On hearing this conclusion, his assistant, who looked like a plain-clothes officer, took up his shovel and stepped into the mud that formed the bottom of the pond, stooping as he went and peering among the masses of weed that had been left stranded by the withdrawal of the water. The inspector watched him anxiously, cautioning him from time to time to “look out where he was treading”; the labourer left the pump and craned forward from the margin of the mud, and the constable and I looked on from our respective points of vantage. For some time the search was fruitless. Once the searcher stooped and picked up what turned out to be a fragment of decayed wood; then the remains of a long-deceased jay were discovered, examined, and rejected. Suddenly the man bent down by the side of a small pool that had been left in one of the deeper hollows, stared intently into the mud, and stood up.
“There’s something here that looks like a bone, sir,” he sang out.
“Don’t grub about, then,” said the inspector. “Drive your shovel right into the mud where you saw it and bring it to the sieve.”
The man followed out these instructions, and as he came shorewards with a great pile of the slimy mud on his shovel we all converged on the sieve, which the inspector took up and held over the tub, directing the constable and labourer to “lend a hand,” meaning thereby that they were to crowd round the tub and exclude me as completely as possible. This, in fact, they did very effectively with his assistance, for, when the shovelful of mud had been deposited on the sieve, the four men leaned over it and so nearly hid it from view that it was only by craning over, first on one side and then on the other, that I was able to catch an occasional glimpse of it and to observe it gradually melting away as the sieve, immersed in the water, was shaken to and fro.
Presently the inspector raised the sieve from the water and stooped over it more closely to examine its contents. Apparently the examination yielded no very conclusive results, for it was accompanied by a series of rather dubious grunts.
At length the officer stood up, and turning to me with a genial but foxy smile, held out the sieve for my inspection.
“Like to see what we have found, Doctor?” said he.
I thanked him and stooped over the sieve. It contained the sort of litter of twigs, skeleton leaves, weed, pond-snails, dead shells, and fresh-water mussels that one would expect to strain out from the mud of an ancient pond; but in addition to these there were three small bones which at the first glance gave me quite a start until I saw what they were.
The inspector looked at me inquiringly. “H’m?” said he.
“Yes,” I replied. “Very interesting.”
“Those will be human bones, I fancy; h’m?”
“I should say so, undoubtedly,” I answered.
“Now,” said the inspector, “could you say, off-hand, which finger those bones belong to?”