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- Madame Midas - 60/63 -

'I know nothing of the sort.'

Then you believe I committed the crime?'

'I do.'

Kitty sat helplessly down on the bed, and passed her hand across her eyes.

'My God!' she muttered, 'I am going mad.'

'Not at all unlikely,' he replied, carelessly.

She looked vacantly round the cell, and caught sight of Pierre shrinking back into the shadow.

'Why did you bring your accomplice with you?' she said, looking at Gaston.

M. Vandeloup shrugged his shoulders.

'Really, my dear Bebe,' he said, lazily, 'I don't know why you should call him my accomplice, as I have committed no crime.'

'Have you not?' she said, rising to her feet, and bending towards him, 'think again.'

Vandeloup shook his head, with a smile.

'No, I do not think I have,' he answered, glancing keenly at her; 'I suppose you want me to be as black as yourself?'

'You coward!' she said, in a rage, turning on him, 'how dare you taunt me in this manner? it is not enough that you have ruined me, and imperilled my life, without jeering at me thus, you coward?'

'Bah!' retorted Vandeloup, cynically, brushing some dust off his coat, 'this is not the point; you insinuate that I committed a crime, perhaps you will tell me what kind of a crime?'

'Murder,' she replied, in a whisper.

'Oh, indeed,' sneered Gaston, coolly, though his lips twitched a little, 'the same style of crime as your own? and whose murder am I guilty of, pray?'

'Randolph Villiers.'

Vandeloup shrugged his shoulders.

'Who can prove it?' he asked, contemptuously.

'I can!'

'You,' with a sneer, 'a murderess?'

'Who can prove I am a murderess?' she cried, wildly.

'I can,' he answered, with an ugly look; 'and I will if you don't keep a quiet tongue.'

'I will keep quiet no longer,' boldly rising and facing Vandeloup, with her hands clenched at her sides; 'I have tried to shield you faithfully through all your wickedness, but now that you accuse me of committing a crime, which accusation you know is false, I accuse you, Gaston Vandeloup, and your accomplice, yonder,' wheeling round and pointing to Pierre, who shrank away, 'of murdering Randolph Villiers, at the Black Hill, Ballarat, for the sake of a nugget of gold he carried.'

Vandeloup looked at her disdainfully.

'You are mad,' he said, in a cold voice; 'this is the raving of a lunatic; there is no proof of what you say; it was proved conclusively that myself and Pierre were asleep at our hotel while M. Villiers was with Jarper at two o'clock in the morning.'

'I know that was proved,' she retorted, 'and by some jugglery on your part; but, nevertheless, I saw you and him,' pointing again to Pierre, 'murder Villiers.'

'You saw it,' echoed Vandeloup, with a disbelieving smile; 'tell me how?'

'Ah!' she cried, making a step forward, 'you do not believe me, but I tell you it is true--yes, I know now who the two men were following Madame Midas as she drove away: one was her husband, who wished to rob her, and the other was Pierre, who, acting upon your instructions, was to get the gold from Villiers should he succeed in getting it from Madame. You left me a few minutes afterwards, but I, with my heart full of love--wretched woman that I was--followed you at a short distance, unwilling to lose sight of you even for a little time. I climbed down among the rocks and saw you seat yourself in a narrow part of the path. Curiosity then took the place of love, and I watched to see what you were going to do. Pierre-- that wretch who cowers in the corner--came down the path and you spoke to him in French. What was said I did not know, but I guessed enough to know you meditated some crime. Then Villiers came down the path with the nugget in its box under his arm. I recognised the box as the one which Madame Midas had brought to our house. When Villiers came opposite you you spoke to him; he tried to pass on, and then Pierre sprang out from behind the rock and the two men struggled together, while you seized the box containing the gold, which Villiers had let fall, and watched the struggle. You saw that Villiers, animated by despair, was gradually gaining the victory over Pierre, and then you stepped in--yes; I saw you snatch Pierre's knife from the back of his waist and stab Villiers in the back. Then you put the knife into Pierre's hand, all bloody, as Villiers fell dead, and I fled away.'

She stopped, breathless with her recital, and Vandeloup, pale but composed, would have answered her, when a cry from Pierre startled them. He had come close to them, and was looking straight at Kitty.

'My God!' he cried; 'then I am innocent?'

'You!' shrieked Kitty, falling back on her bed; 'who are you?'

The man pulled his hat off and came a step nearer.

'I am Randolph Villiers!'

Kitty shrieked again and covered her face with her hands, while Vandeloup laughed in a mocking manner, though his pale face and quivering lip told that his mirth was assumed.

'Yes,' said Villiers, throwing his hat on the floor of the cell, 'it was Pierre Lemaire, and not I, who died. The struggle took place as you have described, but he,' pointing to Vandeloup, 'wishing to get rid of Pierre for reasons of his own stabbed him, and not me, in the back. He thrust the knife into my hand, and I, in my blind fury, thought that I had murdered the dumb man. I was afraid of being arrested for the murder, so, as suggested by Vandeloup, I changed clothes with the dead man and wrapped my own up in a bundle. We hid the body and the nugget in one of the old mining shafts and then came down to Ballarat. I was similar to Pierre in appearance, except that my chin was shaven. I went down to the Wattle Tree Hotel as Pierre after leaving my clothes outside the window of the bedroom which Vandeloup pointed out to me. Then he went to the theatre and told me to rejoin him there as Villiers. I got my own clothes into the room, dressed again as myself; then, locking the door, so that the people of the hotel might suppose that Pierre slept, I jumped out of the window of the bedroom and went to the theatre. There I played my part as you know, and while we were behind the scenes Mr Wopples asked me to put out the gas in his room. I did so, and took from his dressing-table a black beard, in order to disguise myself as Pierre till my beard had grown. We went to supper, and then I parted with Jarper at two o'clock in the morning, and went back to the hotel, where I climbed into the bedroom through the window and reassumed Pierre's dress for ever. It was by Vandeloup's advice I pretended to be drunk, as I could not go to the Pactolus, where my wife would have recognised me. Then I, as the supposed Pierre, was discharged, as you know. Vandeloup, aping friendship, drew the dead man's salary and bought clothes and a box for me. In the middle of one night I still disguised as Pierre, slipped out of the window, and went up to Black Hill, where I found the nugget and brought it down to my room at the Wattle Tree Hotel. Then Vandeloup brought in the box with my clothes, and we packed the nugget in it, together with the suit I had worn at the time of the murder. Following his instructions, I came down to Melbourne, and there disposed of the nugget--no need to ask how, as there are always people ready to do things of that sort for payment. When I was paid for the nugget, and I only got eight hundred pounds, the man who melted it down taking the rest, I had to give six hundred to Vandeloup, as I was in his power as I thought, and dare not refuse in case he should denounce me for the murder of Pierre Lemaire. And now I find that I have been innocent all the time, and he has been frightening me with a shadow. He, not I, was the murderer of Pierre Lemaire, and you can prove it.'

During all this recital, which Kitty listened to with staring eyes, Vandeloup had stood quite still, revolving in his own mind how he could escape from the position in which he found himself. When Villiers finished his recital he raised his head and looked defiantly at both his victims.

'Fate has placed the game in your hands,' he said coolly, while they stood and looked at him; 'but I'm not beaten yet, my friend. May I ask what you intend to do?'

'Prove my innocence,' said Villiers, boldly.

'Indeed!' sneered Gaston, 'at my expense, I presume.'

'Yes! I will denounce you as the murderer of Pierre Lemaire.'

'And I,' said Kitty, quickly, 'will prove Villiers' innocence.'

Vandeloup turned on her with all the lithe, cruel grace of a tiger.

'First you must prove your own innocence,' he said, in a low, fierce voice. 'Yes; if you can hang me for the murder of Pierre Lemaire, I can hang you for the murder of Selina Sprotts; yes, though I know you did not do it.'

'Ah!' said Kitty, quickly, springing forward, 'you know who committed the crime.'

'Yes,' replied Vandeloup, slowly, 'the man who committed the crime intended to murder Madame Midas, and he was the man who hated her

Madame Midas - 60/63

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