Outside the club door, Vermont’s motor was drawn up at the side waiting for him. He looked at his watch, and was surprised at the lateness of the hour. Stepping hastily into the vehicle, he held up two fingers to the chauffeur, who apparently needed no other instructions; for the car glided off, and Vermont, as he passed the club, looked up at the windows with an ugly smile.
As Lord Standon had said, few knew his origin or his business; but, in reality, his antecedents were of a very ordinary nature. He was the son of a solicitor who had lived with but one object in his sordid life, namely, the desire to make his son a man of position with the power to mix as an equal among that portion of society which only came to Malcolm Vermont when it wanted its scandals glossed over, or to obtain money. Ill-natured people were apt to hint that he had amassed his wealth by means of usury and the taking up of shady cases. At any rate, he made sufficient to bring up his son in luxury and send him to Oxford, where Jasper had first come in contact with Adrien Leroy. At the death of his father, Vermont found himself possessed of an income of a thousand a year, which enabled him to become a member of Adrien’s set, notwithstanding that the amount was a much smaller one than he had been led to expect, and, in his opinion, savoured almost of aristocratic poverty.
The car had rolled silently into a side street off St. James’s, where the chauffeur pulled up sharply at the door of one of the old-fashioned, though now newly-painted houses. Vermont sprang out and rang the bell twice.
“Has Miss Lester returned yet?” he asked of the smart maid who opened the door.
“Yes, sir,” she answered, and promptly led the way up a newly-carpeted staircase, redolent of Parma violet scent and glistening with white enamelled woodwork and plaster casts. The walls were adorned with pictures in the worst possible taste and the most glaring colours. As Vermont reached the first floor, a strong, savoury odour filled the air.
He smiled sarcastically, and sniffed as if the perfume were familiar to him.
“Miss Lester at supper?” he asked the white-capped maid, as she threw open the door on the first floor, and stood aside to let the visitor precede her.
“Yes, sir; supper’s been served,” was the demure answer.
Vermont passed into the room, which was furnished with the same lack of taste as the staircase. Two women were seated at the table, apparently just finishing their supper.
At first glance they might have been mistaken for mother and daughter, as the elder woman was clad in a sombre black velvet dress, and had a pale, thin face, crowned with heavy masses of grey hair. On closer inspection, however, one perceived that Julia Lester was far from old—indeed, not more than about forty-five, and with a peculiarly gentle, almost child-like expression, which at first took one almost by surprise.