“Well, I ought to know something of her,” was that lady’s retort. “I’m her aunt. I paid that man”—pointing at Wilfer—“to look after her, and a nice way he’s done it, turning her out to starve, while he got drunk on my money. You get off,” she turned on the astounded Johann, “and don’t you let me hear any of your complaints, or I’ll have something to tell the police.”
At the sound of the hated word “police,” Wilfer turned, and mumbling some incoherent words, slunk away. His game was up, and seeing him vanquished, Miss Lester now took the centre of the stage, as it were, and turned her attention on the scowling Jasper.
“You waste your breath with that skunk,” she exclaimed, pointing a bejewelled finger at him. “He’s too tough a fox for you gentlemen. I’m one of his own sort, and I’ll show you what he’s made of. Jasper, my fine friend, you sold me as well as Mr. Leroy there, and I’m going to cut up a bit rougher than what he has.” She turned to Adrien, who had been standing bewildered by this fresh interruption. “You want to know what his little game is? Well, I’ll tell you. He wanted your money first; then, having ruined you and put you out of the running, he meant to have a try for your sweetheart.”
Adrien turned on her almost fiercely, and glanced at Constance, who motioned him to be silent.
“That surprises you, does it?” continued Ada. “Some of you ladies and gentlemen are as blind as bats. I could see his little game months ago. That was his object; and he didn’t care what he did to gain it. But he went a bit too far when he tried to do me!”
She turned to Jessica, and, laying her hand on the girl’s shoulder, drew her forward.
“You want to know who this is? Well, it’s just as I said before. She’s my niece. I don’t think anybody, looking at the two of us, will deny the relationship, either. She takes after her mother. And now you want to know who her father is?”
Again she paused to heighten the effect of her words; but before an answer could be given, a girl’s cry of horror rang out, and Jessica suddenly flung herself in front of Adrien. Jasper Vermont, for the first time catching sight of Harker, and realising at last that the game was up, indeed, had made a sudden movement, once more wrenching himself free from Shelton. Something glittered in his hand; then came a flash, a report, and with that one scream of agony, the lifeless form of Jessica fell into Adrien’s arms.
In an instant, all was in confusion. Jasper Vermont, with a mocking laugh, had sprung over the stone balustrade, and was running across the turf in the direction of the stream which, lower down, spanned the race-course, and, even at this time of the year, was almost a foaming torrent. Attracted by the sound of the shot, the servants had approached, and now set off in hot pursuit.
But Jasper Vermont was fleet of foot, and when he had gained the top of the rising ground he turned for one second to laugh again. But the laugh died on his lips, as a voice—audible even above all the hubbub and confusion—the shrill voice of Ada Lester, screamed: