Leslie’s Supper Rooms in Bourke Street East were very well known — that is, among a certain class. Religious people and steady businessmen knew nothing about such a place except by reputation, and looked upon it, with horror, as a haunt of vice and dissipation.
Though Leslie’s, in common with other places had to close at a certain hour, yet when the shutters were up, the door closed, and the lights extinguished in the front of the house, there was plenty of life and bustle going on at the back, where there were charmingly furnished little rooms for supper parties. Barty Jarper had engaged one of these apartments, and with about a dozen young men was having a good time of it when Vandeloup and Meddlechip drove up. After dismissing the cab and looking up and down the street to see that no policeman was in sight, Vandeloup knocked at the door in a peculiar manner, and it was immediately opened in a stealthy kind of way. Gaston gave his name, whereupon they were allowed to enter, and the door was closed after them in the same quiet manner, all of which was very distasteful to Mr Meddlechip, who, being a public man and a prominent citizen, felt that he was breaking the laws he had assisted to make. He looked round in some disgust at the crowds of waiters, and at the glimpses he caught every now and then of gentlemen in evening dress, and what annoyed him more than anything else — ladies in bright array. Oh! a dissipated place was Leslie’s, and even in the daytime had a rakish-looking appearance as if it had been up all night and knew a thing or two. Mr Meddlechip would have retreated from this den of iniquity if he could, but as he wanted to have a thorough explanation with Vandeloup, he meekly followed the Frenchman through a well-lighted passage, with statues on either side holding lamps, to a little room beautifully furnished, wherein a supper table was laid out. Here the waiter who conducted them took their hats and Meddlechip’s coat and hung them up, then waited respectfully for M. Vandeloup to give his orders. A portly looking waiter he was, with a white waistcoat, a white shirt, which bulged out in a most obtrusive manner, and a large white cravat, which was tied round an equally large white collar. When he walked he rolled along like a white-crested wave, and with his napkin under his arm, the heel of one foot in the hollow of the other, and his large red face, surmounted by a few straggling tufts of black hair, he was truly wonderful to behold.
This magnificent creature, who answered to the name of Gurchy, received Vandeloup’s orders with a majestic bend of his head, then rolling up to Mr Meddlechip, he presented the bill of fare to that gentleman, who, however, refused it.
‘I don’t want any supper,’ he said, curtly.
Gurchy, though a waiter, was human, and looked astonished, while Vandeloup remonstrated in a suave manner.
‘But, my dear sir,’ he said, leaning back in his chair, ‘you must have something to eat. I assure you,’ with a significant smile, ‘you will need it.’
Meddlechip’s lips twitched a little as the Frenchman spoke, then, with an uneasy laugh, he ordered something, and drew his chair up to the table.
‘And, waiter,’ said Vandeloup, softly, as Gurchy was rolling out of the door, ‘bring some wine, will you? Pommery, I think, is best,’ he added, turning to Meddlechip.
‘What you like,’ returned that gentleman, impatiently, ‘I don’t care.’
‘That’s a great mistake,’ replied Gaston, coolly; ‘bad wine plays the deuce with one’s digestion — two bottles of Pommery, waiter.’
Gurchy nodded, that is to say his head disappeared for a moment in the foam of his collar, then re-appeared again as he slowly rolled out of the door and vanished.
‘Now, then, sir,’ said Meddlechip, sharply, rising from his seat and closing the door, ‘what did you bring me here for?’
M. Vandeloup raised his eyebrows in surprise.
‘How energetic you are, my dear Kestrike,’ he said, smoothly, lying down on the sofa, and contemplating his shoes with great satisfaction; ‘just the same noisy, jolly fellow as of yore.’
‘Damn you!’ said the other, fiercely, at which Gaston laughed.
‘You had better leave that to God,’ he answered, mockingly; ‘he understands more about it than you do.’
‘Oh, I know you of old,’ said Meddlechip, walking up and down excitedly; ‘I know you of old, with your sneers and your coolness, but it won’t do here,’ stopping opposite the sofa, and glaring down at Vandeloup; ‘it won’t do here!’
‘So you’ve said twice,’ replied M. Vandeloup, with a yawn. ‘How do you want me to conduct myself? Do tell me; I am always open to improvement.’
‘You must leave Australia,’ said Meddlechip, sharply, and breathing hard.
‘If I refuse?’ asked M. Vandeloup, lazily, smiling to himself.
‘I will denounce you as a convict escaped from New Caledonia!’ hissed the other, putting his hands in his pockets, and bending forward.
‘Indeed,’ said Gaston, with a charming smile, ‘I don’t think you will go so far as that, my friend.’
‘I swear,’ said Meddlechip, loudly, raising his hand, ‘I swear —’
‘Oh, fie!’ observed M. Vandeloup, in a shocked tone; ‘an old man like you should not swear; it’s very wrong, I assure you; besides,’ with a disparaging glance, ‘you are not suited to melodrama.’
Meddlechip evidently saw it was no good trying to fight against the consummate coolness of this young man, so with a great effort resolved to adapt himself to the exigencies of the case, and fight his adversary with his own weapons.
‘Well,’ he said at length, resuming his seat at the table, and trying to speak calmly, though his flushed face and quivering lips showed what an effort it cost him; ‘let us have supper first, and we can talk afterwards.’
‘Ah, that’s much better,’ remarked M. Vandeloup, sitting up to the table, and unrolling his napkin. ‘I assure you, my dear fellow, if you treat me well, I’m a very easy person to deal with.’
The eyes of the two men met for a moment across the table, and Vandeloup’s had such a meaning look in them, that Meddlechip dropped his own with a shiver.
The door opened, and the billowy waiter rolled up to the table, and having left a deposit of plates and food thereon, subsided once more out of the door, then rolled in again with the champagne. He drew the cork of one of the bottles, filled the glasses on the table, and then after giving a glance round to see that all was in order, suddenly found that it was ebb-tide, and rolled slowly out of the door, which he closed after him.
Meddlechip ate his supper in silence, but drank a good deal of champagne to keep his courage up for the coming ordeal, which he knew he must go through. Vandeloup, on the other hand, ate and drank very little, as he talked gaily all the time about theatres, racing, boating, in fact of everything except the thing the other man wanted to hear.
‘I never mix up business with pleasure, my dear fellow,’ said Gaston, amiably, guessing his companion’s thoughts; ‘when we have finished supper and are enjoying our cigars, I will tell you a little story.’
‘I don’t want to hear it,’ retorted the other, harshly, having an intuitive idea what the story would be about.
‘Possibly not,’ replied M. Vandeloup, smoothly; ‘nevertheless it is my wish that you should hear it.’
Meddlechip looked as if he were inclined to resent this plain speaking, but after a pause evidently thought better of it, and went on tranquilly eating his supper.
When they had finished Gaston rang the bell, and when the billow rolled in, ordered a fresh bottle of wine and some choice cigars of a brand well known at Leslie’s. Gurchy’s head disappeared in foam again, and did not emerge therefrom till he was out of the door.
Try one of these,’ said M. Vandeloup, affably, to Meddlechip, when the billow had rolled in with the cigars and wine, ‘it’s an excellent brand.’
‘I don’t care about smoking,’ answered Meddlechip.
‘To please me,’ urged M. Vandeloup, persuasively; whereupon Meddlechip took one, and having lighted it puffed away evidently under protest, while the billow opened the new bottle of wine, freshened up the glasses, and then rolled majestically out of the door, like a tidal wave.
‘Now then for the story,’ said M. Vandeloup, leaning back luxuriously on the sofa, and blowing a cloud of smoke.
‘I don’t want to hear it,’ retorted the other, quickly; ‘name your terms and let us end the matter.’
‘Pardon me,’ said M. Vandeloup, with a smile, ‘but I refuse to accept any terms till I have given you thoroughly to understand what I mean; so you must hear this little tale of Adele Blondet.’
‘For God’s sake, no!’ cried the other, hoarsely, rising to his feet; ‘I tell you I am haunted by it; by day and by night, sleeping or waking, I see her face ever before me like an accusing angel.’
‘Curious,’ murmured M. Vandeloup, ‘especially as she was not by any means an angel.’
‘I thought it was done with,’ said Meddlechip, twisting his fingers together, while the large drops of perspiration stood on his forehead, ‘but here you come like a spectre from the past and revive all the old horrors.’
‘If you call Adele a horror,’ retorted Vandeloup, coolly, ‘I am certainly going to revive her, so you had best sit down and hear me to the end, for you certainly will not turn me from my purpose.’
Meddlechip sank back into his chair with a groan, while his relentless enemy curled himself up on the sofa in a more comfortable position and began to talk.
‘We will begin the story,’ said M. Vandeloup, in a conversational tone, with an airy wave of his delicate white hand, ‘in the good old-fashioned style of our fairy tales. Once upon a time — let us say three years ago — there lived in Paris a young man called Octave Braulard, who was well born and comfortably off. He had a fancy to be a doctor, and was studying for the medical profession when he became entangled with a woman. Mademoiselle Adele Blondet was a charmingly ugly actress, who was at that time the rage of Paris. She attracted all the men, not by her looks, but by her tongue. Octave Braulard,’ went on M. Vandeloup, complacently looking at himself, ‘was handsome, and she fell in love with him. She became his mistress, and caused a nine days’ wonder in Paris by remaining constant to him for six months. Then there came to Paris an English gentleman from Australia — name, Kestrike; position, independent; income, enormous. He had left Madame his wife in London, and came to our wicked Paris to amuse himself. He saw Adele Blondet, and was introduced to her by Braulard; result, Kestrike betrayed his friend Braulard by stealing from him his mistress. Why was this? Was Kestrike handsome? No. Was he fascinating? No. Was he rich? Yes. Therein lay the secret; Adele loved the purse, not the man. Braulard,’ said Gaston, rising from the sofa quickly and walking across the room, ‘felt his honour wounded. He remonstrated with Adele, no use; he offered to fight a duel with the perfidious Kestrike, no use; the thief was a coward.’
‘No,’ cried Meddlechip, rising, ‘no coward.’
‘I say, yes!’ said Vandeloup, crossing to him, and forcing him back in his chair; ‘he betrayed his friend and refused to give him the satisfaction of a gentleman. What did Braulard do? Rest quiet? No. Revenge his honour? Yes! One night,’ pursued Gaston, in a low concentrated voice, grasping Meddlechip’s wrist firmly, and looking at him with fiery eyes, ‘Braulard prepared a poison, a narcotic which was quick in its action, fatal in its results. He goes to the house of Adele Blondet at half-past twelve o’clock — the hour now,’ he said, rapidly swinging round and pointing to the clock on the mantelpiece, which had just struck the half-hour; ‘he found them at supper,’ releasing Meddlechip’s wrist and crossing to the sofa; ‘he sat opposite Kestrike, as he does now,’ leaning forward and glaring at Meddlechip, who shrank back in his chair. ‘Adele, at the head of the table, laughs and smiles; she looks at her old lover and sees murder in his face; she is ill and retires to her room. Kestrike follows her to see what is the matter. Braulard is left alone; he produces a bottle and pours its contents into a cup of coffee, waiting for Adele. Kestrike returns, saying Adele is ill; she wants a drink. He takes her the poisoned cup of coffee; she drinks it and falls’— with a long breath —‘asleep. Kestrike returns to the room, asks Braulard to leave the house. Braulard refuses. Kestrike is afraid, and would leave himself; he rises from the table; so does Braulard;’— here Gaston rose and crossed to Meddlechip, who was also on his feet —‘he goes to Kestrike, seizes his wrist, thus — drags him to the bedroom, and there on the bed lies Adele Blonde — dead — killed by the poison of one lover given her by the other — and the murderers look at one another — thus.’
Meddlechip wrenched his hand from Vandeloup’s iron grip and fell back ghastly white in his chair, with a strangled cry, while the Frenchman stood over him with eyes gleaming with hatred.
‘Kestrike,’ pursued Vandeloup, rapidly, ‘is little known in Paris — his name is an assumed one — he leaves France before the police can discover how he has poisoned Adele Blondet, and crosses to England — meets Madame, his wife, and returns to Australia, where he is called — Meddlechip.’
The man in the chair threw up his hands as if to keep the other off, and uttered a stifled cry.
‘He then goes to China,’ went on Gaston, bending nearer to the shrinking figure, ‘and returns after twelve months, where he meets Octave Braulard in the theatre — yes, the two murderers meet in Melbourne! How came Braulard here? Was it chance? No. Was it design? No. Was it Fate? Yes.’
He hissed the words in Meddlechip’s ear, and the wretched man shrank away from him again.
‘Braulard,’ pursued Vandeloup, in a calmer tone, ‘also left the house of Adele Blondet. She is found dead; one of her lovers cannot be found; the other, Braulard, is accused of the crime; he defies the police to prove it; she has been poisoned. Bah! there is no trace. Braulard will be free. Stop! who is this man called Prevol, who appears? He is a fellow student of Braulard’s, and knows the poison. Braulard is lost! Prevol examines the body, proves that poison has been given — by whom? Braulard, and none other. He is sentenced to death; but he is so handsome that Paris urges pardon. No; it is not according to the law. Still, spare his life? Yes. His life is spared. The galleys at Toulon? No. New Caledonia? Yes. He is sent there. But is Braulard a coward? No. Does he rest as a convict? No. He makes friends with another convict; they steal a boat, and fly from the island; they drift, and drift, for days and days; the sun rises, the sun sets — still they drift; their food is giving out, the water in the barrel is low — God! are they to die of thirst and famine? No. The sky is red — like blood — the sun is sinking; land is in the distance — they are saved!’ falling on his knees; ‘they are saved, thank God!’
Meddlechip, who had recovered himself, wiped his face with his handkerchief, and sneered with his white lips at the theatrical way Gaston was behaving in. Vandeloup saw this, and, springing to his feet, crossed to the millionaire.
‘Braulard,’ he continued, quickly, ‘lands on the coast of Queensland; he comes to Sydney — no work; to Melbourne — no work; he goes to Ball’rat — work there at a gold-mine. Braulard takes the name of Vandeloup and makes money; he comes to Melbourne, lives there a year, he is in want of money, he is in despair; at the theatre he overhears a plan which will give him money, but he needs capital — despair again, he will never get it. Aha! Fate once more intervenes — he sees M. Kestrike, now Meddlechip, he will ask him for the money, and the question is, will he get it? So the story is at an end.’ He ended with his usual smile, all his excitement having passed away, and lounging over to the supper-table lit a cigarette and sat down on the sofa.
Meddlechip sat silently looking at the disordered supper-table and thinking deeply. The dishes were scattered about the white cloth, and some vividly red cherries had fallen down from the fruit dish in the centre, some salt was spilt near his elbow, the napkins, twisted into thin wisps, were lying among the dirty dishes, and the champagne glasses, half filled with the straw-coloured wine, were standing near the empty bottles. Meddlechip thought for a few moments, and then looked up suddenly in a cool, collected, business-like manner.
‘As I understand you,’ he said, in a steady voice, ‘the case stands thus: you know a portion, or rather, I should say, an episode of my life, I would gladly forget. I did not commit the murder.’
‘No, but you gave her the poison.’
‘Innocently I did, I confess.’
‘Bah! who will believe that?’ retorted M. Vandeloup, with a shrug; ‘but never mind this at present; let me hear what you intend to do.’
‘You know a secret,’ said Meddlechip, nervously, ‘which is dangerous to me; you want to sell it; well, I will be the buyer — name your price.’
‘Five hundred pounds,’ said Vandeloup, quietly.
‘Is that all?’ asked the other, with a start of surprise; ‘I was prepared for five thousand.’
‘I am not exorbitant in my demands,’ answered Vandeloup, smoothly; ‘and as I told you, I have a scheme on hand by which I may make a lot of money-five hundred pounds is sufficient to do what I want. If the scheme succeeds, I will be rich enough to do without any more money from you.’
‘Yes; but if it fails?’ said Meddlechip, doubtfully.
‘If it fails, I will be obliged to draw on you again,’ returned Gaston, candidly; ‘you can’t say, however, that I am behaving badly to you.’
‘No,’ answered Meddlechip, looking at him. ‘I must say you are easier to deal with than I anticipated. Well, if I give you my cheque for five hundred —’
‘Say six hundred,’ observed Vandeloup, rising and going to a small table in the corner of the room on which were pens and ink. ‘I want an extra hundred.’
‘Six hundred then be it,’ answered Meddlechip, quietly, rising and going to his overcoat, from whence he took his cheque book. ‘For this amount you will be silent.’
M. Vandeloup bowed gracefully.
‘On my word of honour,’ he replied, gaily; ‘but, of course,’ with a sudden glance at Meddlechip, ‘you will treat me as a friend — ask me to your house, and introduce me to Madame, your wife.’
‘I don’t see the necessity,’ returned Meddlechip, angrily, going over to the small table and sitting down.
‘Pardon me, I do’ answered the Frenchman, with a dangerous gleam in his eyes.
‘Well, well, I agree,’ said Meddlechip, testily, taking up a pen and opening his cheque book. ‘You, of course, can dictate your own terms.’
‘I understand that perfectly,’ replied Vandeloup, delicately, lighting a cigarette, ‘and have done so. You can’t say they are hard, as I said before.’
Meddlechip did not answer, but wrote out a cheque for six hundred pounds, and then handed it to Vandeloup, who received it with a bow and slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.
‘With this,’ he said, touching his pocket, ‘I hope to make nearly ten thousand in a fortnight.’
Meddlechip stared at him.
‘I hope you will,’ he answered, gruffly, ‘all the better for my purse if you do.’
‘That, of course, goes without saying,’ replied Vandeloup, lazily. ‘Have some more wine?’ touching the bell.
‘No more, thank you,’ said Meddlechip, putting on his overcoat. ‘It’s time I was off.’
‘By the way,’ said M. Vandeloup, coolly, ‘I have not any change in my pocket; you might settle for the supper.’
Meddlechip burst out laughing.
‘Confound your impudence,’ he said, quickly, ‘I thought you asked me to supper.’
‘Oh, yes,’ replied Vandeloup, taking his hat and stick, ‘but I intended you to pay for it.’
‘You were pretty certain of your game, then?’
‘I always am,’ answered Vandeloup, as the door opened, and Gurchy rolled slowly into the room.
Meddlechip paid the bill without making further objections, and then they both left Leslie’s with the same precautions as had attended their entry. They walked slowly down Bourke Street, and parted at the corner, Meddlechip going to Toorak, while Vandeloup got into a cab and told the man to drive to Richmond, then lit a cigarette and gave himself up to reflection as he drove along.
‘I’ve done a good stroke of business tonight,’ he said, smiling, as he felt the cheque in his pocket, ‘and I’ll venture the whole lot on this Magpie reef. If it succeeds I will be rich; if it does not — well, there is always Meddlechip as my banker.’ Then his thoughts went back to Kitty, for the reason of his going home so late was that he wanted to find out in what frame of mind she was.
‘She’ll never leave me,’ he said, with a laugh, as the cab drew up in front of Mrs Pulchop’s house; ‘if she does, so much the better for me.’
He dismissed his cab, and let himself in with the latch key; then hanging up his hat in the hall he went straight to the bedroom and lit the gas. He then crossed to the bed, expecting to find Kitty sound asleep, but to his surprise the bed was untouched, and she was not there.
‘Ah!’ he said, quietly, ‘so she has gone, after all. Poor little girl, I wonder where she is. I must really look after her to-morrow; at present,’ he said, pulling off his coat, with a yawn, ‘I think I’ll go to bed.’
He went to bed, and laying his head on the pillow was soon fast asleep, without even a thought for the girl he had ruined.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09