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The Chink in the Armour Part 26

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"We will, at any rate, go in and find out when Anna left, and if she said where she was going," said Sylvia.

"If you do not mind," observed Madame Wachner, "I will remain out here, in the car. They have already seen me this morning at the Pension Malfait. They must be quite tired of seeing me."

Sylvia felt rather disappointed. She would have liked the support of Madame Wachner's cheerful presence when making her inquiries, for she was aware that the proprietors of Anna's pension--M. and Madame Malfait--had been very much annoyed that she, Sylvia, had not joined her friend there.

Madame Malfait was sitting in her usual place--that is, in a little gla.s.s cage in the hall--and when she saw Mrs. Bailey coming towards her, a look of impatience, almost of dislike, crossed her thin, shrewd face.

"Bon jour, Madame!" she said curtly. "I suppose you also have come to ask me about Madame Wolsky? But I think you must have heard all there is to hear from the lady whom I see out there in the car. I can tell you nothing more than I have already told her. Madame Wolsky has treated us with great want of consideration. She did not come home last evening.

Poor Malfait waited up all night, wondering what could be the matter. And then, this morning, we found a letter in her room saying she had gone away!"

"A letter in her room?" exclaimed Sylvia. "Madame Wachner did not tell me that my friend had left a letter--"

But Madame Malfait went on angrily:

"Madame Wolsky need not have troubled to write! A word of explanation would have been better, and would have prevented my husband sitting up till five o'clock this morning. We quite feared something must have happened to her. But we have a great dislike to any affair with the police, and so we thought we would wait before telling them of her disappearance, and it is indeed fortunate that we did so!"

"Will you kindly show me the letter she left for you?" said Sylvia.

Without speaking, Madame Malfait bent down over her table, and then held out a piece of notepaper on which were written the words:

Madame Malfait,--

Being unexpectedly obliged to leave Lacville, I enclose herewith 200 francs. Please pay what is owing to you out of it, and distribute the rest among the servants. I will send you word where to forward my luggage in a day or two.

Sylvia stared reflectively at the open letter.

Anna had not even signed her name. The few lines were very clear, written in a large, decided handwriting, considerably larger, or so it seemed to Sylvia, than what she had thought Anna's ordinary hand to be. But then the Englishwoman had not had the opportunity of seeing much of her Polish friend's caligraphy.

Before she had quite finished reading the mysterious letter over a second time, Madame Malfait took it out of her hand.

But Sylvia Bailey was entirely unused to being snubbed--pretty young women provided with plenty of money seldom are snubbed--and so she did not turn away and leave the hall, as Madame Malfait hoped she would do.

"What a strange thing!" she observed, in a troubled tone. "How extraordinary it is that my friend should have gone away like this, leaving her luggage behind her! What can possibly have made her want to leave Lacville in such a hurry? She was actually engaged to have dinner with our friends, Monsieur and Madame Wachner. Did she not send them any sort of message, Madame Malfait? I wish you would try and remember what she said when she went out."

The Frenchwoman looked at her with a curious stare.

"If you ask me to tell you the truth, Madame," she replied, rather insolently, "I have no doubt at all that your friend went to the Casino yesterday and lost a great deal of money--that she became, in fact, _decavee_."

Then, feeling ashamed, both of her rudeness and of her frankness, she added:

"But Madame Wolsky is a very honest lady, that I will say for her. You see, she left enough money to pay for everything, as well as to provide my servants with handsome gratuities. That is more than the last person who left the Pension Malfait in a hurry troubled to do!"

"But is it not extraordinary that she left her luggage, and that she did not even tell you where she was going?" repeated Sylvia in a worried, dissatisfied tone.

"Pardon me, Madame, that is not strange at all! Madame Wolsky probably went off to Paris without knowing exactly where she meant to stay, and no one wants to take luggage with them when they are looking round for an hotel. I am expecting at any moment to receive a telegram telling me where to send the luggage. You, Madame, if you permit me to say so, have not had my experience--my experience, I mean, in the matter of ladies who play at the Lacville Casino."

There was still a tone of covert insolence in her voice, and she went on, "True, Madame Wolsky has not behaved as badly as she might have done.

Still, you must admit that it is rather inconsiderate of her, after engaging the room for the whole of the month of August, to go off like this!"

Madame Malfait felt thoroughly incensed, and did not trouble to conceal the fact. But as Mrs. Bailey at last began walking towards the front door, the landlady of the pension hurried after her.

"Madame will not say too much about her friend's departure, will she?"

she said more graciously. "I do not want any embarra.s.sments with the police. Everything is quite _en regle_, is it not? After all, Madame Wolsky had a right to go away without telling anyone of her plans, had she not, Madame?"

Sylvia turned round. "Certainly, she had an entire right to do so," she answered coldly. "But, still, I should be much obliged if you will send me word when you receive the telegram you are expecting her to send you about the luggage."

"Well?" cried Madame Wachner eagerly, as Sylvia silently got into the motor again. "Have you learnt anything? Have they not had news of our friend?"

"They have heard nothing since they found that odd letter of hers," said Sylvia. "You never told me about the letter, Madame Wachner?"

"Ah, that letter! I saw it, too. But it said nothing, absolutely nothing!" exclaimed Madame Wachner.

And Sylvia suddenly realised that in truth Anna's letter did say nothing.

"I should have thought they would have had a telegram to-day about the luggage."

"So would I," said Sylvia. And then musingly, "I should never, never have expected Anna Wolsky to go off like that. So--so mysteriously--"

"Well, there, I quite disagree with you! It is just what I should have expected her to do!" exclaimed Madame Wachner. "She told me of that visit you both made to the soothsayer. Perhaps she made up in her mind to follow that person's advice. Our friend was always a little mysterious, was she not? Did she ever talk to you of her family, of her friends?" She looked inquisitively at her companion.

"Yes--no," said Sylvia, hesitating. "I do not think poor Anna has many relations. You see, she is a widow. I believe her father and mother are dead."

"Ah, that is very sad! Then you do not know of anyone to write to about her?"

"I?" said Sylvia. "No, of course I don't know of anyone to write to. How could I? I haven't known her very long, you know, Madame Wachner. But we became friends almost at once."

The motor was still stationary. The driver turned round for orders.

Sylvia roused herself.

"Can I drive you back to the Chalet des Muguets?" she asked. "Somehow I don't feel inclined to take a drive in the forest now."

"If you do not mind," said Madame Wachner, "I should prefer to be driven to the station, for l'Ami Fritz had to go to Paris." She laughed ruefully. "To fetch money, as usual! His system did not work at all well yesterday--poor Fritz!"

"How horrid!" said Sylvia. "It must be very disappointing to your husband when his system goes wrong."

"Yes, very," answered the wife drily. "But when one system fails--well, then he at once sets himself to inventing another! I lose a great deal more in the lower room playing with francs than Fritz does at baccarat playing with gold. You see, a system has this good about it--the player generally comes out even at the end of each month."

"Does he, indeed?"

But Sylvia was not attending to what the other was saying. She was still absorbed in the thought of her friend, and of the mystery of her friend's sudden departure from Lacville.

When at last they reached the station, Madame Wachner turned and grasped Sylvia by the hand.

"We must not let you become low-spirited!" she exclaimed. "It is a great pity your kind friend has gone away. But doubtless you will soon be going away, too?"

And, as Sylvia made no answer, "Perhaps it would be well not to say too much concerning Madame Wolsky having left like this. She might come back any moment, and then she would not like it if there had been a fuss made about it! If I were you I would tell n.o.body--I repeat emphatically _n.o.body_."

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