“I did not know he was engaged,” the old man exclaimed.
“No, the news has not been made public; but he told me in confidence,” Lady Constance returned calmly, as she rose from the breakfast-table. Then, having seen her companion installed with his newspaper, she passed out to the terrace.
To the astonishment of every one in Barminster Castle, some few hours later, Mr. Vermont reappeared.
In his turn he seemed quite as surprised when he learned that Leroy had already returned to London.
“Gone,” he echoed, “just a few hours ago? Dear! dear! I must have missed him by telling my chauffeur to take the road across the moor.”
He entered the Castle while he was speaking, and the servants hastened to learn his commands; for, next to the sun, there is nothing better than the moon—next to the Hon. Adrien came his friend and agent, Mr. Jasper Vermont. But Jasper waved them amiably aside, as he entered the dining-room.
“You would like some luncheon, sir?” inquired the butler, coming forward respectfully.
“Just a snack, Judson. Don’t put yourselves out for me, I’m off again directly.”
While the estimable Judson went off to get this snack—which resolved itself into an exquisitely-laid lunch—Mr. Vermont dropped into a chair, and surveyed the scene through the open window. Strange to say, his thoughts seemed to run similarly to those of Lady Constance, earlier in the day; for he exclaimed under his breath:
“It’s a large stake, worth playing for. Awkward my missing him.” He smoothed out a pile of deeds and documents and replaced them in his leather bag. “He would have signed these without a word here; at his chambers, he’ll amuse himself by reading them, confound it!”
A rustle of silken skirts attracted his attention; the scowl vanished, and he readjusted his smiling mask as the door opened and Lady Constance entered the room.
She had been informed of his sudden arrival; and, though heartily disliking him, she was yet bound to play the part of hostess while her aunt was resting.
Mr. Vermont bowed low over her extended hand, as over that of an empress.
“I hope your ladyship is well?” he asked.
“Quite, thank you, Mr. Vermont,” she said with cold indifference. “I suppose you have come down to see Adrien? He started for London before breakfast this very morning.”
“So I have just heard,” he returned sweetly.
“I am not greatly surprised, as Lady Merivale was asking after him last night. I expect she summoned him.”
The girl’s face paled ever so slightly, though she strove to give no sign that his shaft had hit home. Adrien had received a letter that morning, as she knew, one having been brought up to her by mistake.
“Very likely,” she said imperturbably. “I daresay he had to attend to some business too.”