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The Chink in the Armour Part 27

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Madame Wachner stared significantly at Sylvia. "You do not know what the police of Lacville are like, my dear friend. They are very unpleasant people. As you were Anna's only friend in the place, they might give you considerable trouble. They would ask you where to look for her, and they would torment you incessantly. If I were you I would say as little as possible."

Madame Wachner spoke very quickly, almost breathlessly, and Sylvia felt vaguely uncomfortable. There was, of course, only one person to whom she was likely to mention the fact, and that was Paul de Virieu.

Was it possible that Madame Wachner wished to warn her against telling him of a fact which he was sure to discover for himself in the course of a day or two?

CHAPTER XV

As Sylvia drove away alone from the station, she felt exceedingly troubled and unhappy.

It was all very well for Madame Wachner to take the matter of Anna Wolsky's disappearance from Lacville so philosophically. The Wachners'

acquaintance with Madame Wolsky had been really very slight, and they naturally knew nothing of the Polish woman's inner nature and temperament.

Sylvia told herself that Anna must have been in great trouble, and that something very serious must have happened to her, before she could have gone away like this, without saying anything about it.

If poor Anna had changed her mind, and gone to the Casino the day before, she might, of course, have lost all her winnings and more. Sylvia reminded herself that it stood to reason that if one could make hundreds of pounds in an hour or two, then one might equally lose hundreds of pounds in the same time. But somehow she could hardly believe that her friend had been so foolish.

Still, how else to account for Anna's disappearance, her sudden exit from Lacville? Anna Wolsky was a proud woman, and Sylvia suspected that if she had come unexpectedly to the end of her resources, she would have preferred to go away rather than confide her trouble to a new friend.

Tears slowly filled Sylvia Bailey's blue eyes. She felt deeply hurt by Anna's strange conduct.

Madame Wachner's warning as to saying as little as possible of the other's departure from Lacville had made very little impression on Sylvia, yet it so far affected her that, instead of telling Monsieur Polperro of the fact the moment she was back at the Villa du Lac, she went straight up to her own room. But when there she found that she could settle down to nothing--neither to a book nor to letters.

Since her husband's death Sylvia Bailey's social circle had become much larger, and there were a number of people who enjoyed inviting and meeting the pretty, wealthy young widow. But just now all these friends of hers in far-away England seemed quite unreal and, above all, quite uninteresting.

Sylvia told herself with bitter pain, and again the tears sprang to her eyes, that no one in the wide world really cared for her. Those people who had been going to Switzerland had thrown her over without a thought.

Anna Wolsky, who had spoken as if she really loved her only a day or two ago, and who had made that love her excuse for a somewhat impertinent interference in Sylvia's private affairs, had left Lacville without even sending her word that she was leaving!

True, she had a new and a delightful friend in Count Paul de Virieu. But what if Anna had been right? What if Count Paul were a dangerous friend, or, worse still, only amusing himself at her expense? True, he had taken her to see his sister; but that, after all, might not mean very much.

Sylvia Bailey went through a very mournful hour. She felt terribly depressed and unhappy, and at last, though there was still a considerable time to dinner, she went downstairs and out into the garden with a book.

And then, in a moment, everything was changed. From sad, she became happy; from mournful and self-pitying, full of exquisite content.

Looking up, Sylvia had seen the now familiar figure of Count Paul de Virieu hurrying towards her.

How early he had left Paris! She had understood that he meant to come back by the last train, or more probably to-morrow morning.

"Paris was so hot, and my sister found that friends of hers were pa.s.sing through, so I came back earlier than I meant to do," he said a little lamely; and then, "Is anything the matter?"

He looked with quick, anxious concern into her pale face and red-lidded eyes. "Did you have a bad night at the tables?"

Sylvia shook her head.

"Something so strange--so unexpected--has happened." Her mouth quivered.

"Anna Wolsky has left Lacville!"

"Left Lacville?" Count Paul repeated, in almost as incredulous a tone as that in which Sylvia herself had said the words when the news had been first brought her. "Have you and she quarrelled, Mrs. Bailey? You permit?" He waited till she looked up and said listlessly, "Yes, please do," before lighting his cigarette.

"Quarrelled? Oh, no! She has simply gone away without telling me!"

The Comte de Virieu looked surprised, but not particularly sorry.

"That's very strange," he said. "I should have thought your friend was not likely to leave Lacville for many weeks to come."

His acute French mind had already glanced at all the sides of the situation, and he was surprised at the mixed feelings which filled his heart. With the Polish woman gone, his young English friend was not likely to stay on at such a place as Lacville alone.

"But where has Madame Wolsky gone?" he asked quickly. "And why has she left? Surely she is coming back?" (Sylvia could certainly stay on a few days alone at Lacville, if her friend was coming back.)

But what was this that Mrs. Bailey was saying in so plaintive a tone?

"That's the extraordinary thing about it! I haven't the slightest idea where Anna is, or why she has left Lacville." In spite of herself her voice trembled. "She did not give me the slightest warning of what she was thinking of doing; in fact, only a few days ago, when we were talking of our future plans, I tried to persuade her to come back to England with me on a long visit."

"Tell me all that happened," he said, sitting down and speaking in the eager, kindly way he seemed to keep for Sylvia alone.

And then Sylvia told him. She described the coming of the messenger, her journey to the Pension Malfait, and she repeated, as far as was possible, the exact words of her friend's curiously-worded, abrupt letter to Madame Malfait.

"They all think," she said at last, "that Anna went to the Casino and lost all her money--both the money she made, and the money she brought here; and that then, not liking to tell even me anything about it, she made up her mind to go away."

"They _all_ think this?" repeated Count Paul, meaningly. "Whom do you mean by _all_, Mrs. Bailey?"

"I mean the people at the Pension Malfait, and the Wachners--"

"Then you saw the Wachners to-day?"

"I met Madame Wachner as I was going to the Pension Malfait," said Sylvia, "and she went there with me. You see, the Wachners asked Anna to have supper with them yesterday, and they waited for her ever so long, but she never came. That makes it clear that she must have left Lacville some time in the early afternoon. I wish--I cannot help wis.h.i.+ng--that I had not gone into Paris yesterday, Count Paul."

And then suddenly she realised how ungracious her words must sound.

"No, no," she cried, impetuously. "Of course, I do not mean that! I had a very, very happy time, and your sister was very kind and sweet to me. But it makes me unhappy to think that Anna may have been worried and anxious about money with me away--"

There was a pause, and then, in a very different voice, Sylvia Bailey asked the Comte de Virieu a question that seemed to him utterly irrelevant.

"Do you believe in fortune-tellers?" she asked abruptly. "Are you superst.i.tious?"

"Like everyone else, I have been to such people," he answered indifferently. "But if you ask my true opinion--well, no; I am quite sceptical! There may be something in what these dealers in hope sometimes say, but more often there is nothing. In fact, you must remember that a witch generally tells her client what she believes her client wishes to hear."

"Madame Wachner is inclined to think that Anna left Lacville because of something which a fortune-teller told her--indeed told both of us--before we came here." Mrs. Bailey was digging the point of her parasol in the gra.s.s.

"Tiens! Tiens!" he exclaimed. "That is an odd idea! Pray tell me all about it. Did you and your friend consult a fas.h.i.+onable necromancer, or did you content yourselves with going to a cheap witch?"

"To quite a cheap witch."

Sylvia laughed happily; she was beginning to feel really better now. She rather wondered that she had never told Count Paul about that strange visit to the fortune-teller, but she had been taught, as are so many Englishwomen of her type, to regard everything savouring of superst.i.tion as not only silly and weak-minded, but also as rather discreditable.

"The woman called herself Madame Cagliostra," she went on gaily, "and she only charged five francs. In the end we did pay her fifteen. But she gave us plenty for our money, I a.s.sure you--in fact, I can't remember half the things she said!"

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