Her stepmother sighed.
“That,” she said, “is because you have had so little experience of life, and you do not understand its practical necessities. Children like you seem to think that the commonplace necessaries of life drop into our laps as a matter of course, or that they are a sort of gift from Heaven to the deserving. As a matter of fact,” the Princess continued, “nothing of the sort happens. Life is often a very cruel and a very difficult thing. We are given tastes, and no means to gratify them. How could I, for instance, face life as a lodging-house keeper, or at best as a sort of companion to some ill-tempered old harridan, who would probably only employ me to have some one to bully? You yourself, Jeanne, are fond of luxuries.”
It was a new reflection to Jeanne. She became suddenly thoughtful.
“I have noticed your tastes,” the Princess continued. “You would be miserable in anything but silk stockings, wouldn’t you? And your ideas of lingerie are quite in accord with the ideas of the modern young woman of wealth. You fill your rooms with flowers. You buy expensive books,” she added, taking up for a moment a volume of De Ronsard, bound in green vellum, with uncut edges. “Your tastes in eating and drinking, too,” she continued, “are a little on the sybaritic side. Have you realized what it will mean to give all these things up—to wear coarse clothes, to eat coarse food, to get your books from a cheap library, and look at other people’s flowers?”
Jeanne frowned. The idea was certainly not pleasing.
“It will be bad for you,” the Princess continued, “and it will be very much worse for me, because I have been used to these things all my life. You may think me very brutal at having tried to help you toward the only means of escape for either of us, but I think, dear, you scarcely realize the alternative. It is not only what you condemn yourself to. Remember that you inflict the same punishment on me.”
“It is not I who do anything,” Jeanne said. “It is you who have brought this upon both of us. All this money that has been spent upon luxuries, it was absurd. If I was not rich I did not need them. I think that it was more than absurd. It was cruel.”
The Princess produced a few inches of lace-bordered cambric. A glance at Jeanne’s face showed her that the child had developed a new side to her character. There was something pitiless about the straightened mouth, and the cold questioning eyes.
“Jeanne,” the Princess said, “you are a fool. Some day you will understand how great a one. I only trust that it may not be too late. The Count de Brensault may not be everything that is to be desired in a husband, but the world is full of more attractive people who would be glad to become your slaves. You will live mostly abroad, and let me assure you that marriage there is the road to liberty. You have it in your power to save yourself and me from poverty. Make a little sacrifice, Jeanne, if indeed it is a sacrifice. Later on you will be glad of it. If you persist in this unreasonable attitude, I really do not know what will become of us.”