‘I’m sorry I can’t offer you one,’ said Gaston, affably, ’but I hardly think you would enjoy it in your present damp condition. If I might be permitted to suggest anything,’ with a polite smile, ’a bath and a change of clothes would be most suitable to you, and you will find both at Ballarat. I also think,’ said Vandeloup, with an air of one who thinks deeply, ’that if you hurry you will catch the next train, which will save you a rather long walk.’
Mr Villiers glared at his tormentor in speechless anger, and tried to look dignified, but, covered as he was with mud, his effort was not successful.
‘Do you know who I am?’ he said at length, in a blustering manner.
‘Under some circumstances,’ said M. Vandeloup, in a smooth voice, ’I should have taken you for a mud bank, but as you both speak and smile I presume you are a man of the lowest type; as you English yourselves say—a blackguard.’
‘I’ll smash you!’ growled Villiers, stepping forward.
‘I wouldn’t try if I were you,’ retorted Vandeloup, with a disparaging glance. ’I am young and strong, almost a total abstainer; you, on the contrary, are old and flabby, with the shaking nerves of an incurable drunkard. No, it would be hardly fair for me to touch you.’
‘You dare not lay a finger on me,’ said Villiers, defiantly.
‘Quite right,’ replied Vandeloup, lighting another cigarette, ’you’re rather too dirty for close companionship. I really think you’d better go; Monsieur Sleeves no doubt expects you.’
‘And this is the man that I obtained work for,’ said Mr Villiers, addressing the air.
‘It’s a very ungrateful world,’ said Vandeloup, calmly, with a shrug of his shoulders; ’I never expect anything from it; I’m sorry if you do, for you are sure to be disappointed.’
Villiers, finding he could make nothing out of the imperturbable coolness of the young Frenchman, turned to go, but as he went, said spitefully—
‘You can tell my wife I’ll pay her for this.’
‘Accounts are paid on Saturdays,’ called out M. Vandeloup, gaily; ’if you call I will give you a receipt of the same kind as you had to-day.’
Villiers made no response, as he was already out of hearing, and went on his way to the station with mud on his clothes and rage in his heart.
Vandeloup looked after him for a few minutes with a queer smile on his lips, then turned on his heel and walked home, humming a song.
Madame Midas strikes ‘ILE’