'O, if you put it in that way'-he began.
' I do put it in that way,' I said, 'and I don't take it very friendly of you that you should talk of denying me a privilege which you were ready enough to grant to that precious new Baron of yours-even pressing him to stay'.
' It was not I who asked him,' he murmured.
' No,' I insisted, ' I came to be helpful, and I am going to remain to be helpful. I don't leave you till I have seen this thing through'.
'Well,' he said very equivocally, 'I hope that will be soon'--and he left me to myself to brood over his ingratitude. I was sore with him, I confess, and my grievance made me more unguarded perhaps in my references to him than otherwise I should have been.
'I dare say he does,' I answered the detective; 'but after all, I suppose, it is his heart that is affected'.
He looked at me keenly.
'You mean, sir?'
'O ! whatjyow mean,' I answered, 'and that I can see that you mean. What's the good of our beating about the bush? My friend wouldn't be the first young fellow of his class to have got into trouble with a good-looking servant girl'.
'No,' he said, 'no,' in a hard sort of way. 'They are not the kind to bother about the consequences to others where their own gratification is concerned. I've knocked up against some pretty bad cases in my time. So, that's what you gather from the medical report ?'
'Partly from that; not wholly'.
' Ah \ I dare say now, being on such friendly terms with Mr Kennett, you've been taken into his confidence?'
'Not directly; but in a way that invited me to form my own conclusions. What then? It doesn't affect this case, does it, except in suggesting a possible motive for the crime on the part of some jealous rival?'
'That's it. It's of no consequence, of course- except to the girl herself--from any other point of view'.
His assurance satisfied me, and, taken by his sympathetic candour, I could not refrain from opening my rankling mind to him a bit.
'The truth is,' I said, 'that the moment I came down, I saw there was something wrong with my friend. Indeed, he had written to me to imply as much'.
'He was upset like, was he?' commented the detective.
'He was in a very odd mood,' said I-'an aggravated form of hysteria, I should call it. I had never known him quite hke it before, though, as I dare say you have gathered, his temperament is an excitable one, up and dowrn like a see-saw. He talked of his dreaming of sitting on a gunpowder barrel smoking a cigarette, and of the hell of an explosion that was coming. And then there was his behaviour at the shoot the next day'.
'I've heard something about it,' said Ridgway. 'Queer, wasn't it?'
'More than queer,' I answered. 'I don't mind telling you in confidence that I had reason at one time to suspect him of playing the fool with his gun, with the half intention-you know-an accident, and all the bother ended. He swore not, when I tackled him about it; but I wasn't satisfied. I tried to get him to go home, leaving his gun with the keeper, but he absolutely refused; and he refused again to part with it when, in the afternoon, he finally did leave us, saying he was good for nothing, and had had enough of it. If only then he had done what I wanted him to do, and left his gun behind, this wretched business might never have happened'.
' Ah !' said the detective, ' he feels that, I dare say, and it doesn't help to cheer him up. Well, sir, I'd get him out, if I was you-distract his thoughts, and make him forget himself. He won't mend what's done by moping'.
'All very well,' I answered, 'to talk about making him forget himself; but when I'm forced to affect an ignorance of the very thing he wants to forget'-if we're right-what am I to do? You might think that after having had me down for the express purpose of advising him-as I have no doubt was the case--in this scrape, he would take me more into his confidence, and not at least resent, as seemingly he does, any allusion to it'.
'Well, you see,' said the detective, 'from his point of view the scrape's ended for him, and so there isn't the same need for advice. But I'd keep at it, if I was you, and after a time you may get him to unburden himself'.
I had not much hope, after what had passed between us; but I held the Sergeant's recommendation in mind, and resolved to watch for and encourage the least disposition to candour which might show itself on my friend's part. Perhaps I had gone a little further than I should have in taking the detective into my confidence about a scandal which, after all, was no more than surmise; but it was so patent to me that his judgment ran, and must run, with my own, that it would have been simply idle to pretend ignorance of a situation about which no two men of intelligence could possibly have come to differing conclusions. And, moreover, as Ridgway himself had admitted, true or not, the incident had no direct bearing on the case.
These days at Wildshott, otherwise a little eventless for me as an outsider, found a certain mitigation of their dullness in the suspicion still kept alive in me regarding the Baron's movements, and in the consequent watchfulness I felt it my duty to keep on them. I don't know how it was, but I mistrusted the man, his secretiveness, the company he kept, the mystery surrounding his being. Who was he? Why did he play chess for half-crowns? Why had he come attended-as, according to evidence, never before-by a ruffianly foreign man-servant, ready, on the most trifling provocation, to dip his hands in blood? That had been outside the programme, no doubt: men who use dangerous tools must risk their turning in their hands; but what had been his purpose in bringing the fellow ? Throat-cutting ? Robbery?-I was prepared for any revelation. Abduction, perhaps : the Baron was for ever driving about the country with Audrey in the little governess cart. In the meanwhile, following that miscarriage of his master's plans, whatever they might be, Mr Louis Victor Cabanis had been had up before a full bench of magistrates, and, the police asking for time in which to compact their evidence, had been remanded to prison for a fortnight. The delay gave some breathing space for all concerned, and was, I think, welcomed by every one but Hugo. I don't know by what passion of hatred of the slayer my friend's soul might have been agitated. Perhaps it was that, perhaps mere nervous tension; but he appeared to be in a feverish impatience to get the business over. He did not say much about it; but one could judge by his look and manner the strained torment of his spirit. We were not a great deal together; and mostly I had to make out my time alone as best I could. Sometimes, in a rather pathetic way, he would go and play chess with his father, a thing he had never dreamed of doing in his normal state. I used to wonder if the General had guessed the truth, and how he was regarding it if he had. According to all accounts, he had been no Puritan himself in his younger days.
I have said that Audrey and the Baron were about a good deal together. They were, and the knowledge troubled me so much that I made up my mind to warn her.
'You appear to find his company very entertaining,' I said to her one day.
Audrey had a rather disconcerting way of responding to any unwelcome question with a wide-eyed stare, which it was difficult to undergo quite stoically.
'Do I?' she said presently. ' Why?'
' You would hardly favour it so much otherwise, would you?'
'Perhaps not. You see I take the best there is. I can't help it if the choice is so limited'.
'That's one for me. But never mind. I'm content he should do the entertaining, if I can do the helpful'
'To me, Mr Bickerdike ?'
' I hope so-a little. As Hugo's friend I feel that I ought to have some claim on your forbearance, not to say your good will. I think at least that, on the strength of that friendship, you need not resent my giving you a word of advice on a subject where, in my opinion, it's wanted'.
'I have a father and brother to look after me, Mr Bickerdike'.
'I'm aware of it, Audrey ; and also of the fact that-for reasons sufficient of their own, no doubt- they leave you pretty much as you like to go your own way. It may be an unexceptionable way for the most part; but the wisest of us may occasionally go wrong from ignorance, and then it is the duty-I dare say the thankless duty-of friendship to interpose. You are very young, you know, and, one can't help seeing, rather forlornly situated-'
' Will you please to leave my situation alone, and explain what this is all about?'
' Frankly, then-I offer this in confidence'-I don't think the Baron very good company for you'.
'It's a little difficult to say. If you had more knowledge of the world you would understand, perhaps. There's an air about him of the shady Continental adventurer, whose purpose in society, wherever he may seek it, is never a disinterested purpose. He's always, one may be sure, after something profitable to himself-in one word,, spoil. What do we any of us know about the Baron, except that he plays chess for money and consorts with doubtful characters? Your father knows, I believe, little more than I do, and that little for me is summed up in the word " suspect,'' One can't say what can be his object in staying on here when common decency, one would have thought, seeing the trouble he has been instrumental in causing, should have dictated his departure; but, whatever his object, it is not likely, one feels convinced, to be a harmless one, and one cannot help fearing that he may be practising on your young credulity with a view to furthering it in some way. I wish you would tell me-will you?-what he talks to you about'.
She laughed in a way which somehow nettled me. 'Doesn't it strike you,' she said, 'as rather cheek on the part of one guest in a house to criticize the behaviour of another to his hostess?'
'O, if you take it in that way,' I answered, greatly affronted, 'I've nothing more to say. Your power of reading character is no doubt immensely superior to mine'.
'Well, I don't think yours is very good,' she answered; 'and I don't see why the question of common decency should apply to him more than to another'.
'* Don't you ?' I said, now fairly in a rage: ' then it's useless to prolong the discussion further. This is the usual reward of trying to interpose for good in other people's affairs'.
'Some people might call it prying into them,' she answered, and I flung from her without another word. I felt that I really hated the girl-intolerable, pert, audacious young minx ; but my rebuff made me more determined than ever to sift the truth out of this questionable riddle, and face her insolent assurance with it at the proper time.