Thus with simple, homely music, and conversation always cheerful and sometimes brilliant, slipped away one of the pleasantest evenings of my life, and slipped away all too soon. St. Dunstan’s clock was the fly in the ointment, for it boomed out intrusively the hour of eleven just as my guests were beginning thoroughly to appreciate one another; and thereby carried the sun (with a minor paternal satellite) out of the firmament of my heaven. For I had, in my professional capacity, given strict injunctions that Mr. Bellingham should on no account sit up late; and now, in my social capacity, I had smilingly to hear “the doctor’s orders” quoted. It was a scurvy return for all my care.
When Mr. and Miss Bellingham departed, Thorndyke and Jervis would have gone too; but noting my bereaved condition, and being withal compassionate and tender of heart, they were persuaded to stay awhile and bear me company in a consolatory pipe.
THE EVIDENCE REVIEWED
“So the game has opened,” observed Thorndyke, as he struck a match. “The play has begun with a cautious lead off by the other side. Very cautious, and not very confident.”
“Why do you say ’not very confident’?” I asked.
“Well, it is evident that Hurst—and, I fancy, Jellicoe too—is anxious to buy off Bellingham’s opposition, and at a pretty long price, under the circumstances. And when we consider how very little Bellingham has to offer against the presumption of his brother’s death, it looks as if Hurst hadn’t much to say on his side.”
“No,” said Jervis, “he can’t hold many trumps or he wouldn’t be willing to pay four hundred a year for his opponent’s chance; and that is just as well, for it seems to me that our own hand is a pretty poor one.”
“We must look through our hand and see what we do hold,” said Thorndyke. “Our trump card at present—a rather small one, I am afraid—is the obvious intention of the testator that the bulk of the property should go to his brother.”
“I suppose you will begin your inquiries now,” said I.
“We began them some time ago—the day after you brought us the will, in fact. Jervis has been through the registers and has ascertained that no interment under the name of John Bellingham has taken place since the disappearance; which was just what we expected. He has also discovered that some other person has been making similar inquiries; which, again, is what we expected.”
“And your own investigations?”
“Have given negative results for the most part. I found Doctor Norbury, at the British Museum, very friendly and helpful; so friendly, in fact, that I am thinking whether I may not be able to enlist his help in certain private researches of my own, with reference to the changes effected by time in the physical properties of certain substances.”
“Oh; you haven’t told me about that,” said Jervis.