“I am careful, sir, I am careful, very; I do not think—I trust—there have been no losses, not even small ones. I do my best to secure your interests.”
“Well, I believe you. You keep up the appearances, I hope? Never forget to tell people that you are only a subordinate, that you are acting for others and strictly on the instructions given to you by them. The more you assert it the more they’ll think it a falsehood. Keep it up, Harker, and then, well, you know I keep my promises. By the way, how is the little Lucy?”
As he spoke the name, half scornfully, half indifferently, a visible change came over his tool and puppet. His face became paler, if that were possible, his head seemed to drop, his whole figure was expressive of deepest dejection, fear, supplication.
“Well, sir, quite well, and deeply grateful for your kindness,” he said, wetting his dry lips.
“Ah! and so she should be, young hussey. A fine thing for her. Married and respectable. If that soft-hearted, simple little husband of hers knew all I know! Strange that I should have dropped on to her and that first lover of hers down in that quiet place. Strange, wasn’t it? Now I daresay they thought they were as safe as at the bottom of the sea. Didn’t think that Mr. Jasper Vermont, a friend of the family, could be staying at the same hotel. He ought to have married her, of course. Better that he didn’t, eh? Yet that weak, amiable grocer, innocent and unsuspecting, lets her have it all her own way, and believes her just a little purer and whiter than the angels. Clever little thing, Lucy. Makes him think she loves him, I daresay.”
“My poor child loves her husband better than her own life, sir,” breathed the father. “She is so happy, they love each other so, and she is my own flesh and blood. Forget that accursed night and the devil that led her astray. Forget that she is anything but the wife of an honest man. Have mercy on her, sir.”
“Well, Harker, I will; I am all mercy. Do your duty by me and I won’t go down to tell the story of that night to Lucy’s good, trusting husband. But don’t ask me to forget, my good fellow, for that’s folly. I never forget!”
“Thank you, sir, thank you,” Harker said, wiping the perspiration from his brow. “I will do my duty and work day and night in your interests, if you will only spare my child and keep others from knowing of that one false step.”
Mr. Jasper Vermont leaned back in his chair, and regarded his servant’s agitation with quiet amusement for a few minutes; then he gathered all the papers together, put them away in his desk, and dismissed Mr. Harker with a nod, saying:
“You can go now. Don’t forget the Leroy paper, renew Beaumont, but sell up that artist scamp to the last stick and stone. Parasites can bite as well as cling, Mr. Wilson.”