The Eye of OsirisR. Austin Freeman / Mystery & Detective
Produced by Al Haines
The Eye of Osiris
A Detective Story by
R. Austin Freeman
FRONT PAGE MYSTERIES
P. F. Collier & Son Company - New York
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY
DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
I. THE VANISHING MAN II. THE EAVESDROPPER III. JOHN THORNDYKE IV. LEGAL COMPLICATIONS AND A JACKAL V. THE WATER-CRESS BED VI. SIDELIGHTS VII. JOHN BELLINGHAM'S WILL VIII. A MUSEUM IDYLL IX. THE SPHINX OF LINCOLN'S INN X. THE NEW ALLIANCE XI. THE EVIDENCE REVIEWED XII. A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY XIII. THE CORONER'S QUEST XIV. WHICH CARRIES THE READER INTO THE PROBATE COURT XV. CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE XVI. O ARTEMIDORUS, FAREWELL! XVII. THE ACCUSING FINGER XVIII. JOHN BELLINGHAM XIX. A STRANGE SYMPOSIUM XX. THE END OF THE CASE
THE EYE OF OSIRIS
THE VANISHING MAN
The school of St. Margaret's Hospital was fortunate in its lecturer onMedical Jurisprudence, or Forensic Medicine, as it is sometimesdescribed. At some schools the lecturer on this subject is appointedapparently for the reason that he lacks the qualifications to lectureon any other. But with us it was very different: John Thorndyke wasnot only an enthusiast, a man of profound learning and greatreputation, but he was an exceptional teacher, lively and fascinatingin style and of endless resources. Every remarkable case that had everbeen reported he appeared to have at his fingers' ends; everyfact--chemical, physical, biological, or even historical--that could inany way be twisted into a medico-legal significance, was pressed intohis service; and his own varied and curious experiences seemed asinexhaustible as the widow's curse. One of his favorite devices forgiving life and interest to a rather dry subject was that of analyzingand commenting upon contemporary cases as reported in the papers(always, of course, with a due regard to the legal and socialproprieties); and it was in this way that I first became introduced tothe astonishing series of events that was destined to exercise so greatan influence on my own life.
The lecture which had just been concluded had dealt with the ratherunsatisfactory subject of survivorship. Most of the students had leftthe theater, and the remainder had gathered round the lecturer's tableto listen to the informal comments that Dr. Thorndyke was wont todeliver on these occasions in an easy, conversational manner, leaningagainst the edge of the table and apparently addressing his remarks toa stick of blackboard chalk that he held in his fingers.
The problem of survivorship, he was saying, in reply to a questionput by one of the students, ordinarily occurs in cases where thebodies of the parties are producible, or where, at any rate, theoccurrence of death and its approximate time are actually known. Butan analogous difficulty may arise in a case where the body of one ofthe parties is not forthcoming, and the fact of death may have to beassumed on collateral evidence.
Here, of course, the vital question to be settled is, what is thelatest instant at which it is certain that this person was alive? Andthe settlement of that question may turn on some circumstance of themost trivial and insignificant kind. There is a case in this morning'spaper which illustrates this. A gentleman has disappeared rathermysteriously. He was last seen by the servant of a relative at whosehouse he had called. Now, if this gentleman should never reappear,dead or alive, the question as to what was the latest moment at whichhe was certainly alive will turn upon the further question: 'Was he orwas he not wearing a particular article of jewelry when he called atthe relative's house?'
He paused with a reflective eye bent upon the stump of chalk he stillheld; then, noting the expectant interest with which we were regardinghim, he resumed:
The circumstances in this case are very curious; in fact, they arehighly mysterious; and if any legal issues should arise in respect ofthem, they are likely to yield some very remarkable complications. Thegentleman who has disappeared, Mr. John Bellingham, is a man well knownin archeological circles. He recently returned from Egypt, bringingwith him a very fine collection of antiquities--some of which, by theway, he has presented to the British Museum, where they are now onview--and having made this presentation, he appears to have gone toParis on business. I may mention that the gift consisted of a veryfine mummy and a complete set of tomb-furniture. The latter, however,had not arrived from Egypt at the time when the missing man left forParis, but the mummy was inspected on the fourteenth of October at Mr.Bellingham's house by Dr. Norbury of the British Museum, in thepresence of the donor and his solicitor, and the latter was authorizedto hand over the complete collection to the British Museum authoritieswhen the tomb-furniture arrived; which he has since done.
From Paris he seems to have returned on the twenty-third of November,and to have gone direct to Charing Cross to the house of a relative, aMr. Hurst, who is a bachelor and lives at Eltham. He appeared at thehouse at twenty minutes past five, and as Mr. Hurst had not yet comedown from town and was not expected until a quarter to six, heexplained who he was and said he would wait in the study and write someletters. The housemaid accordingly showed him into the study,furnished him with writing materials, and left him.
At a quarter to six Mr. Hurst let himself in with his latchkey, andbefore the housemaid had time to speak to him he had passed throughinto the study and shut the door.
At six o'clock, when the dinner bell was rung, Mr. Hurst entered thedining-room alone, and observing that the table was laid for two, askedthe reason.
'I thought Mr. Bellingham was staying to dinner, sir,' was thehousemaid's reply.
'Mr. Bellingham!' exclaimed the astonished host. 'I didn't know hewas here. Why was I not told?'
'I thought he was in the study with you, sir,' said the housemaid.
On this a search was made for the visitor, with the result that he wasnowhere to be found. He had disappeared without leaving a trace, andwhat made the incident more odd was that the housemaid was certain thathe had not gone out by the front door. For since neither she nor thecook was acquainted with Mr. John Bellingham, she had remained thewhole time either in the kitchen, which commanded a view of the frontgate, or in the dining-room, which opened into the hall opposite thestudy door. The study itself has a French window opening on a narrowgrass plot, across which is a side-gate that opens into an alley; andit appears that Mr. Bellingham must have made his exit by this rathereccentric route. At any rate--and this is the important fact--he wasnot in the house, and no one had seen him leave it.
After a hasty meal Mr. Hurst returned to town and called at the officeof Mr. Bellingham's solicitor and confidential agent, a Mr. Jellicoe,and mentioned the matter to him. Mr. Jellicoe knew nothing of hisclient's return from Paris, and the two men at once took the train downto Woodford, where the missing man's brother, Mr. Godfrey Bellingham,lives. The servant who admitted them said that Mr. Godfrey was not athome, but that his daughter was in the library, which is a detachedbuilding situated in a shrubbery beyond the garden at the back of thehouse. Here the two men found, not only Miss Bellingham, but also herfather, who had come in by the back gate.
Mr. Godfrey and his daughter listened to Mr. Hurst's story with thegreatest surprise, and assured him that they had neither seen nor heardanything of John Bellingham.
Presently the party left the library to walk up to the house; but onlya few feet from the library door Mr. Jellicoe noticed an object lyingin the grass and pointed it out to Mr. Godfrey.
The latter picked it up, and they all recognized it as a scarab whichMr. John Bellingham had been accustomed to wear suspended from hiswatch-chain. There was no mistaking it. It was a very fine scarab ofthe eighteenth dynasty fashioned of lapis lazuli and engraved with thecartouche of Amenhotep III. It had been suspended by a gold ringfastened to a wire which passed through the suspension hole, and thering, though broken, was still in position.
This discovery of course only added to the mystery, which was stillfurther increased when, on inquiry, a suit-case bearing the initials J.B. was found to be unclaimed in the cloak-room at Charing Cross.Reference to the counterfoil of the ticket-book showed that it had beendeposited about the time of the arrival of the Continental express onthe twenty-third of November, so that its owner must have gone straighton to Eltham.
That is how the affair stands at present, and, should the missing mannever reappear or should his body never be found, the question, as yousee, which will be required to be settled is, 'What is the exact timeand place, when and where, he was last known to be alive!' As to theplace, the importance of the issues involved in that question isobvious and we need not consider it. But the question of time hasanother kind of significance. Cases have occurred, as I pointed out inthe lecture, in which proof of survivorship by less than a minute hassecured succession to property. Now, the missing man was last seenalive at Mr. Hurst's house at twenty minutes past five on thetwenty-third of November. But he appears to have visited his brother'shouse at Woodford, and, since nobody saw him at that house, it is atpresent uncertain whether he went there before calling on Mr. Hurst.If he went there first, then twenty minutes past five on the evening ofthe twenty-third is the latest moment at which he is known to have beenalive; but if he went there after, there would have to be added to thistime the shortest time possible in which he could travel from the onehouse to the other.
But the question as to which house he visited first hinges on thescarab. If he was wearing the scarab when he arrived at Mr. Hurst'shouse, it would be certain that he went there first; but if it was notthen on his watch-chain, a probability would be established that hewent first to Woodford. Thus, you see, a question which mayconceivably become of the most vital moment in determining thesuccession of property turns on the observation or non-observation bythis housemaid of an apparently trivial and insignificant fact.
Has the servant made any statement on this subject, sir? I venturedto inquire.
Apparently not, replied Dr. Thorndyke; at any rate, there is noreference to any such statement in the newspaper report, thoughotherwise, the case is reported in great detail; indeed, the wealth ofdetail, including plans of the two houses, is quite remarkable and wellworth noting as being in itself a fact of considerable interest.
In what respect, sir, is it of interest? one of the students asked.
Ah, replied Dr. Thorndyke, I think I must leave you to consider thatquestion yourself. This is an untried case, and we mustn't make freewith the actions and motives of individuals.
Does the paper give any description of the missing man, sir? I asked.
Yes; quite an exhaustive description. Indeed, it is exhaustive to theverge of impropriety, considering that the man may turn up alive andwell at any moment. It seems that he has an old Pott's fracture of theleft ankle, a linear, longitudinal scar on each knee--origin notstated, but easily guessed at--and that he has tattooed on his chest invermilion a very finely and distinctly executed representation of thesymbolical Eye of Osiris--or Horus or Ra, as the different authoritieshave it. There certainly ought to be no difficulty in identifying thebody. But we hope that it will not come to that.
And now I must really be running away, and so must you; but I wouldadvise you all to get copies of the paper and file them when you haveread the remarkably full details. It is a most curious case, and it ishighly probable that we shall hear of it again. Good afternoon,gentlemen.
Dr. Thorndyke's advice appealed to all who heard it, for medicaljurisprudence was a live subject at St. Margaret's, and all of us werekeenly interested in it. As a result, we sallied forth in a body tothe nearest news-vendor's, and, having each provided himself with acopy of the _Daily Telegraph_, adjourned together to the Common room todevour the report and thereafter to discuss the bearings of the case,unhampered by those considerations of delicacy that afflicted our moresqueamish and scrupulous teacher.