“A mighty regal way he has with him,” he muttered again, as he put away his book. “Ten thousand pounds! Go on, Jasper, my boy—persevere! The game starts well, the winning cards are yours. Gentlemen, make your game, the ball is rolling.”
With this invitation to mankind in general, and his titled and wealthy acquaintances in particular, Mr. Jasper Vermont made his preparations for the night. He kept no valet; men of his type seldom care to have another in such close relations as must necessarily happen when one man holds the keys of another. It has been said by some cynic, that “the man who takes off your coat sees what is passing in the heart beneath it,” and with this statement Mr. Vermont probably agreed.
“I am a simple-minded, rough-and-ready creature,” he often assured his friends; “a man to worry my tie, and force me to buy a new coat, because he desires my old one, would drive me mad.”
So he undressed himself slowly, reckoning up his gains, smiling at his mask of a face in the large mirror, and hatching his little plots every knot he untied, every button he released. At last he got into bed, and slept as easily and serenely as any simple-minded farmer.
But that night Adrien Leroy could not sleep. Dismissing his valet, he threw himself into a chair, and began to review the events of the day, which had affected him more deeply than he would confess to. Then the mere sight of Lady Constance with Lord Standon had convinced him that any hope of ever winning her for his wife was at an end. For so many years had he himself been wooed and sought after, without response, that he was as ignorant of the rules of the game of love as any child. Love! he had sneered at it, jested at its power all his life; but now he was beginning to suffer from its pangs himself. He rose hastily, and throwing open the window of his dressing room, stepped out on the balcony.
It was an exquisite night, and the stars shone like diamonds. Yet their very distance and detachment from all things earthly only served to deepen Adrien’s melancholy. Before him stretched, in seemingly endless vista, the woods and lands of his heritage. As far as eye could reach, the earth and all within it and upon it belonged to him; and yet he sighed for the love and devotion of one frail girl, which, had he but known, were already his.
As he walked to and fro, he was again assailed by a wholesome distaste of his present empty, aimless existence, and a great longing came over him to break away from it and start afresh. Yes! he was very tired of it all. The men and women with whom he had up to this spent his time were becoming abhorrent to him. The thought of the soft lips and glances that had hitherto beguiled him, and lulled him into a state bordering upon stupor, now filled him with shame. Love, that marvellous panacea, had driven out the false, the impure visions of his heart, as surely and as thoroughly as ever Hercules cleansed the Augean stables.