“Do you wish me to reveal to Monsieur Henfrey the—the secret of his father’s death?” she asked of The Sparrow.
“Certainly. You were about to do so when—when the accident happened.”
“Yes. But—but, oh!—how can I tell him the actual truth when—when, alas! I am so guilty?” cried the woman, much distressed.
“No, no, mademoiselle,” said Hugh, placing his hand tenderly upon her shoulder. “Calm yourself. You did not kill my father. Of that I am quite convinced. Do not distress yourself, but tell me all that you know.”
“Mr. Peters knows something of the affair, I believe,” she said slowly. “But he never planned it. The whole plot was concocted by Benton.” Then, turning to Hugh, Mademoiselle said almost in her natural tone, though slightly high-pitched and nervous:
“Benton, the blackguard, was your father’s friend at Woodthorpe. With a man named Howell, known also as Shaw, he prepared a will which your father signed unconsciously, and which provided that in the event of his death you should be cut off from almost every benefit if you did not marry Louise Lambert, Benton’s adopted daughter.”
“But who is Louise actually?” asked Hugh interrupting.
“The real daughter of Benton, who has made pretence of adopting her. Of course Louise is unaware of that fact,” Yvonne replied.
Hugh was much surprised at this. But he now saw the reason why Mrs. Bond was so solicitous of the poor girl’s welfare.
“Now I happened to be in London, and on one of your father’s visits to town, Benton, his friend, introduced us. Naturally I had no knowledge of the plot which Benton and Howell had formed, and finding your father a very agreeable gentleman, I invited him to the furnished flat I had taken at Queen’s Gate. I went to the theatre with him on two occasions, Benton accompanying us, and then your father returned to the country. One day, about two months later Howell happened to be in London, and presumably they decided that the plot was ripe for execution, for they asked me to write to Mr. Henfrey at Woodthorpe, and suggest that he should come to London, have an early supper with us, and go to a big charity ball at the Albert Hall. In due course I received a wire from Mr. Henfrey, who came to London, had supper with me, Benton and Howell being also present, while Howell’s small closed car, which he always drove himself, was waiting outside to take us to the ball.”
Then she paused and drew a long breath, as though the recollection of that night horrified her—as indeed it did.
“After supper I rose and left the room to speak to my servant for a moment, when, just as I re-entered, I saw Howell, who was standing behind Mr. Henfrey’s chair, suddenly bend, place his left arm around your father’s neck, and with his right hand press on the nape of the neck just above his collar. ‘Here!’ your father cried out, thinking it was a joke, ‘what’s the game?’