“What was that?” inquired Lady Merivale, looking keenly over at him.
“He gave the jockey a ten-pound note the night before the race; and, of course, the fellow got drunk and pulled the ‘King’ up at the last fence.”
“And lost his life, did he not?” asked one of the artists.
Lord Standon nodded, thoughtfully. He was attached to his friend Leroy, and did not see why he should be blamed unnecessarily.
“Yes,” he replied; “the strangest part of it all was the way the poor fellow raved at Vermont.”
“What do you mean?” asked Lady Merivale, sharply.
“We were all standing round him,” explained Lord Standon, “and when Vermont came up the man seemed to go off his head, and practically said he had sold the race. Of course, it was all nonsense, though I believe Lord Barminster is having some inquiries made.”
“But why should Vermont have sold the race? Really, it’s too absurd,” put in Paxhorn scornfully. “Especially as he’d backed him for five hundred pounds himself. It’s hardly likely he’d do such a thing for his own sake, apart from his sense of honour, and his friendship for Leroy.”
Lady Merivale glanced sceptically at the speaker. Her faith in Jasper’s sense of honour was not very strong. Then she gave a deep sigh.
“Why, Eveline,” said her husband, looking up, “you seem quite grieved. Not on your own account, I hope?” The idea of his wife betting was very repugnant to him, and Lady Merivale always endeavoured to keep her little flutters, whether on ’Change or on the turf, entirely to herself. She laughed lightly, therefore, as she answered:
“Oh, no, indeed; I lost a dozen of gloves, that was all.” A vision of the cheque for five hundred pounds, which she had drawn, arose before her as she spoke.
“I’m afraid it will take a little more than that to settle Leroy’s book,” said Lord Merivale carelessly.
At this moment the door opened and Adrien Leroy himself was announced. There was the usual buzz of welcome, and her ladyship’s eyes flashed just one second, as he bent over her hand.
“I am so glad you have come, Mr. Leroy,” she said. “You can settle a knotty question for us. This is my latest acquisition. Now have I been deceived, or have I not? Is it a Rubens?”
Adrien smiled at the two artists, who were slight acquaintances of his.
“You ask me while such judges are near? Cannot you decide, Alford—nor you, Colman?”
“Well, I say it is,” said the first.
“While I think it is forgery,” laughed the second; and thereupon ensued a lengthy and detailed criticism.
Adrien bent nearer to the picture under examination; then he said quietly:
“Where two such lights cannot discover the truth, who may? I agree with you, Alford, and so I do with you, Colman. Both your arguments are so convincing that if Rubens had painted it, and were present, to hear you, Colman, he’d be persuaded he hadn’t; and if he had not painted it, you, Alford, could almost convince him that he had.”