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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 20
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Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 20 Post by :hydrospell Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1622

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Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 20

BOOK I CHAPTER XX

Jeanne awoke the next morning to find herself between lavender scented sheets in a small iron bedstead, with a soft sea-wind blowing in through the half-open window. Her maid was ready to wait upon her, and her bath was of salt water fresh from the sea. She descended to find Andrew at work in the garden, the sun already high in the heavens, and the sea as blue and placid as though the storm of the night before were a thing long past and forgotten.

"I am never going away," she declared, as they sat at breakfast. "I take your rooms, Monsieur Andrew. I will import as many chaperons as you please, but I will not leave this island."

"I am afraid," he answered smiling, "that there are other people who would have something to say about that. Your stepmother is already anxious. I have promised that you shall be back at the Hall by ten o'clock."

The gaiety suddenly faded from her face. Her lips, which had been curved in laughter, quivered.

"You mean that?" she faltered.

"Most assuredly," he answered. "I have no place for lodgers here. As a matter of fact, if you knew the truth, you would admit that your staying here is quite impossible."

"Well," she said, "I should like to know the truth. Suppose you tell it me."

"I must confess, then," Andrew answered, "that I am somewhat of a fraud. Berners was my friend, not my lodger, and I am Andrew de la Borne, Cecil's elder brother."

She looked at him for several moments steadily.

"I think that you might have told me," was all she said.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Why?" he asked, a little brusquely. "I am not of your world, or your stepmother's. When Cecil told me that he had invited some of his fashionable friends down here to stay, I begged him to leave me out of it. I chose to retire here, and I preferred not to see any of you. Mine are country ways, Miss Le Mesurier. I am at heart what I pretended to be, fisherman, countryman, yokel, call me what you will. The other side of life, Cecil's side, doesn't appeal to me a bit. I felt that it would be more comfortable for you people and for me, if I kept out of the way."

"You class me with them," she remarked quietly, "a little ruthlessly. I think you forget that as yet I have not chosen my way in life."

"That is true," he answered, "but how can you help but choose what every one of those who call themselves your friends regards as inevitable. You must dance in many ballrooms, and make your bow before the great ones of the earth. It is a part of the penalty that you must pay for your name and riches. All that I can wish you is that you lose as little of yourself as possible in the days that lie before you."

"I thank you," she answered quietly. "You will let me know when you are ready to take me back."

"Have I offended you?" he asked, as they rose from the table. "I am clumsy, I know, and the words do not come readily to my mouth. But after all, you must understand."

"Yes," she said sadly, "I do understand."

They went down to the beach and he helped her into the boat. Her maid sat by her side, and he rowed them across with a few powerful strokes.

"Storm and sunshine," he remarked, "follow one another here as swiftly as in any corner of the world. Yesterday we had wind and thunder and rain. To-day, look! The sky is cloudless, the birds are singing everywhere upon the marshes, the waves can do no more than ripple in upon the sands. Will you walk across the marshes, Miss Jeanne, or will you come to the village and wait while I send for a carriage?"

"We will walk," she answered. "It may be for the last time."

The maid fell behind. Andrew and his companion, who seemed smaller and slimmer than ever by his side, started on their tortuous way, here and there turning to the right and to the left to follow the course of some tidal stream, or avoid the swampy places. The faint odour of wild lavender was mingled with the brackish scent of the sea. The ground was soft and spongy beneath their feet, and a breeze as soft as a caress blew in their faces. Up before them always, gaunt and bare, surrounded by its belts of weather-stricken trees, stood the Red Hall. Andrew looked toward it gloomily.

"Do you wonder," he asked, "that a man is sometimes depressed who is born the heir to a house like that, and to fortunes very similar?"

"Are you poor?" she asked him. "I thought perhaps you were, as your brother tried to make love to me."

He frowned impatiently at her words.

"For Heaven's sake, child," he said, "don't be so cynical! Don't fancy that every kind word that is spoken to you is spoken for your wealth. There are sycophants enough in the world, Heaven knows, but there are men there as well. Give a few the credit of being honest. Try and remember that you are--"

He looked at her and away again toward the sea.

"That you are," he repeated, "young enough and attractive enough to win kind words for your own sake."

"Then," she whispered, leaning towards him, "I do not think that I am very fortunate."

"Why not?" he asked.

"Because," she answered, "one person who might say kind things to me, and whom my money would never influence a little bit in the world, does not say them."

"Are you sure," he asked, "that you believe that there is any one in the world who would be content to take you without a penny?"

She shook her head.

"Not that," she said sadly. "I am not what you call conceited enough for that, but I would like to believe that I might have a kind word or two on my own account."

She tried hard to see his face, but he kept it steadfastly turned away. She sighed. Only a few yards behind the maid was walking.

"Mr. Andrew," she said, "it was you whom I meant. Won't you say something nice to me for my own sake?"

They were nearing the Hall now, and it seemed natural enough that he should hold her hand for a minute in his.

"I will tell you," he said quietly, "that your coming has been a pleasure, and your going will be a pain, and I will tell you that you have left an empty place that no one else can fill. You have made what our people here call the witch music upon the marshes for me, so that I shall never walk here again as long as I live without hearing it and thinking of you."

"Is that all?" she whispered.

He pretended not to hear her.

"I am nearly double your age," he said, "and I have lived an idle, perhaps a worthless, life. I have done no harm. My talents, if I have any, have certainly been buried. If I had met you out in the world, your world, well, I might have taught myself to forget--"

He broke off abruptly in his sentence. Cecil stood before them, suddenly emerged from the hand-gate leading into the Hall gardens. "At last!" he exclaimed, taking Jeanne by the hands. "The Princess is distracted. We have all been distracted. How could you make us so unhappy?"

She drew her hands away coldly.

"I fancy that my stepmother," she said, "will have survived my absence. I was caught in a storm. I expect that your brother has already told you about it."

He looked from one to the other.

"So you have told her, Andrew," he said simply.

Andrew nodded. The three walked up toward the house in somewhat constrained silence. She was trying her hardest to make Andrew look at her, and he was trying his hardest to resist. The Princess came out to them. The morning was warm, and she was wearing a white wrapper. Her toilette was not wholly completed, but she was sufficiently picturesque.

"My dear Jeanne," she cried, "you have nearly sent us mad with anxiety. How could you wander off like that!"

Jeanne stood a little apart. She avoided the Princess' hands. She stood upon the soft turf with her hands clasped, her cheeks very pale, her eyes bright with some inward excitement.

"Do you wish me to answer that question?" she said.

The Princess stared.

"What do you mean, my child?" she exclaimed.

"You ask me," Jeanne said, "why I went wandering off into the marshes. I will tell you. It is because I am unhappy. It is because I do not like the life into which you have brought me, nor the people with whom we live. I do not like late hours, supper parties and dinner parties, dances where half the people are bourgeois, and where all the men make stupid love to me. I do not like the shops, the vulgar shop people, fashionable clothes, and fashionable promenading. I am tired of it already. If I am rich, why may I not buy the right to live as I choose?"

The Princess rarely allowed herself to show surprise. At this moment, however, she was completely overcome.

"What is it you want, then, child?" she demanded.

"I should like," Jeanne answered, "to buy Mr. De la Borne's house upon the island, and live there, with just a couple of maids, and my books. I should like some friends, of course, but I should like to find them for myself, amongst the country people, people whom I could trust and believe in, not people whose clothes and manners and speech are all hammered out into a type, and whose real self is so deeply buried that you cannot tell whether they are honest or rogues. That is what I should like, stepmother, and if you wish to earn my gratitude, that is how you will let me live."

The Princess stared at the child as though she were a lunatic.

"Jeanne," she exclaimed weakly, "what has become of you?"

"Nothing," Jeanne answered, "only you asked me a question, and I felt an irresistible desire to answer you truthfully. It would have come sooner or later."

Andrew turned slowly toward the girl, who stood looking at her stepmother with flushed cheeks and quivering lips.

"Miss Le Mesurier," he said, "on one condition I will sell you the island, but on only one."

"And that is?" she asked.

The Princess recovered herself just in time, and sailed in between them.

"Mr. De la Borne," she said, "my daughter is too young for such conversations. For two years she is under my complete guidance. She must obey me just as though she were ten years older and married, and I her husband. The law has given me absolute control over her. You understand that yourself, don't you, Jeanne?"

"Yes," Jeanne answered quietly, "I understand."

"Go indoors, please," the Princess said. "I have something to say to Mr. De la Borne."

"And I, too," Jeanne said. "Let me stay and say it. I will not be five minutes."

The Princess pointed toward the door.

"I will not have it," she said coldly. "Cecil, take my daughter indoors. I insist upon it."

She turned away unwillingly. The Princess took Andrew by the arm and led him to a more distant seat.

"Now, if you please, my dear Mr. Andrew," she said, "will you tell me what it is that you have done to my foolish little girl?"

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NEXT BOOKS

Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 21 Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 21

Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 21
BOOK I CHAPTER XXIThe Princess arranged her skirts so that they drooped gracefully, and turned upon her companion with one of those slow mysterious smiles, which many people described but none could imitate. "Mr. De la Borne," she said, "I can talk to you as I could not talk to your brother, because you are an older and a wiser man. You may not have seen much of the world, but you are at any rate not a young idiot like Cecil. Will you listen to me, please?" "It seems to me," Andrew answered drily, "that I am already doing so."
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Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 19 Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 19

Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 19
BOOK I CHAPTER XIXThere was a moment's breathless silence as Andrew stood there looking in upon the little group. Then he left his position at the door and came up to the table round which they were seated. "Madam," he said to the Princess, "your daughter is safe. She came down to the island this afternoon, and was unable to return owing to the storm." The Princess gave a little sigh of relief. "Foolish child!" she said. "But where is she now, Mr. Andrew?" "She is still at the island," Andrew answered. "It was impossible for her to leave, so I
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