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letter. When I was at Salthouse, however, I wrote again, and this time I had a reply. It is here. There is a statement," she continued, "which covers many pages, and which shows exactly how my father's fortune was exaggerated, how securities have dwindled, and how my stepmother's insisting upon a very large allowance during my school-days, has eaten up so much of the residue. There is left to me, it appears, a sum of fourteen thousand pounds. That is a very small fortune, is it not?" she asked calmly.
The Count was gazing at her as one might gaze upon a tragedy.
"It is not a fortune!" he exclaimed. "It is not even a dot! It is nothing at all, a year's income, a trifle."
"Nevertheless," Jeanne said calmly, "it is all that I possess. You see," she continued, "I have come back to my stepmother to tell her that if I am bound by law to do as she wishes until I am of age, I will be dutiful and marry the man whom she chooses for me, but I wish to tell you two things quite frankly. The first you have just heard. The second is that I do not care for you in the least, that in fact I rather dislike you."
The Princess buried her head in her hands. She was not anxious to look at any one just then, or to be looked at. The Count rose to his feet. There were drops of perspiration upon his forehead. He was distracted.
"Is this true, madam?" he asked of the Princess.
"It is true," she admitted.
He leaned towards her.
"What about my three thousand pounds?" he whispered. "Who will pay me back that? It is cheating. That money has been gained by what you call false pretences. There is punishment for that, eh?"
The Princess dabbed at her eyes with a little morsel of lace handkerchief.
"One must live," she murmured. "It was not I who talked about Jeanne's fortune. It was all the world who said how rich she was. Why should I contradict them? I wanted a place once more in the only Society in Europe which counts, English society. There was only one way and I took it. So long as people believed Jeanne to be the heiress of a great fortune, I was made welcome wherever I chose to go. That is the truth, my dear Count."
"It is all very well," the Count answered, "but the money I have advanced you?"
"You took your own risk," the Princess answered, coldly. "I was not to know that you were expecting to repay yourself out of Jeanne's fortune. It is not too late. You are not married to her."
"No," the Count said slowly, "I am not married to her."
The Princess watched him from the corners of her eyes. He was evidently very much distracted. He walked up and down the room. Every now and then he glanced at Jeanne. Jeanne was very pale, but she wore a hat with a small green quill which he had once admired. Certainly she had an air, she was distinguished. There was something vaguely provocative about her, a charm which he could not help but feel. He stopped short in the middle of his perambulations. It was the moment of his life. He felt himself a hero.
"Madam," he said, addressing the Princess, "I have been badly treated. There is no one who would not admit that. I have been deceived--a man less kind than I might say robbed. No matter. I forget it all. I forget my disappointment, I forget that this young lady whom you offer me for a wife has a dot so pitifully small that it counts for nothing. I take her. I accept her. Jeanne," he added, moving towards her, "you hear? It is because I love you so very, very much."
Jeanne shrank back in her chair.
"You mean," she cried, "that you are willing to take me now that you know everything, now that you know I have so little money? You mean that you want to marry me still?"
The Count assented graciously. Never in the course of his whole life, had he admired himself so much.
"I forget everything," he declared, with a little wave of the hand, "except that I love you, and that you are the one woman in the world whom I wish to make the Comtesse de Brensault. Mademoiselle permits me?"
He stooped and raised her cold hand to his lips. Jeanne looked at him with the fascinated despair of some stricken animal. The Princess rose to her feet. It was wonderful, this--a triumph beyond all thought.
"Jeanne, my child," she said, "you are the most fortunate girl I know, to have inspired a devotion so great. Count," she added, "you are wonderful. You deserve all the happiness which I am sure will come to you."
The Count looked as though he were perfectly convinced of it. All the same he whispered in her ear a moment later--
"You must pay me back that three thousand pounds!"
For the Princess it was a day full of excitements. The Count had only just reluctantly withdrawn, and Jeanne had gone to her room under the plea of fatigue, when Forrest was shown in. She started at the look in his drawn face.
"Nigel," she exclaimed hastily, "is everything all right?"
He threw himself into a chair.
"Everything," he answered, "is all wrong. Everything is over."
The Princess saw then that he had aged during the last few days, that this man whose care of himself had kept him comparatively youthful looking, notwithstanding the daily routine of an unwholesome life, was showing signs at last of breaking down. There were lines about his eyes, little baggy places underneath. He dragged his feet across the carpet as though he were tired. The Princess pushed up an easy-chair and went herself to the sideboard.
"Give me a little brandy," he said, "or rather a good deal of brandy. I need it."
The Princess felt her own hand shake. She brought him a tumbler and sat down by his side.
"You had to kill him?" she asked, in a whisper. "Is it that?"
Forrest set down his glass--empty.
"No!" he answered. "We were going to, when a mad woman who lives there got into the place and found us out. We had them safe, the two of them, when the worst thing happened which could have befallen us. Andrew de la Borne broke in upon us."
The Princess listened with set face.
"Go on," she said. "What happened?"
"The game was up so far as we were concerned," he answered. "Cecil crumpled up before his brother, and gave the whole show away. There was nothing left for me to do but to wait and hear what they had to say, before I decided whether or no to make my graceful exit from the stage."
"Go on," she commanded. "What happened exactly?"
"We were kept there," he continued, "until this morning, waiting until Engleton was well enough to make up his mind what to do. The end is simple enough. Considering that but for that girl's intervention Engleton would have been in the sea by now, and he knows it, I suppose it might have been worse. I have signed a paper undertaking to leave England within forty-eight hours, and never to show myself in this country again. Further, I am not to play cards at any time with any Englishman."
"Is that all?" the Princess asked.
"Yes!" Forrest answered. "I suppose you would say that they have let me off lightly. I wish I could feel so. If ever a man was sick of those dirty disreputable foreign places, where one holds on to life and respectability only with the tips of one's fingernails, I am. I think I shall chuck it, Ena. I am tired of those foreign crowds, suspicious, semi-disreputable. There's something wrong with every one of them. Even the few decent ones you know very well speak to you because you are in a foreign country, and would cut you in Pall Mall."
"It isn't so bad as that," the Princess said calmly. "There are some of the places worth living in. You must live a quieter life, spend less, and find distractions. You used to be so fond of shooting and golf."
He laughed hardly.
"How am I to live," he demanded, "away from the card-tables? What do you suppose my income is? A blank! It is worse than a blank, for I owe bills which I shall never pay. How am I going to live from day to day unless I go on the same infernal treadmill. I am an adventurer, I know," he went on, "but what is one to do who has the tastes and education of a gentleman, and not even money enough to buy a farm and work with one's hands for a living?"
The Princess moved to the window and back again.
"I, too, Nigel," she said, "have had shocks. Jeanne has come back. She has been at Salthouse all the time."
"It was probably she, then, who sent for De la Borne," Forrest said wearily.
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