‘Still, your consul—’ began Mrs Villiers.
’Alas, Madame, what can I say—how can I prove to him that I am what I assert to be? My companion is dumb and cannot speak for me, and, unluckily, he can neither read nor write. I have no papers to prove myself, so my consul may think me—what you call—a scamp. No; I will wait till I receive news from home, and get to my own position again; besides,’ with a shrug, ‘after all, it is experience.’
‘Experience,’ said Madame, quietly, ’is a good schoolmaster, but the fees are somewhat high.’
‘Ah!’ said Vandeloup, with a pleased look, ’you know Heine, I perceive, Madame. I did not know he was read out here.’
‘We are not absolute barbarians, M. Vandeloup,’ said Madame, with a smile, as she arose and held out her hand to the young man; ’and now good night, for I am feeling tired, and I will see you to-morrow. Mr McIntosh will show you where you are to sleep.’
Vandeloup took the hand she held out to him and pressed it to his lips with a sudden gesture. ‘Madame,’ he said, passionately, ’you are an angel, for to-day you have saved the lives of two men.’
Madame snatched her hand away quickly, and a flush of annoyance spread over her face as she saw how Selina and Archie stared. Vandeloup, however, did not wait for her answer, but went out, followed by Pierre. Archie put on his hat and walked out after them, while Madame Midas stood looking at Selina with a thoughtful expression of countenance.
‘I don’t know if I’ve done a right thing, Selina,’ she said, at length; ‘but as they were starving I could hardly turn them away.’
’Cast your bread on the waters and it shall come back after many days—buttered,’ said Selina, giving her own version of the text.
‘M. Vandeloup talks well,’ she observed.
‘So did he,’ replied Selina, with a sniff, referring to Mr Villiers; ‘once bitten, twice shy.’
‘Quite right, Selina,’ replied Mrs Villiers, coolly; ’but you are going too fast. I’m not going to fall in love with my servant.’
‘You’re a woman,’ retorted Selina, undauntedly, for she had not much belief in her own sex.
‘Yes, who has been tricked and betrayed by a man,’ said Madame, fiercely; ’and do you think because I succour a starving human being I am attracted by his handsome face? You ought to know me better than that, Selina. I have always been true to myself,’ and without another word she left the room.
Selina stood still for a moment, then deliberately put away her work, slapped the cat in order to relieve her feelings, and poked the fire vigorously.
‘I don’t like him,’ she said, emphasizing every word with a poke. ’He’s too smooth and handsome, his eyes ain’t true, and his tongue’s too smart. I hate him.’
Having delivered herself of this opinion, she went to boil some water for Mr McIntosh, who always had some whisky hot before going to bed.