Thus pacified, Kitty laughed gaily, and they wandered along in the moonlight, talking all the fond and foolish nonsense they could think of.
Meanwhile the great black cloud had completely hidden the moon, and the whole landscape was quite dark. This annoyed Madame, as, depending on the moonlight, the lamps of the trap were not lighted, and she could not see in the darkness how to drive down a very awkward bit of road that she was now on.
It was very steep, and there was a high bank on one side, while on the other there was a fall of about ten feet. She felt annoyed at the darkness, but on looking up saw that the cloud would soon pass, so drove on slowly quite content. Unluckily she did not see the figure on the high bank which ran along stealthily beside her, and while turning a corner, Mr Villiers—for it was he—dropped suddenly from the bank on to the trap, and caught her by the throat.
‘My God!’ cried the unfortunate woman, taken by surprise, and, involuntarily tightening the reins, the horse stopped—’who are you?’
Villiers never said a word, but tightened his grasp on her throat and shortened his stick to give her a blow on the head. Fortunately, Madame Midas saw his intention, and managed to wrench herself free, so the blow aimed at her only slightly touched her, otherwise it would have killed her.
As it was, however, she fell forward half stunned, and Villiers, hurriedly dropping his stick, bent down and seized the box which he felt under his feet and intuitively guessed contained the nugget.
With a cry of triumph he hurled it out on to the road, and sprang out after it; but the cry woke his wife from the semi-stupor into which she had fallen.
Her head felt dizzy and heavy from the blow, but still she had her senses about her, and the moon bursting out from behind a cloud, rendered the night as clear as day.
Villiers had picked up the box, and was standing on the edge of the bank, just about to leave. The unhappy woman recognised her husband, and uttered a cry.
‘You! you!’ she shrieked, wildly, ’coward! dastard! Give me back that nugget!’ leaning out of the trap in her eagerness.
‘I’ll see you damned first,’ retorted Villiers, who, now that he was recognised, was utterly reckless as to the result. ’We’re quits now, my lady,’ and he turned to go.
Maddened with anger and disgust, his wife snatched up the stick he had dropped, and struck him on the head as he took a step forward. With a stifled cry he staggered and fell over the embankment, still clutching the box in his arms. Madame let the stick fall, and fell back fainting on the seat of the trap, while the horse, startled by the noise, tore down the road at a mad gallop.
Madame Midas lay in a dead faint for some time, and when she came to herself she was still in the trap, and Rory was calmly trotting along the road home. At the foot of the hill, the horse, knowing every inch of the way, had settled down into his steady trot for the Pactolus, but when Madame grasped the situation, she marvelled to herself how she had escaped being dashed to pieces in that mad gallop down the Black Hill.