As he drove rapidly into town Gaston’s thoughts were anything but pleasant. Not that he was thinking about Kitty, for he regarded the scene he had with her as merely an outburst of hysterical passion, and did not dream she would take any serious step. He forgot all about her when he left the house, and, lying back in the cab smoking one of his everlasting cigarettes, pondered about his position. The fact was he was very hard up for money, and did not know where to turn for more. His luck at cards was so great that even the Bachelors, used as they were to losing large sums, began to murmur among themselves that M. Vandeloup was too clever, and as that young gentleman by no means desired to lose his popularity he stopped playing cards altogether, and so effectually silenced everyone. So this mode of making money was gone, and until Madame Midas arrived in town Vandeloup did not see how he was going to keep on living in his former style. But as he never denied himself anything while he had the money, he ordered the cabman to drive to Paton’s, the florist in Swanston Street, and there purchased a dainty bunch of flowers for his button hole. From thence he drove to his club, and there found a number of young fellows, including Mr Barty Jarper, all going to the Princess Theatre to see ‘The Mikado’. Barty rushed forward when Vandeloup appeared and noisily insisted he should come with them. The men had been dining, and were exhilarated with wine, so Vandeloup, not caring to appear at the theatre with such a noisy lot, excused himself. Barty and his friends, therefore, went off by themselves, and left Vandeloup alone. He picked up the evening paper and glanced over it with a yawn, when a name caught his eye which he had frequently noticed before.
‘I say,’ he said to a tall, fair young fellow who had just entered, ‘who is this Meddlechip the paper is full of?’
‘Don’t you know?’ said the other, in surprise; ‘he’s one of our richest men, and very generous with his money.’
‘Oh, I see! buys popularity,’ replied Vandeloup, coolly; ‘how is it I’ve never met him?’
‘He’s been to China or Chile — or — something commencing with a C,’ returned the young man, vaguely; ‘he only came back to Melbourne last week; you are sure to meet him sooner or later.’
‘Thanks, I’m not very anxious,’ replied Vandeloup, with a yawn; ‘money in my eyes does not compensate for being bored; where are you going to-night?’
‘“Mikado”,’ answered the other, whose name was Bellthorp; ‘Jarper asked me to go up there; he’s got a box.’
‘How does he manage to pay for all these things?’ asked Vandeloup, rising; ‘he’s only in a bank, and does not get much money.’
‘My dear fellow,’ said Bellthorp, putting his arm in that of Vandeloup’s, ‘wherever he gets it, he always has it, so as long as he pays his way it’s none of our business; come and have a drink.’
Vandeloup assented with a laugh, and they went to the bar.
‘I’ve got a cab at the door,’ he said to Bellthorp, after they had finished their drinks, and were going downstairs; ‘come with me, and I’ll go up to the Princess also; Jarper asked me and I refused, but men as well as women are entitled to change their minds.’
They got into the cab and drove up Collins Street to the Princess Theatre. After dismissing the cab, they went up stairs and found the first act was just over, and the bar was filled with a crowd of gentlemen, among whom Barty and his friends were conspicuous. On the one side the doors opened on to the wide stone balcony, where a number of ladies were seated, and on the other balcony a lot of men were smoking. Leaving Bellthorp with Jarper, Vandeloup ordered a brandy and soda and went out on the balcony to smoke.
The bell rang to indicate the curtain was going to rise on the second act, and the bar and balconies gradually emptied themselves into the theatre. M. Vandeloup, however, still sat smoking, and occasionally drinking his brandy and soda, while he thought over his difficulties, and wondered how he could get out of them. It was a wonderfully hot night, and not even the dark blue of the moonless sky, studded with stars, could give any sensation of coolness. Round the balcony were several windows belonging to the dressing-rooms of the theatre, and the lights within shone through the vivid red of the blinds with which they were covered. The door leading into the bar was wide open, and within everything seemed hot, even under the cool, white glare of the electric lights, which shone in large oval-shaped globes hanging from the brass supports in clusters like those grapes known as ladies’ fingers. In front stretched the high balustrade of the balcony, and as Vandeloup leaned back in his chair he could see the white blaze of the electric lights rising above this, and then the luminous darkness of the summer’s night. Beyond a cluster of trees, with a path, lit by gas lamps, going through it, the lights of which shone like dull yellow stars. On the right arose the great block of Parliament-buildings, with the confused mass of the scaffolding, standing up black and dense against the sky. A pleasant murmur arose from the crowded pavement below, and through the incessant rattle of cabs and sharp, clear cries of the street boys, Gaston could hear the shrill tones of a violin playing the dreamy melody of the ‘One Summer’s Night in Munich’ valse, about which all Melbourne was then raving.
He was so occupied with his own thoughts that he did not notice two gentlemen who came in from the bar, and taking seats a little distant from him, ordered drinks from the waiter who came to attend to them. They were both in evening dress, and had apparently left the opera in order to talk business, for they kept conversing eagerly, and their voices striking on Vandeloup’s ear he glanced round at them and then relapsed into his former inattentive position. Now, however, though apparently absorbed in his own thoughts, he was listening to every word they said, for he had caught the name of The Magpie Reef, a quartz mine, which had lately been floated on the market, the shares of which had run up to a pound, and then, as bad reports were circulated about it, dropped suddenly to four shillings. Vandeloup recognised one as Barraclough, a well-known stockbroker, but the other was a dark, wiry-looking man of medium height, whom he had never seen before.
‘I tell you it’s a good thing,’ said Barraclough, vehemently laying his hand on the table; ‘Tollerby is the manager, and knows everything about it.’
‘Gad, he ought to,’ retorted the other with a laugh, ‘if he’s the manager; but I don’t believe in it, dear boy, I never did; it started with a big splash, and was going to be a second Long Tunnel according to the prospectus; now the shares are only four shillings — pshaw!’
‘Yes, but you forget the shares ran up to a pound,’ replied Barraclough, quickly; ‘and now they are so cheap we can snap them up all over the market, and then —’
‘Well?’ asked the other, with interest.
‘They will run up, old fellow — see?’ and the Broker rubbed his hands gleefully.
‘How are you going to get up a “Boom” on them?’ asked the wiry man, sceptically; ‘the public won’t buy blindly, they must see something.’
‘And so they shall,’ said Barraclough, eagerly; ‘Tollerby is sending down some of the stone.’
‘From the Magpie Reef?’ asked the other, suspiciously.
‘Of course,’ retorted the Broker, indignantly; ‘you did not think it was salted, did you? There is gold in the reef, but it is patchy. See,’ pulling out a pocket-book, ‘I got this telegram from Tollerby at four o’clock to-day;’ he took a telegram from the pocket-book and handed it to his companion.
‘Struck it rich — evidently pocket — thirty ounces to machine,’ read the other slowly; ‘gad! that looks well, why don’t you put it in the papers?’
‘Because I don’t hold enough shares,’ replied the other, impatiently; ‘don’t you understand? To-morrow I go on ‘Change and buy up all the shares at four shillings I can lay my hands on, then at the end of the week the samples of stone — very rich — come down. I publish this telegram from the manager, and the “Boom” starts.’
‘How high do you think the shares will go?’ asked the wiry man, thoughtfully.
Barraclough shrugged his shoulders, and replaced the telegram in his pocket-book.
‘Two or three pounds, perhaps more,’ he replied, rising. ‘At all events, it’s a good thing, and if you go in with me, we’ll clear a good few thousand out of it.’
‘Come and see me to-morrow morning,’ said the wiry man, also rising. ‘I think I’ll stand in.’
Barraclough rubbed his hands gleefully, and then slipping his arm in that of his companion they left the balcony and went back to the theatre.
Vandeloup felt every nerve in his body tingling. Here was a chance to make money. If he only had a few hundreds he could buy up all the Magpie shares he could get and reap the benefit of the rise. Five hundred pounds! If he could obtain that sum he could buy two thousand five hundred shares, and if they went to three pounds, he could clear nearly eight thousand. What an idea! It was ripe fruit tumbling off the tree without the trouble of plucking it. But five hundred pounds! He had not as many pence, and he did not know where to get it. If he could only borrow it from someone — but then he could offer no security. A sense of his own helplessness came on him as he saw this golden tide flowing past his door, and yet was unable to take advantage of it. Five hundred pounds! The sum kept buzzing in his head like a swarm of bees, and he threw himself down again in his chair to try and think where he could get it.
A noise disturbed him, and he saw that the opera was over, and a crowd of gentlemen were thronging into the bar. Jarper was among them, and he thought he would speak to him on the subject. Yes, Barty was a clever little fellow, and seemed always able to get money. Perhaps he would be able to assist him. He stepped out of the balcony into the light and touched Barty on the shoulder as he stood amid his friends.
‘Hullo! it’s you!’ cried Barty, turning round. ‘Where have you been, old chap?’
‘Out on the balcony,’ answered Vandeloup, curtly.
‘Come and have supper with us,’ said Barty, hospitably. ‘We are going to have some at Leslie’s.’
‘Yes, do come,’ urged Bellthorp, putting his arm in that of Vandeloup’s; ‘we’ll have no end of fun.’
Vandeloup was just going to accept, as he thought on the way he could speak privately to Barty about this scheme he had, when he saw a stout gentleman at the end of the room taking a cup of coffee at the counter, and talking to another gentleman who was very tall and thin. The figure of the stout gentleman seemed familiar to Vandeloup, and at this moment he turned slowly round and looked down the room. Gaston gave a start when he saw his face, and then smiled in a gratified manner to himself.
‘Who is that gentleman with the coffee?’ he asked Barty.
‘Those stout and lean kine,’ said Barty, airily, ‘puts one in mind of Pharaoh’s dream, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes, yes!’ retorted Gaston, impatiently; ‘but who are they?’
‘The long one is Fell, the railway contractor,’ said Barty, glancing with some surprise at Vandeloup, ‘and the other is old Meddlechip, the millionaire.’
‘Meddlechip,’ echoed Vandeloup, as if to himself; ‘my faith!’
‘Yes,’ broke in Bellthorp, quickly; ‘the one we were speaking of at the club — do you know him?’
‘I fancy I do,’ said Vandeloup, with a strange smile. ‘You must excuse me to your supper to-night.’
‘No, we won’t,’ said Barty, firmly; ‘you must come.’
‘Then I’ll look in later,’ said Vandeloup, who had not the slightest intention of going. ‘Will that do?’
‘I suppose it will have to,’ said Bellthorp, in an injured tone; ‘but why can’t you come now?’
‘I’ve got to see about some business,’ said Vandeloup.
‘What, at this hour of the night?’ cried Jarper, in a voice of disgust.
Vandeloup nodded, and lit a cigarette.
‘Well, mind you come in later,’ said Barty, and then he and his friends left the bar, after making Vandeloup promise faithfully he would come.
Gaston sauntered slowly up to the coffee bar, and asked for a cup in his usual musical voice, but when the stout gentleman heard him speak he turned pale and looked up. The thin one had gone off to talk to someone else, so when Vandeloup got his coffee he turned slowly round and looked straight at Meddlechip seated in the chair.
‘Good evening, M. Kestrike,’ he said, quietly.
Meddlechip, whose face was usually red and florid-looking, turned ghastly pale, and sprang to his feet.
‘Octave Braulard!’ he gasped, placing his coffee cup on the counter.
‘At your service,’ said Vandeloup, looking rapidly round to see that no one overheard the name, ‘but here I am Gaston Vandeloup.’
Meddlechip passed his handkerchief over his face and moistened his dry lips with his tongue.
‘How did you get here?’ he asked, in a strangled voice.
‘It’s a long story,’ said M. Vandeloup, putting his coffee cup down and wiping his lips with his handkerchief; ‘suppose we go and have supper somewhere, and I’ll tell you all about it.’
‘I don’t want any supper,’ said Meddlechip, sullenly, his face having regained its normal colour. ‘Possibly not, but I do,’ replied Vandeloup, sweetly, taking his arm; ‘come, let us go.’
Meddlechip did not resist, but walked passively out of the bar with Vandeloup, much to the astonishment of the thin gentleman, who called out to him but without getting any answer.
Meddlechip went to the cloak room and put on his coat and hat. Then he followed Vandeloup down the stairs and paused at the door while the Frenchman hailed a hansom. When it drove up, however, he stopped short at the edge of the pavement.
‘I won’t go,’ he said, determinedly.
Vandeloup looked at him with a peculiar gleam in his dark eyes, and bowed.
‘Let me persuade you, Monsieur,’ he said, blandly, holding the door of the cab open.
Meddlechip glanced at him, and then, with a sigh of resignation, entered the cab, followed by Vandeloup.
‘Where to, sir?’ asked the cabman, through the trap.
‘To Leslie’s Supper Rooms,’ replied the Frenchman, and the cab drove off.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55