It was some two or three mornings after my little supper-party that, as I stood in the consulting-room brushing my hat preparatory to starting on my morning round, Adolphus appeared at the door to announce two gentlemen waiting in the surgery. I told him to bring them in, and a moment later Thorndyke entered, accompanied by Jervis. I noted that they looked uncommonly large in the little apartment, especially Thorndyke, but I had no time to consider this phenomenon, for the latter, when he had shaken my hand, proceeded at once to explain the object of their visit.
“We have come to ask a favour, Berkeley,” he said; “to ask you to do us a very great service in the interests of your friends, the Bellinghams.”
“You know I shall be delighted,” I said warmly. “What is it?”
“I will explain. You know—or perhaps you don’t—that the police have collected all the bones that have been discovered and deposited them in the mortuary at Woodford, where they are to be viewed by the coroner’s jury. Now, it has become imperative that I should have more definite and reliable information about them than I can get from the newspapers. The natural thing would be for me to go down and examine them myself, but there are circumstances that make it very desirable that my connection with the case should not leak out. Consequently, I can’t go myself, and, for the same reason, I can’t send Jervis. On the other hand, as it is now stated pretty openly that the police consider the bones to be almost certainly those of John Bellingham, it would seem perfectly natural that you, as Godfrey Bellingham’s doctor, should go down to view them on his behalf.”
“I should like to go,” I said. “I would give anything to go; but how is it to be managed? It would mean a whole day off and leaving the practice to take care of itself.”
“I think that could be arranged,” said Thorndyke; “and the matter is really important for two reasons. One is that the inquest opens to-morrow, and someone certainly ought to be there to watch the proceedings on Godfrey’s behalf; and the other is that our client has received notice from Hurst’s solicitors that the application would be heard in the Probate Court in a few days.”
“Isn’t that rather sudden?” I asked.
“It certainly suggests that there has been a good deal more activity than we were given to understand. But you see the importance of the affair. The inquest will be a sort of dress rehearsal for the Probate Court, and it is quite essential that we should have a chance of estimating the management.”
“Yes, I see that. But how are we to manage about the practice?”
“We shall find you a substitute.”
“Through a medical agent?”
“Yes,” said Jervis. “Turcival will find us a man; in fact, he has done it. I saw him this morning; he has a man who is waiting up in town to negotiate for the purchase of a practice and who would do the job for a couple of guineas. Quite a reliable man. Only say the word, and I will run off to Adam Street and engage him definitely.”