' But meanwhile, there was the murder committed in that instant of madness. Probably he had not much hope at the time of escaping its consequences; probably, in his desperate state, with all his schemes gone to wreck, he did -not much care. He had had his bloody revenge for an intolerable wrong, and the rest was indifference to him. He replaced the gun where it had stood, and left the spot. Possibly, as sanity returned to him, some instinct of self-preservation may have induced in him a certain mood of precaution. There is evidence to show, I think, that he lurked for a time in the woods before leaving them for the open hillside. But that he did leave them eventually to make his way up the hill, we have Henstridge's evidence to testify.
'Now, from the first I had never succeeded in convincing myself that that hypothetical figure on the hill was as wholly a figment of the imagination as most people seemed to consider it. The cap pulled over the eyes and the turned-up collar-what butler ever turned up his coat collar?-were strong presumptions in my mind that Mr Cleghorn had not been their wearer. Then the figure had been described as advancing hurriedly; yet it had taken twenty minutes or so to cover a distance of two hundred yards. You may object, possibly, that, in all your experience of Sergeant Ridgway, you have never seen him wear on his head other than a black plush Homburg hat. I answer that on the day of the murder he was wearing a cloth cap, easily, in the distance, to be mistaken for the cap worn by Mr Cleghorn. I know this, because, in the course of one of my drives about the country in the company of a very charming young lady, I had made a point of calling at the Sergeant's one-time lodgings at Antonferry-I had procured the address from Sir Calvin-where, at the cost of a little insinuative word-play, I was able to ascertain that the Sergeant had gone out, wearing a cloth cap, fairly early on the day of the murder, and that he had returned late, and seemingly in an exhausted condition, from a long walk. He had, and that hypothetical figure hurrying over the hill-at the moment with httle concern for its safety-had been the figure of Sergeant Ridgway, tramping back to his lodgings in Antonferry after the murder. He had passed by the inn, making north by west, and had long turned the bend of the lonely road before Mr Cleghorn, mistaken by Henstridge for the same figure, had arrived at the Red Deer and turned in at the tap'.
The Baron paused for refreshment, while Sir Francis applauded softly, his whole face beaming delight and approval.
'Have I convinced you so far,' continued the narrator, 'of the efficiency of the toils in which I was manoeuvring to entangle my " suspect" ? Very well: here was another little piece de conviction. In spying about the scene of the crime I had picked up, in addition to the skeleton key--a button. It was a common horn coat-button, and was lying on the spot whence the gun had been fired-jerked off, probably, by the recoil. Now the Sergeant's overcoat was one of those light covert coats which button under an overlapping hem. I took occasion to examine it one day, when, occupied with Sir Calvin, he had left it in the hall: It had been fitted, I observed, with a set of brand-new buttons, which nevertheless did not correspond with the little buttons on the cuffs. Those exactly matched the button I had found, while the others were of a distinctly different pattern. Obviously he had discovered his loss, had failed again to make it good, and so, for precaution's sake, had renewed the entire set. It was an unpardonable oversight in such a man to have forgotten the sleeves. I made the button over to hiin-or could it be an exact duplicate of it which I had procured?--telling him in all innocence where I had found it. He took the little blow very well, without a wince, but I could see how it disturbed him. He never suspected me, I think, of more than an amiable curiosity. I have often wondered why'.
"Because he wasn't a fool,' interposed Mr Bickerdike, with a slight groan. Le Sage laughed.
"Or because I am more of a knave than I appear,' said he. 'So let bygones be bygones.' He helped himself to a weighty pinch of rappee, and put down the box with a grave expression. 'I come now,' he said, ' to the supreme crux of all-the apparently damning evidence as to when the fatal shot was fired. If it were fired somewhere about three o'clock, at the time stated by two witnesses, then Hugo Kennett, and none but Hugo Kennett, must be, despite all specious arguments to the contrary, the actual murderer. But it was not fired at three o'clock, as I believe I shaU find reason to convince you : it was fired a good twenty or twenty-five minutes later; and this is my justification for saying so. You will remember that, at the magisterial inquiry, the witness Daniel Groome, revising his former evidence, stated that he had heard the clock in his master's study strike the quarter past three-- he, by then, having gone round to the back of the house--thereby proving that the report of the gun, which had reached him while he was still at the front, must have occurred during the first quarter of the hour. 'Now I have taken the pains, since my return, to question Daniel Groome very closely on this matter, and with what result? You will be surprised to hear. The stable clock, to which Daniel is accustomed to listen, strikes the quarters-one for the first, two for the second, and so on. The study clock, to which Daniel is not accustomed to listen, strikes the half-hour only--a single stroke. But the single stroke represented to Daniel the quarter past, and therefore he concluded, when he heard that single stroke sound from his master's study, that it was recording the first quarter, instead of, as it actually was, the second. And on this ingenuous evidence-not realizing in the least what he was doing--was that simple man prepared to tighten the noose about his young master's neck.