“Ah, under the circumstances, I must leave you to pursue those speculations independently. I am now acting for Mr. Bellingham.”
Jervis grinned and was silent for a while, refilling his pipe thoughtfully; but when he had got it alight he resumed.
“To return to the question of the disappearance; you don’t consider it highly improbable that Bellingham might have been murdered by Hurst?”
“Oh, don’t imagine that I am making an accusation. I am considering the various probabilities merely in the abstract. The same reasoning applies to the Bellinghams. As to whether any of them did commit the murder, that is a question of personal character. I certainly do not suspect the Bellinghams after having seen them, and with regard to Hurst, I know nothing, or at least very little, to his disadvantage.”
“Do you know anything?” asked Jervis.
“Well,” Thorndyke said, with some hesitation, “it seems a thought unkind to rake up the little details of a man’s past, and yet it has to be done. I have, of course, made the usual routine inquiries concerning the parties to this affair, and this is what they have brought to light:
“Hurst, as you know, is a stockbroker—a man of good position and reputation; but, about ten years ago, he seems to have committed an indiscretion, to put it mildly, which nearly got him into rather serious difficulties. He appears to have speculated rather heavily and considerably beyond his means, for when a sudden spasm of the market upset his calculations, it turned out that he had been employing his clients’ capital and securities. For a time it looked as if there was going to be serious trouble; then, quite unexpectedly, he managed to raise the necessary amount in some way and settle all claims. Whence he got the money has never been discovered to this day, which is a curious circumstance, seeing that the deficiency was rather over five thousand pounds; but the important fact is that he did get it and that he paid up all that he owed. So that he was only a potential defaulter, so to speak; and, discreditable as the affair undoubtedly was, it does not seem to have any direct bearing on this present case.”
“No,” Jervis agreed, “though it makes one consider his position with more attention than one would otherwise.”
“Undoubtedly,” said Thorndyke. “A reckless gambler is a man whose conduct cannot be relied on. He is subject to sudden vicissitudes of fortune which may force him into other kinds of wrongdoing. Many an embezzlement has been preceded by an unlucky plunge on the turf.”
“Assuming the responsibility for this disappearance to lie between Hurst and—and the Bellinghams,” said I, with an uncomfortable gulp as I mentioned the name of my friends, “to which side does the balance of probability incline?”