Leroy smiled gravely at his companion’s flippant tones.
“You make an eloquent advocate; but there’s little need for pity in her case; her tastes are natural to her class. I was to blame for not realising it before; but she’ll be well set up for the future,” he said, and forthwith dismissed the subject from his mind. “But Jasper, what of this chestnut entered the steeplechase?”
Vermont’s dark, restless eyes dropped for a moment; then he said lightly:
“Do you mean that Yorkshire screw? Oh, he is all right! Can’t run the course, I should say, let alone the last rise. Nothing can touch the roan. If I weren’t a beggar, I’d cover ‘King Cole’s’ back with guineas.”
“Do it for me,” said Leroy carelessly, as he settled into the waiting Daimler, which was his latest purchase.
“What, another thousand?” asked Jasper almost eagerly.
“Two, if you like,” said his friend, as the chauffeur started the car, and with a smile to Vermont he took his departure.
Vermont stood looking after him, his gaze almost still in its fixity; then he turned and passed up the stairs. In the dining-room he found Norgate, clearing away the cards and glasses, in no very amiable humour.
“Has there been a luncheon party?” queried Mr. Vermont.
“Yes, sir,” answered Norgate aggrievedly; “Mr. Shelton, Lord Standon and Mr. Paxhorn.”
“And bridge?” murmured Mr. Vermont inquiringly.
“Yes, sir; and from what I heard, I believe Mr. Leroy lost.”
“Ah,” commented the other softly, “I fear Mr. Leroy always does lose, doesn’t he?”
“He’s made me lose my time to-day with his fads and fancies,” grumbled Norgate, removing the folding card-table; “what with bringing in street wenches at one o’clock in the morning; and they mustn’t be disturbed, if you please.”
Jasper Vermont was instantly on the alert. He was not above encouraging a servant to gossip, and, although Norgate was not given to err in this direction as a rule, upon the present occasion his grievance got the better of him, and Vermont was soon in possession of such slight facts as could be gleaned.
Johann Wilfer, Jessica’s adopted father, was German by birth, and the son of an innkeeper in one of the tiny villages on the banks of the Rhine. In his youth he had studied as an art-student at Munich; but, finally, by his idle and dissolute behaviour, so angered the authorities that he had been compelled to return home. Tiring of the rural life there, he finally obtained from his parents sufficient money to come to London to try his fortune.
Here he soon obtained some work from the smaller art dealers, which enabled him to live in comparative comfort, and had it not been for his unreliability and his love of drink he might have seen to be a good artist.
Wilfer was a handsome young fellow in those days, and while on one of his wandering tours in Kent he met and won the heart of a simple little country girl, named Lucy Goodwin. Lucy believed her lover to be everything that was good, and, trusted him even to the extent of her betrayal; so that, under some pretence, young Wilfer was able to entice the girl to Canterbury, where, a few weeks later, he deserted her.