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The Chink in the Armour Part 43

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'E is a child--quite a child as regards money." Madame Wachner sighed heavily. "No, no, you go 'ome to bed in the Pension Malfait."

"I shouldn't think of doing such a thing!" he said kindly. "I will come back with you to the Casino, and together we will persuade Monsieur Wachner to go home. He has had time to make or lose a good deal of money in the last few minutes."

"Yes, indeed he 'as--" again Madame Wachner sighed, and Chester's heart went out to her. She was a really nice old woman--clever and intelligent, as well as cheerful and brave. It seemed a great pity that she should be cursed with a gambler for a husband.

As they went back into the Casino they could hear the people round them talking of the Comte de Virieu, and of the high play that had gone on at the club that evening.

"No, he is winning now," they heard someone say. And Madame Wachner looked anxious. If Count Paul were winning, then her Fritz must be losing.

And alas! her fears were justified. When they got up into the Baccarat Room they found L'Ami Fritz standing apart from the tables, his hands in his pockets, staring abstractedly out of a dark window on to the lake.

"Well?" cried Madame Wachner sharply, "Well, Fritz?"

"I have had no luck!" he shook his head angrily. "It is all the fault of that cursed system! If I had only begun at the right, the propitious moment--as I should have done if you had not worried me and asked me to go away--I should probably have made a great deal of money," he looked at her disconsolately, deprecatingly.

Chester also looked at Madame Wachner. He admired the wife's self-restraint. Her red face got a little redder. That was all.

"It cannot be helped," she said a trifle coldly, and in French. "I knew how it would be, so I am not disappointed. Have you anything left? Have you got the five louis I gave you at the beginning of the evening?"

Monsieur Wachner shook his head gloomily.

"Well then, it is about time we went home." She turned and led the way out.

CHAPTER XXIII

As Sylvia went slowly and wearily up to her room a sudden horror of Lacville swept over her excited brain.

For the first time since she had been in the Villa du Lac, she locked the door of her bed room and sat down in the darkness.

She was overwhelmed with feelings of humiliation and pain. She told herself with bitter self-scorn that Paul de Virieu cared nothing for her.

If he had cared ever so little he surely would never have done what he had done to-night?

But such thoughts were futile, and soon she rose and turned on the electric light. Then she sat down at a little writing-table which had been thoughtfully provided for her by M. Polperro, and hurriedly, with feverish eagerness, wrote a note.

Dear Count de Virieu--

I am very tired to-night, and I do not feel as if I should be well enough to ride to-morrow.--Yours sincerely,

Sylvia Bailey.

That was all, but it was enough. Hitherto she had evidently been--hateful thought--what the matrons of Market Dalling called "coming on" in her manner to Count Paul; henceforth she would be cold and distant to him.

She put her note into an envelope, addressed it, and went downstairs again. It was very late, but M. Polperro was still up. The landlord never went to bed till each one of his clients was safe indoors.

"Will you kindly see that the Comte de Virieu gets this to-night?" she said briefly. And then, as the little man looked at her with some surprise, "It is to tell the Count that I cannot ride to-morrow morning.

It is late, and I am very tired; sleepy, too, after the long motoring expedition I took this afternoon!" She tried to smile.

M. Polperro bowed.

"Certainly, Madame. The Count shall have this note the moment he returns from the Casino. He will not be long now."

But the promises of Southerners are pie-crust. Doubtless M. Polperro meant the Count to have the note that night, but he put it aside and forgot all about it.

Sylvia had a broken night, and she was still sleeping heavily when she was wakened by the now familiar sound of the horses being brought into the courtyard. She jumped out of bed and peeped through an opening in the closed curtains.

It was a beautiful morning. The waters of the lake dimpled in the sun.

A door opened, and Sylvia heard voices. Then Count Paul was going riding after all, and by himself? Sylvia felt a pang of unreasoning anger and regret.

Paul de Virieu and M. Polperro were standing side by side; suddenly she saw the hotel-keeper hand the Count, with a gesture of excuse, the note she had written the night before. Count Paul read it through, then he put it back in its envelope, and placed it in the breast pocket of his coat.

He did not send the horses away, as Sylvia in her heart had rather hoped he would do, but he said a word to M. Polperro, who ran into the Villa and returned a moment later with something which he handed, with a deferential bow to the Count.

It was a cardcase, and Paul de Virieu scribbled something on a card and gave it to M. Polperro. A minute later he had ridden out of the gates.

Sylvia moved away from the window, but she was in no mood to go back to bed. She felt restless, excited, sorry that she had given up her ride.

When at last her tea was brought in, she saw the Count's card lying on the tray:

Madame--

I regret very much to hear that you are not well--so ran his pencilled words--but I trust you will be able to come down this morning, for I have a message to give you from my sister.

Believe me, Madame, of all your servants the most devoted.

Paul de Virieu.

They met in the garden--the garden which they had so often had to themselves during their short happy mornings; and, guided by an instinctive longing for solitude, and for being out of sight and out of mind of those about them, they made their way towards the arch in the wall which led to the _potager_.

It was just ten o'clock, and the gardeners were leaving off work for an hour; they had earned their rest, for their work begins each summer day at sunrise. It was therefore through a sweet-smelling, solitary wilderness that Count Paul guided his companion.

They walked along the narrow paths edged with fragrant herbs till they came to the extreme end of the kitchen-garden, and then--

"Shall we go into the orangery?" he asked abruptly.

Sylvia nodded. These were the first words he had uttered since his short "Good morning. I hope, Madame, you are feeling better?"

He stepped aside to allow her to go first into the large, finely-proportioned building, which was so charming a survival of eighteenth-century taste. The orangery was cool, fragrant, deserted; remote indeed from all that Lacville stands for in this ugly, utilitarian world.

"Won't you sit down?" he said slowly. And then, as if echoing his companion's thoughts, "It seems a long, long time since we were first in the orangery, Madame--"

"--When you asked me so earnestly to leave Lacville," said Sylvia, trying to speak lightly. She sat down on the circular stone seat, and, as he had done on that remembered morning when they were still strangers, he took his place at the other end of it.

"Well?" he said, looking at her fixedly. "Well, you see I came back after all!"

Sylvia made no answer.

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