Jeanne drew herself away from her stepmother’s touch.
“Nothing,” she said, “would induce me to marry the Count de Brensault, not even if he knew that I am penniless. If we cannot afford to live in this house, or to keep carriages, let us go away at once and take rooms somewhere. I do not wish to live under false pretences.”
The Princess was very pale, but her eyes were hard and steely.
“Child,” she said, “don’t be a fool. Don’t make me angry, or I may say and do things for which I should be sorry. It is no fault of mine that you are not a great heiress. I have done the next best thing for you. I have made people believe that you are. Be reasonable, and all will be well yet. If you are going to play the Quixote, it will be ruin for all of us. I cannot think how a child like you got such ideas. Remember that I am many years older and wiser than you. You should leave it to me to do what is best.”
Jeanne shook her head.
“I cannot,” she said simply. “I am sorry to disappoint you, but I shall tell every one I meet that I have no money, and I will not marry the Count de Brensault.”
The Princess grasped her by the wrist.
“You will not obey me, child?” she said.
“I will obey you in everything reasonable,” Jeanne said.
“Very well, then,” the Princess answered, “go to your room at once.”
Jeanne turned and walked toward the door. On the threshold, however, she paused. There were many times, she remembered, when her stepmother had been kind to her. She looked around at the Princess, sitting with her head resting upon her clasped hands.
“I am very sorry,” Jeanne said timidly, “that I cannot do what you wish. It is not honest. Cannot you see that it is not honest?”
The Princess turned slowly round.
“Honest!” she repeated scornfully. “Who is there in our world who can afford to be honest? You are behaving like a baby, Jeanne. I only hope that before long you may come to your senses. Will you obey me if I tell you not to leave your room until I send for you?”
“Yes!” she said. “I will obey you in that.”
“Then go there and wait,” the Princess said. “I must think what to do.”
The 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 into life has been a little sudden.”