Villiers writhed like a snake under her bitter scorn.
‘I understand,’ he said, in a taunting tone; ’you want it for your lover.’
‘My lover? What do you mean?’
‘What I say,’ he retorted boldly, ’all Ballarat knows the position that young Frenchman holds in the Pactolus claim.’
Mrs Villiers felt herself grow faint—the accusation was so horrible. This man, who had embittered her life from the time she married him, was still her evil genius, and was trying to ruin her in the eyes of the world. The man she had seen on the road was now nearly up to them, and with a revulsion of feeling she saw that it was Vandeloup. Recovering herself with an effort, she turned and faced him steadily.
‘You lied when you spoke just now,’ she said in a quiet voice. ’I will not lower myself to reply to your accusation; but, as there is a God above us, if you dare to cross my path again, I will kill you.’
She looked so terrible when she said this that Villiers involuntarily drew back, but recovering himself in a moment, he sprang forward and caught her arm.
‘You devil! I’ll make you pay for this,’ and he twisted her arm till she thought it was broken. ‘You’ll kill me, will you?—you!—you!’ he shrieked, still twisting her arm and causing her intense pain, ‘you viper!’
Suddenly, when Madame was almost fainting with pain, she heard a shout, and knew that Vandeloup had come to the rescue. He had recognised Madame Midas down the road, and saw that her companion was threatening her; so he made all possible speed, and arrived just in time.
Madame turned round to see Vandeloup throw her husband into a ditch by the side of the road, and walk towards her. He was not at all excited, but seemed as cool and calm as if he had just been shaking hands with Mr Villiers instead of treating him violently.
‘You had better go home, Madame,’ he said, in his usual cool voice, ‘and leave me to deal with this—gentleman; you are not hurt?’
‘Only my arm,’ replied Mrs Villiers, in a faint voice; ’he nearly broke it. But I can walk home alone.’
‘If you can, do so,’ said Vandeloup, with a doubtful look at her. ’I will send him away.’
‘Don’t let him hurt you.’
‘I don’t think there’s much danger,’ replied the young man, with a glance at his arms, ‘I’m stronger than I look.’
‘Thank you, Monsieur,’ said Madame Midas, giving him her hand; ’you have rendered me a great service, and one I will not forget.’
He bent down and kissed her hand, which action was seen by Mr Villiers as he crawled out of the ditch. When Madame Midas was gone and Vandeloup could see her walking homeward, he turned to look for Mr Villiers, and found him seated on the edge of the ditch, all covered with mud and streaming with water—presenting a most pitiable appearance. He regarded M. Vandeloup in a most malignant manner, which, however, had no effect on that young gentleman, who produced a cigarette, and having lighted it proceeded to talk.