“Why did Hugh go there at all? That is what I fail to understand,” she declared.
“Don’t wonder any longer. He had, I know, an urgent and distinct motive to call that night.”
“But the woman! I hear she is a notorious adventuress.”
“And the adventuress, Miss Ranscomb, often has, deep in her soul, the heart of a pure woman,” he said. “One must never judge by appearance or gossip. What people may think is the curse of many of our lives. I hope you do not misjudge Mr. Henfrey.”
“I do not. But I am anxious to hear his explanation.”
“You shall—and before long, too,” he replied. “But I want you, if you will, to answer a question. I do not put it from mere idle curiosity, but it very closely concerns you both. Have you ever heard him speak of a girl named Louise Lambert?”
“Louise Lambert? Why, yes! He introduced her to me once. She is, I understand, the adopted daughter of a man named Benton, an intimate friend of old Mr. Henfrey.”
“Has he ever told you anything concerning her?”
“Nothing much. Why?”
“He has never told you the conditions of his father’s will?”
“Never—except that he has been left very poorly off, though his father died in affluent circumstances. What are the conditions?”
The mysterious stranger paused for a moment.
“Have you, of late, formed an acquaintance of a certain Mrs. Bond, a widow?”
“I met her recently in South Kensington, at the house of a friend of my mother, Mrs. Binyon. Why?”
“How many times have you met her?”
“Two—or I think three. She came to tea with us the day before we came up here.”
“H’m! Your mother seems rather prone to make easy acquaintanceships—eh? The Hardcastles were distinctly undesirable, were they not?—and the Jameses also?”
“Why, what do you know about them?” asked the girl, much surprised, as they were two families who had been discovered to be not what they represented.
“Well,” he laughed. “I happen to be aware of your mother’s charm—that’s all.”
“You seem to know quite a bit about us,” she remarked. “How is it?”
“Because I have made it my business to know, Miss Ranscomb,” he replied. “Further, I would urge upon you to have nothing to do with Mrs. Bond.”
“Why not? We found her most pleasant. She is the widow of a wealthy man who died abroad about two years ago, and she lives somewhere down in Surrey.”
“I know all about that,” he answered in a curious tone. “But I repeat my warning that Mrs. Bond is by no means a desirable acquaintance. I tell you so for your own benefit.”
Inwardly he was angry that the woman should have so cleverly made the acquaintance of the girl. It showed him plainly that Benton and she were working on a set and desperate plan, while the girl before him was entirely ignorant of the plot.