Madame Midas, by Fergus Hume

Chapter XVII

The Best of Friends Must Part

Union is strength, and if Dr Gollipeck had only met Slivers and revealed his true opinion of Vandeloup to him, no doubt that clever young man would have found himself somewhat embarrassed, as a great deal of a man’s past history can be found out by the simple plan of putting two and two together. Fortunately, however, for Gaston, these two gentlemen never met, and Gollipeck came to the conclusion that he could see nothing to blame in Vandeloup’s conduct, though he certainly mistrusted him, and determined mentally to keep an eye on his movements. What led him to be suspicious was the curious resemblance the appearance of this young man had to that of a criminal described in the ‘Les Empoisonneurs d’Aujourd’hui’ as having been transported to New Caledonia for the crime of poisoning his mistress. Everything, however, was vague and uncertain; so Dr Gollipeck, when he arrived home, came to the above-named conclusion that he would watch Vandeloup, and then, dismissing him from his mind, went to work on his favourite subject.

Meanwhile, M. Vandeloup slept the sleep of the just, and next morning, after making his inquiries after the health of Madame Midas — a thing he never neglected to do — he went into Ballarat in search of Pierre. On arriving at the Wattle Tree Hotel he was received by Miss Twexby in dignified silence, for that astute damsel was beginning to regard the fascinating Frenchman as a young man who talked a great deal and meant nothing.

He was audacious enough to win her virgin heart and then break it, so Miss Twexby thought the wisest thing would be to keep him at a distance. So Vandeloup’s bright smiles and merry jokes failed to call forth any response from the fair Martha, who sat silently in the bar, looking like a crabbed sphinx.

‘Is my friend Pierre in?’ asked Vandeloup, leaning across the counter, and looking lovingly at Miss Twexby.

That lady intimated coldly that he was in, and had been for the last two weeks; also that she was sick of him, and she’d thank M. Vandeloup to clear him out — all of which amused Vandeloup mightily, though he still continued to smile coolly on the sour-faced damsel before him.

‘Would you mind going and telling him I want to see him?’ he asked, lounging to the door.

‘Me!’ shrieked Martha, in a shrill voice, shooting up from behind the counter like an infuriated jack-in-the-box. ‘No, I shan’t. Why, the last time I saw him he nearly cut me like a ham sandwich with that knife of his. I am not,’ pursued Miss Twexby, furiously, ‘a loaf of bread to be cut, neither am I a pin-cushion to have things stuck into me; so if you want to be a corpse, you’d better go up yourself.’

‘I hardly think he’ll touch me,’ replied Vandeloup, coolly, going towards the door which led to Pierre’s bedroom. ‘You’ve had a lot of trouble with him, I’m afraid; but he’s going down to Melbourne tonight, so it will be all right.’

‘And the bill?’ queried Miss Twexby, anxiously.

‘I will pay it,’ said Vandeloup, at which she was going to say he was very generous, but suppressed the compliment when he added, ‘out of his own money.’

Gaston, however, failed to persuade Pierre to accompany him round to buy an outfit. For the dumb man lay on his bed, and obstinately refused to move out of the room. He, however, acquiesced sullenly when his friend told him he was going to Melbourne, so Vandeloup left the room, having first secured Pierre’s knife, and locked the door after him. He gave the knife to Miss Twexby, with injunctions to her to keep it safe, then sallied forth to buy his shipwrecked friend a box and some clothes.

He spent about ten pounds in buying an outfit for the dumb man, hired a cab to call at the ‘Wattle Tree’ Hotel at seven o’clock to take the box and its owner to the station. And then feeling he had done his duty and deserved some recompense, he had a nice little luncheon and a small bottle of wine for which he paid out of Pierre’s money. When he finished he bought a choice cigar, had a glass of Chartreuse, and after resting in the commercial room for a time he went out for a walk, intending to call on Slivers and Dr Gollipeck, and in fact do anything to kill time until it would be necessary for him to go to Pierre and take him to the railway station.

He walked slowly up Sturt Street, and as the afternoon was so warm, thought he would go up to Lake Wendouree, which is at the top of the town, and see if it was any cooler by the water. The day was oppressively hot, but not with the bright, cheery warmth of a summer’s day, for the sun was hidden behind great masses of angry-looking clouds, and it seemed as if a thunderstorm would soon break over the city. Even Vandeloup, full of life and animation as he was, felt weighed down by the heaviness of the atmosphere, and feeling quite exhausted when he arrived at the lake, he was glad enough to sit down on one of the seats for a rest.

The lake under the black sky was a dull leaden hue, and as there was no wind the water was perfectly still. Even the trees all round it were motionless, as there came no breeze to stir their leaves, and the only sounds that could be heard were the dull croaking of the frogs amid the water grasses, and the shrill cries of children playing on the green turf. Every now and then a steamer would skim across the surface of the water in an airy manner, looking more like a child’s clockwork toy than anything else, and Vandeloup, when he saw one of these arrive at the little pier, almost expected to see a man put in a huge key to the paddle wheels and wind it up again.

On one of the seats Vandeloup espied a little figure in white, and seeing that it was Kitty, he strolled up to her in a leisurely manner. She was looking at the ground when he came up, and was prodding holes in the spongy turf with her umbrella, but glanced up carelessly as he came near. Then she sprang up with a cry of joy, and throwing her arms around his neck, she kissed him twice.

‘I haven’t seen you for ages,’ said Kitty, putting her arm in his as they sat down. ‘I just came up here for a week, and did not think I’d see you.’

‘The meeting was quite accidental, I know,’ replied Gaston, leaning back lazily; ‘but none the less pleasant on that account.’

‘Oh, no,’ said Kitty, gravely shaking her head; ‘unexpected meetings are always pleasanter than those arranged, for there’s never any disappointment about them.’

‘Oh, that’s your experience, is it?’ answered her lover, with an amused smile, pulling out his cigarette case. ‘Well, suppose you reward me for my accidental presence here, and light a cigarette for me.’

Kitty was of course delighted, and took the case while M. Vandeloup leaned back in the seat, his hands behind his head, and stared reflectively at the leaden-coloured sky. Kitty took out a cigarette from the case, placed it between her pretty lips, and having obtained a match from one of her lover’s pockets, proceeded to light it, which was not done without a great deal of choking and pretty confusion. At length she managed it, and bending over Gaston, placed it in his mouth, and gave him a kiss at the same time.

‘If pa knew I did this, he’d expire with horror,’ she said, sagely nodding her head.

‘Wouldn’t be much loss if he did,’ replied Vandeloup, lazily, glancing at her pretty face from under his eyelashes; ‘your father has a great many faults, dear.’

‘Oh, “The Elect” think him perfect,’ said Kitty, wisely.

‘From their point of view, perhaps he is,’ returned Gaston, with a faint sneer; ‘but he’s not a man given to exuberant mirth.’

‘Well, he is rather dismal,’ assented Kitty, doubtfully.

‘Wouldn’t you like to leave him and lead a jollier life?’ asked Vandeloup, artfully, ‘in Melbourne, for instance.’

Kitty looked at him half afraid.

‘I— I don’t know,’ she faltered, looking down.

‘But I do, Bebe,’ whispered Gaston, putting his arm round her waist; ‘you would like to come with me.’

‘Why? Are you going?’ cried Kitty, in dismay.

Vandeloup nodded.

‘I think I spoke about this before,’ he said, idly brushing some cigarette ash off his waistcoat.

‘Yes,’ returned Kitty, ‘but I thought you did not mean it.’

‘I never say anything I do not mean,’ answered Vandeloup, with the ready lie on his lips in a moment; ‘and I have got letters from France with money, so I am going to leave the Pactolus.’

‘And me?’ said Kitty, tearfully.

‘That depends upon yourself, Bebe,’ he said rapidly, pressing her burning cheek against his own; ‘your father would never consent to my marriage, and I can’t take you away from Ballarat without suspicions, so —’

‘Yes?’ said Kitty, eagerly, looking at him.

‘You must run away,’ he whispered, with a caressing smile.

‘Alone?’

‘For a time, yes,’ he answered, throwing away his cigarette; ‘listen — next week you must meet me here, and I will give you money to keep you in Melbourne for some time; then you must leave Ballarat at once and wait for me at the Buttercup Hotel in Gertrude Street, Carlton; you understand?’

‘Yes,’ faltered Kitty, nervously; ‘I— I understand.’

‘And you will come?’ he asked anxiously, looking keenly at her, and pressing the little hand he held in his own. Just as she was going to answer, as if warning her of the fatal step she was about to take, a low roll of thunder broke on their ears, and Kitty shrank back appalled from her lover’s embrace.

‘No! no! no!’ she almost shrieked, hysterically, trying to tear herself away from his arms, ‘I cannot; God is speaking.’

‘Bah!’ sneered Vandeloup, with an evil look on his handsome face, ‘he speaks too indistinctly for us to guess what he means; what are you afraid of? I will join you in Melbourne in two or three weeks, and then we will be married.’

‘But my father,’ she whispered, clasping her hot hands convulsively.

‘Well, what of him?’ asked Vandeloup, coolly; ‘he is so wrapped up in his religion that he will not miss you; he will never find out where you are in Melbourne, and by the time he does you will be my wife. Come,’ he said, ardently, whispering the temptation in her ear, as if he was afraid of being heard, ‘you must consent; say yes, Bebe; say yes.’

She felt his hot breath on her cheek, and felt rather than saw the scintillations of his wonderful eyes, which sent a thrill through her; so, utterly exhausted and worn out by the overpowering nervous force possessed by this man, she surrendered.

‘Yes,’ she whispered, clinging to him with dry lips and a beating heart; ‘I will come!’ Then her overstrained nature gave way, and with a burst of tears she threw herself on his breast.

Gaston let her sob quietly for some time, satisfied with having gained his end, and knowing that she would soon recover. At last Kitty grew calmer, and drying her eyes, she rose to her feet wan and haggard, as if she was worn out for the want of sleep, and not by any manner of means looking like a girl who was in love. This appearance was caused by the revolt of her religious training against doing what she knew was wrong. In her breast a natural instinct had been fighting against an artificial one; and as Nature is always stronger than precept, Nature had conquered.

‘My dear Bebe,’ said Vandeloup, rising also, and kissing her white cheek, ‘you must go home now, and get a little sleep; it will do you good.’

‘But you?’ asked Kitty, in a low voice, as they walked slowly along.

‘Oh, I,’ said M. Vandeloup, airily; ‘I am going to the Wattle Tree Hotel to see my friend Pierre off to Melbourne.’

Then he exerted himself to amuse Kitty as they walked down to town, and succeeded so well that by the time they reached Lydiard Street, where Kitty left him to go up to Black Hill, she was laughing as merrily as possible. They parted at the railway crossing, and Kitty went gaily up the white dusty road, while M. Vandeloup strolled leisurely along the street on his way to the Wattle Tree Hotel.

When he arrived he found that Pierre’s box had come, and was placed outside his door, as no one had been brave enough to venture inside, although Miss Twexby assured them he was unarmed — showing the knife as a proof.

Gaston, however, dragged the box into the room, and having made Pierre dress himself in his new clothes, he packed all the rest in a box, corded it, and put a ticket on it with his name and destination, then gave the dumb man the balance of his wages. It was now about six o’clock, so Vandeloup went down to dinner; then putting Pierre and his box into the cab, stepped in himself and drove off.

The promise of rain in the afternoon was now fulfilled, and it was pouring in torrents. The gutters were rivers, and every now and then through the driving rain came the bluish dart of a lightning flash.

‘Bah!’ said Vandeloup, with a shiver, as they got out on the station platform, ‘what a devil of a night.’

He made the cab wait for him, and, having got Pierre’s ticket, put him in a second-class carriage and saw that his box was safely placed in the luggage-van. The station was crowded with people going and others coming to say goodbye; the rain was beating on the high-arched tin roof, and the engine at the end of the long train was fretting and fuming like a living thing impatient to be gone.

‘You are now on your own responsibility, my friend,’ said Vandeloup to Pierre, as he stood at the window of the carriage; ‘for we must part, though long together have we been. Perhaps I will see you in Melbourne; if I do you will find I have not forgotten the past,’ and, with a significant look at the dumb man, Vandeloup lounged slowly away.

The whistle blew shrilly, the last goodbyes were spoken, the guard shouted ‘All aboard for Melbourne,’ and shut all the doors, then, with another shriek and puff of white steam, the train, like a long, lithe serpent, glided into the rain and darkness with its human freight.

‘At last I have rid myself of this dead weight,’ said Vandeloup, as he drove along the wet streets to Craig’s Hotel, where he intended to stay for the night, ‘and can now shape my own fortune. Pierre is gone, Bebe will follow, and now I must look after myself.’

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:42