" Are you one of the right sort of people, Sergeant ?'
' I won't go so far as to say that, sir, but I will go so far as to say that, if J owned this property, I'd come to feast my eyes on it here more often than what Sir Calvin does'.
The Baron, without moving his head, took in the face of the speaker. He saw a glow, a subdued passion in it which interested him. What spirit of romance, to be sure, might lurk unsuspected under the hard official rind. Here was the last man in the world whom one would have credited with a sense of beauty, and he was wrought to* emotion by a landscape !
'You talk,' said he, 'of your profession not affording you many such moments as this. Now, to my hand, it seems the profession for a man romantically inclined'.
'Does it, indeed, sir?'
'Why, don't you live in a perpetual atmosphere of romance? Think of the mysteries which are your daily food'.
' That's it-my daily food, and lodging too. The men who pull on the ropes for a living don't think much, or see much, of the fairy scene they're setting. That's all for the prosperous folks in front'.
'You'd rather be one of them?'
' Which would you rather, sir-be a police-officer, or the owner of an estate hke this? If such things were properly distributed, as you say, there'd be no need perhaps for police-officers at all. You read the papers about a case like ours here, and you see only a romance : we, whose necessity puts us behind the scenes, see only, in nine cases out of ten, the dirty mishandling of Fate. Give a man his right position in the world, and he'll commit no crimes. That's my belief, and its founded on some experience'.
' I dare say you're right. It's comforting to know, in that case, that my valet has always fitted into his place like a stopper into a bottle'.
The detective stood silent a moment; then turned on the speaker with a queer enigmatic look.
'Well, I wouldn't lose heart about him, if I was you,' he*said drily.
'That's good !' said Le Sage. 'I can leave him with a tolerably safe conscience then'.
'What, sir--you're going away before the inquiry?'
' I must, I am afraid. I have business in London which I can no longer postpone.' 'But how about your evidence?' 'After what you have said, cannot you afford to do without it ?'
The detective considered, frowning and rubbing his chin; then said simply, 'Very well,' and made a movement to go.
They went down the garden together, and parted at the door in the wall. This was on the Saturday. On the following Monday the officer appeared for the last time to arrange for his witnesses on the Wednesday ensuing. He carried his handbag with . him, and intimated that it was not his purpose to return again before the event. They were all--Mrs Bingley perhaps excepted-glad to see the last of him, and the last of what his presence there implied, and welcomed the prospect of the one clean day which was to be theirs before their re-meeting in Court.
The Sergeant's manner at his parting was restrained, and his countenance rigidly pale. Sir Calvin, receiving his formal thanks for the courtesy shown him, remarked upon it, and asked him if he were feeling overdone.
'No, sir,'he replied: 'never better, thank you. I hope you yourself may never feel worse than I do at this moment'.
Something in his way of saying it, some significance of tone, or look, or emphasis, seemed to cast a sudden chill upon the air. The General turned away with a slightly wondering, puzzled expression, and shrugged his shoulders as if he were cold. There were one or two present who remembered that gesture afterwards, identifying it with some vague sensation in themselves.
That same night the Baron caused a considerable stir by announcing his intention of leaving them on the morrow. They all had something to say in the way of surprise and remonstrance except Mr Bickerdike, and he judiciously held his tongue. Even Hugo showed a certain concern, as a man might who felt, without quite realizing what it was he felt, the giving way of some moral support on which he had been unconsciously leaning. He looked up and asked, as the detective had asked, 'What about your evidence?'
'It is said to be immaterial,' answered Le Sage. ' I am speaking on the authority of the Sergeant himself'.
Hugh said no more; but he eyed the Baron in a wistful, questioning way. He was in a rather moving mood, patently looking forward to Wednesday's ordeal with considerable nervousness and apprehension, and not altogether without reason. The Inquest had been trying enough; yet that had been a mere local affair, conducted amid familiar surroundings. To stand up in public Court and repeat, perhaps be forced to amplify, the evidence he had already given was a far different and more agitating prospect. What was in his mind, who could know? There was something a little touching in the way he clung to his family, and in the slight embarrassment they showed over his unaccustomed attentions. Audrey, falling in for her share, laughed, and responded with only a bad grace; but the glow in her eyes testified to feelings not the less proud and exultant because their repression had been so long a necessity with her Coming upon the Baron in the hall by-and-by, as he was on his way upstairs to prepare for the morrow's journey, she stopped and spoke to him.
' Can you manage without a valet, Baron ?'
'As I have managed a hundred times before, my dear'.
' Must you really go ?' 'I must, indeed'.
'Leaving Louis to shift for himself?'
'I leave him in the hands of Providence'.
'Yes, but Providence is not a lawyer'.
' Heaven forbid ! God, you know, hke no lawyer, tempers the wind to the shorn lamb--a brebis tondue Dieu mesure le vent. That is a good French proverb, and I am going to France in the faith of it'.
'But you will come back again ?'
' Yes, I will come back. It will be all right about Louis-you will see'.
She did not answer. She had been holding him by the lapels of his coat, running her thumbs down the seams, and suddenly, feeling a little convulsive pressure there, he looked up in her face and saw that thick tears were running down her cheeks. Very softly but resolutely then he captured the two wandering hands and held them between his own.
'My dear,' he said, 'my dear, I understand. But listen to this-have confidence in your friend the Baron'.
And on the morrow morning he left, accompanied by Mr Vivian Bickerdike's most private and most profound misgivings. That he was going to London.
on some business connected with the stolen document was that gentleman's certain conviction. But what was he to do? Expose at once, or wait and learn more? On the whole it were better to wait, perhaps : the fellow was coming back--he had said so, and to the same unconsciousness of there being one on his track who at the right moment could put a spoke in his nefarious wheel.
He was still considering the question, when something happened which, for the time being, put all considerations but one out of his head. By the first post on the very morning of the inquiry he received, much to his astonishment, a subpcena binding him to appear and give evidence in Court. About what ? If any uneasy suspicion in his mind answered that question, to it was to be attributed, no doubt, his rather white conscience-troubled aspect as he presently joined the party waiting to be motored over to the Castle in the old city where the case was to be tried.