Clever, Mr. Vermont most undoubtedly was. His worst enemies would not have denied him that virtue; but in this case his cleverness had over-reached itself. It had so amused him to torment his victim, that he had never questioned Wilfer’s statement that the girl, Jessica, was his niece. Had he known her identity, subsequent events might have proved far different; but man, with all his gifts, is blind as to the future; he sees as in a glass darkly, trusting and believing in his own feeble powers, as if he were omnipotent.
Meanwhile, Jasper trudged gaily along.
“Strange,” he murmured, “how things work round for me. That princely idiot plays into my hands at every turn. What luck that I should just have followed him to-night—I’ll live to see him humbled and disgraced yet!” With which pleasant thought he hummed Miss Lester’s latest song and pursued his way to the theatre.
Some few hours later, he stood beside Adrien before the latter’s motor.
“Are you coming with me, Jasper?” said Leroy heartily. “I’m afraid I’ve taken up a lot of your time to-night.”
“My dear Adrien, does not my whole life belong to you?” replied the arch-hypocrite.
Adrien waved the suggestion aside.
“By the way, what is the time?” he said, feeling for his watch.
“I don’t know,” answered his friend, “mine has stopped.”
“Well, mine has gone,” said Leroy quietly. “I remember now; it was in that affair in the park.”
“What?” exclaimed Jasper, in tones of the deepest sympathy. “Not that valuable repeater, surely?”
“Yes,” said Adrien. “I must get another one.”
Jasper smiled, as his fingers touched furtively the watch and chain in question.
“Did you find your papers?” inquired Adrien, as they rolled through the streets. “Jackson told me you lost them coming out of the theatre one night.”
“No,” answered Vermont, a flush of annoyance crossing his brow. “I have not. But it’s of no consequence; Jackson need not have bothered you about such a trifle. Merely accounts. I dropped them somewhere between the stage and Ada’s motor, and I suppose I must look upon them as gone for ever.”
“I hope not,” said Adrien sympathetically.
“They are of no consequence,” said Vermont again, as they reached Jermyn Court.
Nevertheless, Mr. Vermont would have given many pounds of his dearly-beloved money to have had those papers safely clutched in his hand. But at present they were lying on the bosom of a wandering, homeless girl, and it was well for Jasper that he could not foresee when she was to cross his path again.
On the following morning, as Adrien stood before a mirror, putting the finishing touches to his toilet, carefully supervised by Norgate, his thoughts went back to Jessica. The idea of the child wandering about the streets, homeless and penniless, filled him with a supreme pity. He had meant to have spoken to Jasper about it, but he felt half ashamed; besides, he rather dreaded to see Vermont’s cynical smile at the idea of his turning philanthropist to street-waifs.