Madame Midas, by Fergus Hume

Chapter VI

On Change

Young Australia has a wonderful love for the excitement of gambling — take him away from the betting ring and he goes straight to the share market to dabble in gold and silver shares. The Great Humbug Gold Mining Company is floated on the Melbourne market — a perfect fortune in itself, which influential men are floating in a kind of semi-philanthropic manner to benefit mankind at large, and themselves in particular. Report by competent geologists; rich specimens of the reef exhibited to the confiding public; company of fifty thousand shares at a pound each; two shillings on application; two shillings on allotment; the balance in calls which influential men solemnly assure confiding public will never be needed. Young Australia sees a chance of making thousands in a week; buys one thousand shares at four shillings — only two hundred pounds; shares will rise and Young Australia hopefully looks forward to pocketing two or three thousand by his modest venture of two hundred; company floated, shares rising slowly. Young Australia will not sell at a profit, still dazzled by his chimerical thousands. Calls must be made to put up machinery; shares have a downward tendency. Never mind, there will only be one or two calls, so stick to shares as parents of possible thousands. Machinery erected; now crushing; two or three ounces to ton a certainty. Shares have an upward tendency; washing up takes place — two pennyweights to ton. Despair! Shares run down to nothing, and Young Australia sees his thousands disappear like snow in the sun. The Great Humbug Reef proves itself worthy of its name, and the company collapses amid the groans of confiding public and secret joy of influential men, who have sold at the top price.

Vandeloup knew all about this sort of thing, for he had seen it occur over and over again in Ballarat and Melbourne. So many came to the web and never got out alive, yet fresh flies were always to be found. Vandeloup was of a speculative nature himself, and had he been possessed of any surplus cash would, no doubt, have risked it in the jugglery of the share market, but as he had none to spare he stood back and amused himself with looking at the ‘spider and the fly’ business which was constantly going on. Sometimes, indeed, the fly got the better of spider number one, but was unable to keep away from the web, and was sure to fall into the web of spider number two.

M. Vandeloup, therefore, considered the whole affair as too risky to be gone into without unlimited cash; but now he had a chance of making money, he determined to try his hand at the business. True, he knew that he was in for a swindle, but then he was behind the scenes, and would benefit by the knowledge he had gained. If the question at issue had really been that of getting gold out of the reef and paying dividends with the profits, Gaston would have snapped his fingers scornfully, and held aloof; but this was simply a running up of shares by means of a rich reef being struck. He intended to buy at the present market value, which was four shillings, and sell as soon as he could make a good profit — say, at one pound — so there was not much chance of him losing his money. The shares would probably drop again when the pocket of gold was worked out, but then that would be none of his affair, as he would by that time have sold out and made his pile. M. Vandeloup was a fly who was going straight into the webs of stockbroking spiders, but then he knew as much about this particular web as the spiders themselves.

Full of his scheme to make money, Vandeloup started for town to see a broker — first, however, having settled with Mrs Pulchop over Kitty’s disappearance. He had found a letter from Kitty in the bedroom, in which she had bidden him good-bye for ever, but this he did not show to Mrs Pulchop, merely stating to that worthy lady that his ‘wife’ had left him.

‘And it ain’t to be wondered at, the outraged angel,’ she said to Gaston, as he stood at the door, faultlessly dressed, ready to go into town; ‘the way you treated her were shameful.’

Gaston shrugged his shoulders, lit a cigarette, and smiled at Mrs Pulchop.

‘My dear lady,’ he said, blandly, ‘pray attend to your medicine bottles and leave my domestic affairs alone; you certainly understand the one, but I doubt your ability to come to any conclusion regarding the other.’

‘Fine words don’t butter no parsnips,’ retorted Mrs Pulchop, viciously; ‘and if Pulchop weren’t an Apoller, he had a kind heart.’

‘Spare me these domestic stories, please,’ said Vandeloup, coldly, ‘they do not interest me in the least; since my “wife”,’ with a sneer, ‘has gone, I will leave your hospitable roof. I will send for all my property either today or to-morrow, and if you make out your account in the meantime, my messenger will pay it. Good day!’ and without another word Vandeloup walked slowly off down the path, leaving Mrs Pulchop speechless with indignation.

He went into town first, to the City of Melbourne Bank, and cashed Meddlechip’s cheque for six hundred pounds, then, calling a hansom, he drove along to the Hibernian Bank, where he had an account, and paid it into his credit, reserving ten pounds for his immediate use. Then he reentered his hansom, and went along to the office of a stockbroker, called Polglaze, who was a member of ‘The Bachelors’, and in whose hands Vandeloup intended to place his business.

Polglaze was a short, stout man, scrupulously neatly dressed, with iron grey hair standing straight up, and a habit of dropping out his words one at a time, so that the listener had to construct quite a little history between each, in order to arrive at their meaning, and the connection they had with one another.

‘Morning!’ said Polglaze, letting the salutation fly out of his mouth rapidly, and then closing it again in case any other word might be waiting ready to pop out unknown to him.

Vandeloup sat down and stated his business briefly.

‘I want you to buy me some Magpie Reef shares,’ he said, leaning on the table.

‘Many?’ dropped out of Polglaze’s mouth, and then it shut again with a snap. ‘Depends on the price,’ replied Vandeloup, with a shrug; ‘I see in the papers they are four shillings.’

Mr Polglaze took up his share book, and rapidly turned over the leaves — found what he wanted, and nodded.

‘Oh!’ said Vandeloup, making a rapid mental calculation, ‘then buy me two thousand five hundred. That will be about five hundred pounds’ worth.’

Mr Polglaze nodded; then whistled.

‘Your commission, I presume,’ said Vandeloup, making another calculation, ‘will be threepence?’

‘Sixpence,’ interrupted the stockbroker.

‘Oh, I thought it was threepence,’ answered Vandeloup, quietly; ‘however, that does not make any difference to me. Your commission at that rate will be twelve pounds ten shillings?’

Polglaze nodded again, and sat looking at Vandeloup like a stony mercantile sphinx.

‘If you will, then, buy me these shares,’ said Vandeloup, rising, and taking up his gloves and hat, ‘when am I to come along and see you?’

‘Four,’ said Polglaze.

Today?’ inquired Vandeloup.

A nod from the stockbroker.

‘Very well,’ said Vandeloup, quietly, ‘I’ll give you a cheque for the amount, then. There’s nothing more to be said, I believe?’ and he walked over to the door.

‘Say!’ from Polglaze.

‘Yes,’ replied Gaston, indolently, swinging his stick to and fro.

‘New?’ inquired the stockbroker.

‘You mean to this sort of thing?’ said Vandeloup, looking at him, and receiving a nod in token of acquiescence, added, ‘entirely.’

‘Risky,’ dropped from the Polglaze mouth. ‘I never knew a gold mine that wasn’t,’ retorted Vandeloup, dryly.

‘Bad,’ in an assertive tone, from Polglaze.

‘This particular mine, I suppose you mean?’ said Gaston, with a yawn, ‘very likely it is. However, I’m willing to take the risk. Good day! See you at four,’ and with a careless nod, M. Vandeloup lounged out of the office.

He walked along Collins Street, met a few friends, and kept a look-out for Kitty. He, however, did not see her, but there was a surprise in store for him, for turning round into Swanston Street, he came across Archie McIntosh. Yes, there he was, with his grim, severe Scotch face, with the white frill round it, and Gaston smiled as he saw the old man, dressed in rigid broadcloth, casting disproving looks on the pretty girls walking along.

‘A set o’ hizzies,’ growled the amiable Archie to himself, ‘prancin’ alang wi’ their gew-gaws an’ fine claes, like war horses — the daughters o’ Zion that walk wi’ mincin’ steps an’ tinklin’ ornaments.’

‘How do you do?’ said Vandeloup, touching the broadcloth shoulder; upon which McIntosh turned.

‘Lord save us!’ he ejaculated, grimly, ‘it’s yon French body. An’ hoo’s a’ wi’ ye, laddie? Eh, but ye’re brawly dressed, my young man,’ with a disproving look; ‘I’m hopin’ they duds are paid for.’

‘Of course they are,’ replied Vandeloup, gaily, ‘do you think I stole them?’

‘Weel, I’ll no gae sa far as that,’ remarked Archie, cautiously; ‘maybe ye have dwelt by the side o’ mony waters, an’ flourished. If he ken the Screepture ye’ll see God helps those wha help themselves.’

‘That means you do all the work and give God the credit,’ retorted Gaston, with a sneer; ‘I know all about that.’

‘Ah, ye’ll gang tae the pit o’ Tophet when ye dee,’ said Mr McIntosh, who had heard this remark with horror; ‘an’ ye’ll no be sae ready wi’ your tongue there, I’m thinkin’; but ye are not speerin aboot Mistress Villiers.’

‘Why, is she in town?’ asked Vandeloup, eagerly.

‘Ay, and Seliny wi’ her,’ answered Archie, fondling his frill; ‘she’s varra rich noo, as ye’ve nae doot heard. Ay, ay,’ he went on, ‘she’s gotten a braw hoose doon at St Kilda, and she’s going to set up a carriage, ye ken. She tauld me,’ pursued Mr McIntosh, sourly, looking at Vandeloup, ‘if I saw ye I was to be sure to tell ye to come an’ see her.’

‘Present my compliments to Madame,’ said Vandeloup, quickly, ‘and I will wait on her as soon as possible.’

‘Losh save us, laddie,’ said McIntosh, irritably, ‘you’re as fu’ o’ fine wards as a play-actor. Have ye seen onything doon in this pit o’ Tophet o’ the bairn that rin away?’

‘Oh, Miss Marchurst!’ said Vandeloup, smoothly, ready with a lie at once. ‘No, I’m sorry to say I’ve never set eyes on her.’

‘The mistress is joost daft aboot her,’ observed McIntosh, querulously; ‘and she’s ganging tae look all thro’ the toun tae find the puir wee thing.’

‘I hope she will!’ said M. Vandeloup, who devoutly hoped she wouldn’t. ‘Will you come and have a glass of wine, Mr McIntosh?’

Til hae a wee drappy o’ whusky if ye’ve got it gude,’ said McIntosh, cautiously, ‘but I dinna care for they wines that sour on a body’s stomach.’

McIntosh having thus graciously assented, Vandeloup took him up to the Club, and introduced him all round as the manager of the famous Pactolus. All the young men were wonderfully taken up with Archie and his plain speaking, and had Mr McIntosh desired he could have drunk oceans of his favourite beverage. However, being a Scotchman and cautious, he took very little, and left Vandeloup to go down to Madame Midas at St Kilda, and bearing a message from the Frenchman that he would call there the next day.

Archie having departed, Vandeloup got through the rest of the day as he best could. He met Mr Wopples in the street, who told him how he had found Kitty, quite unaware that the young man before him was the villain who had betrayed the girl. Vandeloup was delighted to think that Kitty had not mentioned his name, and quite approved of Mr Wopples’ intention to take the girl on tour. Having thus arranged for Kitty’s future, Gaston went along to his broker, and found that the astute Polglaze had got him his shares.

‘Going up,’ said Polglaze, as he handed the scrip to Vandeloup and got a cheque in exchange.

‘Oh, indeed!’ said Vandeloup, with a smile. ‘I suppose my two friends have begun their little game already,’ he thought, as he slipped the scrip into his breast pocket.

‘Information?’ asked Polglaze, as Vandeloup was going.

‘Oh! you’d like to know where I got it,’ said M. Vandeloup, amiably. ‘Very sorry I can’t tell you; but you see, my dear sir, I am not a woman, and can keep a secret.’

Vandeloup walked out, and Polglaze looked after him with a puzzled look, then summed up his opinion in one word, sharp, incisive, and to the point —

‘Clever!’ said Polglaze, and put the cheque in his safe.

Vandeloup strolled along the street thinking.

‘Bebe is out of my way,’ he thought, with a smile; ‘I have a small fortune in my pocket, and,’ he continued, thoughtfully, ‘Madame Midas is in Melbourne. I think now,’ said M. Vandeloup, with another smile, ‘that I have conquered the blind goddess.’

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