“Well, why not marry her?” queried Brock lazily. “You’re always so mysterious, my dear Hugh.”
“Why!—because I love Dorise Ranscomb. But Louise interests me, and I’m worried on her account because of that infernal fellow Charles Benton. Louise poses as his adopted daughter. Benton is a bachelor of forty-five, and, according to his story, he adopted Louise when she was a child and put her to school. Her parentage is a mystery. After leaving school she at first went to live with a Mrs. Sheldon, a young widow, in an expensive suite in Queen Anne’s Mansions, Westminster. After that she has travelled about with friends and has, I believe, been abroad quite a lot. I’ve nothing against Louise, except—well, except for the strange uncanny influence which that man Benton has over her. I hate the fellow!”
“I see! And as you cannot yet reach Woodthorpe and your father’s fortune, except by marrying Louise—which you don’t intend to do—what are you going to do now?”
“First, I intend that this woman they call ’Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo,’ the lucky woman who is a decoy of the Administration of the Bains de Mer, shall tell me the true circumstance of my father’s death. If I know them—then my hand will be strengthened.”
“Meanwhile you love Lady Ranscomb’s daughter, you say?”
“Yes. I love Dorise with all my heart. She, of course, knows nothing of the conditions of the will.”
There was a silence of some moments, interrupted only by the pop-pop of the pigeon-shots below.
Away across the white balustrade of the broad magnificent terrace the calm sapphire sea was deepening as the winter afternoon drew in. An engine whistled—that of the flower train which daily travels express from Cannes to Boulogne faster than the passenger train-deluxe, and bearing mimosa, carnations, and violets from the Cote d’Azur to Covent Garden, and to the florists’ shops in England.
“You’ve never told me the exact circumstances of your father’s death, Hugh,” remarked Brock at last.
“Exact circumstances? Ah! That’s what I want to know. Only that woman knows the secret,” answered the young man. “All I know is that the poor old guv’-nor was called up to London by an urgent letter. We had a shooting party at Woodthorpe and he left me in charge, saying that he had some business in London and might return on the following night—or he might be away a week. Days passed and he did not return. Several letters came for him which I kept in the library. I was surprised that he neither wrote nor returned, when, suddenly, ten days later, we had a telegram from the London police informing me that my father was lying in St. George’s Hospital. I dashed up to town, but when I arrived I found him dead. At the inquest, evidence was given to show that at half-past two in the morning a constable going along Albemarle Street found him in evening dress lying huddled up in a doorway. Thinking him intoxicated,