The Vanishing Man by R. Austin Freeman
Chapter XIX. A Strange Symposium
It came upon me with something of a shock of surprise to find the scrap of paper still tacked to the oak of Thorndyke's chambers. So much had happened since I had last looked on it that it seemed to belong to another epoch of my life. I removed it thoughtfully and picked out the tack before entering, and then, closing the inner door, but leaving the oak open, I lit the gas and fell to pacing the room.
What a wonderful episode it had been! How the whole aspect of the world had been changed in a moment by Thorndyke's revelation! At another time, curiosity would have led me to endeavour to trace back the train of reasoning by which the subtle brain of my teacher had attained this astonishing conclusion. But now my own happiness held exclusive possession of my thoughts. The image of Ruth filled the field of my mental vision. I saw her again as I had seen her in the cab with her sweet, pensive face and downcast eyes; I felt again the touch of her soft cheek and the parting kiss by the gate, so frank and simple, so intimate and final.
I must have waited quite a long time, though the golden minutes sped unreckoned, for when my two colleagues arrived they tendered needless apologies.
"And I suppose," said Thorndyke, "you have been wondering what I wanted you for."
I had not, as a matter of fact, given the matter a moment's consideration.
"We are going to call on Mr. Jellicoe," Thorndyke explained. "There is something behind this affair, and until I have ascertained what it is, the case is not complete from my point of view."
"Wouldn't it have done as well to-morrow?" I asked.
"It might; and then it might not. There is an old saying as to catching a weasel asleep. Mr. Jellicoe is a somewhat wide-awake person, and I think it best to introduce him to Inspector Badger at the earliest possible moment."
"The meeting of a weasel and a badger suggests a sporting interview," remarked Jervis. "But you don't expect Jellicoe to give himself away, do you?"
"He can hardly do that, seeing that there is nothing to give away. But I think he may make a statement. There were some exceptional circumstances, I feel sure."
"How long have you known that the body was in the Museum?" I asked.
"About thirty or forty seconds longer than you have, I should say."
"Do you mean," I exclaimed, "that you didn't know until the negative was developed?"
"My dear fellow," he replied, "do you suppose that, if I had had certain knowledge where the body was, I should have allowed that noble girl to go on dragging out a lingering agony of suspense that I could have cut short in a moment? Or that I should have made these humbugging pretences of scientific experiments if a more dignified course had been open to me?"
"As to the experiments," said Jervis, "Norbury could hardly have refused if you had taken him into your confidence."
"Indeed he could, and probably would. My 'confidence' would have involved a charge of murder against a highly respectable gentleman who was well known to him. He would probably have referred me to the police, and then what could I have done? I had plenty of suspicions, but not a single solid fact."
Our discussion was here interrupted by hurried footsteps on the stairs and a thundering rat-tat on our knocker.
As Jervis opened the door, Inspector Badger burst into the room in a highly excited state.
"What is all this, Doctor Thorndyke?" he asked. "I see you've sworn an information against Mr. Jellicoe, and I have a warrant to arrest him; but before anything is done I think it right to tell you that we have more evidence than is generally known pointing to quite a different quarter."
"Derived from Mr. Jellicoe's information," said Thorndyke. "But the fact is that I have just examined and identified the body at the British Museum, where it was deposited by Mr. Jellicoe. I don't say that he murdered John Bellingham--though that is what the appearances suggest--but I do say that he will have to account for his secret disposal of the body."
Inspector Badger was thunderstruck. Also he was visibly annoyed. The salt which Mr. Jellicoe had so adroitly sprinkled on the constabulary tail appeared to develop irritating properties, for when Thorndyke had given him a brief outline of the facts he stuck his hands in his pockets and exclaimed gloomily:
"Well, I'm hanged! And to think of all the time and trouble I've spent on those damned bones! I suppose they were just a plant?"
"Don't let us disparage them," said Thorndyke. "They have played a useful part. They represent the inevitable mistake that every criminal makes sooner or later. The murderer will always do a little too much. If he would only lie low and let well alone, the detective might whistle for a clue. But it is time we were starting."
"Are we all going?" asked the inspector, looking at me in particular with no very gracious recognition.
"We will all come with you," said Thorndyke; "but you will, naturally, make the arrest in the way that seems best to you."
"It's a regular procession," grumbled the inspector; but he made no more definite objection, and we started forth on our quest.
The distance from the Temple to Lincoln's Inn is not great. In five minutes we were at the gateway in Chancery Lane, and a couple of minutes later saw us gathered round the threshold of the stately old house in New Square.
"Seems to be a light in the first floor front," said Badger. "You'd better move away before I ring the bell."
But the precaution was unnecessary. As the inspector advanced to the bell-pull a head was thrust out of the open window immediately above the street door.
"Who are you?" inquired the owner of the head in a voice which I recognised as that of Mr. Jellicoe.
"I am Inspector Badger, of the Criminal Investigation Department. I wish to see Mr. Arthur Jellicoe."
"Then look at me. I am Mr. Arthur Jellicoe."
"I hold a warrant for your arrest, Mr. Jellicoe. You are charged with the murder of Mr. John Bellingham, whose body has just been discovered in the British Museum."
"By Doctor Thorndyke."
"Indeed," said Mr. Jellicoe. "Is he here?"
"Ha! And you wish to arrest me, I presume?"
"Yes. That is what I am here for."
"Well, I will agree to surrender myself subject to certain conditions."
"I can't make any conditions, Mr. Jellicoe."
"No. I will make them, and you will accept them. Otherwise you will not arrest me."
"It's no use for you to talk like that," said Badger. "If you don't let me in I shall have to break in. And I may as well tell you," he added mendaciously, "that the house is surrounded."
"You may accept my assurance," Mr. Jellicoe replied calmly, "that you will not arrest me if you do not accept my conditions."
"Well, what are your conditions?" demanded Badger impatiently.
"I desire to make a statement," said Mr. Jellicoe.
"You can do that, but I must caution you that anything you say may be used in evidence against you."
"Naturally. But I wish to make the statement in the presence of Doctor Thorndyke, and I desire to hear a statement from him of the method of investigation by which he discovered the whereabouts of the body. That is to say, if he is willing."
"If you mean that we should mutually enlighten one another, I am very willing indeed," said Thorndyke.
"Very well. Then my conditions, Inspector, are that I shall hear Doctor Thorndyke's statement and that I shall be permitted to make a statement myself, and that until those statements are completed, with any necessary interrogation and discussion, I shall remain at liberty and shall suffer no molestation or interference of any kind. And I agree that, on the conclusion of the said proceedings, I will submit without resistance to any course that you may adopt."
"I can't agree to that," said Badger.
"Can't you?" said Mr. Jellicoe coldly; and, after a pause, he added: "Don't be hasty. I have given you full warning."
There was something in Mr. Jellicoe's passionless tone that disturbed the inspector exceedingly, for he turned to Thorndyke and said in a low tone:
"I wonder what his game is? He can't get away, you know."
"There are several possibilities," said Thorndyke.
"M'yes," said Badger, stroking his chin perplexedly.
"After all, is there any objection? His statement might save trouble, and you'd be on the safe side. It would take you some time to break in."
"Well," said Mr. Jellicoe, with his hand on the window, "do you agree--yes or no?"
"All right," said Badger sulkily. "I agree."
"You promise not to molest me in any way until I have quite finished?"
Mr. Jellicoe's head disappeared and the window closed. After a short interval we heard the jar of massive bolts and the clank of a chain, and, as the heavy door swung open, Mr. Jellicoe stood revealed, calm and impassive, with an old-fashioned office candlestick in his hand.
"Who are the others?" he inquired, peering out sharply through his spectacles.
"O, they are nothing to do with me," replied Badger.
"They are Doctor Berkeley and Doctor Jervis," said Thorndyke.
"Ha!" said Mr. Jellicoe; "very kind and attentive of them to call. Pray come in, gentlemen. I am sure you will be interested to hear our little discussion."
He held the door open with a certain stiff courtesy, and we all entered the hall led by Inspector Badger. He closed the door softly and preceded us up the stairs and into the apartment from the window of which he had dictated the terms of surrender. It was a fine old room, spacious, lofty, and dignified, with panelled walls and a carved mantelpiece, the central escutcheon of which bore the initials "J.W.P." with the date "1671." A large writing-table stood at the farther end, and behind it an iron safe.
"I have been expecting this visit," Mr. Jellicoe remarked tranquilly as he placed four chairs opposite the table.
"Since when?" asked Thorndyke.
"Since last Monday evening, when I had the pleasure of seeing you conversing with my friend Doctor Berkeley at the Inner Temple gate, and then inferred that you were retained in the case. That was a circumstance that had not been fully provided for. May I offer you gentlemen a glass of sherry?" As he spoke he placed on the table a decanter and a tray of glasses, and looked at us interrogatively with his hand on the stopper.
"Well, I don't mind if I do, Mr. Jellicoe," said Badger, on whom the lawyer's glance had finally settled. Mr. Jellicoe filled a glass and handed it to him with a stiff bow; then, with the decanter still in his hand, he said persuasively: "Doctor Thorndyke, pray allow me to fill you a glass?"
"No, thank you," said Thorndyke, in a tone so decided that the inspector looked round at him quickly. And as Badger caught his eye, the glass which he was about to raise to his lips became suddenly arrested and was slowly returned to the table untasted.
"I don't want to hurry you, Mr. Jellicoe," said the inspector, "but it's rather late, and I should like to get this business settled. What is it that you wish to do?"
"I desire," replied Mr. Jellicoe, "to make a detailed statement of the events that have happened, and I wish to hear from Doctor Thorndyke precisely how he arrived at his very remarkable conclusion. When this has been done I shall be entirely at your service; and I suggest that it would be more interesting if Doctor Thorndyke would give us his statement before I furnish you with the actual facts."
"I am entirely of your opinion," said Thorndyke.
"Then in that case," said Mr. Jellicoe, "I suggest that you disregard me, and address your remarks to your friends as if I were not present."
Thorndyke acquiesced with a bow, and Mr. Jellicoe, having seated himself in his elbow-chair behind the table, poured himself out a glass of water, selected a cigarette from a neat silver case, lighted it deliberately, and leaned back to listen at his ease.
"My first acquaintance with this case," Thorndyke began without preamble, "was made through the medium of the daily papers about two years ago; and I may say that, although I had no interest in it beyond the purely academic interest of a specialist in a case that lies in his particular specialty, I considered it with deep attention. The newspaper reports contained no particulars of the relations of the parties that could furnish any hints as to motives on the part of any of them, but merely a bare statement of the events. And this was a distinct advantage, inasmuch as it left one to consider the facts of the case without regard to motive--to balance the prima facie probabilities with an open mind. And it may surprise you to learn that those prima facie probabilities pointed from the very first to that solution which has been put to the test of experiment this evening. Hence it will be well for me to begin by giving the conclusions that I reached by reasoning from the facts set forth in the newspapers before any of the further facts came to my knowledge.
"From the facts as stated in the newspaper reports it is obvious that there were four possible explanations of the disappearance.
"1. The man might be alive and in hiding. This was highly improbable, for the reasons that were stated by Mr. Loram at the late hearing of the application, and for a further reason that I shall mention presently.
"2. He might have died by accident or disease, and his body failed to be identified. This was even more improbable, seeing that he carried on his person abundant means of identification, including visiting cards.
"3. He might have been murdered by some stranger for the sake of his portable property. This was highly improbable for the same reason: his body could hardly have failed to be identified.
"These three explanations are what we may call the outside explanations. They touched none of the parties mentioned; they were all obviously improbable on general grounds; and to all of them there was one conclusive answer--the scarab which was found in Godfrey Bellingham's garden. Hence I put them aside and gave my attention to the fourth explanation. This was that the missing man had been made away with by one of the parties mentioned in the report. But, since the reports mentioned three parties, it was evident that there was a choice of three hypotheses, namely:
"(a) That John Bellingham had been made away with by Hurst; or (b) by the Bellinghams; or (c) by Mr. Jellicoe.
"Now, I have constantly impressed on my pupils that the indispensable question that must be asked at the outset of such an inquiry as this is, 'When was the missing person last undoubtedly seen or known to be alive?' That is the question that I asked myself after reading the newspaper report; and the answer was, that he was last certainly seen alive on the fourteenth of October, nineteen hundred and two, at 141 Queen Square, Bloomsbury. Of the fact that he was alive at that time and place there could be no doubt whatever; for he was seen at the same moment by two persons, both of whom were intimately acquainted with him, and one of whom, Doctor Norbury, was apparently a disinterested witness. After that date he was never seen, alive or dead, by any person who knew him and was able to identify him. It was stated that he had been seen on the twenty-third of November following by the housemaid of Mr. Hurst; but as this person was unacquainted with him, it was uncertain whether the person whom she saw was or was not John Bellingham.
"Hence the disappearance dated, not from the twenty-third of November, as everyone seems to have assumed, but from the fourteenth of October; and the question was not, 'What became of John Bellingham after he entered Mr. Hurst's house?' but, 'What became of him after his interview in Queen Square?'
"But as soon as I had decided that that interview must form the real starting-point of the inquiry, a most striking set of circumstances came into view. It became obvious that if Mr. Jellicoe had had any reason for wishing to make away with John Bellingham, he had such an opportunity as seldom falls to the lot of an intending murderer.
"Just consider the conditions. John Bellingham was known to be setting out alone upon a journey beyond the sea. His exact destination was not stated. He was to be absent for an undetermined period, but at least three weeks. His disappearance would occasion no comment; his absence would lead to no inquiries, at least for several weeks, during which the murderer would have leisure quietly to dispose of the body and conceal all traces of the crime. The conditions were, from a murderer's point of view, ideal.
"But that was not all. During that very period of John Bellingham's absence Mr. Jellicoe was engaged to deliver to the British Museum what was admittedly a dead human body; and that body was to be enclosed in a sealed case. Could any more perfect or secure method of disposing of a body be devised by the most ingenious murderer? The plan would have had only one weak point: the mummy would be known to have left Queen Square after the disappearance of John Bellingham, and suspicion might in the end have arisen. To this point I shall return presently; meanwhile we will consider the second hypothesis--that the missing man was made away with by Mr. Hurst.
"Now, there seemed to be no doubt that some person, purporting to be John Bellingham, did actually visit Mr. Hurst's house; and he must either have left 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 these two.
"And, first, as to Godfrey Bellingham. It did not appear whether he was or was not known to the housemaid, so I assumed--wrongly, as it turns out--that he was not. Then he might have been the personator. But why should he have personated his brother? He could not have already committed the murder. There had not been time enough. He would have had to leave Woodford before John Bellingham had set out from Charing Cross. And even if he had committed the murder, he would have 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 Bellingham.
"Then could it be Mr. Jellicoe? The answer to this question is contained in the answer to the further question: What could have been the object of the personation?
"What motive could this unknown person have had in appearing, announcing himself as John Bellingham, and forthwith vanishing? There could only have been one motive: that, namely, of fixing the date of John Bellingham's disappearance--of furnishing a definite moment at which he was last seen alive.
"But who was likely to have had such a motive? Let us see.
"I said just now that if Mr. Jellicoe had murdered John Bellingham and disposed of the body in the mummy-case, he would have been absolutely safe for the time being. But there would be a weak spot in his armour. For a month or more the disappearance of his client would occasion no remark. But presently, when he failed to return, inquiries would be set on foot; and then it would appear that no one had seen him since he left Queen Square. Then it would be noted that the last person with whom he was seen was Mr. Jellicoe. It might, further, be remembered that the mummy had been delivered to the Museum some time after the missing man was last seen alive. And so suspicion might arise and be followed by disastrous investigations. But supposing it should be made to appear that John Bellingham had been seen alive more than a month after his interview with Mr. Jellicoe and some weeks after the mummy had been deposited in the Museum? Then Mr. Jellicoe would cease to be in any way connected with the disappearance, and henceforth would be absolutely safe.
"Hence, after carefully considering this part of the newspaper report, I came to the conclusion that the mysterious occurrence at Mr. Hurst's 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 from himself.
"Of course, if Hurst had been the murderer, he would have had a sufficient motive for dropping the scarab, so that the case against Mr. Jellicoe was not conclusive; but the fact that it was he who found it was highly significant.
"This completes the analysis of the evidence contained in the original newspaper report describing the circumstances of the disappearance. The conclusions that followed from it were, as you will have seen:
"1. That the missing man was almost certainly dead, as proved by the finding of the scarab after his disappearance.
"2. That he had probably been murdered by one or more of four persons, as proved by the finding of the scarab on the premises occupied by two of them and accessible to the others.
"3. That, of those four persons, one--Mr. Jellicoe--was the last person who was known to have been in the company of the missing man; had had an exceptional opportunity for committing the murder; and was known to have delivered a dead body to the Museum subsequently to the disappearance.
"4. That the supposition that Mr. Jellicoe had committed the murder rendered all the other circumstances of the disappearance clearly intelligible, whereas on any other supposition they were quite inexplicable.
"The evidence of the newspaper report, therefore, clearly pointed to the probability that John Bellingham had been murdered by Mr. Jellicoe and his body concealed in the mummy-case.
"I do not wish to give you the impression that I, then and there, believed that Mr. Jellicoe was the murderer. I did not. There was no reason to suppose that the report contained all the essential facts, and I merely considered it speculatively as a study in probabilities. But I did decide that that was the only probable conclusion from the facts that were given.
"Nearly two years 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 been made."
"Did it, indeed?" said Mr. Jellicoe. "A mere, inexpert, hearsay report! I should have supposed it to be quite valueless from a scientific point of view."
"So it was," said Thorndyke. "But it gave the date of the discovery and the locality, and it also mentioned what bones had been found. Which were all vital facts. Take the question of time. These remains, after lying perdu for two years, suddenly come to light just as the parties--who have also been lying perdu--have begun to take action in respect of the will; in fact, within a week or two of the hearing of the application. It was certainly a remarkable coincidence. And when the circumstances that occasioned the discovery were considered, the coincidence became 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 remarkable.
"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 asked.
"By the submersion marks," replied Thorndyke. "It was lying on the bottom of the pond in a position which would have been impossible if it had been attached to the arm."
"You interest me exceedingly," said Mr. Jellicoe. "It appears that a medico-legal expert finds 'books in the running brooks, sermons in bones, and evidence in everything.' But don't let me interrupt you."
"Doctor Berkeley's observations," Thorndyke resumed, "together with the medical evidence at the inquest, led me to certain conclusions.
"Let me 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 handling.
"A very interesting circumstance connected with these remains was that the ring finger was missing. Now, fingers have on sundry occasions been detached from dead hands for the sake of the rings on them. But in such cases the object has been to secure a valuable ring uninjured. If this hand was the hand of John Bellingham, there was no such object. The purpose was to prevent identification; and that purpose would have been more easily, and much more completely, achieved by sacrificing the ring, by filing through it or breaking it off the finger. The appearances, therefore, did not quite agree with the apparent purpose.
"Then, could there be any other purpose with which they agreed better? Yes, there could.
"If it had happened that John Bellingham were known to have worn a ring on that finger, and especially if that ring fitted tightly, the removal of the finger would serve a very useful purpose. It would create an impression that the finger had been removed on account of a ring, to prevent identification; which impression would, in turn, produce a suspicion that the hand was that of John Bellingham. And yet it would not be evidence that could be used to establish identity. Now, if Mr. Jellicoe were the murderer and had the body hidden elsewhere, vague suspicion would be precisely what he would desire, and positive evidence what he would wish to avoid.
"It transpired later that John Bellingham did wear a ring on that finger and that the ring fitted very tightly. Whence it followed that the absence of the finger was an additional point tending to implicate Mr. Jellicoe.
"And now let us briefly review this mass of evidence. You will see that it consists of a multitude of items, each either trivial or speculative. Up to the time of the actual discovery I had not a single crucial fact, nor any clue as to motive. But, slight as the individual points of evidence were, they pointed with impressive unanimity to one person--Mr. Jellicoe. Thus:
"The person who had the opportunity to commit 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. Jellicoe.
"The only person who could have had any motive for substituting those remains for the remains of the deceased was Mr. Jellicoe.
"Finally, the person who caused the discovery of those remains at that singularly opportune moment was Mr. Jellicoe.
"This was the sum of the evidence that was in my possession up to the time of the hearing, and, indeed, for some time after, and it was not enough to act upon. But when the case had been heard in Court, it was evident either that the proceedings would be abandoned--which was unlikely--or that there would be new developments.
"I watched the progress of events with profound interest. An attempt had been made (by Mr. Jellicoe or some other person) to get the will administered without producing the body of John Bellingham; and that attempt had failed. The coroner's jury had refused to identify the remains; the Probate Court had refused to presume the death of the testator. As affairs stood, the will could not be administered.
"What would be the next move?
"It was virtually certain that it would consist in the production of something which would identify the unrecognised remains as those of the testator.
"But what would that something be?
"The answer to that question would contain the answer to another question: Was my solution of the mystery the true solution?
"If I was wrong, it was possible that some of the undoubtedly genuine bones of John Bellingham might presently be discovered; for instance, the skull, the knee-cap, or the left fibula, by any of which the remains could be positively identified.
"If I was right, only one thing could possibly happen. Mr. Jellicoe would have to play the trump card that he had been holding back in case the Court should refuse the application; a card that he was evidently reluctant to play.
"He would have to produce the bones of the mummy's finger, together with John Bellingham's ring. No other course was possible.
"But not only would the bones and the ring have to be found together. They would have to be found in a place which was accessible to Mr. Jellicoe, and so far under his control that he could determine the exact time when the discovery should be made.
"I waited patiently for the answer to my question. Was I right or was I wrong?
"And in due course, the answer came.
"The bones and the ring were discovered in the well in the grounds of Godfrey Bellingham's late house. That house was the property of John Bellingham. Mr. Jellicoe was John Bellingham's agent. Hence it was practically certain that the date on which the well was emptied was settled by Mr. Jellicoe.
"The Oracle had spoken.
"The discovery proved conclusively that the bones were not those of John Bellingham (for if they had been the ring would have been unnecessary for identification). But if the bones were not John Bellingham's, the ring was; from which followed the important corollary that whoever had deposited those bones in the well had had possession of the body of John Bellingham. And there could be no doubt that that person was Mr. Jellicoe.
"On receiving this final confirmation of my conclusions, I applied forthwith to Doctor Norbury for permission to examine the mummy of 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 statement.