I was present during the whole, I think, of this examination, and for the following reason. It happened that I and the Baron, on his way to the study, met in the hall, when he attacked me, I thought rather impertinently, on a question of punctilio.
' Do you not think, my friend,' he said, 'that under the circumstances it would be decent of us to offer to terminate our visit? Supposing we both, here and now, address Sir Calvin on the subject?'
I was very much annoyed. 'Baron,' I said, 'I am not accustomed to seek advice in matters of conduct, and I certainly shall not do as you propose. Apart from the question of deserting my friend in a crisis, I think that any suggestion of our leaving now would look like a desire to avoid inquiry- which I, for my part, am far from wishing to do-and would bear a very bad complexion. You can act as you like; but it is my intention to see this thing through'.
'O, very well!' he said. 'Then I will speak for myself alone'.
Why should he wish to escape ? All my instinctive suspicion of him reawakened on the moment; and I wondered. True, he could not himself have perpetrated the crime; Hugo's evidence would not permit of such a supposition; but could he not be somehow implicated in it as instigator or abettor? I determined then and there to keep a very close observation on M. le Baron.
We entered the room together, since I would not suffer his going in alone to misrepresent me. Sir Calvin was there, with his son and the detective. I saw the last for the first time. He was quite the typical Hawkshaw, and handsome at that--a lithe man of middle height, with a keen, dark, aquiline face, and clean-shaven jaws and chin. I could have thought him a young man for his work and reputation ; he did not look more than thirty-five, and might have been less; but about his mental ability, if one could judge by indications, there was no question. A certain rather truculent dandyism in his dress contrasted oddly with this intellectuality of feature; it showed itself a little over-emphatic in the matter of trouser-crease and collar and scarf-pin, and it tilted his black plush Homburg hat, when out of doors, at a slightly theatrical angle. But taste, after all, is a question not of mind but of breeding, and the man who has, like Disraeli, to stand on his head for a living, may be excused a little ostentation in the process. He looked at us both searchingly as we entered.
'This, Sergeant,' said Sir Calvin, 'is the Baron Le Sage, whom I mentioned to you as having encountered the unfortunate young woman in the copse a little before----'.
The detective nodded. 'I should like to ask a question of you, sir'.
Le Sage told what he knew. It was very little, and only of value in so far as it touched upon the evidence of time.
'It must have been a little before half-past two when we met,' he said.
'And shortly after three,' said the detective, turning to Hugo, 'when you came by the same path, sir, and had your little talk with her, like this gentleman?'
'My talk,' said the Baron, smiling, 'was of the briefest. We exchanged but a pleasant word or two, and I passed on'.
'And yours,' said the detective to Hugh, 'was " perhaps of a more prolonged sort?'
'It may have been, Sergeant,' was my friend's answer. He was looking pale but composed; and his manner was absolutely frank and unequivocal. 'You see,' said he, 'poor Annie was, after all, one of the household, and there was nothing out of the way in my stopping to speak with her. We may have chatted for ten minutes-I should think no longer-- while I put down my gun and lighted a cigarette. I was back at the house by a quarter past three or thereabouts'.
'And you remembered, and returned for your gun?'
'That must have been just about four o'clock.' 'So that the murder, if murder it was, must have been committed some time between 3.15 and 4 p.m.' 'That is so, I suppose'.
The detective stood as if mutely weighing the few facts at his disposition for a moment or two, then turned to the General.
'We shall want evidence of identity, Sir Calvin,' he said. 'Your housekeeper, I suppose, engaged the young woman ? Can I see her ?'
Mrs Bingley was rung for, and in the interval, while awaiting her appearance, Le Sage approached our host.
'Pardon me, Sir Calvin,' said he; 'but before you proceed any further, would you not prefer that I should withdraw? I cannot but feel that my visit itself is proving untimely, and that it were better that I should relieve you of the embarrassment of-'.
But the General broke in forcibly.
' Not a bit of it! There's nothing to conceal. Damn it, man ! Beyond helping this Sergeant what we can to find out the truth, I don't see why the even tenour of our ways need disturb itself by so much as a thought. No, no; you came for chess, and you'll stay for chess !' A sentiment which, while justifying my own attitude, pretty effectually disposed of the Baron's affected, and perhaps interested scruples.
He smiled, with a tiny shrug. 'Well, if I am not in the way !' and addressed the detective 'the ruling passion, you see, Sergeant Ridgway. Do you play chess?'
'A little,' answered the man, cautious even in his admission. 'It's a great game'.
'It's the game,' said the Baron. 'We'll play, you and I, one of these days, when you're needing some distraction from your labours'.
'Very well, sir,' responded the detective civilly, and at that moment Mrs Bingley entered the room.
Wildshott was, by common assent, fortunate in its housekeeper. She was a good soul and a good manager, strict but tolerant, ruling by tact alone. Spare and wiry, her virgin angularity) despite her courtesy title), was of the sort one associates with blessed women in old painted manuscripts. Firmness and patience showed in her capable face, to which agitation had now lent a rather red-eyed pallor. She bowed to Sir Calvin, and faced the detective quietly:-