Lord Barminster had already arranged for his three visitors to be in the morning-room, which opened on to the terrace, as they would there be within call, and also within earshot.
“A word with you, Mr. Vermont,” began Shelton sternly.
Jasper smiled, as usual, and turned towards him.
“As many as you like, Mr. Shelton,” he said smoothly.
Mortimer looked at him steadily; then he said in a voice which was hard as steel:
“Mr. Vermont, Lord Barminster has kindly allowed me to speak first. We have every reason to believe that you have had some connection with this affair of Harker’s notwithstanding your profession of friendship for Adrien.”
Mr. Vermont drew himself up proudly.
“I?” he said indignantly. “What should I have to do with moneylending?”
“Be careful,” said Shelton sternly, “there are not people wanting who will fight for Leroy’s honour even as it were their own.”
Vermont smiled cynically.
“Indeed, Shelton,” he said, “it is hardly for you to speak. After all, it was you who nearly ruined Adrien by your denial of the bill, not I.”
Lord Barminster strode forward.
“You cowardly rascal,” he exclaimed furiously; but Mortimer placed himself between them.
“My lord,” he said, “leave him to me. If force is necessary, I will punish him.”
“You wrong me, Shelton,” he said gently; “and not only me, but Adrien, whom you pretend to care for. I have stood his true friend, as he knows, and have done my best to keep trouble from him, when, indeed, none other could have done so. But I suppose this is all the gratitude I can expect from you for the discharge of friendship’s duties. Adrien will no longer be of the fashionable world, you think, after yesterday’s case; and it is high time to get rid of his humble friend, Jasper Vermont.”
Adrien, who had been talking to Lady Constance, now glanced appealingly towards Mortimer; but with a gesture, as if to silence him, Shelton turned to Vermont again.
“Friend!” he exclaimed bitterly. “A pretty friend! But no more of this. I advise you to leave the Castle while you are safe, for we have sufficient proof here to send you to penal servitude.”
“Yes,” Lord Barminster repeated, “leave the house at once. If I find you within my grounds an hour hence, I will thrash you within an inch of your life, old man as I am.”
Jasper Vermont’s face grew livid with anger, and something approaching fear as well; he clenched his hands so tightly that the carefully manicured nails dug deep into his flesh. But with characteristic insolence he tried to brazen it out.
“Your grounds?” he exclaimed, in virulent scorn. “Your grounds, my lord! First tell me where I shall find them. You have no grounds. Barminster Castle is in the hands of a moneylender; these lands, as far as the eye can reach, are the property of Mr. Harker, the City capitalist, by right of countless bills and deeds which your precious son has made over to him.”