‘Stop it!’ I cried. ‘Pull yourself together!’ And I poured some water from a carafe.

It was useless, however. He was off in one of those hysterical outbursts which come upon a strong nature when some great crisis is over and gone. Presently he came to himself once more, very weary and blushing hotly.

‘I have been making a fool of myself,’ he gasped.

‘Not at all. Drink this!’ I dashed some brandy into the water, and the colour began to come back to his bloodless cheeks.

‘That’s better!’ said he. ‘And now, Doctor, perhaps you would kindly attend to my thumb, or rather to the place where my thumb used to be.’

He unwound the handkerchief and held out his hand. It gave even my hardened nerves a shudder to look at it. There were four protruding fingers and a horrid red spongy surface where the thumb should have been. It had been hacked or torn right out from the roots.

‘Good heavens!’ I cried, ‘this is a terrible injury. It must have bled considerably.’

‘Yes, it did. I fainted when it was done; and I think that I must have been senseless for a long time. When I came to, I found that it was still bleeding, so I tied one end of my handkerchief very tightly round the wrist, and braced it up with a twig.’

‘Excellent! You should have been a surgeon.’

‘It is a question of hydraulics, you see, and came within my own province.’

‘This has been done,’ said I, examining the wound, ‘by a very heavy and sharp instrument.’

‘A thing like a cleaver,’ said he.

‘An accident, I presume?’

‘By no means.’

‘What, a murderous attack!’

‘Very murderous indeed.’

‘You horrify me.’

I sponged the wound, cleaned it, dressed it; and, finally, covered it over with cotton wadding and carbolized bandages. He lay back without wincing, though he bit his lip from time to time.

‘How is that?’ I asked, when I had finished.

‘Capital! Between your brandy and your bandage, I feel a new man. I was very weak, but I have had a good deal to go through.’

‘Perhaps you had better not speak of the matter. It is evidently trying to your nerves.’

‘Oh, no; not now. I shall have to tell my tale to the police; but, between ourselves, if it were not for the convincing evidence of this wound of mine, I should be surprised if they believed my statement, for it is a very extraordinary one, and I have not much in the way of proof with which to back it up. And, even if they believe me, the clues which I can give them are so vague that it is a question whether justice will be done.’

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