They drove over the railway bridge and up the steep hill out of Guildford seated side by side. Benton had been her “uncle” ever since her childhood days, and a most kind and considerate one he had always proved.
Sometimes when at school she did not see him for periods of a year or more and she had no home to go to for holidays. Her foster-father was abroad. Yet her school fees were paid regularly, her allowance had been ample, and her clothes were always slightly better than those of the other girls. Therefore, though she called him “uncle,” she looked upon Benton as her father and obeyed all his commands.
Just about noon the car swung into the gates of Shapley, and soon they were indoors. Benton threw off his coat, and in an abrupt manner said to the servant:
“I want to see Mrs. Bond at once.”
Then, turning to Louise, he exclaimed:
“I want to see Molly privately. I have some urgent business to discuss with her before your profiteer friends arrive.”
“All right,” replied the girl cheerily. “I’ll leave you alone,” and she ascended the broad oak staircase, the steps of which were worn thin by the tramp of many generations.
A few moments later Charles Benton stood in the morning-room, where Mrs. Bond still sat before the welcome log fire.
“Back again, Charles!” she exclaimed, rising to greet him. “Well, how goes it?”
“Not too well,” was his reply as he closed the door. “I only got back last night. Five days ago I saw The Sparrow at the Palace Hotel in Madrid. He’s doing all he can in young Henfrey’s interests, but he is not too hopeful.”
“I can’t make out,” said the man, apparently much perturbed. “He wired me to go to Madrid, and I went. But it seems that I’ve been on a fool’s errand.”
“That’s very unsatisfactory,” said the woman.
“It is, my dear Molly! From his attitude it seemed to me that he is protecting Henfrey from some secret motive of his own—one that is not at all in accordance with our plans.”
“But he is surely acting in our interests!”
“Ah! I’m not so sure about that.”
“You surprise me. He knows our intentions and approved of them!”
“His approval has, I think, been upset by the murderous attack upon Yvonne.”
“But he surely will not act against us! If he does——”
“If he does—then we may as well throw up the sponge, Molly.”
“We could give it all away to the police,” remarked the woman.
“And by so doing give ourselves away!” answered Benton. “The Sparrow has many friends in the police, recollect. Abroad, he distributes a quantity of annual douceurs, and hence he is practically immune from arrest.”
“I wish we were,” laughed the handsome adventuress.
“Yes. We have only to dance to his tune,” said he. “And the tune just now is not one which is pleasing to us—eh?”