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The Chink in the Armour Part 37

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Madame Wachner had elbowed her way through the crowd to where Chester and Mrs. Bailey were standing. Her husband lagged a little way behind, his eyes still following the play. Indeed, even as his wife spoke L'Ami Fritz made a note in the little book he held in his hand. When in the Baccarat Room he was absolutely absorbed in the play going on. Nothing could really distract him from it.

Sylvia felt and looked relieved.

"Oh, Bill," she exclaimed, "let me introduce you to Madame Wachner? She has been very kind to me since I came to Lacville."

"I am enchanted to meet you, sir. We 'oped to see you at dinner."

Chester bowed. She had a pleasant voice, this friend of Sylvia's, and she spoke English well, even if she did drop her aitches!

"It is getting rather late"--Chester turned to Sylvia, but he spoke quite pleasantly.

"Yes, we must be going; are you staying on?" Sylvia was addressing the woman she had just introduced to Chester, but her eyes were wandering towards the gambling table. Perhaps she had suddenly remembered her five louis.

Chester smiled a little grimly to himself. He wondered if Sylvia would be surprised to hear that her neighbour, the fair Frenchman to whom she had been talking so familiarly, had "collared" her stakes and her winnings.

"No, indeed! We, too, must be going 'ome. Come, Fritz, it is getting late." The devoted wife spoke rather crossly. They all four turned, and slowly walked down the room.

Sylvia instinctively fell behind, keeping step with Monsieur Wachner, while Chester and Madame Wachner walked in front.

The latter had already taken the measure of the quiet, stolid-looking Englishman. She had seen him long before Sylvia had done so, and had watched him with some attention, guessing almost at once that he must be the man for whom Mrs. Bailey had waited dinner.

"I suppose that this is your first visit to Lacville?" she observed smiling. "Very few of your countrymen come 'ere, sir, but it is an interesting and curious place--more really curious than is Monte Carlo."

She lowered her voice a little, but Chester heard her next words very clearly.

"It is not a proper place for our pretty friend, but--ah! she loves play now! The Polish lady, Madame Wolsky, was also a great lover of baccarat; but now she 'as gone away. And so, when Mrs. Bailey come 'ere, like this, at night, my 'usband and I--we are what you English people call old-fas.h.i.+oned folk--we come, too. Not to play--oh, no, but, _you_ understand, just to look after 'er. She is so innocent, so young, so beautiful!"

Chester looked kindly at Madame Wachner. It was very decent of her--really good-natured and motherly--to take such an interest in poor Sylvia and her delinquencies. Yes, that was the way to take this--this matter which so shocked him. Sylvia Bailey--lovely, wilful, spoilt Sylvia--was a very young woman, and ridiculously innocent, as this old lady truly said.

He, Chester, knew that a great many nice people went to Monte Carlo, and spent sometimes a good deal more money than they could afford at the tables. It was absurd to be angry with Sylvia for doing here what very many other people did in another place. He felt sincerely grateful to this fat, vulgar looking woman for having put the case so clearly.

"It's very good of you to do that," he answered awkwardly; "I mean it's very good of you to accompany Mrs. Bailey to this place," he looked round him with distaste.

They were now downstairs, part of a merry, jostling crowd, which contained, as all such crowds naturally contain, a rather rowdy element.

"It certainly is no place for Mrs. Bailey to come to by herself--"

He was going to add something, when Sylvia walked forward.

"Where's Count Paul?" she asked, anxiously, of Madame Wachner. "Surely he did not stay on at the table after we left?"

Madame Wachner shook her head slightly.

"I don't know at all," she said, and then cast a meaning glance at Chester. It was an odd look, and somehow it inspired him with a prejudice against the person, this "Count Paul," of whom Sylvia had just spoken.

"Ah, here he is!" There was relief, nay gladness, ringing in Mrs.

Bailey's frank voice.

The Comte de Virieu was pus.h.i.+ng his way through the slowly moving crowd.

Without looking at the Wachners, he placed ten louis in Sylvia's hand.

"Your last stake was doubled," he said, briefly. "Then that means, does it not, Madame, that you have made thirty-two louis this evening? I congratulate you."

Chester's prejudice grew, unreasonably. "d.a.m.n the fellow; then he was honest, after all! But why should he congratulate Mrs. Bailey on having won thirty-two louis?"

He acknowledged Sylvia's introduction of the Count very stiffly, and he was relieved when the other turned on his heel--relieved, and yet puzzled to see how surprised Sylvia seemed to be by his departure. She actually tried to keep the Count from going back to the Club.

"Aren't you coming to the Villa du Lac? It's getting very late," she said, in a tone of deep disappointment.

But he, bowing, answered, "No, Madame; it is impossible." He waited a moment, then muttered, "I have promised to take the Bank in a quarter of an hour."

Sylvia turned away. Tears had sprung to her eyes. But Chester saw nothing of her agitation, and a moment later they were all four out in the kindly darkness.

CHAPTER XX

Even to Chester there was something grateful in the sudden stillness in which he and the three others found themselves on leaving the Casino.

"Not a very safe issue out of a place where people carry about such a lot of money!" he exclaimed, as they made their way up the rough little lane.

"One could half-throttle anyone here, and have a very good chance of getting off!"

"Oh, Lacville is a very safe place!" answered Madame Wachner, laughing her jovial laugh. "Still, considering all the money made by the Casino, it is too bad they 'aven't made a more splendid--what do you call it--?"

"--Approach," said L'Ami Fritz, in his deep voice, and Chester turned, rather surprised. It was the first word he had heard Monsieur Wachner utter.

Sylvia was trying hard to forget Count Paul and his broken promise, and to be her natural self.

As they emerged into the better-lighted thoroughfare, where stood a row of carriages, she said, "I will drive with you to the Pension Malfait, Bill."

Madame Wachner officiously struck in, "Do not think of driving your friend to the Pension Malfait, dear friend! We will gladly leave Mr.

Chester there. But if 'e does not mind we will walk there; it is too fine a night for driving."

"But how about your luggage?" said Sylvia, anxiously. "Has your luggage gone on to the Pension?"

"Yes," said Chester, shortly. "Your landlord very kindly said he would see to its being sent on."

They were now close to the Villa du Lac. "Of course, I shall expect you to lunch to-morrow," said Sylvia. "Twelve o'clock is the time. You'll want a good rest after your long day."

And then Chester started off with his two strange companions. How very unlike this evening had been to what he had pictured it would be! Years before, as a boy, he had spent a week at a primitive seaside hotel near Dieppe. He had thought Lacville would be like that. He had imagined himself arriving at a quiet, rural, little country inn, and had seen himself kindly, if a little shyly, welcomed by Sylvia. He could almost have laughed at the contrast between the place his fancy had painted and the place he had found, at what he had thought would happen, and at what had happened!

As they trudged along, Chester, glancing to his right, saw that there were still a great many boats floating on the lake. Did Lacville folk never go to bed?

"Yes," said Madame Wachner, quickly divining his thoughts, "some of the people 'ere--why, they stay out on the water all night! Then they catch the early train back to Paris in the morning, and go and work all day.

Ah, yes, it is indeed a splendid thing to be young!"

She sighed, a long, sentimental sigh, and looked across, affectionately, at L'Ami Fritz.

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