“Then,” said Mr. Bellingham, “I’ll treat myself to the luxury of telling you all my troubles; I don’t often get the chance of a confidential grumble to a responsible man of my own class. And I really have some excuse for railing at Fortune, as you will agree when I tell you that, a couple of years ago, I went to bed one night a gentleman of independent means and excellent prospects and woke up in the morning to find myself practically a beggar. Not a cheerful experience that, you know, at my time of life, eh?”
“No,” I agreed, “nor at any other.”
“And that was not all,” he continued; “for, at the same moment, I lost my only brother, my dearest, kindest friend. He disappeared—vanished off the face of the earth; but perhaps you have heard of the affair. The confounded papers were full of it at the time.”
He paused abruptly, noticing, no doubt, a sudden change in my face. Of course, I recollected the case now. Indeed, ever since I had entered the house some chord of memory had been faintly vibrating, and now his last words had struck out the full note.
“Yes,” I said, “I remember the incident, though I don’t suppose I should but for the fact that our lecturer on medical jurisprudence drew my attention to it.”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Bellingham, rather uneasily, as I fancied. “What did he say about it?”
“He referred to it as a case that was calculated to give rise to some very pretty legal complications.”
“By Jove!” exclaimed Mr. Bellingham, “that man was a prophet! Legal complications, indeed! But I’ll be bound he never guessed at the sort of infernal tangle that has actually gathered round the affair. By the way, what was his name?”
“Thorndyke,” I replied. “Doctor John Thorndyke.”
“Thorndyke,” Mr. Bellingham repeated in a musing, retrospective tone. “I seem to remember that name. Yes, of course. I have heard a legal friend of mine, a Mr. Marchmont, speak of him in reference to the case of a man whom I knew slightly years ago—a certain Jeffrey Blackmore, who also disappeared very mysteriously. I remember now that Doctor Thorndyke unravelled that case with most remarkable ingenuity.”
“I daresay he would be very much interested to hear about your case,” I suggested.
“I daresay he would,” was the reply; “but one can’t take up a professional man’s time for nothing, and I couldn’t afford to pay him. And that reminds me that I’m taking up your time by gossiping about my purely personal affairs.”
“My morning round is finished,” said I, “and, moreover, your personal affairs are highly interesting. I suppose I mustn’t ask what is the nature of the legal entanglement?”
“Not unless you are prepared to stay here for the rest of the day and go home a raving lunatic. But I’ll tell you this much: the trouble is about my poor brother’s will. In the first place, it can’t be administered because there is no sufficient evidence that my brother is dead; and in the second place, if it could, all the property would go to people who were never intended to benefit. The will itself is the most diabolically exasperating document that was ever produced by the perverted ingenuity of a wrong-headed man. That’s all. Will you have a look at my knee?”