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_prima facie_ suspicion upon the owner or occupant of that land as being
the person who deposited them. But the case that you suggest is the one
case in which this would be impossible. A man cannot deposit his own
dismembered remains."

"No, of course not. I was not suggesting that he deposited them
himself, but merely that the fact of their being deposited on his land,
in a way, connected these remains with him."

"Again," said Mr. Jellicoe, "I fail to follow you, unless you are
suggesting that it is customary for murderers who mutilate bodies to be
punctilious in depositing the dismembered remains upon land belonging to
their victims. In which case I am sceptical as to your facts. I am not
aware of the existence of any such custom. Moreover, it appears that
only a portion of the body was deposited on Mr. Bellingham's land, the
remaining portions having been scattered broadcast over a wide area. How
does that agree with your suggestion?"

"It doesn't, of course," I admitted. "But there is another fact that I
think you will admit to be more significant. The first remains that were
discovered were found at Sidcup. Now, Sidcup is close to Eltham; and
Eltham is the place where Mr. Bellingham was last seen alive."

"And what is the significance of this? Why do you connect the remains
with one locality rather than the various other localities in which
other portions of the body have been found?"

"Well," I replied, rather gravelled by this very pertinent question,
"the appearances seem to suggest that the person who deposited these
remains started from the neighbourhood of Eltham, where the missing man
was last seen."

Mr. Jellicoe shook his head. "You appear," said he, "to be confusing the
order of deposition with the order of discovery. What evidence is there
that the remains found at Sidcup were deposited before those found
elsewhere?"

"I don't know that there is any," I admitted.

"Then," said he, "I don't see how you support your suggestion that the
person started from the neighbourhood of Eltham."

On consideration, I had to admit that I had nothing to offer in support
of my theory; and having thus shot my last arrow in this very unequal
contest, I thought it time to change the subject.

"I called in at the British Museum the other day," said I, "and had a
look at Mr. Bellingham's last gift to the nation. The things are very
well shown in that central case."

"Yes. I was very pleased with the position they have given to the
exhibit, and so would my poor old friend have been. I wished, as I
looked at the case, that he could have seen it. But perhaps he may,
after all."

"I am sure I hope he will," said I, with more sincerity, perhaps, than
the lawyer gave me credit for. For the return of John Bellingham would
most effectually have cut the Gordian knot of my friend Godfrey's
difficulties. "You are a good deal interested in Egyptology yourself,
aren't you?" I added.

"Greatly interested," replied Mr. Jellicoe, with more animation than I
had thought possible in his wooden face. "It is a fascinating subject,
the study of this venerable civilisation, extending back to the
childhood of the human race, preserved for ever for our instruction in
its own unchanging monuments like a fly in a block of amber. Everything
connected with Egypt is full of an impressive solemnity. A feeling of
permanence, of stability, defying time and change, pervades it. The
place, the people, and the monuments alike breathe of eternity."

I was mightily surprised at this rhetorical outburst on the part of this
dry and taciturn lawyer. But I liked him the better for the touch of
enthusiasm that made him human, and determined to keep him astride of
his hobby.

"Yet," said I, "the people must have changed in the course of
centuries."

"Yes, that is so. The people who fought against Cambyses were not the
race that marched into Egypt five thousand years before - the dynastic
people whose portraits we see on the early monuments. In those fifty
centuries the blood of Hyksos and Syrians and Ethiopians and Hittites,
and who can say how many more races, must have mingled with that of the
old Egyptians. But still the national life went on without a break; the
old culture leavened the new peoples, and the immigrant strangers ended
by becoming Egyptians. It is a wonderful phenomenon. Looking back on it
from our own time, it seems more like a geological period than the
life-history of a single nation. Are you at all interested in the
subject?"

"Yes, decidedly, though I am completely ignorant of it. The fact is that
my interest is of quite recent growth. It is only of late that I have
been sensible of the glamour of things Egyptian."

"Since you made Miss Bellingham's acquaintance, perhaps?" suggested Mr.
Jellicoe, himself as unchanging in aspect as an Egyptian effigy.

I suppose I must have reddened - I certainly resented the remark - for he
continued in the same even tone: "I made the suggestion because I know
that she takes an intelligent interest in the subject and is, in fact,
quite well informed on it."

"Yes; she seems to know a great deal about the antiquities of Egypt, and
I may as well admit that your surmise was correct. It was she who showed
me her uncle's collection."

"So I had supposed," said Mr. Jellicoe. "And a very instructive
collection it is, in a popular sense; very suitable for exhibition in a
public museum, though there is nothing in it of unusual interest to the
expert. The tomb furniture is excellent of its kind and the cartonnage
case of the mummy is well made and rather finely decorated."

"Yes, I thought it quite handsome. But can you explain to me why, after
taking all that trouble to decorate it, they should have disfigured it
with those great smears of bitumen?"

"Ah!" said Mr. Jellicoe, "that is quite an interesting question. It is
not unusual to find mummy-cases smeared with bitumen; there is a mummy
of a priestess in the next gallery which is completely coated with
bitumen excepting the gilded face. Now, this bitumen was put on for a
purpose - for the purpose of obliterating the inscriptions and thus
concealing the identity of the deceased from the robbers and desecrators
of tombs. And there is the oddity of this mummy of Sebek-hotep.
Evidently there was an intention of obliterating the inscriptions. The
whole of the back is covered thickly with bitumen, and so are the feet.
Then the workers seem to have changed their minds and left the
inscriptions and decoration untouched. Why they intended to cover it,
and why, having commenced, they left it partially covered only, is a
mystery. The mummy was found in its original tomb and quite
undisturbed, so far as tomb-robbers are concerned. Poor Bellingham was
greatly puzzled as to what the explanation could be."

"Speaking of bitumen," said I, "reminds me of a question that has
occurred to me. You know that this substance has been used a good deal
by modern painters and that it has a very dangerous peculiarity; I mean
its tendency to liquefy, without any very obvious reason, long after it
has dried."

"Yes, I know. Isn't there some story about a picture of Reynolds' in
which bitumen had been used? A portrait of a lady, I think. The bitumen
softened, and one of the lady's eyes slipped down on to her cheek; and
they had to hang the portrait upside down and keep it warm until the eye
slipped back into its place. But what was your question?"

"I was wondering whether the bitumen used by the Egyptian artists has
ever been known to soften after this great lapse of time."

"Yes, I think it has. I have heard of instances in which the bitumen
coatings of mummy cases have softened under certain circumstances and
become quite 'tacky.' But, bless my soul! here am I gossiping with you
and wasting your time, and it is nearly a quarter to nine!"

My guest rose hastily, and I, with many apologies for having detained
him, proceeded to fulfil my promise to guide him to his destination. As
we sallied forth together the glamour of Egypt faded by degrees, and
when he shook my hand stiffly at the gate of the Bellinghams' house, all
his vivacity and enthusiasm had vanished, leaving the taciturn lawyer,
dry, uncommunicative, and not a little suspicious.




CHAPTER X

THE NEW ALLIANCE


The "Great Lexicographer" - tutelary deity of my adopted habitat - has
handed down to shuddering posterity a definition of the act of eating
which might have been framed by a dyspeptic ghoul. "Eat: to devour with
the mouth." It is a shocking view to take of so genial a function:
cynical, indelicate, and finally unforgivable by reason of its very
accuracy. For, after all, that is what eating amounts to, if one must
needs express it with such crude brutality. But if "the ingestion of
alimentary substances" - to ring a modern change upon the older
formula - is in itself a process material even unto carnality, it is
undeniable that it forms a highly agreeable accompaniment to more
psychic manifestations.

And so, as the lamplight, re-enforced by accessory candles, falls on the
little table in the first-floor room looking on Fetter Lane - only now
the curtains are drawn - the conversation is not the less friendly and
bright for a running accompaniment executed with knives and forks, for
clink of goblet and jovial gurgle of wine-flask. On the contrary, to one
of us, at least - to wit, Godfrey Bellingham - the occasion is one of
uncommon festivity, and his boyish enjoyment of the simple feast makes
pathetic suggestions of hard times, faced uncomplainingly, but keenly
felt nevertheless.

The talk flitted from topic to topic, mainly concerning itself with
matters artistic, and never for one moment approaching the critical
subject of John Bellingham's will. From the stepped pyramid of Sakkara
with its encaustic tiles to mediaeval church floors; from Elizabethan
woodwork to Mycaenaean pottery, and thence to the industrial arts of the
Stone Age and the civilisation of the Aztecs. I began to suspect that my
two legal friends were so carried away by the interest of the
conversation that they had forgotten the secret purpose of the meeting,
for the dessert had been placed on the table (by Mrs. Gummer with the
manner of a bereaved dependant dispensing funeral bakemeats), and still
no reference had been made to the "case." But it seemed that Thorndyke
was but playing a waiting game; was only allowing the intimacy to ripen
while he watched for the opportunity. And that opportunity came, even as
Mrs. Gummer vanished spectrally with a tray of plates and glasses.

"So you had a visitor last night, Doctor," said Mr. Bellingham. "I mean
my friend Jellicoe. He told us he had seen you, and mighty curious he
was about you. I have never known Jellicoe to be so inquisitive before.
What did you think of him?"

"A quaint old cock. I found him highly amusing. We entertained one
another for quite a long time with cross questions and crooked answers;
I affecting eager curiosity, he replying with a defensive attitude of
universal ignorance. It was a most diverting encounter."

"He needn't have been so close," Miss Bellingham remarked, "seeing that
all the world will be regaled with our affairs before long."

"They are proposing to take the case into Court, then?" said Thorndyke.

"Yes," said Mr. Bellingham. "Jellicoe came to tell me that my cousin,
Hurst, has instructed his solicitors to make the application and to
invite me to join him. Actually he came to deliver an ultimatum from
Hurst - But, I mustn't disturb the harmony of this festive gathering with
litigious discords."

"Now, why mustn't you?" asked Thorndyke. "Why is a subject in which we
are all keenly interested to be _tabu_? You don't mind telling us about
it, do you?"

"No, of course not. But what do you think of a man who buttonholes a
doctor at a dinner-party to retail a list of his ailments?"

"It depends on what his ailments are," replied Thorndyke. "If he is a
chronic dyspeptic and wishes to expound the virtues of Doctor Snaffler's
Purple Pills for Pimply People, he is merely a bore. But if he chances
to suffer from some rare and choice disease, such as Trypanosomiasis or
Acromegaly, the doctor will be delighted to listen."

"Then are we to understand," Miss Bellingham asked, "that we are rare
and choice products, in a legal sense?"

"Undoubtedly," replied Thorndyke. "The case of John Bellingham is, in
many respects, unique. It will be followed with the deepest interest by
the profession at large, and especially by medical jurists."

"How gratifying that should be to us!" said Miss Bellingham. "We may
even attain undying fame in textbooks and treatises; and yet we are not
so very much puffed up with our importance."

"No," said her father; "we could do without the fame quite well, and
so, I think, could Hurst. Did Berkeley tell you of the proposal that he
made?"

"Yes," said Thorndyke; "and I gather from what you say that he has
repeated it."

"Yes. He sent Jellicoe to give me another chance, and I was tempted to
take it; but my daughter was strongly against any compromise, and
probably she is right. At any rate, she is more concerned than I am."

"What view did Mr. Jellicoe take?" Thorndyke asked.

"Oh, he was very cautious and reserved, but he didn't disguise his
feeling that I should be wise to take a certainty in lieu of a very
problematical fortune. He would certainly like me to agree, for he
naturally wishes to get the affair settled and pocket his legacy."

"And have you definitely refused?"

"Yes; quite definitely. So Hurst will apply for permission to presume
death and prove the will, and Jellicoe will support him; he says he has
no choice."

"And you?"

"I suppose I shall oppose the application, though I don't quite know on
what grounds."

"Before you take any definite steps," said Thorndyke, "you ought to give
the matter very careful consideration. I take it that you have very
little doubt that your brother is dead. And if he is dead, any benefit
that you may receive under the will must be conditional on the previous
assumption or proof of death. But perhaps you have taken advice?"

"No, I have not. As our friend the Doctor has probably told you, my
means - or rather, the lack of them - do not admit of my getting
professional advice. Hence my delicacy about discussing the case with
you."

"Then do you propose to conduct your case in person?"

"Yes; if it is necessary for me to appear in Court, as I suppose it will
be, if I oppose the application."

Thorndyke reflected for a few moments, and then said gravely:

"You had much better not appear in person to conduct your case, Mr.
Bellingham, for several reasons. To begin with, Mr. Hurst is sure to be
represented by a capable counsel, and you will find yourself quite
unable to meet the sudden exigencies of a contest in Court. You will be
out-manoeuvred. Then there is the judge to be considered."

"But surely one can rely on the judge dealing fairly with a man who is
unable to afford a solicitor and counsel?"

"Undoubtedly, as a rule, a judge will give an unrepresented litigant
every assistance and consideration. English judges in general are
high-minded men with a deep sense of their great responsibilities. But
you cannot afford to take any chances. You must consider the exceptions.
A judge has been a counsel, and he may carry to the bench some of the
professional prejudices of the bar. Indeed, if you consider the absurd
licence permitted to counsel in their treatment of witnesses, and the
hostile attitude adopted by some judges towards medical and other
scientific men who have to give their evidence, you will see that the
judicial mind is not always quite as judicial as one would wish,
especially when the privileges and immunities of the profession are
concerned. Now, your appearance in person to conduct your case must,
unavoidably, cause some inconvenience to the Court. Your ignorance of
procedure and legal details must occasion some delay; and if the judge
should happen to be an irritable man he might resent the inconvenience
and delay. I don't say that that would affect his decision - I don't
think it would - but I am sure that it would be wise to avoid giving
offence to the judge. And, above all, it is most desirable to be able to
detect and reply to any manoeuvres on the part of the opposing counsel,
which you certainly would not be able to do."

"This is excellent advice, Doctor Thorndyke," said Bellingham, with a
grim smile; "but I am afraid I shall have to take my chance."

"Not necessarily," said Thorndyke. "I am going to make a little
proposal, which I will ask you to consider without prejudice as a mutual
accommodation. You see, your case is one of exceptional interest - it
will become a textbook case, as Miss Bellingham has prophesied; and,
since it lies within my specialty, it will be necessary for me, in any
case, to follow it in the closest detail. Now, it would be much more
satisfactory to me to study it from within than from without, to say
nothing of the credit which would accrue to me if I should be able to
conduct it to a successful issue. I am therefore going to ask you to put
your case in my hands and let me see what can be done with it. I know
this is an unusual course for a professional man to take, but I think it
is not improper under the circumstances."

Mr. Bellingham pondered in silence for a few moments, and then, after a
glance at his daughter, began rather hesitatingly: "It is exceedingly
generous of you, Doctor Thorndyke - "

"Pardon me," interrupted Thorndyke, "it is not. My motives, as I have
explained, are purely egoistic."

Mr. Bellingham laughed uneasily and again glanced at his daughter, who,
however, pursued her occupation of peeling a pear with calm deliberation
and without lifting her eyes. Getting no help from her, he asked: "Do
you think that there is any possibility whatever of a successful issue?"

"Yes, a remote possibility - very remote, I fear, as things look at
present; but if I thought the case absolutely hopeless I should advise
you to stand aside and let events take their course."

"Supposing the case to come to a favourable termination, would you allow
me to settle your fees in the ordinary way?"

"If the choice lay with me," replied Thorndyke, "I should say 'yes' with
pleasure. But it does not. The attitude of the profession is very
definitely unfavourable to 'speculative' practice. You may remember the
well-known firm of Dodson and Fogg, who gained thereby much profit, but
little credit. But why discuss contingencies of this kind? If I bring
your case to a successful issue I shall have done very well for myself.
We shall have benefited one another mutually. Come now, Miss Bellingham,
I appeal to you. We have eaten salt together, to say nothing of pigeon
pie and other cates. Won't you back me up, and at the same time do a
kindness to Doctor Berkeley?"

"Why, is Doctor Berkeley interested in our decision?"

"Certainly he is, as you will appreciate when I tell you that he
actually tried to bribe me secretly out of his own pocket."

"Did you?" she asked, looking at me with an expression that rather
alarmed me.

"Well, not exactly," I replied, mighty hot and uncomfortable, and
wishing Thorndyke at the devil with his confidences. "I merely mentioned
that the - the - solicitor's costs, you know, and that sort of thing - but
you needn't jump on me, Miss Bellingham; Doctor Thorndyke did all that
was necessary in that way."

She continued to look at me thoughtfully as I stammered out my excuses,
and then said: "I wasn't going to. I was only thinking that poverty has
its compensations. You are all so very good to us; and, for my part, I
should accept Doctor Thorndyke's generous offer most gratefully, and
thank him for making it so easy for us."

"Very well, my dear," said Mr. Bellingham; "we will enjoy the sweets of
poverty, as you say - we have sampled the other kind of thing pretty
freely - and do ourselves the pleasure of accepting a great kindness,
most delicately offered."

"Thank you," said Thorndyke. "You have justified my faith in you, Miss
Bellingham, and in the power of Doctor Berkeley's salt. I understand
that you place your affairs in my hands?"

"Entirely and thankfully," replied Mr. Bellingham. "Whatever you think
best to be done we agree to beforehand."

"Then," said I, "let us drink success to the Cause. Port, if you please,
Miss Bellingham; the vintage is not recorded, but it is quite wholesome,
and a suitable medium for the sodium chloride of friendship." I filled
her glass, and, when the bottle had made its circuit, we stood up and
solemnly pledged the new alliance.

"There is just one thing that I would say before we dismiss the subject
for the present," said Thorndyke. "It is a good thing to keep one's own
counsel. When you get formal notice from Mr. Hurst's solicitors that
proceedings are being commenced, you may refer them to Mr. Marchmont of
Gray's Inn, who will nominally act for you. He will actually have
nothing to do, but we must preserve the fiction that I am instructed by
a solicitor. Meanwhile, and until the case goes into Court, I think it
very necessary that neither Mr. Jellicoe nor anyone else should know
that I am to be connected with it. We must keep the other side in the
dark, if we can."

"We will be as secret as the grave," said Mr. Bellingham; "and, as a
matter of fact, it will be quite easy, since it happens, by a curious
coincidence, that I am already acquainted with Mr. Marchmont. He acted
for Stephen Blackmore, you remember, in that case that you unravelled so
wonderfully. I knew the Blackmores."

"Did you?" said Thorndyke. "What a small world it is! And what a
remarkable affair that was! The intricacies and cross-issues made it
quite absorbingly interesting; and it is noteworthy for me in another
respect, for it was one of the first cases in which I was associated
with Doctor Jervis."

"Yes, and a mighty useful associate I was," remarked Jervis, "though I
did pick up one or two facts by accident. And, by the way, the Blackmore
case had certain points in common with your case, Mr. Bellingham. There
was a disappearance and a disputed will, and the man who vanished was a
scholar and an antiquarian."

"Cases in our specialty are apt to have certain general resemblances,"
said Thorndyke; and as he spoke he directed a keen glance at his junior,
the significance of which I partly understood when he abruptly changed
the subject.

"The newspaper reports of your brother's disappearance, Mr. Bellingham,
were remarkably full of detail. There were even plans of your house and
that of Mr. Hurst. Do you know who supplied the information?"

"No, I don't," replied Mr. Bellingham. "I know that I didn't. Some
newspaper men came to me for information, but I sent them packing. So, I
understand, did Hurst; and as for Jellicoe, you might as well
cross-examine an oyster."

"Well," said Thorndyke, "the Press-men have queer methods of getting
'copy'; but still, someone must have given them that description of your
brother and those plans. It would be interesting to know who it was.
However, we don't know; and now let us dismiss these legal topics, with
suitable apologies for having introduced them."

"And perhaps," said I, "we may as well adjourn to what we will call the
drawing-room - it is really Barnard's den - and leave the housekeeper to
wrestle with the debris."

We migrated to the cheerfully shabby little apartment, and, when Mrs.
Gummer had served coffee, with gloomy resignation (as who should say:
"If you will drink this sort of stuff I suppose you must, but don't
blame _me_ for the consequences"), I settled Mr. Bellingham in Barnard's
favourite lop-sided easy chair - the depressed seat of which suggested
its customary use by an elephant of sedentary habits - and opened the
diminutive piano.

"I wonder if Miss Bellingham would give us a little music?" I said.

"I wonder if she could?" was the smiling response. "Do you know," she
continued, "I have not touched a piano for nearly two years? It will be
quite an interesting experiment - to me; but if it fails, you will be the
sufferers. So you must choose."

"My verdict," said Mr. Bellingham, "is _fiat experimentum_, though I
won't complete the quotation, as that would seem to disparage Doctor
Barnard's piano. But before you begin, Ruth, there is one rather
disagreeable matter that I want to dispose of, so that I may not disturb
the harmony with it later."

He paused, and we all looked at him expectantly.

"I suppose, Doctor Thorndyke," he said, "you read the newspapers?"


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