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Madame Midas was a remarkably plucky woman, but it needed all her pluck and philosophy to bear up against the terrible calamities which were befalling her. Her faith in human nature was completely destroyed, and she knew that all the pleasure of doing good had gone out of her life. The discovery of Kitty's baseness had wounded her deeply, and she found it difficult to persuade herself that the girl had not been the victim of circumstances. If Kitty had only trusted her when she came to live with her all this misery and crime would have been avoided, for she would have known Madame Midas would never have married Vandeloup, and thus would have had no motive for committing the crime. Regarding Vandeloup's pretensions to her hand, Mrs Villiers laughed bitterly to herself. After the misery of her early marriage it was not likely she was going to trust herself and her second fortune again to a man's honour. She sighed as she thought what her future life must be. She was wealthy, it was true, but amid all her riches she would never be able to know the meaning of friendship, for all who came near her now would have some motive in doing so, and though Madame Midas was anxious to do good with her wealth, yet she knew she could never expect gratitude in return. The comedy of human life is admirable when one is a spectator; but ah! the actors know they are acting, and have to mask their faces with smiles, restrain the tears which they would fain let flow, and mouth witty sayings with breaking hearts. Surely the most bitter of all feelings is that cynical disbelief in human nature which is so characteristic of our latest civilization.
Madame Midas, however, now that Melbourne was so hateful to her, determined to leave it, and sent up to Mr Calton in order to confer with him on the subject. Calton came down to St Kilda, and was shown into the drawing-room where Mrs Villiers, calm and impenetrable looking as ever, sat writing letters. She arose as the barrister entered, and gave him her hand.
'It was kind of you to come so quickly,' she said, in her usual quiet, self-contained manner; 'I wish to consult you on some matters of importance.'
'I am at your service, Madame,' replied Calton, taking a seat, and looking keenly at the marble face before him; 'I am glad to see you looking so well, considering what you have gone through.'
Mrs Villiers let a shadowy smile flit across her face.
'They say the Red Indian becomes utterly indifferent to the torture of his enemies after a certain time,' she answered, coldly; 'I think it is the same with me. I have been deceived and disillusionized so completely that I have grown utterly callous, and nothing now can move me either to sorrow or joy.'
'A curious answer from a curious woman,' thought Calton, glancing at her as she sat at the writing-table in her black dress with the knots of violet ribbons upon it; 'what queer creatures experience makes us.'
Madame Midas folded her hands loosely on the table, and looked dreamily out of the open French window, and at the trellis covered with creeping plants beyond, through which the sun was entering in pencils of golden light. Life would have been so sweet to her if she had only been content to be deceived like other people; but then she was not of that kind. Faith with her was a religion, and when religion is taken away, what remains?--nothing.
'I am going to England,' she said, abruptly, to Calton, rousing herself out of these painful reflections.
'After the trial, I presume?' observed Calton, slowly.
'Yes,' she answered, hesitatingly; 'do you think they will--they will--hang the girl?'
Calton shrugged his shoulders. 'I can't tell you,' he answered, with a half smile; 'if she is found guilty--well--I think she will be imprisoned for life.'
'Poor Kitty,' said Madame, sadly, 'it was an evil hour when you met Vandeloup. What do you think of him?' she asked, suddenly.
'He's a scoundrel,' returned Calton, decisively; still, a clever one, with a genius for intrigue; he should have lived in the times of Borgian Rome, where his talents would have been appreciated; now we have lost the art of polite murder.'
'Do you know,' said Mrs Villiers, musingly, leaning back in her chair, 'I cannot help thinking Kitty is innocent of this crime.'
'She may be,' returned Calton, ambiguously, 'but the evidence seems very strong against her.'
'Purely circumstantial,' interrupted Madame Midas, quickly.
'Purely circumstantial, as you say,' assented Calton; 'still, some new facts may be discovered before the trial which may prove her to be innocent. After the mystery which enveloped the death of Oliver Whyte in the hansom cab murder I hesitate giving a decided answer, in any case till everything has been thoroughly sifted; but, if not Kitty Marchurst, whom do you suspect--Vandeloup?'
'No; he wanted to marry me, not to kill me.'
'Have you any enemy, then, who would do such a thing?'
'Yes; my husband.'
'But he is dead.'
'He disappeared,' corrected Madame, 'but it was never proved that he was dead. He was a revengeful, wicked man, and if he could have killed me, without hurting himself, he would,' and rising from her seat she paced up and down the room slowly.
'I know your sad story,' said the barrister, 'and also how your husband disappeared; but, to my mind, looking at all the circumstances, you will not be troubled with him again.'
A sudden exclamation made him turn his head, and he saw Madame Midas, white as death, staring at the open French window, on the threshold of which was standing a man--medium height, black beard, and a haggard, hunted look in his eyes.
'Who is this?' cried Calton, rising to his feet.
Madame Midas tottered, and caught at the mantelpiece for support.
'My husband,' she said, in a whisper.
'Alive?' said Calton, turning to the man at the window.
'I should rather think so,' said Villiers, insolently, advancing into the room; 'I don't look like a dead man, do I?'
Madame Midas sprang forward and caught his wrist.
'So you have come back, murderer!' she hissed in his ear.
'What do you mean?' said her husband, wrenching his hand away.
'Mean?' she cried, vehemently; 'you know what I mean. You cut yourself off entirely from me by your attempt on my life, and the theft of the gold; you dare not have showed yourself in case you received the reward of your crime; and so you worked in the dark against me. I knew you were near, though I did not see you; and you for a second time attempted my life.'
'I did not,' muttered Villiers, shrinking back from the indignant blaze of her eyes. 'I can prove--'
'You can prove,' she burst out, contemptuously, drawing herself up to her full height, 'Yes! you can prove anything with your cowardly nature and lying tongue; but prove that you were not the man who came in the dead of night and poisoned the drink waiting for me, which was taken by my nurse. You can prove--yes, as God is my judge, you shall prove it, in the prisoner's dock, e'er you go to the gallows.'
During all this terrible speech, Villiers had crouched on the ground, half terrified, while his wife towered over him, magnificent in her anger. At the end, however, he recovered himself a little, and began to bluster.
'Every man has a right to a hearing,' he said, defiantly, looking from his wife to Calton; 'I can explain everything.'
Madame Midas pointed to a chair.
'I have no doubt you will prove black is white by your lying,' she said, coldly, returning to her seat; 'I await this explanation.'
Thereupon Villiers sat down and told them the whole story of his mysterious disappearance, and how he had been made a fool of by Vandeloup. When he had ended, Calton, who had resumed his seat, and listened to the recital with deep interest, stole a glance at Madame Midas, but she looked as cold and impenetrable as ever.
'I understand, now, the reason of your disappearance,' she said, coldly; 'but that is not the point. I want to know the reason you tried to murder me a second time.'
'I did not,' returned Villiers, quietly, with a gesture of dissent.
'Then Selina Sprotts, since you are so particular,' retorted his wife, with a sneer; 'but it was you who committed the crime.'
'Who says I did?' cried Villiers, standing up.
'No one,' put in Calton, looking at him sharply, 'but as you had a grudge against your wife, it is natural for her to suspect you, at the same time it is not necessary for you to criminate yourself.'
'I am not going to do so,' retorted Villiers; 'if you think I'd be such a fool as to commit a crime and then trust myself to my wife's tender mercies, you are very much mistaken. I am as innocent of the murder as the poor girl who is in prison.'
'Then she is not guilty?' cried Mrs Villiers, rising.
'No,' returned Villiers, coldly, 'she is innocent.'
'Oh, indeed,' said Calton, quietly; 'then if you both are innocent, who is the guilty person?'
Villiers was about to speak when another man entered the open window. This was none other than Kilsip, who advanced eagerly to Villiers.
'He has come in at the gate,' he said, quickly.
'Have you the warrant,' asked Villiers, as a sharp ring was heard at the front door.
Kilsip nodded, and Villiers turned on his wife and Calton, who were too much astonished to speak.
'You asked me who committed the crime,' he said, in a state of suppressed excitement; 'look at that door,' pointing to the door which led into the hall, 'and you will see the real murderer of Selina Sprotts appear.'
Calton and Madame Midas turned simultaneously, and the seconds seemed like hours as they waited with bated breath for the opening of the fatal door. The same name was on their lips as they gazed with intense expectation, and that name was--Gaston Vandeloup.
The noise of approaching footsteps, a rattle at the handle of the door, and it was flung wide open as the servant announced--
Yes, there he stood, meek, apologetic, and smiling--the fast-living bank-clerk, the darling of society, and the secret assassin--Mr Bartholomew Jarper.
He advanced smilingly into the room, when suddenly the smile died away, and his face blanched as his eyes rested on Villiers. He made a step backward as if to fly, but in a moment Kilsip was on him.
'I arrest you in the Queen's name for the murder of Selina Sprotts,' and he slipped the handcuffs on his wrists.
The wretched young man fell down on the floor with an agonised shriek.
'It's a lie--it's a lie,' he howled, beating his manacled hands on the carpet, 'none can prove I did it.'
'What about Vandeloup?' said Villiers, looking at the writhing figure at his feet, 'and this proof?' holding out the bottle with the red bands.
Jarper looked up with an expression of abject fear on his white face, then with a shriek fell back again in a swoon.
Kilsip went to the window and a policeman appeared in answer to his call, then between them they lifted up the miserable wretch and took him to a cab which was waiting, and were soon driving off up to the station, from whence Jarper was taken to the Melbourne gaol.
Calton turned to Madame Midas and saw that she also had fainted and was lying on the floor. He summoned the servants to attend to her, then, making Villiers come with him, he went up to his office in town in order to get the whole story of the discovery of the murderer.
The papers were full of it next day, and Villiers' statement, together with Jarper's confession, were published side by side. It appeared that Jarper had been living very much above his income, and in order to get money he had forged Mrs Villiers' name for several large amounts. Afraid of being discovered, he was going to throw himself on her mercy and confess all, which he would have done had Madame Midas come to the Meddlechip's ball. But overhearing the conversation between Kitty and Vandeloup in the conservatory, and seeing the bottle flung out, he thought if he secured it he could poison Madame Midas without suspicion and throw the guilt upon Kitty. He secured the bottle immediately after Vandeloup took Kitty back to the ball-room, and then went down to St Kilda to commit the crime. He knew the house thoroughly as he had often been in it, and saw that the window of Madame's room was open. He then put his overcoat on the glass bottles on top of the wall and leapt inside, clearing the bushes. He stole across the lawn and stepped over the flower-bed, carefully avoiding making any marks. He had the bottle of poison with him, but was apparently quite ignorant how he was to introduce it into the house, but on looking through the parting of the curtains he saw the glass with the drink on the table. Guessing that Madame Midas was in bed and would probably drink during the night, he put his hand through the curtains and poured all the poison into the glass, then noiselessly withdrew. He jumped over the wall again, put on his overcoat, and thought he was safe, when he found M. Vandeloup was watching him and had seen him in all his actions. Vandeloup, whose subtle brain immediately saw that if Madame Midas was dead he could throw the blame on Kitty and thus get rid of her without endangering himself, agreed to keep silent, but made Jarper give up the bottle to him. When Jarper had gone Vandeloup, a few yards further down, met Villiers, but supposed that he had just come on the scene. Villiers, however, had been watching the house all night, and had also been watching Meddlechip's. The reason for this was he thought his wife was at the ball, and wanted to speak to her. He had followed Kitty and Mrs Killer down to St Kilda by hanging on to the back of the brougham, thinking the latter was his wife. Finding his mistake, he hung round the house for about an hour without any object, and was turning round the corner to go home when he saw Jarper jump over the wall, and, being unseen in the shadow, overheard the conversation and knew that Jarper had committed the crime. He did not, however, dare to accuse Jarper of murder, as he thought it was in Vandeloup's power to denounce him as the assassin of Pierre Lemaire, so for his own safety kept quiet. When he heard the truth from Kitty in the prison he would have denounced the Frenchman at once as the real criminal, but was so bewildered by the rapid manner in which Vandeloup made up a case against him, and especially by the bottle being produced out of his pocket--which bottle Vandeloup, of course, had in his hand all the time--that he permitted him to escape. When he left the gaol, however, he went straight to the police-office and told his story, when a warrant was immediately granted for the arrest of Jarper. Kilsip took the warrant and went down to St Kilda to Mrs Villiers' house to see her before arresting Jarper; but, as before described, Jarper came down to the house on business from the bank and was arrested at once.
Of course, there was great excitement over the discovery of the real murderer, especially as Jarper was so well known in Melbourne society, but no one pitied him. In the days of his prosperity he had been obsequious to his superiors and insolent to those beneath him, so that all he gained was the contempt of one and the hate of the other. Luckily, he had no relatives whom his crime would have disgraced, and as he had not succeeded in getting rid of Madame Midas, he intended to have run away to South America, and had forged a cheque in her name for a large amount in order to supply himself with funds. Unhappily, however, he had paid that fatal visit and had been arrested, and since then had been in a state of abject fear, begging and praying that his life might be spared. His crime, however, had awakened such indignation that the law was allowed to take its course, so early one wet cold morning Barty Jarper was delivered into the hands of the hangman, and his mean, pitiful little soul was launched into eternity.
Kitty was of course released, but overwhelmed with shame and agony at all her past life having been laid bare, she did not go to see Madame Midas, but disappeared amid the crowd, and tried to hide her infamy from all, although, poor girl, she was more sinned against than sinning.
Vandeloup, for whom a warrant was out for the murder of Lemaire, had also disappeared, and was supposed to have gone to America.
Madame Midas suffered severely from the shocks she had undergone with the discovery of everyone's baseness. She settled a certain income on her husband, on condition she never was to see him again, which offer he readily accepted, and having arranged all her affairs in Australia, she left for England, hoping to find in travel some alleviation, if not forgetfulness, of the sorrow of the past. A good woman--a noble woman, yet one who went forth into the world broken- hearted and friendless, with no belief in anyone and no pleasure in life. She, however, was of too fine a nature ever to sink into the base, cynical indifference of a misanthropic life, and the wealth which she possessed was nobly used by her to alleviate the horrors of poverty and to help those who needed help. Like Midas, the Greek King, from whence her quaint name was derived, she had turned everything she touched into gold, and though it brought her no happiness, yet it was the cause of happiness to others; but she would give all her wealth could she but once more regain that trust in human nature which had been so cruelly betrayed.
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