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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJeanne Of The Marshes - Book 2 - Chapter 10
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Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 2 - Chapter 10 Post by :Silver_Surfer Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3258

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Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 2 - Chapter 10

BOOK II CHAPTER X

Jeanne's packing was after all a very small matter. She ignored the cupboards full of gowns, nor did she open one of the drawers of her wardrobe. She simply filled her dressing-case with a few necessaries and hid it under the table. At eight o'clock one of the servants brought her dinner on a tray. Jeanne saw with relief that it was one of the younger parlour maids, and not the Princess' own maid.

"Mary," Jeanne said, taking a gold bracelet from her wrist and holding it out to her, "I am going to give you this bracelet if you will do just a very simple thing for me."

The girl looked at Jeanne and looked at the bracelet. She was too amazed for speech.

"I want you," Jeanne said, "when you go out to leave the door unlocked. That is all. It will not make any difference to you so far as your position here is concerned, because your mistress is sending you all away in a few days."

The girl looked at the bracelet and did not hesitate for a moment.

"I would do it for you without anything, Miss Jeanne," she said. "The bracelet is too good for me."

Jeanne laughed, and pushed it across the table to her.

"Run along," she said. "If you want to do something else, open the back door for me. I am coming downstairs."

The girl looked a little perplexed. The bracelet which she was holding still engrossed most of her thoughts.

"You are not doing anything rash, Miss Jeanne, I hope?" she asked timidly.

Jeanne shook her head.

"What I am doing is not rash at all," she said softly. "It is necessary."

Five minutes later Jeanne walked unnoticed down the back stairs of the house, and out into the street. She turned into Piccadilly and entered a bus.

"Where to, miss?" the man asked, as he came for his fare.

"I do not know," Jeanne said. "I will tell you presently."

The man stared at her and passed on. Jeanne had spoken the truth. She had no idea where she was going. Her one idea was to get away from every one whom she knew, or who had known her, as the Princess' ward and a great heiress. She sat in a corner of the bus, and she watched the stream of people pass by. Even there she shrank from any face or figure which seemed to her familiar. She almost forgot that she, too, had been a victim of her stepmother's deception. She remembered only that she had been the principal figure in it, and that to the whole world she must seem an object for derision and contempt. It was not her fault that she had played a false part in life. But nevertheless she had played it, and it was not likely that many would believe her innocent. The thought of appealing to the Duke, or to Andrew de la Borne, for help, made her cheeks burn with shame. In any ordinary trouble she would have gone to them. This, however, was something too humiliating, too impossible. She felt that it was a blow which she could ask no one to share.

The omnibus rolled on eastwards and reached Liverpool Street. A sudden overwhelming impulse decided Jeanne as to her destination. She remembered that peculiar sense of freedom, that first escape from her cramped surroundings, which had come to her walking upon the marshes of Salthouse. She would go there again, if it was only for a day or two; find rooms somewhere in the village, and write to Monsieur Laplanche from there. Visitors she knew were not uncommon in the little seaside village, and she would easily be able to keep out of the way of Cecil, if he were still there. The idea seemed to her like an inspiration. She went up to the ticket-office and asked for a ticket for Salthouse. The man stared at her.

"Never heard of the place, miss," he said. "It's not on our line."

"It is near Wells on the east coast," she said. "Now I think of it, I remember one has to drive from Wells. Can I have a ticket to there?"

He glanced at the clock.

"The train goes in ten minutes, miss," he said.

Jeanne travelled first, because she had never thought of travelling any other way. She sat in the corner of an empty carriage, looking steadily out of the window, and seeing nothing but the fragments of her little life. Now that she was detached from it, she seemed to realize how little real pleasure she had found in the life which the Princess had insisted upon dragging her into. She remembered how every man whom she had met addressed her with the same EMPRESSEMENT, how their eyes seemed to have followed her about almost covetously, how the girls had openly envied her, how the court of the men had been so monotonous and so unreal. She drew a little breath, almost of relief. When she was used to the idea she might even be glad that this great fortune had taken to itself wings and flitted away. She was no longer the heiress of untold wealth. She was simply a girl, standing on the threshold of life, and looking forward to the happiness which at that age seems almost a natural heritage.

The sense of freedom grew on her next morning, as she walked once more upon the marshes, listened to the larks, now in full song, and felt the touch of the salt wind upon her cheeks. She had found rooms very easily, and no one had seemed to treat her coming as anything but a matter of course. One old fisherman of whom she asked questions, told her many queer stories about the Red Hall and its occupants.

"As restless young men as them two as is there now," he admitted, "Mr. Cecil and his friend, I never did see. Fust one of them one day goes to London, back he comes on the next day, and away goes the other. Why they don't go both together the Lord only knows, but that is so for a fact, miss, and you can take it from me. Every week of God's year, one of them goes to London, and directly he comes back the other goes."

"And Mr. Andrew de la Borne?" she asked. "Has he gone back there yet?"

"He have not," the man answered, "but I doubt he'll be back again one day 'fore long. Sure he need be. They're beginning to talk about the shuttered windows at the Red Hall."

The girl turned and looked toward the house, bleak and desolate- looking enough now that the few encircling trees were shorn of their leaves.

"I shouldn't care to live there all the year round," she remarked.

"I've heerd others say the same thing," he answered, "and yet in Salthouse village we're moderate well satisfied with life. It's them as have too much," he continued, "who rush about trying to make more. A simple life and a simple lot is what's best in this world."

"Things were livelier up there," Jeanne remarked, seating herself on the edge of his boat, "when the smugglers used to bring in their goods."

The old man smiled.

"Why that's so, lady," he admitted. "Lord! When I was a boy I mind some great doings. One night there was a great fight. I mind it now. Fifteen of the King's men were lying hidden close to the cove there, and it looked for all the world as though the boats which were being rowed ashore must fall right into their hands. They were watching from the Hall, though, and the Squire's new alarm was set going. It were a cry like a siren, rising and falling like. The boats heerd it and turned back, but three of the Squire's men were set on, and a rare fight there was that night. There was broken heads to be mended, and no mistake. Mat Knowles here, the father of him who keeps the public now, he right forgot to shut his inn, and there it was open two hours past the lawful time, and all were drinking as though it were a great day of rejoicing, instead of being one of sorrow for the De la Bornes. I mind you were here a few weeks ago, miss. You know the two Mr. De la Bornes?"

"Yes!" Jeanne admitted. "I know them slightly."

"Mr. Andrew, he be one of the best," the man declared, "but Mr. Cecil we none of us can understand, him nor his friends. What he is doing up there now with this man what's staying with him, there's none can tell. Maybe they gamble at cards, maybe they just sit and look at one another, but 'tis a strange sort of life anyhow."

"I think it is a very interesting place to live in," Jeanne said. "What became of the siren which warned the smugglers?"

"There's no one here as can tell that, miss," the man answered, "There are them as have fancied on windy nights as they've heerd it, but fancy it have been, in my opinion. Five and twenty years have gone since I've heerd it mysen, and there's few 'as better ears."

"Mr. Andrew de la Borne is not here now, is he?" she asked.

The fisherman shook his head.

"Mr. Andrew," he said, "is mortal afraid of strangers and such like, and there's photographers and newspaper men round in these parts just now, by reason of the disappearance of this young lord that you heerd tell on. Some say he was drowned, and I have heerd folk whisper about a duel with the gentleman as is with Mr. Cecil now. Anyway, it was here that he disappeared from, and though I've not seen it in print, I've heerd as his brother is offering a reward of a thousand pounds to any as might find him. It's a power of money that, miss."

"It is a great deal of money," Jeanne admitted. "I wonder if Lord Ronald was worth it."

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BOOK II CHAPTER IXThe Count de Brensault called in Berkeley Square at three o'clock precisely that afternoon, but it was the Princess who received him, and the Princess was alone. "Well?" he asked, a little eagerly. "Mademoiselle Jeanne is more reasonable, eh? You have good news?" The Princess motioned him to a seat. "I think," she said, "we had forgotten how young Jeanne really is. The idea of getting married to any one seems to terrify her. After all, why should we wonder at it? The school where she was brought up was a very, very strict one, and this plunge
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