‘Bebe,’ he whispered softly, ’when Madame is gone I am going down the hill to Ballarat, so you will walk with me a little way, will you not?’
Of course, Kitty was only too delighted at being asked to do so, and readily consented, then ran quickly into the house, followed by Vandeloup.
‘You here?’ cried Madame, in surprise, pausing for a moment in the act of putting on her bonnet. ‘Why are you not at the theatre?’
‘I am going, Madame,’ replied Gaston, calmly, ’but I thought I would come up in order to assist you to put the nugget in the trap.’
‘Oh, Mr Marchurst would have done that,’ said Madame, much gratified at Vandeloup’s attention. ’I’m sorry you should miss your evening’s pleasure for that.’
‘Ah, Madame, I do but exchange a lesser pleasure for a greater one,’ said the gallant Frenchman, with a pleasant smile; ’but are you sure you will not want me to drive you home?’
‘Not at all,’ said Madame, as they all went outside; ’I am quite safe.’
‘Still, with this,’ said Mr Marchurst, bringing up the rear, with the nugget now safely placed in its wooden box, ’you might be robbed.’
‘Not I,’ replied Mrs Villiers, brightly, as the horse and trap were brought round to the gate by Brown. ’No one knows I’ve got it in the trap, and, besides, no one can catch up with Rory when he once starts.’
Marchurst put the nugget under the seat of the trap, but Madame was afraid it might slip out by some chance, so she put the box containing it in front, and then her feet on the box, so that it was absolutely impossible that it could get lost without her knowing. Then saying goodbye to everyone, and telling M. Vandeloup to be out at the Pactolus before noon the next day, she gathered up the reins and drove slowly down the hill, much to the delight of Mr Villiers, who was getting tired of waiting. Kitty and Vandeloup strolled off in the moonlight, while Marchurst went back to the house.
Villiers arose from his hiding-place, and looked up savagely at the serene moon, which was giving far too much light for his scheme to succeed. Fortunately, however, he saw a great black cloud rapidly advancing which threatened to hide the moon; so he set off down the hill at a run in order to catch his wife at a nasty part of the road some distance down, where she would be compelled to go slowly, and thus give him a chance to spring on the trap and take her by surprise. But quick as he was, Pierre was quicker, and both Vandeloup and Kitty could see the two black figures running rapidly along in the moonlight.
‘Who are those?’ asked Kitty, with a sudden start. ’Are they going after Madame?’
‘Little goose,’ whispered her lover, with a laugh; ’if they are they will never catch up to that horse. It’s all right, Bebe,’ with a reassuring smile, seeing that Kitty still looked somewhat alarmed, ‘they are only some miners out on a drunken frolic.’