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- Jeanne Of The Marshes - 2/52 -
think of something to help you. By the by, what are you doing to- night?"
"Nothing," he answered, "except that Engleton is expecting me to dine with him."
"I have an idea," the Princess said slowly. "It may not come to anything, but it is worth trying. Have you met my new admirer, Mr. Cecil de la Borne?"
Forrest shook his head.
"Do you mean a dandified-looking boy whom you were driving with in the Park yesterday?"
The Princess nodded.
"We met him a week or so ago," she answered, "and he has been very attentive. He has a country place down in Norfolk, which from his description is, I should think, like a castle in Hermitland. Jeanne and I are dining with him to-night at the Savoy. You and Engleton must come, too. I can arrange it. It is just possible that we may be able to manage something. He told me yesterday that he was going back to Norfolk very soon. I fancy that he has a brother who keeps rather a strict watch over him, and he is not allowed to stay up in town very long at a time."
"I know the name," Forrest remarked. "They are a very old Roman Catholic family. We'll come and dine, if you say that you can arrange it. But I don't see how we can all hope to get an invitation out of him on such a short acquaintance."
The Princess was looking thoughtful.
"Leave it to me," she said. "I have an idea. Be at the Savoy at a quarter past eight, and bring Lord Ronald."
Forrest took up his hat. He looked at the Princess with something very much like admiration in his face. For years he had dominated this woman. To-day, for the first time, she had had the upper hand.
"We will be there all right," he said. "Engleton will only be too glad to be where Jeanne is. I suppose young De la Borne is the same way."
The Princess sighed.
"Every one," she remarked, "is so shockingly mercenary!"
The Princess helped herself to a salted almond and took her first sip of champagne. The almonds were crisp and the champagne dry. She was wearing a new and most successful dinner-gown of black velvet, and she was quite sure that in the subdued light no one could tell that the pearls in the collar around her neck were imitation. Her afternoon's indisposition was quite forgotten. She nodded at her host approvingly.
"Cecil," she said, "it is really very good of you to take in my two friends like this. Major Forrest has just arrived from Ostend, and I was very anxious to hear about the people I know there, and the frocks, and all the rest of it. Lord Ronald always amuses me, too. I suppose most people would call him foolish, but to me he only seems very, very young."
The young man who was host raised his glass and bowed towards the Princess.
"I can assure you," he said, "that it has given me a great deal of pleasure to make the acquaintance of Major Forrest and Lord Ronald, but it has given me more pleasure still to be able to do anything for you. You know that."
She looked at him quickly, and down at her plate. Such glances had become almost a habit with her, but they were still effectual. Cecil de la Borne leaned across towards Forrest.
"I hear that you have been to Ostend lately, Major Forrest," he said. "I thought of going over myself a little later in the season for a few days."
"I wouldn't if I were you," Forrest answered. "It is overrun just now with the wrong sort of people. There is nothing to do but gamble, which doesn't interest me particularly; or dress in a ridiculous costume and paddle about in a few feet of water, which appeals to me even less."
"You were there a little early in the season," the Princess reminded him.
Major Forrest assented.
"A little later," he admitted, "it may be tolerable. On the whole, however, I was disappointed."
Lord Ronald spoke for the first time. He was very thin, very long, and very tall. He wore a somewhat unusually high collar, but he was very carefully, not to say exactly, dressed. His studs and links and waistcoat buttons were obviously fresh from the Rue de la Paix. The set of his tie was perfection. His features were not unintelligent, but his mouth was weak.
"One thing I noticed about Ostend," he remarked, "they charge you a frightful price for everything. We never got a glass of champagne there like this."
"I am glad you like it," their host said. "From what you say I don't imagine that I should care for Ostend. I am not rich enough to gamble, and as I have lived by the sea all my days, bathing does not attract me particularly. I think I shall stay at home." "By the by, where is your home, Mr. De la Borne?" the Princess asked. "You told me once, but I have forgotten. Some of your English names are so queer that I cannot even pronounce them, much more remember them."
"I live in a very small village in Norfolk, called Salthouse," Cecil de la Borne answered. "It is quite close to a small market-town called Wells, if you know where that is. I don't suppose you do, though," he added. "It is an out-of-the-way corner of the world."
The Princess shook her head.
"I never heard of it," she said. "I am going to motor through Norfolk soon, though, and I think that I shall call upon you."
Cecil de la Borne looked up eagerly.
"I wish you would," he begged, "and bring your step-daughter. You can't imagine," he added, with a glance at the girl who was sitting at his left hand, "how much pleasure it would give me. The roads are really not bad, and every one admits that the country is delightful."
"You had better be careful," the Princess said, "or we may take you at your word. I warn you, though, that it would be a regular invasion. Major Forrest and Lord Ronald are talking about coming with us."
"It's just an idea," Forrest remarked carelessly. "I wouldn't mind it myself, but I don't fancy we should get Engleton away from town before Goodwood."
"Well, I like that," Engleton remarked. "Forrest's a lot keener on these social functions than I am. As a matter of fact I am for the tour, on one condition."
"And that?" the Princess asked.
"That you come in my car," Lord Ronald answered. "I haven't really had a chance to try it yet, but it's a sixty horse Mercedes, and it's fitted up for touring. Take the lot of us easy, luggage and everything."
"I think it would be perfectly delightful," the Princess declared. "Do you really mean it?"
"Of course I do," Lord Ronald answered. "It's too hot for town, and I'm rather great on rusticating, myself."
"I think this is charming," the Princess declared. "Here we have one of our friends with a car and another with a house. But seriously, Cecil, we mustn't think of coming to you. There would be too many of us."
"The more the better," Cecil said eagerly. "If you really want to attempt anything in the shape of a rest-cure, I can recommend my home thoroughly. I am afraid," he added, with a shrug of the shoulders, "that I cannot recommend it for anything else."
"A rest," the Princess declared, "is exactly what we want. Life here is becoming altogether too strenuous. We started the season a little early. I am perfectly certain that we could not possibly last till the end. Until I arrived in London with an heiress under my charge, I had no idea that I was such a popular person."
The girl who was sitting on the other side of their host spoke almost for the first time. She was evidently quite young, and her pale cheeks, dark full eyes, and occasional gestures, indicated clearly enough something foreign in her nationality. She addressed no one in particular, but she looked toward Forrest.
"That is one of the things," she said, "which puzzles me. I do not understand it at all. It seems as though every one is liked or disliked, here in London at any rate, according to the amount of money they have."
"Upon my word, Miss Jeanne, it isn't so with every one," Lord Ronald interposed hastily.
She glanced at him indifferently.
"There may be exceptions," she said. "I am speaking of the great number."
"For Heaven's sake, child, don't be cynical!" the Princess remarked. "There is no worse pose for a child of your age."
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