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'It never rains but it pours' is an excellent proverb, and a very true one, for it is remarkable how events of a similar nature follow closely on one another's heels when the first that happened has set the ball a-rolling. Madame Midas believed to a certain extent in this, and she half expected that when Pierre went he would be followed by M. Vandeloup, but she certainly did not think that the disappearance of her husband would be followed by that of Kitty Marchurst. Yet such was the case, for Mr Marchurst, not seeing Kitty at family prayers, had sent in the servant to seek for her, and the scared domestic had returned with a startled face and a letter for her master. Marchurst read the tear-blotted little note, in which Kitty said she was going down to Melbourne to appear on the stage. Crushing it up in his hand, he went on with family prayers in his usual manner, and after dismissing his servants for the night, he went up to his daughter's room, and found that she had left nearly everything behind, only taking a few needful things with her. Seeing her portrait on the wall he took it down and placed it in his pocket. Then, searching through her room, he found some ribbons and lace, a yellow-backed novel, which he handled with the utmost loathing, and a pair of gloves. Regarding these things as the instruments of Satan, by which his daughter had been led to destruction, he carried them downstairs to his dismal study and piled them in the empty fireplace. Placing his daughter's portrait on top he put a light to the little pile of frivolities, and saw them slowly burn away. The novel curled and cracked in the scorching flame, but the filmy lace vanished like cobwebs, and the gloves crackled and shrank into mere wisps of black leather. And over all, through the flames, her face, bright and charming, looked out with laughing lips and merry eyes--so like her mother's, and yet so unlike in its piquant grace--until that too fell into the hollow heart of the flames, and burned slowly away into a small pile of white ashes.
Marchurst, leaving the dead ashes cold and grey in the dark fireplace, went to his writing table, and falling on his knees he passed the rest of the night in prayer.
Meanwhile, the man who was the primary cause of all this trouble was working in the office of the Pactolus claim with a light heart and cool head. Gaston had really managed to get Kitty away in a very clever manner, inasmuch as he never appeared publicly to be concerned in it, but directed the whole business secretly. He had given Kitty sufficient money to keep her for some months in Melbourne, as he was in doubt when he could leave the Pactolus without being suspected of being concerned in her disappearance. He also told her what day to leave, and all that day stayed at the mine working at his accounts, and afterwards spent the evening very pleasantly with Madame Midas. Next day McIntosh went into Ballarat on business, and on returning from the city, where he had heard all about it--rumour, of course, magnifying the whole affair greatly--he saw Vandeloup come out of the office, and drew up in the trap beside the young man.
'Aha, Monsieur,' said Vandeloup, gaily, rolling a cigarette in his slender fingers, and shooting a keen glance at Archie; 'you have had a pleasant day.'
'Maybe yes, maybe no,' returned McIntosh, cautiously, fumbling in the bag; 'there's naething muckle in the toun, but--deil tack the bag,' he continued, tetchily shaking it. 'I've gotten a letter or so fra' France.'
'For me?' cried Vandeloup, eagerly, holding out his hands.
'An' for who else would it be?' grumbled Archie, giving the letter to him--a thin, foreign looking envelope with the Parisian post mark on it; 'did ye think it was for that black-avised freend o' yours?'
'Hardly!' returned Vandeloup, glancing at the letter with satisfaction, and putting it in his pocket. 'Pierre couldn't write himself, and I doubt very much if he had any friends who could--not that I knew his friends,' he said, hastily catching sight of McIntosh's severe face bent inquiringly on him, 'but like always draws to like.'
Archie's only answer to this was a grunt.
'Are ye no gangin' tae read yon?' he asked sourly.
'Not at present,' replied Vandeloup, blowing a thin wreath of blue smoke, 'by-and-bye will do. Scandal and oysters should both be fresh to be enjoyable, but letters--ah, bah,' with a shrug, 'they can wait. Come, tell me the news; anything going on?'
'Weel,' said McIntosh, with great gusto, deliberately flicking a fly off the horse's back with a whip, 'she's ta'en the bit intil her mouth and gane wrang, as I said she would.'
'To what special "she" are you alluding to?' asked Vandeloup, lazily smoothing his moustache; 'so many of them go wrong, you see, one likes to be particular. The lady's name is--?'
'Katherine Marchurst, no less,' burst forth Archie, in triumph; 'she's rin awa' to be a play-actor.'
'What? that child?' said Vandeloup, with an admirable expression of surprise; 'nonsense! It cannot be true.'
'D'ye think I would tell a lee?' said Archie, wrathfully, glowering down on the tall figure pacing leisurely along. 'God forbid that my lips should fa' tae sic iniquity. It's true, I tell ye; the lass has rin awa' an' left her faither--a godly mon, tho' I'm no of his way of thinkin--to curse the day he had sic a bairn born until him. Ah, 'tis sorrow and dule she hath brought tae his roof tree, an' sorrow and dule wull be her portion at the hands o' strangers,' and with this scriptural ending Mr McIntosh sharply whipped up Rory, and went on towards the stable, leaving Vandeloup standing in the road.
'I don't think he suspects, at all events,' thought that young man, complacently. 'As to Madame Midas--pouf! I can settle her suspicions easily; a little virtuous indignation is most effective as a blind;' and M. Vandeloup, with a gay laugh, strolled on towards the house in the gathering twilight.
Suddenly he recollected the letter, which had escaped his thoughts, in his desire to see how McIntosh would take the disappearance of Kitty, so as there was still light to see, he leaned up against a fence, and, having lighted another cigarette, read it through carefully. It appeared to afford him considerable satisfaction, and he smiled as he put it in his pocket again.
'It seems pretty well forgotten, this trouble about Adele,' he said, musingly, as he resumed his saunter; 'I might be able to go back again in a few years, if not to Paris at least to Europe--one can be very happy in Monaco or Vienna, and run no risk of being found out; and, after all,' he muttered, thoughtfully, fingering his moustache, 'why not to Paris? The Republic has lasted too long already. Sooner or later there will be a change of Government, and then I can go back a free man, with a fortune of Australian gold. Emperor, King, or President, it's all the same to me, as long as I am left alone.'
He walked on slowly, thinking deeply all the time, and when he arrived at the door of Mrs Villiers' house, this clever young man, with his accustomed promptitude and decision, had settled what he was going to do.
'Up to a certain point, of course,' he said aloud, following his thoughts, 'after that, chance must decide.'
Madame Midas was very much grieved at the news of Kitty's Escapade, particularly as she could not see what motive she had for running away, and, moreover, trembled to think of the temptations the innocent girl would be exposed to in the metropolis. After tea, when Archie had gone outside to smoke his pipe, and Selina was busy in the kitchen washing the dishes, she spoke to Vandeloup on the subject. The young Frenchman was seated at the piano in the darkness, striking a few random chords, while Madame was by the fire in the arm-chair. It was quite dark, with only the rosy glow of the fire shining through the room. Mrs Villiers felt uneasy; was it likely that Vandeloup could have any connection with Kitty's disappearance? Impossible! he had given her his word of honour, and yet--it was very strange. Mrs Villiers was not, by any means, a timid woman, so she determined to ask Gaston right out, and get a decided answer from him, so as to set her mind at rest.
'M. Vandeloup,' she said, in her clear voice, 'will you kindly come here a moment?
'Certainly, Madame,' said Gaston, rising with alacrity from the piano, and coming to the fireside; 'is there anything I can do?'
'You have heard of Miss Marchurst's disappearance?' she asked, looking up at him.
Vandeloup leaned his elbow on the mantelpiece, and looked down into the fire, so that the full blaze of it could strike his face. He knew Madame Midas prided herself on being a reader of character, and knowing he could command his features admirably, he thought it would be politic to let her see his face, and satisfy herself as to his innocence.
'Yes, Madame,' he answered, in his calm, even tones, looking down inquiringly at the statuesque face of the woman addressing him; 'Monsieur,' nodding towards the door, 'told me, but I did not think it true.'
'I'm afraid it is,' sighed Madame, shaking her head. 'She is going on the stage, and her father will never forgive her.'
'Surely, Madame--' began Vandeloup, eagerly.
'No,' she replied, decisively, 'he is not a hard man, but his way of looking at things through his peculiar religious ideas has warped his judgment--he will make no attempt to save her, and God knows what she will come to.'
'There are good women on the stage,' said Vandeloup, at a loss for a reply.
'Certainly,' returned Madame, calmly, 'there are black and white sheep in every flock, but Kitty is so young and inexperienced, that she may become the prey of the first handsome scoundrel she meets.'
Madame had intuitively guessed the whole situation, and Vandeloup could not help admiring her cleverness. Still his face remained the same, and his voice was as steady as ever as he answered--
'It is much to be regretted; but still we must hope for the best.'
Was he guilty? Madame could not make up her mind, so determined to speak boldly.
'Do you remember that day I introduced her to you?'
'And you gave me your word of honour you would not try to turn her head,' pursued Madame, looking at him; 'have you kept your word?'
'Madame,' said Vandeloup, gravely, 'I give you my word of honour that I have always treated Mlle Kitty as a child and your friend. I did not know that she had gone until I was told, and whatever happens to her, I can safely say that it was not Gaston Vandeloup's fault.'
An admirable actor this man, not a feature of his face moved, not a single deviation from the calmness of his speech--not a quickening of the pulse, nor the rush of betraying blood to his fair face--no! Madame withdrew her eyes quite satisfied, M. Vandeloup was the soul of honour and was innocent of Kitty's disgrace.
'Thank God!' she said, reverently, as she looked away, for she would have been bitterly disappointed to have found her kindness to this man repaid by base treachery towards her friend; 'I cannot tell you how relieved I feel.'
M. Vandeloup withdrew his face into the darkness, and smiled in a devilish manner to himself. How these women believed--was there any lie too big for the sex to swallow? Evidently not--at least, so he thought. But now that Kitty was disposed of, he had to attend to his own private affairs, and put his hand in his pocket for the letter.
'I wanted to speak to you on business, Madame,' he said, taking out the letter; 'the long-expected has come at last.'
'You have heard from Paris?' asked Madame, in an eager voice.
'I have,' answered the Frenchman, calmly; 'I have now the letter in my hand, and as soon as Mlle Selina brings in the lights I will show it to you.'
At this moment, as if in answer to his request, Selina appeared with the lamp, which she had lighted in the kitchen and now brought in to place on the table. When she did so, and had retired again, Vandeloup placed his letter in Madame's hand, and asked her to read it.
'Oh, no, Monsieur,' said Mrs Villiers, offering it back, 'I do not wish to read your private correspondence.'
Vandeloup had calculated on this, for, as a matter of fact, there was a good deal of private matter in the letter, particularly referring to his trip to New Caledonia, which he would not have allowed her to see. But he knew it would inspire her with confidence in him if he placed it wholly in her hands, and resolved to boldly venture to do so. The result was as he guessed; so, with a smile, he took it back again.
'There is nothing private in it, Madame,' he said, opening the letter; 'I wanted you to see that I had not misrepresented myself-- it is from my family lawyer, and he has sent me out a remittance of money, also some letters of introduction to my consul in Melbourne and others; in fact,' said M. Vandeloup, with a charming smile, putting the letter in his pocket, 'it places me in my rightful position, and I shall assume it as soon as I have your permission.'
'But why my permission ?' asked Madame, with a faint smile, already regretting bitterly that she was going to lose her pleasant companion.
'Madame,' said Vandeloup, impressively, bending forward, 'in the words of the Bible--when I was hungry you gave me food; when I was naked you gave me raiment. You took me on, Madame, an unknown waif, without money, friends, or a character; you believed in me when no one else did; you have been my guardian angel: and do you think that I can forget your goodness to me for the last six months? No! Madame,' rising, 'I have a heart, and while I live that heart will ever remember you with gratitude and love;' and bending forward he took her hand and kissed it gallantly.
'You think too much of what I have done,' said Madame, who was, nevertheless, pleased at this display of emotion, albeit, according to her English ideas, it seemed to savour too much of the footlights. 'I only did to you what I would do to all men. I am glad, in this instance, to find my confidence has not been misplaced; when do you think of leaving us?'
'In about two or three weeks,' answered Vandeloup, carelessly, 'but not till you find another clerk; besides, Madame, do not think you have lost sight of me for ever; I will go down to Melbourne, settle all my affairs, and come up and see you again.'
'So you say,' replied Mrs Villiers, sceptically smiling.
'Well,' replied M. Vandeloup, with a shrug, 'we will see--at all events, gratitude is such a rare virtue that there is decided novelty in possessing it.'
'M. Vandeloup,' said Madame, suddenly, after they had been chatting for a few moments, 'one thing you must do for me in Melbourne.'
'I will do anything you wish,' said Vandeloup, gravely.
'Then,' said Madame, earnestly, rising and looking him in the face, 'you must find Kitty, and send her back to me.'
'Madame,' said Vandeloup, solemnly, 'it will be the purpose of my life to restore her to your arms.'
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