' So much Jean told me, omitting only the father's name, which he withheld, he queerly stated, from a feeling of jealous pride for the honour of that which was his own honour, but which was presently to be suggested to me in a very singular fashion. You may perhaps recall, Mr Bickerdike, how at dinner on the night of our first arrival here, our host, in answer to some observation of mine about a certain picture hanging on the wall, raised the second finger of his right hand before his eye to test an alleged misproportion in one of the figures of the composition. The action--though, of course, I was already familiar with Sir Calvin's injury- instantly arrested my attention. A vision of the Cafe l'Univers and of the busy hat-sketcher leapt irresistibly into my mind : I saw again the lifted second finger, and I saw, with astonishment, what, lacking that clue, had never yet so much as occurred or suggested itself to me-the existence of a subtle but definite family likeness between the two men. That sign-manual had solved the problem of paternity, and given some colour, at least, to my friend's romantic tale. Let me put it quite clearly. Before me sat, as I was convinced, the father of the man in Paris calling himself John Ridgway, but who claimed the right, on whatever disputable grounds, to call himself, if he would, John Kennett.
' Judge of my feelings. From that moment I was possessed of a piece of knowledge whose significance I could not then foresee, but which was already half consciously associating itself in my mind with that other curious discovery--that a well-known detective, who bore the very same name as my friend, was operating on a case somewhere in the neighbourhood.
'To return now to Jean's story, and my natural comments thereon. I asked him, assuming for the occasion the truth of his statement, if he had never made an endeavour to assert his rights, and if not why not. His answer did not strike me then as convincing, though I had full reason later to alter my opinion. To attempt and fail, he said, would be merely to disinter a long-buried scandal, and expose to renewed odium the character of a mother whom he fondly loved. Moreover, for himself he had no ambitions save such as centred in his art, to which he was wholly devoted, nor any nerve or desire to take that position in the world to which his birth entitled him. She had told him the story one day, on the occasion of one of his rare visits to England-- where she lived--when she was lying very ill, thinking it right that he should know, and leaving it to him to decide for himself what action, in the event of her death, he should take or not take in the matter. She was, I understood, a woman of French origin, in modest circumstances, and many years the widow of a quartermaster-sergeant in the British army. From that necessitous household Jean himself had early broken away, to follow his bent in Paris, in which city he had remained, working and struggling for a livelihood, ever since the days of his adolescence. He was a man of twenty-eight when I knew him.
'There for the present I will leave Jean's story, turning from it to a subject of more immediate interest to you-namely, the murder of Ivy Mellor, and the methods by which I was enabled to bring the crime home to the actual delinquent. I can claim no particular credit for my part in the business. Destiny, acting blindly or providentially as you will, had woven about me, as a web is woven about a spider, a most extraordinary concatenation of coincidences, from whose central observation-point I was able, as it were, to command all strands of the design. My casual encounter with Mr Bickerdike in Paris; the discovery that he was there to meet Mr Kennett, the son of a gentleman already slightly known to me; the accident witnessed by us; my subsequent visits to the patient, and his confiding to me of his story; my second meeting with Mr Bickerdike in London, and the coincidence of our common invitation to Wildshott; the act which betrayed Jean's father to me, and seemed to confirm the truth of the man's story; the news that a second John Ridgway was at work in the neighbourhood-in all this, considered alone, there lay some grounds, perhaps, for wondering entertainment, but surely none for suspicion. It was only when the murder occurred that any thought of a connexion amongst the parts flashed inevitably into my mind; and since Fate had placed, if in any hands, in mine, what clues might exist to the truth, I was determined from that moment to pursue them to the end. The Key to it I found in a skeleton Key:
Again the Macuba came into requisition, and again the Baron savoured, over a refreshing pinch, the excitement of his hearers.
'A skeleton key,' he repeated. 'I discovered it before ever Sergeant John Ridgway had had a chance of looking for it, on the very spot where the poor thing's body had lain. It must have been jerked from her hand-she had probably just produced it from her pocket-by the shot which killed her, and had remained there undetected during and after her removal. I was fortunate in securing it only a few minutes before the Sergeant came down to examine the place of the crime.
' Now, what had Annie Evans to do with a skeleton key--she, a modest servant girl of irreproachable character, as the housekeeper had just informed us? I examined the key. It was of the usual burglarious pattern, seemed newly turned, had a slight flaw, or projection, on the barrel end, and was splashed with an ugly Bluebeard red. Had Annie, after all, been quite the impeccable person Mrs Bingley supposed? I wondered. I thought of the manner of her engagement, of her untraceable connexions, and I wondered. I wondered still at the Inquest, when, as it seemed, those same relations were still hopelessly to seek. I wondered no longer when, on the day following the inquiry, I came upon the-Sergeant intently examining the ground about the scene of the crime. I came upon him unexpectedly, and surprised him. What was hejooking for? He had already overhauled every detail of the girl's belongings. Had he missed something which he had expected to find among them? A skeleton key possibly. But how could he have known she possessed such a thing? Obviously, there was only one answer-because he himself had provided her with it. For what reason-he, JohifRidgway? Naturally, my mind flew off at a tangent to the other John Ridgway, my Parisian Jean, and his extraordinary story. A reputedly sham marriage which nevertheless had turned out genuine; documents in proof, and their possessor my host? Was it conceivable that this John Ridgway was interested in the recovery of those documents, and had employed a female confederate to steal them for him ?