trace. But if a judicious selection
of the bones were deposited in a suitable place, together with some
object clearly identifiable as appertaining to the deceased, it seemed
to me that the difficulty would be met. I need not trouble you with
details. The course which I adopted is known to you with the attendant
circumstances, even to the accidental detachment of the right
hand--which broke off as I was packing the arm in my handbag. Erroneous
as that course was, it would have been successful but for the unforeseen
contingency of your being retained in the case.
"Thus, for nearly two years, I remained in complete security. From time
to time I dropped in at the museum to see if the deceased was keeping
in good condition; and on those occasions I used to reflect with
satisfaction on the gratifying circumstance--accidental though it
was--that his wishes, as expressed (very imperfectly) in clause two, had
been fully complied with, and that without prejudice to my interests.
"The awakening came on that evening when I saw you at the Temple gate
talking with Doctor Berkeley. I suspected immediately that something had
gone amiss and that it was too late to take any useful action. Since
then, I have waited here in hourly expectation of this visit. And now
the time has come. You have made the winning move and it remains only
for me to pay my debts like an honest gambler."
He paused and quietly lit his cigarette. Inspector Badger yawned and put
away his note-book.
"Have you done, Mr. Jellicoe?" the inspector asked. "I want to carry out
my contract to the letter, you know, though it's getting devilish late."
Mr. Jellicoe took his cigarette from his mouth and drank a glass of
"I forgot to ask," he said, "whether you unrolled the mummy--if I may
apply the term to the imperfectly treated remains of my deceased
"I did not open the mummy-case," replied Thorndyke.
"You did not!" exclaimed Mr. Jellicoe. "Then how did you verify your
"I took an X-ray photograph."
"Ah! Indeed!" Mr. Jellicoe pondered for some moments. "Astonishing!" he
murmured; "and most ingenious. The resources of science at the present
day are truly wonderful."
"Is there anything more that you want to say?" asked Badger; "because,
if you don't, time's up."
"Anything more?" Mr. Jellicoe repeated slowly; "anything more?
No--I--think--think--the time--is--up. Yes--the--the time--"
He broke off and sat with a strange look fixed on Thorndyke.
His face had suddenly undergone a curious change. It looked shrunken and
cadaverous and his lips had assumed a peculiar cherry-red colour.
"Is anything the matter, Mr. Jellicoe?" Badger asked uneasily. "Are you
not feeling well, sir?"
Mr. Jellicoe did not appear to have heard the question, for he returned
no answer, but sat motionless, leaning back in his chair, with his hands
spread out on the table and his strangely intent gaze bent on Thorndyke.
Suddenly his head dropped on his breast and his body seemed to collapse;
and as with one accord we sprang to our feet, he slid forward off his
chair and disappeared under the table.
"Good Lord! The man's fainted!" exclaimed Badger.
In a moment he was down on his hands and knees, trembling with
excitement, groping under the table. He dragged the unconscious lawyer
out into the light and knelt over him, staring into his face.
"What's the matter with him, Doctor?" he asked, looking up at Thorndyke.
"Is it apoplexy? Or is it a heart attack, think you?"
Thorndyke shook his head, though he stooped and put his fingers on the
unconscious man's wrist. "Prussic acid or potassium cyanide is what the
appearances suggest," he replied.
"But can't you do anything?" demanded the inspector.
Thorndyke dropped the arm, which fell limply to the floor.
"You can't do much for a dead man," he said.
"Dead! Then he has slipped through our fingers after all!"
"He has anticipated the sentence. That is all." Thorndyke spoke in an
even, impassive tone which struck me as rather strange, considering the
suddenness of the tragedy, as did also the complete absence of surprise
in his manner. He seemed to treat the occurrence as a perfectly natural
Not so Inspector Badger; who rose to his feet and stood with his hands
thrust into his pockets scowling sullenly down at the dead lawyer.
"I was an infernal fool to agree to his blasted conditions," he growled
"Nonsense," said Thorndyke. "If you had broken in, you would have found
a dead man. As it was you found a live man and obtained an important
statement. You acted quite properly."
"How do you suppose he managed it?" asked Badger.
Thorndyke held out his hand. "Let us look at his cigarette-case," said
Badger extracted the little silver case from the dead man's pocket and
opened it. There were five cigarettes in it, two of which were plain,
while the other three were gold-tipped. Thorndyke took out one of each
kind and gently pinched their ends. The gold-tipped one he returned;
the plain one he tore through, about a quarter of an inch from the end;
when two little white tabloids dropped out on the table. Badger eagerly
picked one up and was about to smell it when Thorndyke grasped his
wrist. "Be careful," said he; and when he had cautiously sniffed at the
tabloid--held at a safe distance from his nose--he added: "Yes,
potassium cyanide. I thought so when his lips turned that queer colour.
It was in that last cigarette; you can see that he has bitten off the
For some time we stood silently looking down at the still form stretched
on the floor. Presently Badger looked up.
"As you pass the porter's lodge on your way out," said he, "you might
just drop in and tell him to send a constable to me."
"Very well," said Thorndyke. "And by the way, Badger, you had better tip
that sherry back into the decanter and put it under lock and key, or
else pour it out of the window."
"Gad, yes!" exclaimed the inspector. "I'm glad you mentioned it. We
might have had an inquest on a constable as well as a lawyer. Good
night, gentlemen, if you are off."
We went out and left him with his prisoner--passive enough, indeed,
according to his ambiguously worded promise. As we passed through the
gateway Thorndyke gave the inspector's message, curtly and without
comment, to the gaping porter, and then we issued forth into Chancery
We were all silent and very grave, and I thought that Thorndyke seemed
somewhat moved. Perhaps Mr. Jellicoe's last intent look--which I suspect
he knew to be the look of a dying man--lingered in his memory as it did
in mine. Half-way down Chancery Lane he spoke for the first time; and
then it was only to ejaculate, "Poor devil!"
Jervis took him up. "He was a consummate villain, Thorndyke."
"Hardly that," was the reply. "I should rather say that he was
non-moral. He acted without malice and without scruple or remorse. His
conduct exhibited a passionless expediency which was rather dreadful
because utterly unhuman. But he was a strong man--a courageous,
self-contained man, and I had been better pleased if it could have been
ordained that some other hand than mine should let the axe fall."
Thorndyke's compunction may appear strange and inconsistent, but yet his
feeling was also my own. Great as were the misery and suffering that
this inscrutable man had brought into the lives of those I loved, I
forgave him; and in his downfall forgot the callous relentlessness with
which he had pursued his evil purpose. For he it was who had brought
Ruth into my life; who had opened for me the Paradise of Love into which
I had just entered. And so my thoughts turned away from the still shape
that lay on the floor of the stately old room in Lincoln's Inn, away to
the sunny vista of the future, where I should walk hand in hand with
Ruth until my time, too, should come; until I, too, like the grim
lawyer, should hear the solemn evening bell bidding me put out into the
darkness of the silent sea.
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