“I believe Mademoiselle is at home,” Hugh said in French. “I desire to see her, and also to apologize for the lateness of the hour. My visit is one of urgency.”
“Mademoiselle sees nobody except by appointment,” was the man’s polite but firm reply.
“I think she will see me if you give her this card,” answered Hugh in a strained, unusual voice.
The man took it hesitatingly, glanced at it, placed it upon a silver salver, and, leaving the visitor standing on the mat, passed through the glass swing-doors into the house.
For some moments the servant did not reappear.
Hugh, standing there, entertained just a faint suspicion that he heard a woman’s shrill exclamation of surprise. And that sound emboldened him.
At last, after an age it seemed, the man returned, saying:
“Mademoiselle will see you, Monsieur. Please come this way.”
He left his hat and stick and followed the man along a corridor richly carpeted in red to a door on the opposite side of the house, which the servant threw open and announced the visitor.
Mademoiselle had risen to receive him. Her countenance was, Hugh saw, blanched almost to the lips. Her black dress caused her pallor to be more apparent.
“Well, sir? Pray what do you mean by resorting to this ruse in order to see me? Who are you?” she demanded.
Hugh was silent for a moment. Then in a hard voice he said:
“I am the son of the dead man whose card is in your hands, Mademoiselle! And I am here to ask you a few questions!”
The handsome woman smiled sarcastically and shrugged her half-bare shoulders, her fingers trembling with her jade beads.
“Oh! Your father is dead—is he?” she asked with an air of indifference.
“Yes. He is dead,” Hugh said meaningly, as he glanced around the luxurious little room with its soft rose-shaded lights and pale-blue and gold decorations. On her right as she stood were long French windows which opened on to a balcony. One of the windows stood ajar, and it was apparent that when he had called she had been seated in the long wicker chair outside enjoying the balmy moonlight after the stifling atmosphere of the Rooms.
“And, Mademoiselle,” he went on, “I happen to be aware that you knew my father, and—that you are cognizant of certain facts concerning his mysterious end.”
“I!” she cried, raising her voice in sudden indignation. “What on earth do you mean?” She spoke in perfect English, though he had hitherto spoken in French.
“I mean, Mademoiselle, that I intend to know the truth,” said Hugh, fixing his eyes determinedly upon hers. “I am here to learn it from your lips.”
“You must be mad!” cried the woman. “I know nothing of the affair. You are mistaken!”
“Do you, then, deny that you have ever met a man named Charles Benton?” demanded the young fellow, raising his voice. “Perhaps, however, that is a bitter memory, Mademoiselle—eh?”