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- Madame Midas - 50/63 -
Kitty felt a chill running through her veins as she remembered where their last meeting had been. The extremity of the danger gave her courage.
'I dare say,' she replied, coldly turning her back on the young man, 'I'm not invisible.'
Mrs Killer looked with all her eyes, for she wanted to know all about this pretty girl who dropped so unexpectedly into Melbourne society, so she determined to question Bellthorp when she got him alone. To this end she finessed.
'Oh! there's that lovely valse,' she said, as the band struck up 'One summer's night in Munich'. 'If you are not engaged, Mr Bellthorp, we must have a turn.'
'Delighted,' replied Bellthorp, languidly offering his arm, but thinking meanwhile, 'confound these women, how they do work a man.'
'You, I suppose,' said Mrs Riller to Kitty, 'are going to play wallflower.'
'Hardly,' observed a cool voice behind them; 'Miss Marchurst dances this with me--you see, Mrs Riller,' as that lady turned and saw Vandeloup, 'she has not your capability at playing wallflower,' with a significant glance at Bellthorp.
Mrs Riller understood the look, which seemed to pierce into the very depths of her frivolous little soul, and flushed angrily as she moved away with Mr Bellthorp and mentally determined to be even with Vandeloup on the first occasion.
Gaston, quite conscious of the storm he had raised, smiled serenely, and then offered his arm to Kitty, which she refused, as she was determined to find out from his own lips the truth of Jarper's statement regarding Madame Midas.
'I don't want to dance,' she said curtly, pointing to the seat beside her as an invitation for him to sit down.
'Pardon me,' observed Vandeloup, blandly, 'I do; we can talk afterwards if you like.'
Their eyes met, and then Kitty arose and took his arm, with a charming pout. It was no good fighting against the quiet, masterful manner of this man, so she allowed him to put his arm round her waist and swing her slowly into the centre of the room. 'One summer's night in Munich' was a favourite valse, and everyone who could dance, and a good many who could not, were up on the floor. Every now and then, through the steady beat of the music, came the light laugh of a woman or the deeper tones of a man's voice; and the glare of the lights, the flashing jewels on the bare necks and arms of women, the soft frou-frou of their dresses, as their partners swung them steadily round, and the subtle perfume of flowers gave an indescribable sensuous flavour to the whole scene. And the valse-- who does not know it? with its sad refrain, which comes in every now and then throughout, even in the most brilliant passages. The whole story of a man's faith and a woman's treachery is contained therein.
'One summer's night in Munich,' sighed the heavy bass instruments, sadly and reproachfully, 'I thought your heart was true!' Listen to the melancholy notes of the prelude which recall the whole scene--do you not remember? The stars are shining, the night wind is blowing, and we are on the terrace looking down on the glittering lights of the city. Hark! that joyous sparkling strain, full of riant laughter, recalls the sad students who wandered past, and then from amid the airy ripple of notes comes the sweet, mellow strain of the 'cello, which tells of love eternal amid the summer roses; how the tender melody sweeps on full of the perfume and mystic meanings of that night. Hark! is that the nightingale in the trees, or only the silvery notes of a violin, which comes stealing through the steady throb and swing of the heavier stringed instruments? Ah! why does the rhythm stop? A few chords breaking up the dream, the sound of a bugle calling you away, and the valse goes into the farewell motif with its tender longing and passionate anguish. Good-bye! you will be true? Your heart is mine, good-bye, sweetheart! Stop! that discord of angry notes--she is false to her soldier lover! The stars are pale, the nightingale is silent, the rose leaves fall, and the sad refrain comes stealing through the room again with its bitter reproach, 'One summer's night in Munich I knew your heart was false.'
Kitty danced for a little time, but was too much agitated to enjoy the valse, in spite of the admirable partner M. Vandeloup made. She was determined to find out the truth, so stopped abruptly, and insisted on Vandeloup taking her to the conservatory.
'What for?' he asked, as they threaded their way through the crowded room. 'Is it important?'
'Very,' she replied, looking straight at him; 'it is essential to our comedy.'
M. Vandeloup shrugged his shoulders.
'My faith!' he murmured, as they entered the fernery; 'this comedy is becoming monotonous.'
IN THE FERNERY
The fernery was a huge glass building on one side of the ballroom, filled with Australian and New Zealand ferns, and having a large fountain in the centre sending up a sparkling jet of water, which fell into the shallow stone basin filled with water lilies and their pure white flowers. At the end was a mimic representation of a mountain torrent, with real water tumbling down real rocks, and here and there in the crannies and crevices grew delicate little ferns, while overhead towered the great fronds of the tree ferns. The roof was a dense mass of greenery, and wire baskets filled with sinuous creepers hung down, with their contents straggling over. Electric lights in green globes were skilfully hidden all round, and a faint aquamarine twilight permeated the whole place, and made it look like a mermaid's grotto in the depths of the sea. Here and there were delightful nooks, with well-cushioned seats, many of which were occupied by pretty girls and their attendant cavaliers. On one side of the fernery a wide door opened on to a low terrace, from whence steps went down to the lawn, and beyond was the dark fringe of trees wherein Pierre was concealed.
Kitty and Vandeloup found a very comfortable nook just opposite the door, and they could see the white gleam of the terrace in the luminous starlight. Every now and then a couple would pass, black silhouettes against the clear sky, and around they could hear the murmur of voices and the musical tinkling of the fountain, while the melancholy music of the valse, with its haunting refrain, sounded through the pale green twilight. Barty Jarper was talking near them, in his mild little way, to a tall young lady in a bilious-looking green dress, and further off Mr Bellthorp was laughing with Mrs Riller behind the friendly shelter of her fan.
'Well,' said Vandeloup, amiably, as he sank into a seat beside Kitty, 'what is this great matter you wish to speak about?'
'Madame Midas,' retorted Kitty, looking straight at him.
'Such a delightful subject,' murmured Gaston, closing his eyes, as he guessed what was coming; 'go on, I'm all attention.'
'You are going to marry her,' said Miss Marchurst, bending towards him and closing her fan with a snap.
Vandeloup smiled faintly.
'You don't say so?' he murmured, opening his eyes and looking at her lazily; 'who told you this news--for news it is to me, I assure you?'
'Then it's not true?' added Kitty, eagerly, with a kind of gasp.
'I'm sure I don't know,' he replied, indolently fingering his moustache; 'I haven't asked her yet.'
'You are not going to do so?' she said, rapidly, with a flush on her face.
'Why not?' in surprise; 'do you object?'
'Object? my God!' she ejaculated, in a low fierce tone; 'have you forgotten what we are to one another?'
'Friends, I understand,' he said, looking at his hands, admiringly.
'And something more,' she added, bitterly; 'lovers!'
'Don't talk so loud, my dear,' replied Vandeloup, coolly; 'it doesn't do to let everyone know your private business.'
'It's private now,' she said, in a voice of passion, 'but it will soon be public enough.'
'Indeed! which paper do you advertise in?'
'Listen to me, Gaston,' she said, taking no notice of his sneer; 'you will never marry Madame Midas; sooner than that, I will reveal all and kill myself.'
'You forget,' he said, gently; 'it is comedy, not tragedy, we play.'
'That is as I choose,' she retorted; 'see!' and with a sudden gesture she put her hand into the bosom of her dress and took out the bottle of poison with the red bands. 'I have it still.'
'So I perceive,' he answered, smiling. 'Do you always carry it about with you, like a modern Lucrezia Borgia?'
'Yes,' she answered quietly; 'it never leaves me, you see,' with a sneer. 'As you said yourself, it's always well to be prepared for emergencies.'
'So it appears,' observed Vandeloup, with a yawn, sitting up. 'I wouldn't use that poison if I were you; it is risky.'
'Oh, no, it's not,' answered Kitty; 'it is fatal in its results, and
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