It was difficult to explain this other than on account of his engaging amiability. Probably Vermont would have transformed the famous advice of Uriah Heep to “Always be obliging.” Certainly, no pleasanter company could be found, whether for man or woman; whatever the hour, however mixed the company, Jasper Vermont had always a smile, a jest, or a new and piquant scandal. In the smoking-room he would rival Mortimer Shelton in apparently good-natured cynicism. In a duchess’s boudoir he would enliven the afternoon tea hour with the neatest of epigrams and the spiciest slander of her Grace’s dearest friend. Nothing came amiss to him; as Adrien Leroy had once said, he was “a walking encyclopaedia.”
Yet with all Mr. Vermont’s charm of manner, he could resent, smiling still, an impertinence or a snub, and deal back a tongue thrust that would effectually put his opponent hors de combat. Truly of him might be quoted, “I smile, and murder while I smile.”
To-night he was apparently enjoying the gay scene before him. His sharp black eyes were like little snakes, darting here, there, and everywhere, while he wagged his smooth head to the time of the music, as if in keen enjoyment.
Mortimer Shelton noticed him; “gloating over his future victims,” he commented, almost audibly, as he and his partner passed close to where he was standing. Vermont, however, apparently did not hear him, but continued to smile, amiably as the dancers whirled by.
It was nearly daybreak when the carriages drew up outside the great house to take the guests to their respective homes; and, having successfully steered a young marchioness into her electric brougham, Leroy found himself standing close to Vermont, not far from where his own motor awaited him.
“They call this pleasure, Jasper,” he said, almost scornfully, watching the struggling, aristocratic crowd with a half-contemptuous smile on his lips. “Why, it’s hard work. They fight and push for the sake of a few hours spent in a crowded, poisoned room; and there’s no prophet to rise up and proclaim it madness.”
“No,” laughed Vermont cynically; “prophets nowadays have no liking for being stoned; and, after all, life would be unendurable, were it not for its pleasures. Let me remind you that it is nearly four o’clock, and you are due at Lord Standon’s rooms.”
With a sigh Leroy turned and jumped into the motor, followed by his faithful squire; and the powerful car hooted its way through the twilight of the dawn.
They reached Lord Standon’s chambers, to find the finish of a theatre party. The room was filled with beautiful women, mostly stars of the musical comedy stage, including Ada Lester, who was evidently on her best behaviour.
Here, amidst light and laughter, the goddess of pleasure was being feted by her youthful worshippers, and none appeared a more eager votary than Adrien Leroy. Yet, as he stood, champagne glass in hand, propounding the toast of the evening—or rather morning, for the dawn was breaking in the sky—there was none to tell him of the impending cloud of treachery that hung over his head. None who dare warn him to beware of the friendship of—Mr. Jasper Vermont.