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- Jeanne Of The Marshes - 20/52 -

telegrams I gave her, and I want to send another."

Cecil hurried out, and the Princess, moving to the window, beckoned to Forrest, who was lounging in a wicker chair with a cigarette in his mouth.

"Nigel," she said, "how much longer?"

Forrest looked despondently at his cigarette.

"I cannot tell," he answered. "Perhaps one day, perhaps a week, perhaps--"

"No!" the Princess interrupted, "I do not wish to hear that eventuality."

"You know that the Duke is still about?" Forrest said gloomily. "I saw him this morning. There has been a fellow, too--a detective, of course--enquiring about the car and who was able to drive it."

"But that," the Princess interrupted, "is all in our favour. You were seen to bring it back up the drive about ten o'clock in the morning."

Forrest nodded.

"Don't let's talk about it," he said. "Where is Jeanne? Do you know?"

The Princess pointed toward the lawn to where Cecil and Jeanne were just starting a game of croquet. Forrest watched them for a few minutes meditatively.

"Ena," he said, dropping his voice a little, "what are you going to do with that child? I have never quite understood your plans. You promised to talk to me about it while we were down here."

"I know," the Princess answered, "only this other affair has driven everything out of our minds. What I should like to do," she continued, "is to marry her before she comes of age, if I can find any one willing to pay the price."

"The price?" he repeated doubtfully.

The Princess nodded.

"Supposing," she continued, "that her fortune amounted to nearly four hundred thousand pounds, I think that twenty-five thousand pounds would be a very moderate sum for any one to pay for a wife with such a dowry."

"Have you any one in your mind?" he asked.

The Princess nodded.

"I have a friend in Paris who is making some cautious inquiries," she answered. "I am expecting to hear from her in the course of a few days."

"So far," he remarked, "you have made nothing out of your guardianship except a living allowance."

She nodded.

"And a ridiculously small one," she remarked. "All that I have had is two thousand a year. I need not tell you, my dear Nigel, that that does not go very far when it has to provide dresses and servants and a home for both of us. Jeanne is content, and never grumbles, or her lawyers might ask some very inconvenient questions."

"Supposing," he asked, "that she won't have anything to do with this man, when you have found one who is willing to pay?"

"Until she is of age," the Princess answered, "she is mine to do what I like with, body and soul. The French law is stricter than the English in this respect, you know. There may be a little trouble, of course, but I shall know how to manage her."

"She has likes and dislikes of her own," he remarked, "and fairly positive ones. I believe if she had her own way, she would spend all her time with this fisherman here."

The Princess smoothed the lace upon her gown, and gazed reflectively at the turquoises upon her white fingers.

"Jeanne's father," she remarked, "was bourgeois, and her mother had little family. Race tells, of course. I have never attempted to influence her. When there is a great struggle ahead, it is as well to let her have her own way in small things. Hush! She is coming. I suppose the croquet has been a failure."

Jeanne came across to them, swinging her mallet in her hand.

"Will some one," she begged, "take our too kind host away from me? He follows me everywhere, and I am bored. I have played croquet with him, but he is not satisfied. If I try to read, he comes and sits by my side and talks nonsense. If I say I am going for a walk, he wants to come with me. I am tired of it."

The Princess looked at her stepdaughter critically. Jeanne was dressed in white, with a great red rose stuck through her waistband. She was paler even than usual, her eyes were dark and luminous, and the curve of her scarlet lips suggested readily enough the weariness of which she spoke.

The Princess shrugged her shoulders and gathered up her skirts.

"Do what you like, my dear," she said. "I will tell Cecil to leave you alone. But remember that he is our host. You must really be civil to him."

She strolled across the lawn to where Cecil was still knocking the croquet balls about. Jeanne sank into her place, and Forrest looked at her for a few moments attentively.

"You are a strange child," he said at last.

She glanced towards him as though she found his speech an impertinence. Then she looked away across the old-fashioned, strangely arranged garden, with its irregular patches of many coloured flowers, its wind-swept shrubs, its flag-staff rising from the grassy knoll at the seaward extremity. She watched the seagulls, wheeling in from the sea, and followed the line of smoke of a distant steamer. She seemed to find all these things more interesting than conversation.

"You do not like me," he remarked quietly. "You have never liked me."

"I have liked very few of my stepmother's friends," she answered, "any more than I like the life which I have been compelled to lead since I left school."

"You would prefer to be back there, perhaps?" he remarked, a little sarcastically.

"I should," she answered. "It was prison of a sort, but one was at least free to choose one's friends."

"If," he suggested, "you could make up your mind that I was a person at any rate to be tolerated, I think that I could make things easier for you. Your stepmother is always inclined to follow my advice, and I could perhaps get her to take you to quieter places, where you could lead any sort of life you liked."

"Thank you," she answered. "Before very long I shall be my own mistress. Until then I must make the best of things. If you wish to do something for me you can answer a question."

"Ask it, then," he begged at once. "If I can, I shall be only too glad."

"You can tell me something which since the other night," she said, "has been worrying me a good deal. You can tell me who it was that drove Lord Ronald to the station the morning he went away. I thought that he sent his chauffeur away two days ago, and that there was no one here who could drive the car."

Forrest was momentarily taken aback. He answered, however, with scarcely any noticeable hesitation.

"I did," he answered. "I didn't make much of a job of it, and the car has been scarcely fit to use since, but I managed it somehow, or rather we did between us. He came and knocked me up about five o'clock, and begged me to come and try."

She looked at him with peculiar steadfastness. There was nothing in her eyes or her expression to suggest belief or disbelief in his words.

"But I have heard you say so often," she remarked, "that you knew absolutely nothing about the mechanism of a car, and that you would not drive one for anything in the world."

He nodded.

"I am not proud of my skill," he answered, "but I did try at Homburg once. There was nothing else to do, and I had some idea of buying a small car for touring in the Black Forest. If you doubt my words, you can ask any of the servants. They saw me bring the car up the avenue later in the morning."

"It was being dragged up," she reminded him. "The engine was not going."

He looked a little startled.

"It had only just gone wrong," he said. "I had brought it all the way from Lynn."

She rose to her feet.

"Thank you for answering my question," she said. "I am going for a walk now."

He leaned quite close to her.

"Alone?" he asked suggestively.

Jeanne Of The Marshes - 20/52

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