Sergeant Ridgway, turning up punctually to his appointment, was shown into Sir Calvin's study, where he found, not his former employer, but the Baron Le Sage, seated alone. Characteristically, the detective showed as little surprise at seeing who awaited him as he did embarrassment over his return to a house whose hospitality he had, according to Mr Bickerdike, so cruelly abused. ,He could have understood, no doubt, no reason for his feeling any. His commission had been to discover the murderer of Annie Evans, and, according to the best of his lights, he had executed that commission. It was not his fault if it had led him in a direction tragically counter to the expectations of his employer. He had been engaged for a particular purpose, and he had dutifully pursued that purpose-inevitably, if unfortunately, to a regrettable end. But sentiment could not be allowed to affect the detectival philosophy, or the Law became a dead letter. In professional matters he was, and had to be, a simple automaton; wherefore no sign of uneasiness was visible,'in his expression as he entered the room, nor was there discernible there a trace of animus of any sort. He was quite prepared, if necessary, to own himself in the wrong. His high superiors had expressed themselves as dissatisfied with a certain portion of the-evidence. Very well, he would bow to their scruples, and make a thorough re-investigation of that part of the case. He understood that the landlord of the Red Deer inn had been warned, and was to meet him here this afternoon. Personally, he did not hope much from the interview, or attach great importance to a rumour which he understood had got about since the Inquest. But whether that rumour embodied a fact, or proved on examination as unsubstantial as most canards of its kind, the finding of the murderer of Annie Evans remained, as it had been, his sole object and purpose in undertaking the case.
All this, or the moral gist of it, the detective took it upon himself to explain to the Baron in the course of the brief conversation which ensued between them. He spoke drily, deliberately, as if measuring out his words, rather with the air of plain-stating a professional view-point, and instructing Counsel, than of asking for sympathy. His hearer made a curious study of him the while, wondering and calculating why he was being chosen the recipient of this extra-judicial confidence. Perhaps, after all, there was a thought more embarrassment under the surface than the other cared to admit, perhaps just a hint of a human desire to make a friend in a difficult pass. For the rest, it was the familiar figure of their knowledge which had returned upon them--keen, handsome, dark-eyed, economical of speech, potent in suggestion of a certain inscrutable order of mentality, and exhibiting, as always, that faint discrepancy between mind and material- distinction in the one, a touch of theatricalism and vulgarity in the other.
Le Sage took him up on one point. The Baron, who was looking extraordinarily pink and cheery, had already explained that Sir Calvin was engaged with a visitor in another room, and had asked him to receive and entertain the Sergeant during the short period of his absence.
' Am I to be allowed to opine,' he said with a smile, - that the rumour to which you refer bears upon your instructions, and is connected somehow with Mr Cleghorn's mysterious double?'
The detective looked at the speaker curiously.
'Meaning?' he said.
'Meaning that supposititious figure on the hill, about which Mr Fyler was so inquisitive at the Inquest, but which he seemed most unaccountably to overlook before the magistrates'.
' Ah !' said the detective drily, ' I expect he'd come to the conclusion, which was my own, that it wasn't really worth another thought'.
' O! so I'm mistaken in fancying any association between that and your particular mission? Well, well, it shall be a lesson to my self-sufficiency. By the by, Sergeant, we've never had our long-deferred game of chess. What do you say to a duel now while we're waiting?'
No time, sir. Chess takes a lot of thought'.
' So it does. But it can be sampled in a problem. These tests are rather a weakness of mine. Look here,'--he led the way to the window, which, it being a mild warm day, stood wide open, and in which was placed the usual table with the board on it, and half a dozen pieces on the squares-'there's a neat one, I flatter myself. I was at work on it when you came in-black Knight (or dark horse, shall we call it?) to play, and mate in three moves. Take the opposition, and see if you can prevent it.'
He moved the Knight; mechanically the detective put down his hand and responded with a Bishop: at the Baron's third move the other looked up, and looked his adversary full in the face. Le Sage had stepped back. He had a way sometimes of thrusting his hands into the tail pockets of his coat, and bringing them round in front of him. So he stood now, with a curious smile on his lips.
'Dark horse wins,' said he. 'My mate, I think, Sergeant John Ridgway'.
The door opened with the word, spoken pretty loudly, and there came quickly into the room an inspector and two constables of the local police, followed by Sir Calvin and another gentleman.
'I have the pleasure,' said M. le Baron to the new-comers, 'of introducing to you the murderer of Annie Evans, alias Ivy Mellor'.
He had hardly spoken when the detective turned and leapt for the open window. The table, which stood between him and escape, went down with a crash: he had his foot on the sill, when a shot slammed out, and he stumbled and fell back into the room. The Baron's bullet had caught him neatly on the heel of his shoe, knocking his leg from under him at the critical moment. Before he could rise the police were on him, and he was handcuffed and helpless.
'A clean shot, though I say it,' said the Baron coolly, as he returned the revolver to his pocket. 'No, he's not hurt, though I may have galled his kibe. Look out for him there !'
They had need to. They had got the man to his feet, and were holding him as if in doubt whether he needed support or not, when he resolved the question for them, and in unmistakable fashion. This way and that, foaming, snarling, tearing with his manacled hands, now diving head-foremost, now nearly free, and caught back again into the human maelstrom-three stout men as they were, they had a hard ado to keep and restrain him. But they got him exhausted and quiet at last, and he stood among then torn and dishevelled, his chest heaving convulsively, dribbling at the mouth, his face like nothing human.
' You, you !' he gasped, glaring at his denouncer, ' if I had only guessed--if I had only known !'
' It would have been short shrift for me, I expect,' said the Baron shrewdly.
'It would,' said the prisoner-'that inn-keeper! It was you contrived the trap, was it! You damned, smiling traitor !'
The mortal vehemence he put into it! 'What I had always suspected, but could never quite unmask,' thought Le Sage. 'The dramatic fire, vicious and dangerous-banked down, but breaking loose now and again and roaring into uncontrollable flame !'
The second gentleman-who was in fact the Chief Constable of the County-put in a reproving word:--
' Come, Ridgway, keep a civil tongue in your head, my man'.
The detective laughed like a devil.
'Civility, you old fool! If words could blister him, I'd ransack hell's language for them till he curled and shrivelled up before me'.
'Well,' said the gentleman reasonably, 'you're not improving your case, you know, by all this'.
' My case !' cried the other. ' I've got none. It was always a gamble, and I knew it well enough from the first. But I'd have pulled it through, if it hadn't been for him-I'd have pulled it through and hanged my fine gentleman--his son there-as sure as there's a God of Vengeance in the world'.
He wrenched himself in the hold that gripped him, and, bare-chested, snarling like a dog in a leash, flung forward to denounce the father:--
'Curse you, do you hear? I'd have ruined and hanged that whelp of yours as surely as he ruined and murdered the girl that was mine till he debauched and stole her from me. When I put the shot into her, it was as truly his hand that fired it as if his finger had pulled on the trigger. She'd betrayed me, and it was him that led her to it, and by doing so made himself responsible for the consequences.'
The Inspector thought it right here to utter the usual official warning. It was curious to note in his tone, as he did so, a suspicion of deference, almost of apology, such as might characterise a schoolboy forced to bear witness against his headmaster. Ridgway turned on him with a jeering oath:-
'You can save your breath, Cully. That devil spoke true. It was I killed Ivy Mellor; and him, that old dog's son, that ought to hang for it.'
M. le Baron spoke up : 'Is it necessary to go further, gentlemen, since he confesses to the double crime ?'
' I think not,' said the Chief Constable. ' Remove him, Inspector.'
The three closed about the prisoner, who submitted quietly to being taken away. But he forced a stop a moment as he passed by Sir Calvin-who, greatly overcome, had sunk into a chair, the Baron leaning above him-and spoke, with some faint return to reason and self-control :-
' I don't know how much you think you've found out. You've got to prove it, mind. No confession counts to hang a man, unless there's proof to back it'.
'Par exempie.' said the Baron, looking up, 'a skeleton key, a coat button, a packet of letters, a false character, a falser impersonation, a proposed disinheritance, and, to end all, a confederate mur-. dered, and the plot to hang an innocent man for the deed I-altogether a very pretty httle list, my friend'.
Ridgway, to those who held him, seemed to stagger slightly. He stood gazing with haggard eyes into the face of this deadly jocular Nemesis, who, so utterly unsuspected by him, had all this time, it appeared, while he smiled and smiled, been silently weaving his toils about his feet. He had not a word to answer; but a sort of stupor of horror grew into his expression, as if for the first time a cold mortal fear were beginning to possess him. Then suddenly he stiffened erect, turned, and passed mutely out of the room.
The Chief Constable lingered behind- a moment.
'Come, Calvin, old man,' he said: 'pull yourself together. The thing's over, and well over, thanks to your wonderful friend here-by George, as remarkable a shot, sir, as you are a strategist! I don't know which I admired most, the way you stalked your quarry, or the way you brought him down.'
'Really quite simple little matters of deduction and sighting,' answered the Baron, beaming deprecation, 'if you make a practice, as I do, of never loosening your bolt in either case till you're sure of your aim'.
' Ha !' said the gentleman. ' Well, I congratulate you, Calvin, and I congratulate us all, on this happy termination to a very distressing business. I hope now the order of release won't be long in coming, and that your poor unfortunate lad will be restored to you before many hours have passed'.
A pallid, but wondering, face peered round the door.
'May I come in?' said Mr Bickerdike.