Wednesday of the third week following the Inquest was appointed for the magisterial inquiry, and during the interval Sergeant Ridgway was busily occupied, presumably in accumulating and piecing together various evidence. Of what it consisted no one but himself knew, nor did it appear whether or not its trend on the whole was favourable or disastrous to the unhappy prisoner, at the expense possibly of Cleghorn, or possibly to the complete exculpation of that injured man. The detective kept his own counsel, after the manner of his kind; and if any had thought to extract from the cover of that sealed book a hint of its contents, no reassuring message at least could have been gathered from its unlettered sombreness. But nobody asked, fearful of being thought to profane the majestic muteness of the oracle; and the labouring atmosphere lowered unlightened as the days went on. Even M. le Baron, most individually concerned in the fate of his henchman, made no attempt to plumb the official profundity, and that in spite of his curiosity about most things. He seemed, indeed, oddly passive about the whole business, never referring to it but indirectly, and, so far as appeared, taking no steps to interview the prisoner or supply him with the means of defence. If any sneering allusion was made to this insensibility by Mr Bickerdike or another, Audrey, were she present, would be hot in her friend's vindication. It may have been that, in the course of their queer association, he had confided to her sufficient reasons for his behaviour; old Viv, on the other hand, saw in her attitude only proof of the process of corruption he had suspected. But, whatever the case, cheerfully detached the Baron remained, asking no questions of the detective, and taking chess and life with as placid a gaiety as if no Louis Victor Cabanis lay caged a few miles away, awaiting his examination on a charge of wilful murder.
Whether it were in some apology for a darkness which he could not afford to illuminate, or to avoid teasing inquiries, or for any other reason, the Sergeant came gradually to give the house less anoV less of his company. He seemed rather to avoid contact with its inmates, and his manner, when he rarely appeared, was sombre and preoccupied. No one, perhaps, felt this withdrawal more than the housekeeper, Mrs Bingley, with whom he had been accustomed to take his meals, and who had found him, when once her awe of his office was overcome, a most entertaining guest, full of intelligence, rich in anecdote, and deeply interested in everything appertaining to Wildshott, from its family portraits and accumulated collections to the beauty of its grounds and of the country in which it lay situated.
' It must have been,' she said one day to her master, to whom she was lamenting the Sergeant's prolonged absences, 'such a relief to a man of his occupations to be able to forget himself, even for an hour or two, in such noble surroundings. But perhaps he wants to show us that he's taking no advantage of the attentions paid him, lest we might think he was trying to worm himself into our confidence'.
' Or can it be that he has already found out from you all that he wants to know ?' observed Le Sage, who was present on the occasion, with a humorous look.
'I'm sure, sir,' said Mrs Bingley with asperity, 'that he is incapable of the meanness. If you had heard him express the sentiments that I have you would never hint such a charge. No, there is some delicacy of feeling, take my word for it, at the bottom of this change in him; and I can't help fearing that it means he has found out something fresh, something even more distressful to the family, which makes him chary of accepting its hospitality. I only hope- ' she paused, -with a little sigh.
' You're thinking of Cleghorn ! ' broke in her master. ' Damme ! I'll never believe in respectability again if that man's done it'.
' God forbid !' said the housekeeper. ' But I wish Sergeant Ridgway would appear more, and more in his old way, when he does honour me with his company'.
Her wish, however, was not to be fulfilled. The detective more and more absented himself as the days went on, and became more and more of an Asian mystery in the fleeting glimpses of his presence. vouchsafed the household. Dark, taciturn, abysmal, he flitted, a casual shadow, through the labyrinthine mysteries of the crime, and could never be said to be here before an echo of his footfall was sounding in the hollows far away. A picturesque description of his processes, perhaps, but consorting in a way witlv the housekeeper's fanciful rendering. Perhaps delicacy rather than expediency was the motive of his tactics; perhaps, having virtually completed his case, he was keeping out of the way until the time came to expound it; perhaps a feature of its revision was that distressful something, menacing, appalling, foreseen by the housekeeper. He had plenty otherwise to do, no doubt, in the way of collecting evidence, consulting Counsel, and so forth, which alone gave plenty of reason for neglecting the social amenities. Whatever the explanation, however, the issue was not to be long delayed.
The Baron came upon him unexpectedly one morning in the upper grounds, where the fruit gardens were, and the espaliers, and all the signs of a prosperous vegetable order. There was a fair view of the estate to be gained from that elevation, and the Sergeant appeared to be absorbed for the moment in the gracious prospect. He waited unmoving for the other to join him, and nodded as he same up.
'It's pleasant to snatch a minute, sir,' he said,
* to give to a view like this. People of -my profession don't get many such'.
'I suppose not,' answered Le Sage, /nor of a good many other professions. Proprietary views, hke incomes, are very unfairly distributed, don't you think?'
'Well, that's so, no doubt; and among the wrong sort of people often enough.' Le Sage laughed.