M. Vandeloup’s rooms in Clarendon Street, East Melbourne, were very luxuriously and artistically furnished, in perfect accordance with the taste of their owner, but as the satiated despot is depicted by the moralists as miserable amid all his splendour, so M. Gaston Vandeloup, though not exactly miserable, was very ill at ease. The inquest had been adjourned until the Government analyst, assisted by Dr Gollipeck, had examined the stomach, and according to a paragraph in the evening paper, some strange statements, implicating various people, would be made next day. It was this that made Vandeloup so uneasy, for he knew that Dr Gollipeck would trace a resemblance between the death of Selina Sprotts in Melbourne and Adele Blondet in Paris, and then the question would arise how the poison used in the one case came to be used in the other. If that question arose it would be all over with him, for he would not dare to face any examination, and as discretion is the better part of valour, M. Vandeloup decided to leave the country. With his usual foresight he had guessed that Dr Gollipeck would be mixed up in the affair, so had drawn his money out of all securities in which it was invested, sent most of it to America to a New York bank, reserving only a certain sum for travelling purposes. He was going to leave Melbourne next morning by the express train for Sydney, and there would catch the steamer to San Francisco via New Zealand and Honolulu. Once in America and he would be quite safe, and as he now had plenty of money he could enjoy himself there. He had given up the idea of marrying Madame Midas, as he dare not run the risk of remaining in Australia, but then there were plenty of heiresses in the States he could marry if he chose, so to give her up was a small matter. Another thing, he would be rid of Pierre Lemaire, for once let him put the ocean between him and the dumb man he would take care they never met again. Altogether, M. Vandeloup had taken all precautions to secure his own safety with his usual promptitude and coolness, but notwithstanding that another twelve hours would see him on his way to Sydney en route for the States, he felt slightly uneasy, for as he often said, ‘There are always possibilities.’
It was about eight o’clock at night, and Gaston was busy in his rooms packing up to go away next morning. He had disposed of his apartments to Bellthorp, as that young gentleman had lately come in for some money and was dissatisfied with the paternal roof, where he was kept too strictly tied up.
Vandeloup, seated in his shirt sleeves in the midst of a chaos of articles of clothing, portmanteaux, and boxes, was, with the experience of an accomplished traveller, rapidly putting these all away in the most expeditious and neatest manner. He wanted to get finished before ten o’clock, so that he could go down to his club and show himself, in order to obviate any suspicion as to his going away. He did not intend to send out any P.P.C. cards, as he was a modest young man and wanted to slip unostentatiously out of the country; besides, there was nothing like precaution, as the least intimation of his approaching departure would certainly put Dr Gollipeck on the alert and cause trouble. The gas was lighted, there was a bright glare through all the room, and everything was in confusion, with M. Vandeloup seated in the centre, like Marius amid the ruins of Carthage. While thus engaged there came a ring at the outer door, and shortly afterwards Gaston’s landlady entered his room with a card.
‘A gentleman wants to see you, sir,’ she said, holding out the card.
‘I’m not at home,’ replied Vandeloup, coolly, removing the cigarette he was smoking from his mouth; ‘I can’t see anyone tonight.’
‘He says you’d like to see him, sir,’ answered the woman, standing at the door.
‘The deuce he does,’ muttered Vandeloup, uneasily; ‘I wonder what this pertinacious gentleman’s name is? and he glanced at the card, whereon was written ‘Dr Gollipeck’.
Vandeloup felt a chill running through him as he rose to his feet. The battle was about to begin, and he knew he would need all his wit and skill to get himself out safely. Dr Gollipeck had thrown down the gauntlet, and he would have to pick it up. Well, it was best to know the worst at once, so he told the landlady he would see Gollipeck downstairs. He did not want him to come up there, as he would see all the evidences of his intention to leave the country.
‘I’ll see him downstairs,’ he said, sharply, to the landlady; ‘ask the gentleman to wait.’
The landlady, however, was pushed roughly to one side, and Dr Gollipeck, rusty and dingy-looking as ever, entered the room.
‘No need, my dear friend,’ he said in his grating voice, blinking at the young man through his spectacles, ‘we can talk here.’
Vandeloup signed to the landlady to leave the room, which she did, closing the door after her, and then, pulling himself together with a great effort, he advanced smilingly on the doctor.
‘Ah, my dear Monsieur,’ he said, in his musical voice, holding out both hands, ‘how pleased I am to see you.’
Dr Gollipeck gurgled pleasantly in his throat at this and laughed, that is, something apparently went wrong in his inside and a rasping noise came out of his mouth.
‘You clever young man,’ he said, affectionately, to Gaston, as he unwound a long crimson woollen scarf from his throat, and thereby caused a button to fly off his waistcoat with the exertion. Dr Gollipeck, however, being used to these little eccentricities of his toilet, pinned the waistcoat together, and then, sitting down, spread his red bandanna handkerchief over his knees, and stared steadily at Vandeloup, who had put on a loose velvet smoking coat, and, with a cigarette in his mouth, was leaning against the mantelpiece. It was raining outside, and the pleasant patter of the raindrops was quite audible in the stillness of the room, while every now and then a gust of wind would make the windows rattle, and shake the heavy green curtains. The two men eyed one another keenly, for they both knew they had an unpleasant quarter of an hour before them, and were like two clever fencers — both watching their opportunity to begin the combat. Gollipeck, with his greasy coat, all rucked up behind his neck, and his frayed shirt cuffs coming down on his ungainly hands, sat sternly silent, so Vandeloup, after contemplating him for a few moments, had to begin the battle.
‘My room is untidy, is it not?’ he said, nodding his head carelessly at the chaos of furniture. ‘I’m going away for a few days.’
‘A few days; ha, ha!’ observed Gollipeck, something again going wrong with his inside. ‘Your destination is —
‘Sydney,’ replied Gaston, promptly.
‘And then?’ queried the doctor.
Gaston shrugged his shoulders.
‘Depends upon circumstances,’ he answered, lazily.
‘That’s a mistake,’ retorted Gollipeck, leaning forward; ‘it depends upon me.’
‘In that case, circumstances, as represented by you, will permit me to choose my own destinations.’
‘Depends entirely upon your being guided by circumstances, as represented by me,’ retorted the Doctor, grimly.
‘Pshaw!’ said the Frenchman, coolly, ‘let us have done with allegory, and come to common sense. What do you want?’
‘I want Octave Braulard,’ said Gollipeck, rising to his feet.
Vandeloup quite expected this, and was too clever to waste time in denying his identity.
‘He stands before you,’ he answered, curtly, ‘what then?’
‘You acknowledge, then, that you are Octave Braulard, transported to New Caledonia for the murder of Adele Blondet?’ said the Doctor tapping the table with one hand.
‘To you — yes,’ answered Vandeloup, crossing to the door and locking it; ‘to others — no.’
‘Why do you lock the door?’ asked Gollipeck, gruffly.
‘I don’t want my private affairs all over Melbourne,’ retorted Gaston, smoothly, returning to his position in front of the fireplace; ‘are you afraid?’
Something again went wrong with Dr Gollipeck’s inside, and he grated out a hard ironical laugh.
‘Do I look afraid?’ he asked, spreading out his hands.
Vandeloup stooped down to the portmanteau lying open at his feet, and picked up a revolver, which he pointed straight at Gollipeck.
‘You make an excellent target,’ he observed, quickly, putting his finger on the trigger.
Dr Gollipeck sat down, and arranged his handkerchief once more over his knees.
‘Very likely,’ he answered, coolly, ‘but a target you won’t practise on.’
‘Why not?’ asked Vandeloup, still keeping his finger on the trigger.
‘Because the pistol-shot would alarm the house,’ said Gollipeck, serenely, ‘and if I was found dead, you would be arrested for my murder. If I was only wounded I could tell a few facts about M. Octave Braulard that would have an unpleasant influence on the life of M. Gaston Vandeloup.’
Vandeloup laid the pistol down on the mantelpiece with a laugh, lit a cigarette, and, sitting down in a chair opposite Gollipeck, began to talk.
‘You are a brave man,’ he said, coolly blowing a wreath of smoke, ‘I admire brave men.’
‘You are a clever man,’ retorted the doctor; ‘I admire clever men.’
‘Very good,’ said Vandeloup, crossing one leg over the other. ‘As we now understand one another, I await your explanation of this visit.’
Dr Gollipeck, with admirable composure, placed his hands on his knees, and acceded to the request of M. Vandeloup.
‘I saw in the Ballarat and Melbourne newspapers,’ he said, quietly, ‘that Selina Sprotts, the servant of Mrs Villiers, was dead. The papers said foul play was suspected, and according to the evidence of Kitty Marchurst, whom, by the way, I remember very well, the deceased had been poisoned. An examination was made of the body, but no traces of poison were found. Knowing you were acquainted with Madame Midas, and recognising this case as a peculiar one — seeing that poison was asserted to have been given, and yet no appearances could be found — I came down to Melbourne, saw the doctor who had analysed the body, and heard what he had to say on the subject. The symptoms were described as apoplexy, similar to those of a woman who died in Paris called Adele Blondet, and whose case was reported in a book by Messrs Prevol and Lebrun. Becoming suspicious, I assisted at a chemical analysis of the body, and found that the woman Sprotts had been poisoned by an extract of hemlock, the same poison used in the case of Adele Blondet. The man who poisoned Adele Blondet was sent to New Caledonia, escaped from there, and came to Australia, and prepared this poison at Ballarat; and why I called here tonight was to know the reason M. Octave Braulard, better known as Gaston Vandeloup, poisoned Selina Sprotts in mistake for Madame Midas.’
If Doctor Gollipeck had thought to upset Vandeloup by this recital, he was never more mistaken in his life, for that young gentleman heard him coolly to the end, and taking the cigarette out of his mouth, smiled quietly.
‘In the first place,’ he said, smoothly, ‘I acknowledge the truth of all your story except the latter part, and I must compliment you on the admirable way you have guessed the identity of Braulard with Vandeloup, as you have no proof to show that they are the same. But with regard to the death of Mademoiselle Sprotts, she died as you have said; but I, though the maker of the poison, did not administer it.’
‘Who did, then?’ asked Gollipeck, who was quite prepared for this denial.
Vandeloup smoothed his moustache, and looked at the doctor with a keen glance.
‘Kitty Marchurst,’ he said, coolly.
The rain was beating wildly against the windows and someone in the room below was playing the eternal waltz, ‘One summer’s night in Munich’, while Vandeloup, leaning back in his chair, stared at Dr Gollipeck, who looked at him disbelievingly.
‘It’s not true,’ he said, harshly; ‘what reason had she to poison the woman Sprotts?’
‘None at all,’ replied Vandeloup, blandly; ‘but she had to poison Mrs Villiers.’
‘Go on,’ said Gollipeck, gruffly; ‘I’ve no doubt you will make up an admirable story.’
‘So kind of you to compliment me,’ observed Vandeloup, lightly; ‘but in this instance I happen to tell the truth — Kitty Marchurst was my mistress.’
‘It was you that ruined her, then?’ cried Gollipeck, pushing back his chair.
Vandeloup shrugged his shoulders.
‘If you put it that way — yes,’ he answered, simply; ‘but she fell into my mouth like ripe fruit. Surely,’ with a sneer, ‘at your age you don’t believe in virtue?’
‘Yes, I do,’ retorted Gollipeck, fiercely.
‘More fool you!’ replied Gaston, with a libertine look on his handsome face. ‘Balzac never said a truer word than that “a woman’s virtue is man’s greatest invention.” Well, we won’t discuss morality now. She came with me to Melbourne and lived as my mistress; then she wanted to marry me, and I refused. She had a bottle of the poison which I had made, and threatened to take it and kill herself. I prevented her, and then she left me, went on the stage, and afterwards meeting Madame Midas, went to live with her, and we renewed our acquaintance. On the night of this — well, murder, if you like to call it so — we were at a ball together. Mademoiselle Marchurst heard that I was going to marry Madame Midas. She asked me if it was true. I did not deny it; and she said she would sooner poison Mrs Villiers than see her married to me. She went home, and not knowing the dead woman was in bed with Madame Midas, poisoned the drink, and the consequences you know. As to this story of the hand, bah! it is a stage play, that is all!’
Dr Gollipeck rose and walked to and fro in the little clear space left among the disorder.
‘What a devil you are!’ he said, looking at Vandeloup admiringly.
‘What, because I did not poison this woman?’ he said, in a mocking tone. ‘Bah! you are less moral than I thought you were.’
The doctor did not take any notice of this sneer, but, putting his hands in his pockets, faced round to the young man.
‘I give my evidence to-morrow,’ he said quietly, looking keenly at the young man, ‘and I prove conclusively the woman was poisoned. To do this, I must refer to the case of Adele Blondet, and then that implicates you.’
‘Pardon me,’ observed Vandeloup, coolly, removing some ash from his velvet coat, ‘it implicates Octave Braulard, who is at present,’ with a sharp look at Gollipeck, ‘in New Caledonia.’
‘If that is the case,’ asked the doctor, gruffly, ‘who are you?’
‘I am the friend of Braulard,’ said Vandeloup, in a measured tone. ‘Myself, Braulard, and Prevol — one of the writers of the book you refer to — were medical students together, and we all three emphatically knew about this poison extracted from hemlock.’
He spoke so quietly that Gollipeck looked at him in a puzzled manner, not understanding his meaning.
‘You mean Braulard and Prevol were medical students?’ he said, doubtfully.
‘Exactly,’ assented M. Vandeloup, with an airy wave of his hand. ‘Gaston Vandeloup is a fictitious third person I have called into existence for my own safety — you understand. As Gaston Vandeloup, a friend of Braulard, I knew all about this poison, and manufactured it in Ballarat for a mere experiment, and as Gaston Vandeloup I give evidence against the woman who was my mistress on the ground of poisoning Selina Sprotts with hemlock.’
‘You are not shielding yourself behind this girl?’ asked the doctor, coming close to him.
‘How could I?’ replied Vandeloup, slipping his hand into his pocket. ‘I could not have gone down to St Kilda, climbed over a wall with glass bottles on top, and committed the crime, as Kitty Marchurst says it was done. If I had done this there would be some trace — no, I assure you Mademoiselle Marchurst, and none other, is the guilty woman. She was in the room — Madame Midas asleep in bed. What was easier for her than to pour the poison into the glass, which stood ready to receive it? Mind you, I don’t say she did it deliberately — impulse — hallucination — madness — what you like — but she did it.’
‘By God!’ cried Gollipeck, warmly, ‘you’d argue a rope round the girl’s neck even before she has had a trial. I believe you did it yourself.’
‘If I did,’ retorted Vandeloup, coolly, ‘when I am in the witness-box I run the risk of being found out. Be it so. I take my chance of that; but I ask you to keep silent as to Gaston Vandeloup being Octave Braulard.’
‘Why should I?’ said the doctor, harshly.
‘For many admirable reasons,’ replied Vandeloup, smoothly. ‘In the first place, as Braulard’s friend, I can prove the case against Mademoiselle Marchurst quite as well as if I appeared as Braulard himself. In the next place, you have no evidence to prove I am identical with the murderer of Adele Blondet; and, lastly, suppose you did prove it, what satisfaction would it be to you to send me back to a French prison? I have suffered enough for my crime, and now I am rich and respectable, why should you drag me back to the depths again? Read “Les Miserables” of our great Hugo before you answer, my friend.’
‘Read the book long ago,’ retorted Gollipeck, gruffly, more moved by the argument than he cared to show; ‘I will keep silent about this if you leave the colony at once.’
‘I agree,’ said Vandeloup, pointing to the floor; ‘you see I had already decided to travel before you entered. Any other stipulation?’
‘None,’ retorted the doctor, putting on his scarf again; ‘with Octave Braulard I have nothing to do: I want to find out who killed Selina Sprotts, and if you did, I won’t spare you.’
‘First, catch your hare,’ replied Vandeloup, smoothly, going to the door and unlocking it; ‘I am ready to stand the test of a trial, and surely that ought to content you. As it is, I’ll stay in Melbourne long enough to give you the satisfaction of hanging this woman for the murder, and then I will go to America.’
Dr Gollipeck was disgusted at the smooth brutality of this man, and moved hastily to the door.
‘Will you not have a glass of wine?’ asked Vandeloup, stopping him.
‘Wine with you?’ said the doctor, harshly, looking him up and down; ‘no, it would choke me,’ and he hurried away.
‘I wish it would,’ observed M. Vandeloup, pleasantly, as he reentered the room, ‘whew! this devil of a doctor — what a dangerous fool, but I have got the better of him, and at all events,’ he said, lighting another cigarette, ‘I have saved Vandeloup from suffering for the crime of Braulard.’
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51