I smothered a grin (for I had been expecting this question), and answered:
“I can say off-hand that they don’t belong to any finger. They are the bones of the left great toe.”
The inspector’s jaw dropped. “The deuce they are!” he muttered. “H’m. I thought they looked a bit stout.”
“I expect,” said I, “that if you go through the mud close to where this came from you’ll find the rest of the foot.”
The plain-clothes man proceeded at once to act on my suggestion, taking the sieve with him to save time. And sure enough, after filling it twice with the mud from the bottom of the pool, the entire skeleton of the foot was brought to light.
“Now you’re happy, I suppose,” said the inspector when I had checked the bones and found them all present.
“I should be more happy,” I replied, “if I knew what you were searching for in this pond. You weren’t looking for the foot, were you?”
“I was looking for anything that I might find,” he answered. “I shall go on searching until we have the whole body. I shall go through all the streams and ponds around here, except Connaught Water. That I shall leave to the last, as it will be a case of dredging from a boat and isn’t so likely as the smaller ponds. Perhaps the head will be there; it’s deeper than any of the others.”
It now occurred to me that as I had learned all that I was likely to learn, which was little enough, I might as well leave the inspector to pursue his researches unembarrassed by my presence. Accordingly I thanked him for his assistance and departed by the way I had come.
But as I retraced my steps along the shady path I speculated profoundly on the officer’s proceedings. My examination of the mutilated hand had yielded the conclusion that the finger had been removed either after death or shortly before, but more probably after. Someone else had evidently arrived at the same conclusion, and had communicated his opinion to Inspector Badger; for it was clear that that gentleman was in full cry after the missing finger. But why was he searching for it here when the hand had been found at Sidcup? And what did he expect to learn from it when he found it? There is nothing particularly characteristic about a finger, or, at least, the bones of one; and the object of the present researches was to determine the identity of the person of whom these bones were the remains. There was something mysterious about the affair, something suggesting that Inspector Badger was in possession of private information of some kind. But what information could he have? And whence could he have obtained it? These were questions to which I could find no answer, and I was still fruitlessly revolving them when I arrived at the modest inn where the inquest was to be held, and where I proposed to fortify myself with a correspondingly modest lunch as a preparation for my attendance at that inquiry.