Madame Depine had two drearier days than she had foreseen. She kept to her own room, creeping out only at night, when, like all cats, all wigs are grey. After an eternity of loneliness the third day dawned, and she went by pre-arrangement to meet the morning train. Ah, how gaily gleamed the kiosks on the boulevards through the grey mist! What jolly red faces glowed under the cabmen’s white hats! How blithely the birds sang in the bird-shops!
The train was late. Her spirits fell as she stood impatiently at the barrier, shivering in her thin clothes, and morbidly conscious of all those eyes on her wig. At length the train glided in unconcernedly, and shot out a medley of passengers. Her poor old eyes strained towards them. They surged through the gate in animated masses, but Madame Valiere’s form did not disentangle itself from them, though every instant she expected it to jump at her eyes. Her heart contracted painfully—there was no “Princess.” She rushed round to another exit, then outside, to the gates at the end of the drive; she peered into every cab even, as it rumbled past. What had happened? She trudged home as hastily as her legs could bear her. No, Madame Valiere had not arrived.
“They have persuaded her to stay another day,” said Madame la Proprietaire. “She will come by the evening train, or she will write.”
Madame Depine passed the evening at the Gare de Lyon, and came home heavy of heart and weary of foot. The “Princess” might still arrive at midnight, though, and Madame Depine lay down dressed in her bed, waiting for the familiar step in the corridor. About three o’clock she fell into a heavy doze, and woke in broad day. She jumped to her feet, her overwrought brain still heavy with the vapours of sleep, and threw open her door.
“Ah! she has already taken in her boots,” she thought confusedly. “I shall be late for coffee.” She gave her perfunctory knock, and turned the door-handle. But the door would not budge.
“Jacques! Jacques!” she cried, with a clammy fear at her heart. The garcon, who was pottering about with pails, opened the door with his key. An emptiness struck cold from the neat bed, the bare walls, the parted wardrobe-curtains that revealed nothing. She fled down the stairs, into the bureau.
“Madame Valiere is not returned?” she cried.
Madame la Proprietaire shook her head.
“And she has not written?”
“No letter in her writing has come—for anybody.”
“O mon Dieu! She has been murdered. She would go alone by night.”
“She owes me three weeks’ rent,” grimly returned Madame la Proprietaire.
“What do you insinuate?” Madame Depine’s eyes flared.
Madame la Proprietaire shrugged her shoulders. “I am not at my first communion. I have grown grey in the service of lodgers. And this is how they reward me.” She called Jacques, who had followed uneasily in Madame Depine’s wake. “Is there anything in the room?”