Mr. Harker bowed.
“I presume you are the Mr. Harker into whose possession came the forged bill?” continued his lordship.
“As a mere servant—yes, my lord,” answered Mr. Harker. “I have become aware of the identity of the man who committed the actual forgery, and also of the fact that he is now preparing to bring further trouble on yourself and Mr. Adrien Leroy.”
Lord Barminster started as if to speak, but Mr. Harker continued:
“Fortunately, I am able to avert this, because I have brought the forged bills with me; and I will explain all fully, if your lordship will hear me through. It will take some little time, but I ask your patience.”
Lord Barminster nodded and said quietly:
With a dry cough, Mr. Harker opened the little black bag he invariably carried with him, and drew from it a roll of papers. With slow precision, the old man unfastened it and looked across at his listeners.
“Five years ago,” he commenced, “my master—for, as I said before, I was merely a servant, a machine, acting under instructions—ordered me to buy up any bills bearing your son’s name. Furthermore, I was to lend the money to any amount within my master’s credit to those who brought his name as guarantee. I did so, and every bill and liability which was contracted either in his own name or in yours, my lord, by Mr. Leroy, fell into the hands of this man, who carried on the business under cover of my name. He posed as the friend of Mr. Leroy, and by means of forgeries, and cooked accounts, he has managed to acquire control of your entire revenue.”
“Jasper Vermont!” exclaimed Shelton involuntarily; while Lord Barminster leaned forward eagerly.
Mr. Harker bowed his head. “You are aware,” he continued, “that all matters of business, even the tradesmen’s bills, passed through his hands. That confidence he has abused, to how great an extent I alone can prove; for I was his tool and slave, and held his secrets. Not a bill was paid without his receiving his commission and adding to its amount. He it was who lent the money to Mr. Leroy’s friends, after he had procured his name with which to back them; and he it was who, behind the screen which I supplied, gradually, yet surely, drew your son into his net. What object he had, besides that of gain, I know not; but he certainly desired his utter ruin in wealth and honour, and compelled me to help him in his schemes. Among other bills we held was one, presumably, indorsed by Mr. Mortimer Shelton——”
Shelton started up; but Lord Barminster said quietly:
“Let us hear the whole story first, Mortimer.”
“That signature was a forgery,” continued Mr. Harker, “double forgery indeed; for it imitated Mr. Leroy’s handwriting as well as that of Mr. Shelton.”
“I knew it,” murmured his lordship in a low tone. “But pray continue, Mr. Harker.”