Read TWENTIETH CHAPTER - THE MAN WHO KNEW of Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo, free online book, by William Le Queux, on ReadCentral.com.

Late on Thursday night Dorise and her mother were driving home from Lady Strathbayne’s, in Grosvenor Square, where they had been dining.  It was a bright starlight night, and the myriad lamps of the London traffic flashed past the windows as Dorise sat back in silence.

She was tired.  The dinner had been followed by a small dance, and she had greatly enjoyed it.  For once, George Sherrard, her mother’s friend, had not accompanied them.  As a matter of fact, Lady Strathbayne disliked the man, hence he had not been invited.

Suddenly Lady Ranscomb exclaimed: 

“I heard about Hugh Henfrey this evening.”

“From whom?” asked her daughter, instantly aroused.

“From that man who took me in to dinner.  I think his name was Bowden.”

“Oh!  That stout, red-faced man.  I don’t know him.”

“Neither do I. He was, however, very pleasant, and seems to have travelled a lot,” replied her mother.  “He told me that your precious friend, Henfrey, is back, and is staying down in Surrey as guest of some woman named Bond.”

Dorise sat staggered.  Then her lover’s secret was out!  If his whereabouts were known in Society, then the police would quickly get upon his track!  She felt she must warn him instantly of his peril.

“How did he know, I wonder?” she asked anxiously.

“Oh!  I suppose he’s heard.  He seemed to know all about the fellow.  It appears that at last he’s become engaged.”

“Engaged?  Hugh engaged?”

“Yes, to a girl named Louise Lambert.  She’s the adopted daughter of a man named Benton, who was, by the way, a great friend of old Mr. Henfrey.”

Hugh engaged to Louise Lambert!  Dorise sat bewildered.

“I ­I don’t believe it!” she blurted forth at last.

“Ah, my dear.  You mean you don’t want to believe it ­because you are in love with him!” said her mother as the car rushed homeward.  “Now put all this silly girlish nonsense aside.  The fellow is under a cloud, and no good.  I tell you frankly I will never have him as my son-in-law.  How he has escaped the police is a marvel; but if the man Bowden knows where he is, Scotland Yard will, no doubt, soon hear.”

The girl remained silent.  Could it be possible that, after all, Hugh had asked Louise Lambert to be his wife?  She had known of her, and had met her with Hugh, but he had always assured her that they were merely friends.  Yet it appeared that he was now living in concealment under the same roof as she!

Lady Ranscomb, clever woman of the world as she was, watched her daughter’s face in the fleeting lights as they sped homeward, and saw what a crushing blow the announcement had dealt her.

“I don’t believe it,” the girl cried.

She had received word in secret ­presumably from the White Cavalier ­to meet Hugh at the Bush Hotel at Farnham on the following afternoon, but this secret news held her in doubt and despair.

Lady Ranscomb dropped the subject, and began to speak of other things ­of a visit to the flying-ground at Hendon on the following day, and of an invitation they had received to spend the following week with a friend at Cowes.

On arrival home Dorise went at once to her room, where her maid awaited her.

After the distracted girl had thrown off her cloak, her maid unhooked her dress, whereupon Dorise dismissed her to bed.

“I want to read, so go to bed,” she said in a petulant voice which rather surprised the neat muslin-aproned maid.

“Very well, miss.  Good-night,” the latter replied meekly.

But as soon as the door was closed Dorise flung herself upon the chintz-covered couch and wept bitterly as though her heart would break.

She had met Louise Lambert ­it was Hugh who had introduced them.  George Sherrard had several times told her of the friendship between the pair, and one night at the Haymarket Theatre she had seen them together in a box.  On another occasion she had met them at Ciro’s, and they had been together at the Embassy, at Ranelagh, and yet again she had seen them lunching together one Sunday at the Metropole at Brighton.

All this had aroused suspicion and jealousy in her mind.  It was all very well for Hugh to disclaim anything further than pure friendship, but now that Gossip was casting her hydra-headed venom upon their affairs, it was surely time to act.

Hugh would be awaiting her at Farnham next afternoon.

She crossed to the window and looked at the bright stars.  In war time she used to see the long beams of searchlights playing to and fro.  But now all was peace in London, and the world-war half forgotten.

Within herself arose a great struggle.  Hugh was accused of a crime ­an accusation of which he could not clear himself.  He had been hunted across Europe by the police and had, up to the present, been successful in slipping through their fingers.

But why did he visit that notorious woman at that hour of the night?  What could have been the secret bond between them?

The woman had narrowly escaped death presumably on account of his murderous attack upon her, while he had cleverly evaded arrest, until, at the present moment, his whereabouts was known only to a dinner-table gossip, and he was staying in the same house as the girl, love for whom he had always so vehemently disclaimed.

Poor Dorise spent a sleepless night.  She lay awake thinking ­and yet thinking!

At breakfast her mother looked at her and, with satisfaction, saw that she had gained a point nearer her object.

Dorise went into Bond Street shopping at eleven o’clock, still undecided whether to face Hugh or not.  The shopping was a fiasco.  She bought only a bunch of flowers.

But in her walk she made a resolve not to make further excuse.  She would not ask her mother for the car, and Hugh, by waiting alone, should be left guessing.

On returning home, her mother told her of George’s acceptance of an invitation to lunch.

“There’s a matinee at the Lyric, and he’s taking us there,” she added.  “But, dear,” she went on, “you look ever so pale!  What is worrying you?  I hope you are not fretting over that good-for-nothing waster, Henfrey!  Personally, I’m glad to be rid of a fellow who is wanted by the police for a very serious crime.  Do brighten up, dear.  This is not like you!”

“I ­well, mother, I ­I don’t know what to do,” the girl confessed.

“Do!  Take my advice, darling.  Think no more of the fellow.  He’s no use to you ­or to me.”

“But, mother dear ­”

“No, Dorise, no more need be said!” interrupted Lady Ranscomb severely.  “You surely would not be so idiotic as to throw in your lot with a man who is certainly a criminal.”

“A criminal!  Why do you denounce him, mother?”

“Well, he stands self-condemned.  He has been in hiding ever since that night at Monte Carlo.  If he were innocent, he would surely, for your sake, come forward and clear himself.  Are you mad, Dorise ­or are you blind?”

The girl remained silent.  Her mother’s argument was certainly a very sound one.  Had Hugh deceived her?

Her lover’s attitude was certainly that of a guilty man.  She could not disguise from herself the fact that he was fleeing from justice, and that he was unable to give an explanation why he went to the house of Mademoiselle at all.

Yvonne Ferad, the only person who could tell the truth, was a hopeless idiot because of the murderous attack.  Hence, the onus of clearing himself rested upon Hugh.

She loved him, but could she really trust him in face of the fact that he was concealed comfortably beneath the same roof as Louise Lambert?

She recalled that once, when they had met at Newquay in Cornwall over a tete-a-tete lunch, he had said, in reply to her banter, that Louise was a darling!  That he was awfully fond of her, that she had the most wonderful eyes, and that she was always alert and full of a keen sense of humour.

Such a compliment Hugh had never paid to her.  The recollection of it stung her.

She wondered what sort of woman was the person named Bond.  Then she decided that she had acted wisely in not going to Farnham.  Why should she?  If Hugh was with the girl he admired, then he might return with her.

Her only fear was lest he should be arrested.  If his place of concealment were spoken of over a West End dinner-table, then it could not be long before detectives arrested him for the affair at the Villa Amette.

On that afternoon Hugh had borrowed Mrs. Bond’s car upon a rather lame pretext, and had pulled up in the square, inartistic yard before the Bush ­the old coaching house, popular before the new road over the Hog’s Back was made, and when the coaches had to ascend that steep hill out of Guildford, now known as The Mount.  For miles the old road is now grass-grown and forms a most delightful walk, with magnificent views from the Thames Valley to the South Downs.  The days of the coaches have, alas! passed, and the new road, with its tangle of telegraph wires, is beloved by every motorist and motor-cyclist who spins westward in Surrey.

Hugh waited anxiously in the little lounge which overlooks the courtyard.  He went into the garden, and afterwards stood in impatience beneath the archway from which the street is approached.  Later, he strolled along the road over which he knew Dorise must come.  But all to no avail.

There was no sign of her.

Until six o’clock he waited, when, in blank despair, he mounted beside Mead again and drove back to Shapley Manor.  It was curious that Dorise had not come to meet him, but he attributed it to The Sparrow’s inability to convey a message to her.  She might have gone out of town with her mother, he thought.  Or, perhaps, at the last moment, she had been unable to get away.

On his return to Shapley he found Louise and Mrs. Bond sitting together in the charming, old-world drawing-room.  A log fire was burning brightly.

“Did you have a nice run, Hugh?” asked the girl, clasping her hands behind her head and looking up at him as he stood upon the pale-blue hearthrug.

“Quite,” he replied.  “I went around Hindhead down to Frensham Ponds and back through Farnham ­quite a pleasant run.”

“Mr. Benton has had to go to town,” said his hostess.  “Almost as soon as you had gone he was rung up, and he had to get a taxi out from Guildford.  He’ll be back to-morrow.”

“Oh, yes ­and, by the way, Hugh,” exclaimed Louise, “there was a call for you about a quarter of an hour afterwards.  I thought nobody knew you were down here.”

“For me!” gasped Henfrey, instantly alarmed.

“Yes, I answered the ’phone.  It was a girl’s voice!”

“A girl!  Who?”

“I don’t know who she was.  She wouldn’t give her name,” Louise replied.  “She asked if we were Shapley, and I replied.  Then she asked for you.  I told her that you were out in the car and asked her name.  But she said it didn’t matter at all, and rang off.”

“I wonder who she was?” remarked Hugh, much puzzled and, at the same time, greatly alarmed.  He scented danger.  The fact in itself showed that somebody knew the secret of his hiding-place, and, if they did, then the police were bound to discover him sooner or later.

Half an hour afterwards he took Mrs. Bond aside, and pointed out the peril in which he was placed.  His hostess, on her part, grew alarmed, for though Hugh was unaware of it, she had no desire to meet the police.  That little affair in Paris was by no means forgotten.

“It is certainly rather curious,” the woman admitted.  “Evidently it is known by somebody that you are staying with me.  Don’t you think it would be wiser to leave?”

Hugh hesitated.  He wished to take Benton’s advice, and told his hostess so.  With this she agreed, yet she was inwardly highly nervous at the situation.  Any police inquiry at Shapley would certainly be most unwelcome to her, and she blamed herself for agreeing to Benton’s proposal that Hugh should stay there.

“Benton will be back to-morrow,” Hugh said.  “Do you think it safe for me to remain here till then?” he added anxiously.

“I hardly know what to think,” replied the woman.  She herself had a haunting dread of recognition as Molly Maxwell.  She had crossed and recrossed the Atlantic, carefully covering her tracks, and she did not intend to be cornered at last.

After dinner, Hugh, still greatly perturbed at the mysterious telephone call, played billiards with Louise.  About a quarter to eleven, however, Mrs. Bond was called to the telephone and, closing the door, listened to an urgent message.

It was from Benton, who spoke from London ­a few quick, cryptic, but reassuring words ­and when the woman left the room three minutes later all her anxiety as to the police had apparently passed.

She joined the young couple and watched their game.  Louise handled her cue well, and very nearly beat her opponent.  Afterwards, when Louise went out, Mrs. Bond closed the door swiftly, and said: 

“I’ve been thinking over that little matter, Mr. Henfrey.  I really don’t think there is much cause for alarm.  Charles will be back to-morrow, and we can consult him.”

Hugh shrugged his shoulders.  He was much puzzled.

“The fact is, Mrs. Bond, I’m tired of being hunted like this!” he said.  “This eternal fear of arrest has got upon my nerves to such an extent that I feel if they want to bring me for trial ­well, they can.  I’m innocent ­therefore, how can they prove me guilty?”

“Oh! you mustn’t let it obsess you,” the woman urged.  “Mr. Benton has told me all about the unfortunate affair, and I greatly sympathize with you.  Of course, to court the publicity of a trial would be fatal.  What would your poor father think, I wonder, if he were still alive?”

“He’s dead,” said the young man in a low, hoarse voice; “but Mademoiselle Ferad knows the secret of his death.”

“He died suddenly ­did he not?”

“Yes.  He was murdered, Mrs. Bond.  I’m certain of it.  My father was murdered!”

“Murdered?” she echoed.  “What did the doctors say?”

“They arrived at no definite conclusion,” was Hugh’s response.  “He left home and went up to London on some secret and mysterious errand.  Later, he was found lying upon the pavement in a dying condition.  He never recovered consciousness, but sank a few hours afterwards.  His death is one of the many unsolved mysteries of London.”

“The police believe that you went to the Villa Amette and murdered Mademoiselle out of revenge.”

“Let them prove it!” said the young fellow defiantly.  “Let them prove it!”

“Prove what?” asked Louise, as she suddenly reopened the door, greatly to the woman’s consternation.

“Oh!  Only somebody ­that Spicer woman over at Godalming ­has been saying some wicked and nasty things about Mr. Henfrey,” replied Mrs. Bond.  “Personally, I should be annoyed.  Really those gossiping people are simply intolerable.”

“What have they been saying, Hugh?” asked the girl.

“Oh, it’s really nothing,” laughed Henfrey.  “I apologize.  I was put out a moment ago, but I now see the absurdity of it.  Forgive me, Louise.”

The girl looked from Mrs. Bond to her guest in amazement.

“What is there to forgive?” she asked.

“The fact that I was in the very act of losing my temper.  That’s all.”

Presently, when Louise was ascending the stairs with Mrs. Bond, the girl asked: 

“Why was Hugh so put out?  What has Mrs. Spicer been saying about him?”

“Only that he was a shirker during the war.  And, naturally, he is highly indignant.”

“He has a right to be.  He did splendidly.  His record shows that,” declared the girl.

“I urged him to take no notice of the insults.  The Spicer woman has a very venomous tongue, my dear!  She is a vicar’s widow!”

And then they separated to their respective rooms.

Half an hour later Hugh Henfrey retired, but he found sleep impossible; so he got up and sat at the open window, gazing across to the dim outlines of the Surrey hills, picturesque and undulating beneath the stars.

Who could have called him on the telephone?  It was a woman, but the voice might have been that of a female telephone operator.  Or yet ­it might have been that of Dorise!  She knew that he was at Shapley and looked it up in the telephone directory.  If that were the explanation, then she certainly would not give away the secret of his hiding-place.

Still he was haunted by a great dread the whole of that night.  The Sparrow had told him he had acted foolishly in leaving his place of concealment in Kensington.  The Sparrow was his firm friend, and in future he intended to obey the little old man’s orders implicitly ­as so many others did.

Next morning he came down to breakfast before the ladies, and beside his plate he found a letter ­addressed to him openly.  He had not received one addressed in his real name for many months.  Sight of it caused his heart to bound in anxiety, but when he read it he stood rooted to the spot.

Those lines which he read staggered him; the room seemed to revolve, and he re-read them, scarce believing his own eyes.

He realized in that instant that a great blow had fallen upon him, and that all was now hopeless.  The sunshine of his life, had in that single instant, been blotted out!