“You wish to see Madame Holymead?” she said to Rolfe. Her manner was engagingly pleasant and French.
Rolfe felt it incumbent upon him to be gallant in the presence of the fair representative of a nation whom he vaguely understood placed gallantry in the forefront of the virtues. He took off his hat with a courtly bow.
“I do, mademoiselle,” he replied, “and my business is important.”
“Then, monsieur, step inside if you will be so good, and I will see you.”
She led Rolfe to a small, prettily-furnished room at the end of the hall, and carefully shut the door. Then she invited Rolfe to be seated, and asked him to state his business.
But this was precisely what Rolfe was not anxious to do except to Mrs. Holymead herself.
“My business is private, and must be placed before Mrs. Holymead,” he said firmly. “I wish to see her.”
“I regret, monsieur, but Madame Holymead is out of town. She went last week. If you had only come before she went”—Mademoiselle Chiron looked genuinely sorry.
Rolfe was a little taken aback at this intelligence, and showed it.
“Out of town!” he repeated. “Where has she gone to?”
She looked at him almost timidly.
“But, monsieur, I do not know if I ought to tell you without knowing who you are. Are you a friend of Madame’s?”
“My name is Detective Rolfe—I come from Scotland Yard,” replied Rolfe, in the authoritative tone of a man who knew that the disclosure was sure to command respect, if not a welcome.
“Scotland? You come from Scotland? Madame will regret much that she has missed you.”
“Scotland Yard, I said,” corrected Rolfe, “not Scotland.”
“Is it not the same?” Mademoiselle Chiron looked at him helplessly. “Scotland Yard—is it not in Scotland? What is the difference?”
Rolfe, with a Londoner’s tolerance for foreign ignorance, painstakingly explained the difference. She looked so puzzled that he felt sure she did not understand him. But that, he reflected, was not his fault.
“So you see, mademoiselle, my business with Mrs. Holymead is important, therefore I’ll be obliged if you will tell me where I can find her,” he said. “In what part of the country is she?”
Mademoiselle Chiron looked distressed. “Really, monsieur, I cannot tell you. She is motoring, and I should have been with her but that I have un gros rhume"—she produced a tiny scrap of lace handkerchief and held it to her nose as though in support of her statement—“and she rings me on the telephone from different places and tells me the things she does need, and I do send them on to her.”
“Where does she ring you up from?” asked Rolfe, eyeing Mademoiselle Chiron’s handkerchief intently.
“From Brighton—from Eastbourne—wherever she stops.”
“What place was she stopping at when you heard from her last?”