The strikingly handsome woman pursed her lips. There was a strange look in her eyes. For several moments she did not speak. It was clear that the sudden appearance of the dead man’s son had utterly unnerved her. What could he know concerning Charles Benton? How much of the affair did he suspect?
“I have met many people, Mr.—er—Mr. Henfrey,” she replied quietly at last. “I may have met somebody named Benton.”
“Ah! I see,” the young man said. “It is a memory that you do not wish to recall any more than that of my dead father.”
“Your father was a good man. Benton was not.”
“Ah! Then you admit knowing both of them, Mademoiselle,” cried Hugh quickly.
“Yes. I—well—I may as well admit it! Why, indeed, should I seek to hide the truth—from you,” she said in a changed voice. “Pardon me. I was very upset at receiving the card. Pardon me—will you not?”
“I will not, unless you tell me the truth concerning my father’s death and his iniquitous will left concerning myself. I am here to ascertain that, Mademoiselle,” he said in a hard voice.
“And if I tell you—what then?” she asked with knit brows.
“If you tell me, then I am prepared to promise you on oath secrecy concerning yourself—provided you allow me to punish those who are responsible. Remember, my father died by foul means. And you know it!”
The woman faced him boldly, but she was very pale.
“So that is a promise?” she asked. “You will protect me—you will be silent regarding me—you swear to be so—if—if I tell you something. I repeat that your father was a good man. I held him in the highest esteem, and—and—after all—it is but right that you, his son, should know the truth.”
“Thank you Mademoiselle. I will protect you if you will only reveal to me the devilish plot which resulted in his untimely end,” Hugh assured her.
Again she knit her brows and reflected for a few moments. Then in a low, intense, unnatural voice she said:
“Listen, Mr. Henfrey. I feel that, after all, my conscience would be relieved if I revealed to you the truth. First—well, it is no use denying the fact that your father was not exactly the man you and his friends believed him to be. He led a strange dual existence, and I will disclose to you one or two facts concerning his untimely end which will show you how cleverly devised and how cunning was the plot—how——”
At that instant Hugh was startled by a bright flash outside the half-open window, a loud report, followed by a woman’s shrill shriek of pain.
Then, next moment, ere he could rush forward to save her, Mademoiselle, with the truth upon her lips unuttered, staggered and fell back heavily upon the carpet!
IN THE NIGHT
Hugh Henfrey, startled by the sudden shot, shouted for assistance, and then threw himself upon his knees beside the prostrate woman.