Madame Midas, by Fergus Hume

Part II

Chapter I

Tempus Fugit

A whole year had elapsed since the arrival of Vandeloup in Melbourne, and during that time many things had happened. Unfortunately, in spite of his knowledge of human nature, and the fact that he started with a good sum of money, Gaston had not made his fortune. This was due to the fact that he was indisposed to work when his banking account was at all decent; so he had lived like a prince on his capital, and trusted to his luck furnishing him with more when it was done.

Kitty had joined him in Melbourne as arranged, and Gaston had established her in a place in Richmond. It was not a regular boarding-house, but the lady who owned it, Mrs Pulchop by name, was in the habit of letting apartments on reasonable terms; so Vandeloup had taken up his abode there with Kitty, who passed as his wife.

But though he paid her all the deference and respect due to a wife, and though she wore a marriage ring, yet, as a matter of fact, they were not married. Kitty had implored her lover to have the ceremony performed as soon as he joined her; but as the idea was not to M. Vandeloup’s taste, he had put her off, laughingly at first, then afterwards, when he began to weary of her, he said he could not marry her for at least a year. The reason he assigned for this was the convenient one of family affairs; but, in reality, he foresaw he would get tired of her in that time, and did not want to tie himself so that he could not leave her when he wished. At first, the girl had rebelled against this delay, for she was strongly biased by her religious training, and looked with horror on the state of wickedness in which she was living. But Gaston laughed at her scruples, and as time went on, her finer feelings became blunted, and she accepted the position to which she was reduced in an apathetic manner.

Sometimes she had wild thoughts of running away, but she still loved him too well to do so; and besides, there was no one to whom she could go, as she well knew her father would refuse to receive her. The anomalous position which she occupied, however, had an effect on her spirits, and from being a bright and happy girl, she became irritable and fretful. She refused to go out anywhere, and when she went into town, either avoided the principal streets, or wore a heavy veil, so afraid was she of being recognised by anyone from Ballarat and questioned as to how she lived. All this was very disagreeable to M. Vandeloup, who had a horror of being bored, and not finding Kitty’s society pleasant enough, he gradually ceased to care for her, and was now only watching for an opportunity to get rid of her without any trouble. He was a member of the Bachelor’s Club, a society of young men which had a bad reputation in Melbourne, and finding Kitty was so lachrymose, he took a room at the Club, and began to stay away four or five days at a time. So Kitty was left to herself, and grew sad and tearful, as she reflected on the consequence of her fatal passion for this man. Mrs Pulchop was vastly indignant at Vandeloup neglecting his wife, for, of course, she never thought she was anything else to the young man, and did all in her power to cheer the girl up, which, however, was not much, as Mrs Pulchop herself was decidedly of a funereal disposition.

Meanwhile, Gaston was leading a very gay life in Melbourne. His good looks and clever tongue had made him a lot of friends, and he was very popular both in drawing-room and club. The men voted him a jolly sort of fellow and a regular swagger man, while the ladies said that he was heavenly; for, true to his former tactics, Vandeloup always made particular friends of women, selecting, of course, those whom he thought would be likely to be of use to him. Being such a favourite entailed going out a great deal, and as no one can pose as a man of fashion without money, M. Vandeloup soon found that his capital was rapidly melting away. He then went in for gambling, and the members of The Bachelors, being nearly all rich young men, Gaston’s dexterity at ecarte and baccarat was very useful to him, and considerably augmented his income.

Still, card-playing is a somewhat precarious source from which to derive an income, so Vandeloup soon found himself pretty hard up, and was at his wit’s end how to raise money. His gay life cost him a good deal, and Kitty, of course, was a source of expense, although, poor girl, she never went anywhere; but there was a secret drain on his purse of which no one ever dreamed. This was none other than Pierre Lemaire, who, having spent all the money he got at the Pactolus, came and worried Vandeloup for more. That astute young man would willingly have refused him, but, unfortunately, Pierre knew too much of his past life for him to do so, therefore he had to submit to the dumb man’s extortions with the best grace he could. So what with Kitty’s changed manner, Pierre wanting money, and his own lack of coin, M. Vandeloup was in anything but an enviable position, and began to think it was time his luck — if he ever had any — should step in. He thought of running up to Ballarat and seeing Madame Midas, whom he knew would lend him some money, but he had a certain idea in his head with regard to that lady, so wished to retain her good opinion, and determined not to apply to her until all other plans for obtaining money failed. Meanwhile, he went everywhere, was universally admired and petted, and no one who saw him in society with his bright smile and nonchalant manner, would have imagined what crafty schemes there were in that handsome head.

Madame Midas was still up at Ballarat and occupying the same cottage, although she was now so wealthy she could have inhabited a palace, had she been so minded. But prosperity had not spoiled Mrs Villiers. She still managed her own affairs, and did a great deal of good with her money — expending large sums for charitable purposes, because she really wished to do good, and not, like so many rich people, for the purpose of advertising herself.

The Pactolus was now a perfect fortune, and Madame Midas being the sole owner, her wealth was thought to be enormous, as every month a fresh deluge of gold rolled into her coffers from the inexhaustible Devil’s Lead. McIntosh, of course, still managed the mine, and took great pride in his success, especially after so many people had scoffed at it.

Various other mines had started in the vicinity, and had been floated on the Melbourne market, where they kept rising and falling in unison with the monthly yield of the Pactolus. The Devil’s Lead was rather unequal, as sometimes the ground would be rich, while another time it would turn out comparatively poor. People said it was patchy, and some day would run out altogether, but it did not show any signs of exhaustion, and even if it had, Madame Midas was now so wealthy that it mattered comparatively little. When the monthly yield was small, the mines round about would fall in the share market to a few shillings, but if it was large, they would rush up again to as many pounds, so that the brokers managed to do pretty well out of the fluctuations of the stock.

One thing astonished Madame Midas very much, and that was the continuous absence of her husband. She did not believe he was dead, and fully expected to see him turn up some time; but as the months passed on, and he did not appear, she became uneasy. The idea of his lurking round was a constant nightmare to her, and at last she placed the matter in the hands of the police, with instructions to try to ascertain what became of him.

The police did everything in their power to discover Villiers’ whereabouts, but without success. Unfortunately, Slivers, who might have helped them, being so well acquainted with the missing man’s habits, was dead; and, after trying for about three months to find some traces of Villiers, the police gave up the search in despair. Madame Midas, therefore, came to the conclusion that he was either dead or had left the colony, and though half doubtful, yet hoped that she had now seen the last of him.

She had invested her money largely in land, and thus being above the reach of poverty for the rest of her life, she determined to take up her abode in Melbourne for a few months, prior to going to England on a visit. With this resolution, she gave up her cottage to Archie, who was to live in it, and still manage the mine, and made preparations to come down to Melbourne with Selina Sprotts.

Vandeloup heard of this resolution, and secretly rejoiced at it, for he thought that seeing she liked him so much, now that her husband was to all appearances dead, she might marry him, and it was to this end he had kept up his acquaintance with her. He never thought of the girl he had betrayed, pining away in a dull lodging. No, M. Vandeloup, untroubled by the voice of conscience, serenely waited the coming of Madame Midas, and determined, if he could possibly arrange it, to marry her. He was the spider, and Madame Midas the fly; but as the spider knew the fly he had to inveigle into his web was a very crafty one, he determined to act with great caution; so, having ascertained when Madame Midas would be in Melbourne, he awaited her arrival before doing anything, and trusted in some way to get rid of Kitty before she came. It was a difficult game, for M. Vandeloup knew that should Kitty find out his intention she would at once go to Mrs Villiers, and then Madame would discover his baseness in ruining the girl. M. Vandeloup, however, surveyed the whole situation calmly, and was not ill-pleased at the position of affairs. Life was beginning to bore him in Melbourne, and he wanted to be amused. Here was a comedy worthy of Moliere — a jealous woman, a rich lady, and a handsome man.

‘My faith,’ said M. Vandeloup, smiling to himself as he thought of the situation, ‘it’s a capital comedy, certainly; but I must take care it doesn’t end as a tragedy.’

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55