Slivers was just going to snap out a refusal, when he caught sight of McIntosh’s letter on the table, and this recalled to his mind the conversation he had with Mr Villiers. Here was a young man handsome enough to make any woman fall in love with him, and who, moreover, had a clever tongue in his head. All Slivers’ animosity revived against Madame Midas as he thought of the Devil’s Lead, and he determined to use this young man as a tool to ruin her in the eyes of the world. With these thoughts in his mind, he drew a sheet of paper towards him, and dipping the rusty pen in the thick ink, prepared to question his visitors as to what they could do, with a view to sending them out to the Pactolus claim.
‘Names?’ he asked, grasping his pen firmly in his left hand.
‘Mine,’ said the stranger, bowing, ’is Gaston Vandeloup, my friend’s Pierre Lemaire—both French.’
Slivers scrawled this down in the series of black scratches, which did duty with him for writing.
‘Where do you come from?’ was his next question.
‘The story,’ said M. Vandeloup, with suavity, ’is too long to repeat at present; but we came to-day from Melbourne.’
‘What kind of work can you do?’ asked Slivers, sharply.
‘Anything that turns up,’ retorted the Frenchman.
‘I was addressing your companion, sir; not you,’ snarled Slivers, turning viciously on him.
‘I have to answer for both,’ replied the young man, coolly, slipping one hand into his pocket and leaning up against the door in a negligent attitude, ‘my friend is dumb.’
‘Poor devil!’ said Slivers, harshly.
‘But,’ went on Vandeloup, sweetly, ’his legs, arms, and eyes are all there.’
Slivers glared at this fresh piece of impertinence, but said nothing. He wrote a letter to McIntosh, recommending him to take on the two men, and handed it to Vandeloup, who received it with a bow.
‘The price of your services, Monsieur?’ he asked.
‘Five bob,’ growled Slivers, holding out his one hand.
Vandeloup pulled out two half-crowns and put them in the thin, claw-like fingers, which instantly closed on them.
‘It’s a mining place you’re going to,’ said Slivers, pocketing the money; ’the Pactolus claim. There’s a pretty woman there. Have a drink?’
Vandeloup declined, but his companion, with a grunt, pushed past him, and filling a tumbler with the whisky, drank it off. Slivers looked ruefully at the bottle, and then hastily put it away, in case Vandeloup should change his mind and have some.
Vandeloup put on his hat and went to the door, out of which Pierre had already preceded him.
‘I trust, gentlemen,’ he said, with a graceful bow, ’we shall meet again, and can then discuss the beauty of this lady to whom Mr Slivers alludes. I have no doubt he is a judge of beauty in others, though he is so incomplete himself.’
He went out of the door, and then Slivers sprang up and rushed to Villiers.