I confess that the man's communication, coming on the top of my concern for my friend, fairly, in the first moment of it, took me aghast. The state in which I had found Hugh, that disquieting business of the gun, his insistence on sticking to his weapon-- it was inevitable that any mind should instinctively leap to some association between these and a catastrophe so seemingly their corollary in its nature and instrumentality. It was odd, but ever since my meeting with the Baron in Simpson's smoking-room a sense as of some vague fatality had seemed to overcloud me. It was formless, impalpable, but it was there, like that unnerving atmosphere which precedes, according to people who know, an earthquake. But that first sick alarm was not long in dissipating itself in me in a fine scorn. The thing, to my recovered judgment, was simply incredible. Apart from the brutal clumsiness, the unthinking recklessness of such a deed, what was there in my knowledge of my friend to justify such a horrible assumption? Spoilt he was, selfish he was, no doubt, but always the last man in the world to incline to personal violence. A sensitiveness to pain, almost morbid, on account of himself or others, was rather his characteristic; an excess of affection, his charm and his weakness. He could not have done it, of course, for whatever mad reason.
But, as I came to learn the particulars of the tragedy, so far as they were known or guessed, another suspicion, less base though still discomposing, would occur to me. The poor girl, according to all accounts, had been a great beauty; and it appeared probable--from evidence freely volunteered by M. le Baron, who had passed through the copse some short time before the murder must have been committed, and who had seen and spoken with her there-that she was keeping an assignation. With whom? Who could as yet say? But I had too good reason to dread my friend's susceptibility where the adorable feminine was concerned, and I could not forget how the time of the assignation, if such it were, had coincided with that of his leaving the shoot. 'This,' I thought, 'may be as unjustified an assumption as the other; still, for the sake of argument, admit it, and one thing at least is accounted for. With such a wire-strung nature as Hugh's, the consciousness of a guilty intrigue would be quite enough to induce in him that state of recklessness and excitability which had so bothered and perplexed me'.
It was still, in fact, perplexing me at dinner on the night of the murder, when, after the withdrawal of Audrey and the servants, much discussion of the tragic subject took place, and later, when he and I were for a brief time alone together in the billiard-room. It was not so much that he was not shocked and horrified with the rest of us, as that his emotions were expressed in such an extraordinary form. They made him lament one moment, and go into half hysterical laughter the next; now utter raging imprecations against the dastard capable of so damnable a crime, now assert that jealousy was probably responsible for it, and that no man who had not felt jealousy had a right to sit in judgment on a passion which was after all not so much a passion as a demoniac possession. Then he would declare that, the thing being done, it was no good making oneself miserable about it, and rally me on my long face, which, he said, made him feel worse than a hundred murders. The horror of the thing had no doubt unhinged him, coupled with the knowledge that it was through his own carelessness in leaving a loaded gun within reach of temptation that the deed had been made possible. With such a nature as his, that consciousness must have counted for much, though still, and at the same time, I could never quite rid myself of the feeling that, beneath all his expressed remorse and pity, a strange little note of -I will not call it relief, but ease from some long haunting oppression, made itself faintly audible. However, remembering his late promise of confidence to me, I determined to abide in patience its coming, only wondering in the interval what had instigated his remarks on jealousy, and if it were possible that they had been inspired by any suspicion of the criminal, and if so, on what personal grounds. He came down quite quiet to breakfast the next morning, and from that time onwards was his own rational hospitable self.
Early in the afternoon of that day Sir Calvin came back with the detective, Sergeant Ridgway, in tow. The latter had been retrieved, by good luck, from Antonferry, whither, after the trial, he had returned from Winton to settle for the lodgings he had occupied during the Bank investigations. The General had been fortunate in encountering him at the very moment of his departure, and had at once secured from him, contingent on the receipt of official authority, a promise to undertake the case. A prepaid telegram to Scotland Yard had brought the necessary sanction, and within a couple of hours of its despatch the Sergeant was safe at Wildshott, and already engaged over the preliminaries of the business. Personally, I admit, I felt greatly relieved by his appearance on the scene. A notable writer has somewhat humoured a belief in the fatuity of the professional detective ; but that was with a view, I think, to exalt his own incomparable amateur rather than to discredit a singularly capable body of men, having a pretty persistent record of success to justify their being. Intellectuality was at least not absent by inference from this face. When I saw it, I felt that the case was in safe hands, and that henceforth we might, one and all of us, cast whatever burden of personal responsibility had unwittingly overhung our spirits. The Sergeant was installed in the house, and lost no time in getting to work in a reassuring, business-like way. He went in the first instance to view the body, which had been laid on a table in the gun-room, with a policeman-one of two brought over the night before by the Chief Constable, a friend of Sir Calvin's, in person-to watch the door. Thereafter, established in the General's study, he briefly reviewed the evidence of such witnesses as could supply any topical information that bore on the crime'-Le Sage, to wit, Hugo himself, Mrs Bingley the housekeeper, and one or two of the servants, including the men who, on their young master's alarmed summons, had first entered the copse to remove the body.