“Oh, you won’t disturb me,” he replied; adding, with a laugh: “It’s more likely to be the other way about. In fact, if I were not afraid of boring you to death I would ask you to let me talk my difficulties over with you.”
“You won’t bore me,” I said. “It is generally interesting to share another man’s experiences without their inconveniences. ’The proper study of mankind is—man,’ you know, especially to a doctor.”
Mr. Bellingham chuckled grimly. “You make me feel like a microbe,” he said. “However, if you would care to take a peep at me through your microscope, I will crawl on to the stage for your inspection, though it is not my actions that furnish the materials for your psychological studies. I am only a passive agent. It is my poor brother who is the Deus ex machina, who, from his unknown grave, as I fear, pulls the strings of this infernal puppet-show.”
He paused, and for a space gazed thoughtfully into the grate as if he had forgotten my presence. At length he looked up, and resumed:
“It is a curious story, Doctor—a very curious story. Part of it you know—the middle part. I will tell it you from the beginning, and then you will know as much as I do; for, as to the end, that is known to no one. It is written, no doubt, in the book of destiny, but the page has yet to be turned.
“The mischief began with my father’s death. He was a country clergyman of very moderate means, a widower with two children, my brother John and me. He managed to send us both to Oxford, after which John went into the Foreign Office and I was to have gone into the Church. But I suddenly discovered that my views on religion had undergone a change that made this impossible, and just about this time my father came into a quite considerable property. Now, as it was his expressed intention to leave the estate equally divided between my brother and me, there was no need for me to take up any profession for a livelihood. Archaeology was already the passion of my life, and I determined to devote myself henceforth to my favourite study, in which, by the way, I was following a family tendency; for my father was an enthusiastic student of ancient Oriental history, and John was, as you know, an ardent Egyptologist.
“Then my father died quite suddenly, and left no will. He had intended to have one drawn up, but had put it off until it was too late. And since nearly all the property was in the form of real estate, my brother inherited practically the whole of it. However, in deference to the known wishes of my father, he made me an allowance of five hundred a year, which was about a quarter of the annual income, I urged him to assign me a lump sum, but he refused to do this. Instead, he instructed his solicitor to pay me the allowance in quarterly instalments during the rest of his life; and it was understood that, on his death, the entire estate should devolve on me, or if I died first, on my daughter Ruth. Then, as you know, he disappeared suddenly, and as the circumstances suggested that he was dead, and there was no evidence that he was alive, his solicitor—a Mr. Jellicoe—found himself unable to continue the payment of the allowance. On the other hand, as there was no positive evidence that my brother was dead, it was impossible to administer the will.”