The Inquest was over, the provisional verdict delivered, and all that remained for the time being was to put the poor subject of it straightway to rest under the leafless trees in Leigh way churchyard. It was done quietly and decently the morning after the inquiry, with some of her fellow-servants attending, and Miss Kennett to represent the family; and so was another blossom untimely fallen, and another moral-a somewhat ghastly one now--furnished for the reproof of the too hilarious Christian.
Audrey, coming back from the sad little ceremony, met Le Sage walking by himself in the grounds. The Baron looked serious and, she thought, dejected, and her young heart warmed to his grief. She went up to him, and, putting her hands on his sleeve, ' I am so sorry,' she said, 'so very, very sorry'.
He smiled at her kindly, then took her hand and drew it under his arm.
'Let us walk a little way, and talk,' he said; and they strolled on together. 'Poor Louis !' he sighed.
' It is not true, is it, Baron ?'
'I don't think it is, my dear. But the difficulty is to prove that it isn't'.
'How can it be done?'
'At the expense only, I am afraid, of finding the real criminal'.
' Have you any idea who that is?'
He laughed; actually laughed aloud.
' Have I not had enough of cross-examination ?'
' I could not help wondering why, as I have been told, you confessed to the warning you gave the poor girl'.
'About the danger of tempting hot blood, and so forth?'
'It was the truth'.
He put a finger to his lips, glancing at her with some solemnity.
' You were not going to say that it is my way to repress the truth ? '
' No,' answered the girl, with a little flush;' but only not to blurt it out unnecessarily'.
'My dear,' he said, 'take my word for it that I always speak the truth'.
'O! I only meant to say-' she began ; but he stopped her.
'What would you do if a question were put to you which, for some reason of expediency, or_ good-feeling, you did not wish to answer?'
' I am afraid I should fib'.
'Try my plan, and answer it with another question. It saves a world of responsibility. That is a secret I confide to you. An answer may often be interpreted into an innuendo which is as false to the speaker's meaning as it is unjust to its subject. I love truth so much that I would not expose it to that misunderstanding. In this instance, to have left the truth for some one else to discover might have cast suspicion on us both, thereby darkening the case against Louis. But, in general, not to answer is surely not to He?'
'No, I suppose not, Baron'--she thought a little- 'I wonder if you would answer me just one question ?'
'What is that?'
'Do you put any faith in that talk about there having been another man on the hiU besides Cleghorn ?'
He did not reply for awhile, but went softly patting the hand on his arm. Presently he looked up.
' If I were to say yes, I should not speak the truth, and if I were to say no, I should not speak the truth. So I follow my bent, and you wiU not be offended with me. Are you going to take me for a drive to-day, I ask?'
'Certainly, if you wish it.' -
' What a question ! I can answer that without a scruple. I wish it with such fervour, seeing my companion, as my years may permit themselves. Where shall we go?'
'You shall choose'.
' Very well. Then we will go north by the Downs, that we may take the great free air into our lungs, and realise the more sympathetically the condition of my poor Louis.'
' O, don't! It would kill me to be in prison. Baron, you are going to stop with us, are you not, until the trial is over ?'
' Both you and your father are very good. I may have, however, to absent myself for a short time presently. We will see. In the meanwhile I am your grateful Baron.' He took vast snuff, making his eyes glisten, and somehow she liked him for it.
'I shall be glad,' she said, 'when that detective goes. One will feel more at peace from the squalor of it all'.
He shook his head.
'I do not think he means to go just yet'.
'Not? Why not?'
'Ah! that is his secret.'
'But what can he have to do now?'
'You must ask him, not me. All I can tell you is that he considers his work here not yet finished; in fact, from words I heard him let fall to your father this morning, little more than just begun'.
' How very strange ! What can it mean?'
'Let us hazard a conjecture that he is not wholly satisfied with the evidence against my Louis. It would be a happy thought for me'.
'O, yes, wouldn't it! But--I wonder.'
'What do you wonder?'
'If the question of that other figure on the hill is puzzling him too'.
Le Sage laughed. 'Well, wc are permitted to wonder,' he said, and, humming a little tune, changed the subject to one of topography, and the situation of various places of interest in the neighbourhood.
Audrey was perplexed about him. That he felt, and felt deeply, not only the unhappy position of the prisoner, but the disturbance which he himself had been the innocent means of introducing into the house, she could not doubt; yet the patent genuineness of this sentiment was unable, it seemed, wholly to deprive him of that constitutional serenity, even gaiety, habitual to his nature. It was as if he either could not, or would not, realise the black gravity of the affair; as if, almost, holding the strings of it in his own hands, he could afford to give this or that puppet a little tether before reining it in to submit to his direction. And then she thought how this impression was probably all due to that unanswering trick of his which they had just been discussing, and which might very well seem to inform his manner with a significance it did not really possess or intend. She left him shortly, being called to some duty in the house, and he continued his saunter alone, an aimless one apparently, but gradually, after a time, assuming a definite direction. It took him leisurely down the drive, out by the lodge gates into the road as far as the fatal wicket, and so once more into the Bishop's Walk. Going unhurried along the track, he suddenly saw the detective before him.
The Sergeant, bent over, it seemed, in an intent observation of the ground, was fairly taken off his guard. He showed it, as he came erect, in a momentary change of colour. But the little shock of surprise was mastered as soon as felt: self-possession is not long or easily yielded by one trained in self-resourcefulness.
'Were you wanting me, sir?' he said; 'because, if not-'
'Because, if not,' took up the Baron, wagging his head cheerfully,' what am I doing here, interrupting you at your business?'
'Well, sir, it's you have said it, not I'.
'So your business is not yet over, Sergeant? Am I to borrow any hope for my man from that?'
'Was it the question, sir, you were looking for me to answer ?'
' Excellent! My own way of meeting an awkward inquiry'.
'What do you mean by awkward?'
'Why, you won't answer me, of course. What sensible detective would, and give.away his case? Still, I am justified in assuming that there is something in the business which, so far, does not satisfy you; and I build on that'.
'O! you do, do you?' He rubbed his chin grittily, pulling down his well-formed lower jaw, and stood for a moment or two speculatively regarding the face before him. 'I wonder now,' he said suddenly, 'if you would answer a question I might put to you?'
' I'll see, my friend. Chance it'.
'What made you so interested in this business before even your man was charged on suspicion ?' 'You allude--?'
'I allude to my finding you already on the spot here when I came down to make my own examination of it'.
'Surely I have no reason to hide what I have already admitted in public. I was uneasy about Louis'.
'And wanted to look and see, perhaps, if he'd left any evidences of his guilt behind him ?'
' I admit I was anxious to assure myself that there were no such evidences'.
' And you did assure yourself ?'
' You found nothing suspicious ?' 'Nothing whatever to connect with his presence here'.
'Found nothing at all?' 'Yes, I did: I found this'.
The Baron took from a pocket a common horn coat-button, and handed it to the other, who received it and turned it over in silence.
'I picked it up,' said Le Sage, 'near the tree where the gun had stood'.
'Why,' said the detective, looking up rather blackly, ' didn't you produce this at the Inquest ?'
'I never supposed for the moment it could be of any importance'.
' H'mph !' grunted the Sergeant, and after a darkling moment, put the button into his own pocket. 'I don't know; it may or may not be; but you should have told me about it, sir. For the present, by your leave, I'll take charge of the thing. And now, if you've nothing more to show me---' 'Nothing'.
'Then I should hke to get on with my work, if it's all the same to you'.
'And I with my walk,' said the Baron, and he tripped jauntily away.