ADVENTURE OF THE MISSING BROTHER

Mr. Charles Phillipps was, as has been hinted, a gentleman of pronounced
scientific tastes. In his early days he had devoted himself with fond
enthusiasm to the agreeable study of biology, and a brief monograph on
the Embryology of the Microscopic Holothuria had formed his first
contribution to the belles lettres. Later, he had somewhat relaxed the
severity of his pursuits, and had dabbled in the more frivolous subjects
of palæontology and ethnology; he had a cabinet in his sitting-room
whose drawers were stuffed with rude flint implements, and a charming
fetish from the South Seas was the dominant note in the decorative
scheme of the apartment. Flattering himself with the title of
materialist, he was in truth one of the most credulous of men, but he
required a marvel to be neatly draped in the robes of science before he
would give it any credit, and the wildest dreams took solid shape to him
if only the nomenclature were severe and irreproachable; he laughed at
the witch, but quailed before the powers of the hypnotist, lifting his
eyebrows when Christianity was mentioned, but adoring protyle and the
ether. For the rest, he prided himself on a boundless scepticism; the
average tale of wonder he heard with nothing but contempt, and he would
certainly not have credited a word or syllable of Dyson’s story of the
pursuer and pursued unless the gold coin had been produced as visible
and tangible evidence. As it was he half suspected that Dyson had
imposed on him; he knew his friend’s disordered fancies, and his habit
of conjuring up the marvellous to account for the entirely commonplace;
and on the whole he was inclined to think that the so-called facts in
the odd adventure had been gravely distorted in the telling. Since the
evening on which he had listened to the tale, he had paid Dyson a visit,
and had delivered himself of some serious talk on the necessity of
accurate observation, and the folly, as he put it, of using a
kaleidoscope instead of a telescope in the view of things, to which
remarks his friend had listened with a smile that was extremely sardonic
“My dear fellow,” Dyson had remarked at last, “you will allow me to tell
you that I see your drift perfectly. However, you will be astonished to
hear that I consider you to be the visionary, while I am a sober and
serious spectator of human life. You have gone round the circle, and
while you fancy yourself far in the golden land of new philosophies, you
are in reality a dweller in a metaphorical Clapham; your scepticism has
defeated itself and become a monstrous credulity; you are in fact in the
position of the bat or owl, I forget which it was, who denied the
existence of the sun at noonday, and I shall be astonished if you do not
one day come to me full of contrition for your manifold intellectual
errors, with a humble resolution to see things in their true light for
the future.” This tirade had left Mr. Phillipps unimpressed; he
considered Dyson as hopeless, and he went home to gloat over some
primitive stone implements that a friend had sent him from India. He
found that his landlady, seeing them displayed in all their rude
formlessness upon the table, had removed the collection to the dustbin,
and had replaced it by lunch; and the afternoon was spent in malodorous
research. Mrs. Brown, hearing these stones spoken of as very valuable
knives, had called him in his hearing “poor Mr. Phillipps,” and between
rage and evil odors he spent a sorry afternoon. It was four o’clock
before he had completed his work of rescue; and, overpowered with the
flavors of decaying cabbage-leaves, Phillipps felt that he must have a
walk to gain an appetite for the evening meal. Unlike Dyson, he walked
fast, with his eyes on the pavement, absorbed in his thoughts and
oblivious of the life around him; and he could not have told by what
streets he had passed, when he suddenly lifted up his eyes and found
himself in Leicester Square. The grass and flowers pleased him, and he
welcomed the opportunity of resting for a few minutes, and glancing
round, he saw a bench which had only one occupant, a lady, and as she
was seated at one end, Phillipps took up a position at the other
extremity, and began to pass in angry review the events of the
afternoon. He had noticed as he came up to the bench that the person
already there was neatly dressed, and to all appearance young; her face
he could not see, as it was turned away in apparent contemplation of the
shrubs, and moreover shielded with her hand; but it would be doing
wrong to Mr. Phillipps to imagine that his choice of a seat was dictated
by any hopes of an affair of the heart; he had simply preferred the
company of one lady to that of five dirty children, and having seated
himself was immersed directly in thoughts of his misfortunes. He had
meditated changing his lodgings; but now, on a judicial review of the
case in all its bearings, his calmer judgment told him that the race of
landladies is like to the race of the leaves, and that there was but
little to choose between them. He resolved, however, to talk to Mrs.
Brown, the offender, very coolly and yet severely, to point out the
extreme indiscretion of her conduct, and to express a hope for better
things in the future. With this decision registered in his mind,
Phillipps was about to get up from the seat and move off, when he was
intensely annoyed to hear a stifled sob, evidently from the lady, who
still continued her contemplation of the shrubs and flower-beds. He
clutched his stick desperately, and in a moment would have been in full
retreat, when the lady turned her face towards him, and with a mute
entreaty bespoke his attention. She was a young girl with a quaint and
piquant rather than a beautiful face, and she was evidently in the
bitterest distress, and Mr. Phillipps sat down again, and cursed his
chances heartily. The young lady looked at him with a pair of charming
eyes of a shining hazel, which showed no trace of tears, though a
handkerchief was in her hand; she bit her lip, and seemed to struggle
with some overpowering grief, and her whole attitude was all beseeching
and imploring. Phillipps sat on the edge of the bench gazing awkwardly
at her, and wondering what was to come next, and she looked at him still
without speaking.

“Well, madam,” he said at last, “I understood from your gesture that you
wished to speak to me. Is there anything I can do for you? Though, if
you will pardon me, I cannot help saying that that seems highly
improbable.”

“Ah, sir,” she said in a low murmuring voice, “do not speak harshly to
me. I am in sore straits, and I thought from your face that I could
safely ask your sympathy, if not your help.”

“Would you kindly tell me what is the matter?” said Phillipps. “Perhaps
you would like some tea?”

“I knew I could not be mistaken,” the lady replied. “That offer of
refreshment bespeaks a generous mind. But tea, alas! is powerless to
console me. If you will let me, I will endeavor to explain my trouble.”

“I should be glad if you would.”

“I will do so, and I will try and be brief, in spite of the numerous
complications which have made me, young as I am, tremble before what
seems the profound and terrible mystery of existence. Yet the grief
which now racks my very soul is but too simple; I have lost my brother.”

“Lost your brother! How on earth can that be?”

“I see I must trouble you with a few particulars. My brother, then, who
is by some years my elder, is a tutor in a private school in the extreme
north of London. The want of means deprived him of the advantages of a
University education; and lacking the stamp of a degree, he could not
hope for that position which his scholarship and his talents entitled
him to claim. He was thus forced to accept the post of classical master
at Dr. Saunderson’s Highgate Academy for the sons of gentlemen, and he
has performed his duties with perfect satisfaction to his principal for
some years. My personal history need not trouble you; if will be enough
if I tell you that for the last month I have been governess in a family
residing at Tooting. My brother and I have always cherished the warmest
mutual affection; and though circumstances into which I need not enter
have kept us apart for some time, yet we have never lost sight of one
another. We made up our minds that unless one of us was absolutely
unable to rise from a bed of sickness, we would never let a week pass by
without meeting, and some time ago we chose this square as our
rendezvous on account of its central position and its convenience of
access. And indeed, after a week of distasteful toil, my brother felt
little inclination for much walking, and we have often spent two or
three hours on this bench, speaking of our prospects and of happier
days, when we were children. In the early spring it was cold and chilly;
still we enjoyed the short respite, and I think that we were often taken
for a pair of lovers, as we sat close together, eagerly talking.
Saturday after Saturday we have met each other here, and though the
doctor told him it was madness, my brother would not allow the influenza
to break the appointment. That was some time ago; last Saturday we had
a long and happy afternoon, and separated more cheerfully than usual,
feeling that the coming week would be bearable, and resolving that our
next meeting should be if possible still more pleasant. I arrived here
at the time agreed upon, four o’clock, and sat down and watched for my
brother, expecting every moment to see him advancing towards me from
that gate at the north side of the square. Five minutes passed by, and
he had not arrived; I thought he must have missed his train, and the
idea that our interview would be cut short by twenty minutes, or perhaps
half an hour, saddened me; I had hoped we should be so happy together
to-day. Suddenly, moved by I know not what impulse, I turned abruptly
round, and how can I describe to you my astonishment when I saw my
brother advancing slowly towards me from the southern side of the
square, accompanied by another person. My first thought, I remember, had
in it something of resentment that this man, whoever he was, should
intrude himself into our meeting; I wondered who it could possibly be,
for my brother had, I may say, no intimate friends. Then as I looked
still at the advancing figures, another feeling took possession of me;
it was a sensation of bristling fear, the fear of the child in the dark,
unreasonable and unreasoning, but terrible, clutching at my heart as
with the cold grip of a dead man’s hands. Yet I overcame the feeling,
and looked steadily at my brother, waiting for him to speak, and more
closely at his companion. Then I noticed that this man was leading my
brother rather than walking arm-in-arm with him; he was a tall man,
dressed in quite ordinary fashion. He wore a high bowler hat, and, in
spite of the warmth of the day, a plain black overcoat, tightly
buttoned, and I noticed his trousers, of a quiet black and gray stripe.
The face was commonplace too, and indeed I cannot recall any special
features, or any trick of expression; for though I looked at him as he
came near, curiously enough his face made no impression on me, it was as
though I had seen a well-made mask. They passed in front of me, and to
my unutterable astonishment I heard my brother’s voice speaking to me,
though his lips did not move, nor his eyes look into mine. It was a
voice I cannot describe, though I knew it, but the words came to my ears
as if mingled with plashing water and the sound of a shallow brook
flowing amidst stones. I heard, then, the words, ‘I cannot stay,’ and
for a moment the heavens and the earth seemed to rush together with the
sound of thunder, and I was thrust forth from the world into a black
void without beginning and without end. For, as my brother passed me, I
saw the hand that held him by the arm, and seemed to guide him, and in
one moment of horror I realized that it was as a formless thing that has
mouldered for many years in the grave. The flesh was peeled in strips
from the bones, and hung apart dry and granulated, and the fingers that
encircled my brother’s arm were all unshapen, claw-like things, and one
was but a stump from which the end had rotted off. When I recovered my
senses I saw the two passing out by that gate. I paused for a moment,
and then with a rush as of fire to my heart I knew that no horror
could, stay me, but that I must follow my brother and save him, even
though all hell rose up against me. I ran out and looked up the
pavement, and saw the two figures walking amidst the crowd. I ran across
the road, and saw them turn up that side street, and I reached the
corner a moment later. In vain I looked to right and left, for neither
my brother nor his strange guardian was in sight; two elderly men were
coming down arm-in-arm, and a telegraph boy was walking lustily along
whistling. I remained there a moment horror-struck, and then I bowed my
head and returned to this seat, where you found me. Now, sir, do you
wonder at my grief? Oh, tell me what has happened to my brother, or I
feel I shall go mad.”

Mr. Phillipps, who had listened with exemplary patience to this tale,
hesitated a moment before he spoke.

“My dear madam,” he said at length, “you have known how to engage me in
your service, not only as a man, but as a student of science. As a
fellow-creature I pity you most profoundly; you must have suffered
extremely from what you saw, or rather from what you fancied you saw.
For, as a scientific observer, it is my duty to tell you the plain
truth, which, indeed, besides being true, must also console you. Allow
me to ask you then to describe your brother.”

“Certainly,” said the lady, eagerly; “I can describe him accurately. My
brother is a somewhat young-looking man; he is pale, has small black
whiskers, and wears spectacles. He has rather a timid, almost a
frightened expression, and looks about him nervously from side to side.
Think, think! Surely you must have seen him. Perhaps you are an
_habitué_ of this engaging quarter; you may have met him on some
previous Saturday. I may have been mistaken in supposing that he turned
up that side street; he may have gone on, and you may have passed each
other. Oh, tell me, sir, whether you have not seen him?”

“I am afraid I do not keep a very sharp lookout when I am walking,” said
Phillipps, who would have passed his mother unnoticed; “but I am sure
your description is admirable. And now will you describe the person,
who, you say, held your brother by the arm?”

“I cannot do so. I told you, his face seemed devoid of expression or
salient feature. It was like a mask.”

“Exactly; you cannot describe what you have never seen. I need hardly
point out to you the conclusion to be drawn; you have been the victim of
an hallucination. You expected to see your brother, you were alarmed
because you did not see him, and unconsciously, no doubt, your brain
went to work, and finally you saw a mere projection of your own morbid
thoughts; a vision of your absent brother, and a mere confusion of
terrors incorporated in a figure which you can’t describe. Of course
your brother has been in some way prevented from coming to meet you as
usual. I expect you will hear from him in a day or two.”




The lady looked seriously at Mr. Phillipps, and then for a second there
seemed almost a twinkling as of mirth about her eyes, but her face
clouded sadly at the dogmatic conclusions to which the scientist was
led so irresistibly.

“Ah,” she said, “you do not know. I cannot doubt the evidence of my
waking senses. Besides, perhaps I have had experiences even more
terrible. I acknowledge the force of your arguments, but a woman has
intuitions which never deceive her. Believe me, I am not hysterical;
feel my pulse, it is quite regular.”

She stretched out her hand with a dainty gesture, and a glance that
enraptured Phillipps in spite of himself. The hand held out to him was
soft and white and warm, and as, in some confusion, he placed his
fingers on the purple vein, he felt profoundly touched by the spectacle
of love and grief before him.

“No,” he said, as he released her wrist, “as you say, you are evidently
quite yourself. Still, you must be aware that living men do not possess
dead hands. That sort of thing doesn’t happen. It is, of course, barely
possible that you did see your brother with another gentleman, and that
important business prevented him from stopping. As for the wonderful
hand, there may have been some deformity, a finger shot off by accident,
or something of that sort.”

The lady shook her head mournfully.

“I see you are a determined rationalist,” she said. “Did you not hear me
say that I have had experiences even more terrible? I too was once a
sceptic, but after what I have known I can no longer affect to doubt.”

“Madam,” replied Mr. Phillipps, “no one shall make me deny my faith. I
will never believe, nor will I pretend to believe, that two and two make
five, nor will I on any pretences admit the existence of two-sided
triangles.”

“You are a little hasty,” rejoined the lady. “But may I ask you if you
ever heard the name of Professor Gregg, the authority on ethnology and
kindred subjects?”

“I have done much more than merely hear of Professor Gregg,” said
Phillipps. “I always regarded him as one of our most acute and
clear-headed observers; and his last publication, the ‘Text-book of
Ethnology,’ struck me as being quite admirable in its kind. Indeed, the
book had but come into my hands when I heard of the terrible accident
which cut short Gregg’s career. He had, I think, taken a country house
in the West of England for the summer, and is supposed to have fallen
into a river. So far as I remember, his body was never recovered.”

“Sir, I am sure that you are discreet. Your conversation seems to
declare as much, and the very title of that little work of yours which
you mentioned, assures me that you are no empty trifler. In a word, I
feel that I may depend on you. You appear to be under the impression
that Professor Gregg is dead; I have no reason to believe that that is
the case.”

“What?” cried Phillipps, astonished and perturbed. “You do not hint that
there was anything disgraceful? I cannot believe it. Gregg was a man of
clearest character; his private life was one of great benevolence; and
though I myself am free from delusions, I believe him to have been a
sincere and devout Christian. Surely you cannot mean to insinuate that
some disreputable history forced him to flee the country?”

“Again you are in a hurry,” replied the lady. “I said nothing of all
this. Briefly, then, I must tell you that Professor Gregg left his house
one morning in full health both of mind and body. He never returned, but
his watch and chain, a purse containing three sovereigns in gold and
some loose silver, with a ring that he wore habitually, were found three
days later on a wild and savage hillside, many miles from the river.
These articles were placed beside a limestone rock of fantastic form;
they had been wrapped into a parcel with a kind of rough parchment which
was secured with gut. The parcel was opened, and the inner side of the
parchment bore an inscription done with some red substance; the
characters were undecipherable, but seemed to be a corrupt cuneiform.”

“You interest me intensely,” said Phillips. “Would you mind continuing
your story? The circumstance you have mentioned seems to me of the most
inexplicable character, and I thirst for an elucidation.”

The young lady seemed to meditate for a moment, and she then proceeded
to relate the