“‘Is this a deformity or has the finger been cut off?’ our correspondent asked.
“‘The finger has been amputated,’ was the reply. ’If it had been absent from birth, the corresponding hand bone, or metacarpal, would have been wanting or deformed, whereas it is present and quite normal.’
“‘How long have the bones been in the water?’ was the next question.
“’More than a year, I should say. They are quite clean; there is not a vestige of the soft structures left.’
“’Have you any theory as to how the arm came to be deposited where it was found?’
“‘I should rather not answer that question,’ was the guarded response.
“‘One more question,’ our correspondent urged. ’The ground landlord, Mr. John Bellingham; is not he the gentleman who disappeared so mysteriously some time ago?’
“‘So I understand,’ Dr. Brandon replied.
“’Can you tell me if Mr. Bellingham had lost the third finger of his left hand?’
“‘I cannot say,’ said Dr. Brandon; and he added with a smile, ’you had better ask the police.’
“That is how the matter stands at present. But we understand that the police are making active inquiries for any missing man who has lost the third finger of his left hand, and if any of our readers know of such a person, they are earnestly requested to communicate at once, either with us or with the authorities.
“Also we believe that a systematic search is to be made for further remains.”
I laid the newspaper down and fell into a train of reflection. It was certainly a most mysterious affair. The thought that had evidently come to the reporter’s mind stole naturally into mine. Could these remains be those of John Bellingham? It was obviously possible, though I could not but see that the fact of the bones having been found on his land, while it undoubtedly furnished the suggestion, did not in any way add to its probability. The connection was accidental and in no wise relevant.
Then, too, there was the missing finger. No reference to any such injury or deformity had been made in the original report of the disappearance, though it could hardly have been overlooked. But it was useless to speculate without facts. I should be seeing Thorndyke in the course of the next few days, and, undoubtedly, if the discovery had any bearing upon the disappearance of John Bellingham, I should hear of it. With which reflection I rose from the table, and, adopting the advice contained in the spurious Johnsonian quotation proceeded to “take a walk in Fleet Street” before settling down for the evening.
The association of coal with potatoes is one upon which I have frequently speculated, without arriving at any more satisfactory explanation than that both products are of the earth, earthy. Of the connection itself Barnard’s practice furnished several instances besides Mrs. Jablett’s establishment in Fleur-de-Lys Court, one of which was a dark and mysterious cavern a foot below the level of the street, that burrowed under an ancient house on the west side of Fetter Lane—a crinkly, timber house of the three-decker type that leaned back drunkenly from the road as if about to sit down in its own back yard.