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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJeanne Of The Marshes - Book 2 - Chapter 17
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Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 2 - Chapter 17 Post by :Silver_Surfer Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1522

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Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 2 - Chapter 17


Jeanne was sitting in the garden of the Caynsard farm. The excitement of the last twenty-four hours had left her languid. For once she lay and watched with idle, almost with indifferent eyes, the great stretch of marshes riven with the incoming sea. She saw the fishing boats that a few hours ago were dead inert things upon a bed of mud, come gliding up the tortuous water-ways. On the horizon was the sea bank, with its long line of poles, and the wires connecting the coastguard stations. They stood like silent sentinels, clean and distinct against the empty background. Jeanne sighed as she watched, and the thoughts came crowding into her head. It was a restful country this, a country of timeworn, mouldering grey churches, and of immemorial landmarks, a country where everything seemed fixed and restful, everything except the sea. A wave of self pity swept over her. After all she had lived a very little time to know so much unhappiness. Worse than all, this morning she was filled with apprehensions. She feared something. She scarcely knew what, or from what direction it might come. The song of the larks brought her no comfort. The familiar and beautiful places upon which she looked pleased her no more. She was glad when Kate Caynsard came out of the house and moved slowly towards her.

Kate, too, showed some of the signs of the recent excitement. There were black lines under her wonderful eyes, and she walked hesitatingly, without any of the firm splendid grace which made her movements a delight to watch. Jeanne was afraid at first that she was going to turn away, and called to her.

"Kate," she exclaimed, "I want you. Come here and talk to me."

Kate threw herself on to the ground by Jeanne's side.

"All the talking in the world," she murmured, "will not change the things that happened last night. They will not even smooth away the evil memories."

Jeanne was silent. There was a thought in her head which had been there twisting and biting its way in her brain through the silent hours of the night and again in her waking moments. She looked down towards her companion stretched at her feet.

"Kate," she said, "how did Mr. Andrew get the message that brought him to the Red Hall last night?"

"I sent it," Kate answered. "I sent him word that there were things going on at the Red Hall which I could not understand. I told him that I thought it would be well if he came."

"You knew his address?" Jeanne asked, a little coldly.

"Yes!" Kate answered.

"You have written him before, perhaps?" Jeanne asked.

"Yes!" the girl answered absently.

There was a short silence. Each of the two seemed occupied in her own thoughts. When Jeanne spoke again her manner was changed. The other girl noticed it, without being conscious of the reason.

"What has happened this morning, do you know?" Jeanne asked.

"They are all at the Red Hall still," Kate answered. "Major Forrest tried to leave this morning, but Mr. Andrew would not let him. He will not let either of them go away until Lord Ronald is well enough to say what shall be done."

"I wonder," Jeanne said, "what would have happened if Mr. Andrew had not arrived last night."

"God knows!" Kate answered. "He is a wily brute, the man Forrest. How was it that you," she added, "found Mr. Andrew?"

"I waited on the mound in the plantation," Jeanne said, "with my ear to the ground, and presently I heard a pistol shot and then a scuffle, and afterwards silence. I was frightened, and I made my way to the road and hurried along toward the village. Then I saw a cart and I stopped it, and inside was Mr. Andrew, on his way from Wells. I told him something of what was happening, and he put me in the cart and sent me back. Then he went on to the Red Hall."

Kate nodded slowly.

"I am glad that I sent for him," she said. "I am afraid that last night there would have been bloodshed if he had not come. When he was there there was not one who dared speak or move any more, except as he directed. He is very strong, and he was made, I think, to command men."

Jeanne's lips quivered for a moment. Her eyes were fixed upon the distant figure, motionless now, upon the raised sandbanks. Kate had turned her head toward the Red Hall, and was looking at one of the windows there as though her eyes would pierce the distance.

"Tell me," Jeanne asked. "I have seen you once with Mr. De la Borne. He is a great friend of yours?"

"He was," the girl at her feet whispered.

Jeanne found herself shaking. She stooped down.

"What do you mean?" she whispered.

Kate looked up from the ground. She raised herself a little. For a moment her eyes flashed.

"I mean," she said, "that before you came he was more than a friend. It was you who drove his thoughts of me away. You with your great fortune, and your childish, foreign ways. Oh, I talk like a fool, I know!" she said, springing up, "but I am not a fool. I do not hate you. I have never tried to do you any harm. It is not your fault. It is what one calls fate. Once," she cried, "we Caynsards lived along the coast there in a house greater than the Red Hall, and our lands were richer. Generation after generation of us have been pushed by fortune downwards and downwards. The men lose lands and money, and the women disgrace themselves, or creep into some corner to die with a broken heart. I talk to you as one of the villagers here. I know very well that I speak the dialect of the peasants, and that my words are ill-chosen. How can I help it? We are all paupers, every one of us. That is why sometimes I feel that I cannot breathe. That is why I do mad things, and people believe that I am indeed out of my mind."

She sprang to her feet. Jeanne tried to detain her.

"Let me talk to you for a little time, Kate," she begged. "You are none of the things you fancy, and I am very sure that Mr. De la Borne does not care for me, or for my fortune. Stay just for a minute."

But Kate was already gone. Jeanne could see her speeding down to the harbour, and a few minutes later gliding down the creek in her little catboat.

The Count de Brensault was angry, and he had not sufficient dignity to hide it. The Princess, in whose boudoir he was, regarded him from her sofa as one might look at some strange animal.

"My dear Count," she said, "it is not reasonable that you should be angry with me. Is it my fault that I am plagued with a stepdaughter of so extraordinary a temperament? She will return directly, or we shall find her. I am sure of it. The wedding can be arranged then as speedily as you wish. I give her to you. I consent to your marriage. What could woman do more?"

"That is all very well," the Count said, "all very well indeed, but I do not understand how it is that a young lady could disappear from her home like this, and that her guardian should know nothing about it. Where could she have gone to? You say that she had very little money. Why should she go? Who was unkind to her?"

"All that I did," the Princess answered, "was to tell her that she must marry you."

The Count twirled his moustache.

"Is it likely," he demanded, "that that should drive her away from her home? The idea of marriage, it may terrify these young misses at the first thought, but in their hearts they are very, very glad. Ah!" he added softly, "I have had some experience. I am not a boy."

The Princess looked at him. Whatever her thoughts may have been, her face remained inscrutable.

"No!" the Count continued, drawing his chair a little nearer to the Princess' couch, and leaning towards her, "I do not believe that it was the fear of marriage which drove little Jeanne to disappear."

"Then what do you believe, my dear Count?" the Princess asked.

His eyes seemed to narrow.

"Perhaps," he said significantly, "you may have thought that with her great fortune, and seeing me a little foolish for her, that you had not driven quite a good enough bargain, eh?"

"You insulting beast!" the Princess remarked.

The Count grinned. He was in no way annoyed.

"Ah!" he said. "I am a man whom it is not easy to deceive. I have seen very much of the world, and I know the ways of women. A woman who wants money, my dear Princess, is very, very clever, and not too honest."

"Your experiences, Count," the Princess said, "may be interesting, but I do not see how they concern me."

"But they might concern you," the Count said, "if I were to speak plainly; if, for instance, I were to double that little amount we spoke of."

"Do you mean to insinuate," the Princess remarked, "that I know where Jeanne is now? That it is I who have put her out of the way for a little time, in order to make a better bargain with you?"

The Count bowed his head.

"A very clever scheme," he declared, "a very clever scheme indeed."

The Princess drew a little breath. Then she looked at the Count and suddenly laughed. After all, it was not worth while to be angry with such a creature. Besides, if Jeanne should turn up, she might as well have the extra money.

"You give me credit, I fear," she said, "for being a cleverer woman than I am, but as a matter of curiosity, supposing I am able to hand you over Jeanne very shortly, would you agree to double the little amount we have spoken of?"

"I will double it," the Count declared solemnly. "You see when I wish for a thing I am generous. I can only hope," he added, with a peculiar smile, "Miss Jeanne may soon make her reappearance." There was a knock at the door. The Princess looked up, frowning. Her maid put her head cautiously in.

"I am sorry to disturb you, madam, against your orders," she said, "but Miss Jeanne has just arrived."

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BOOK II CHAPTER XVIIIThe Count opened his mouth. It was his way of expressing supreme astonishment. The Princess sat bolt upright on her couch and gazed at Jeanne with wide-open and dilated eyes. Curiously enough it was the Count who first recovered himself. "Is it a game, this?" he asked softly. "You press the button and the little girl appears. That means that I increase the stakes and the prize pops up." The Princess rose to her feet. She crossed the room to meet Jeanne with outstretched arms. "Shut up, you fool!" she said to the Count in passing. "Jeanne my

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BOOK II CHAPTER XVIThe smoke cleared slowly away. Engleton had risen to his feet, the light of a new hope blazing in his eyes. Forrest and Cecil de la Borne stood close together near the door, which still stood ajar. The girl, who stood with her back to the wall, saw their involuntary movement towards it, and her voice rang out sharp and clear. "If you try it on I shoot!" she exclaimed. "You know what that means, Cecil. A pistol isn't a plaything with me." Cecil looked no more toward the door. He came instead a little farther into the