“A fancy dress ball here?” he replied. “But if my father has refused you, it is scarcely likely that I shall have any more influence.” He turned to his aunt. “Why not have Barminster House, Aunt Penelope?” This was the town house, supposed to be given up almost exclusively to the young man’s use, though he generally inhabited his own chambers in Jermyn Street. “I will hand it over to you from cellar to attic, and will bind myself to be your faithful slave from early morn to dewy eve.”
His aunt laughed.
“No, thank you, Adrien, I know your idea of slavery,” she said. “You would hand it over to Mr. Vermont, and he does quite enough of your work already.” Vermont was a favourite with Miss Penelope, owing chiefly to his frequent gifts of marron glaces—a great weakness of hers. “Besides,” she continued, “Barminster House is too modern. I want to revive a ball, just as it happened two or three centuries ago. It must be Barminster Castle or nothing.”
Adrien smiled across at her.
“Your word is law, my dear aunt; but if I were you, and it comes off at all, I’d leave the arranging of it to Jasper.”
Mr. Vermont beamed. Nothing seemed to please him so much as the idea of work, especially when it involved the spending of money other than his own.
“I am at your service, dear lady,” he said amiably.
Miss Penelope rose, and gave the signal for the ladies to retire.
“I shall take you at your word, Mr. Vermont,” she said graciously, as she passed out.
After the ladies had gone, the wine circulated freely, and in the merry badinage that followed it must be admitted that Jasper Vermont was the life and soul of the party. He had the newest scandal at his finger-tips, the latest theatrical news; and all was related in a witty manner that kept his listeners in a perpetual roar of laughter.
Adrien, though compelled by politeness to take his share in the conversation, was yet glad when they adjourned to the silver drawing-room. This was one of the smallest of the half-dozen drawing-rooms in Barminster Castle, and was decorated entirely in blue and silver. The furniture was upholstered in pale blue stain and silver embroideries. Curtains, hangings, and even carpet, were all of the same colour, while the mirrors and ornaments were entirely of silver.
To-night, Lady Constance’s dress matched the room, for it was of palest azure silk, veiled with chiffon, on which were Etruscan silver ornaments and silver-thread embroidery. It was a colour which suited her shell-like complexion; and she looked her best in it.
She was at the piano when the men entered; and Leroy, who was passionately fond of music, and a musician of no mean order himself, came straight over to her. At his request, Constance sang song after song; while Vermont sat a little apart, listening, and occasionally glancing thoughtfully at the beautiful profile of the singer. Then his cold, malignant eyes would wander with an almost sinister expression over the rapt face of his friend and benefactor, as he leaned over the piano. But at any movement of the other guests his countenance would assume its usual amiability of expression, as though a mask were re-adjusted, while his fat, white hand softly beat time to the music.