“The Mutual people won’t regard it in that light.”
“Hardly. Will you have a drink, my dear fellow? You are looking seedy.”
A stiff brandy-and-soda pulled Victor Nevill together, and for nearly an hour the two men spoke in low and serious tones, occasionally referring to the heap of papers.
“Not the slightest clew,” said Stephen Foster. “It is absurd to suspect Raper of collusion with the thieves—his only fault was carelessness. Leave the affair to the police. I shan’t give it another thought.”
“That’s easier said than done,” Nevill replied. He rose and put on his hat. “I must be off now. Oh, about the other matter—have you said anything further to your daughter?”
“Not a word.”
“She still defies you?”
“She refuses to give the fellow up.” Stephen Foster sighed. “The girl has lots of spirit.”
“You won’t let her have her own way?”
“Not if I can prevent it.”
“Prevent it?” echoed Nevill, sneeringly. “What measures will you take?”
“I shall see the artist.”
“Much good that will do,” said Nevill. “Better begin by enforcing your authority over your daughter.”
“I can’t be harsh with her,” Stephen Foster answered. “I am more inclined to pity than anger.”
Under the circumstances, now that he knew how far matters had gone with the woman he loved and his rival, Victor Nevill was curiously unconcerned and unmoved, at least outwardly. It is true that he did not despair of success, strong as were the odds against him. There was a hard and evil expression on his face, which melted at times into a cunning smile of satisfaction, as he walked down Wardour street.
“I am on the right scent, and the game will soon be in my hands,” he reflected. “In another week I ought to be able to put an effectual spoke in Jack Vernon’s wheel. It will be a blow for Madge, but she will forget him presently, and then I will commence to play my cards. I won’t fail—I’m determined to make her my wife. Shall I let Foster into the scheme? I think not. Better let things take their course, and keep him in ignorance of the fact that I had a hand in the revelation, if it comes off. I’m afraid it won’t, though.”
We must take the reader now to Ravenscourt Park, to the studio of Jack Vernon. Early in the afternoon, while Victor Nevill was closeted with Stephen Foster, the young artist was sitting at his easel. He had been working since breakfast on a landscape, a commission from one of his wealthy patrons. Things had gone unusually well with him lately. His picture was on the line at the Academy, it had been favorably reviewed, and he had received several offers for it. This indicated increased fame, with a larger income, and a luxurious little home for Madge.
“Will you have your lunch now, sir?” Alphonse called from the doorway of an inner room.
“Yes, you may fetch it,” Jack replied. “I’m as hungry as a bear.”