“They do gossip in a small place like this most amazing,” the girl said slowly. “When you and the other lady came down from London to stay up yonder, they did say that you were a great heiress, and that Mr. De la Borne was counting on marrying you, and buying back all the lands that have slipped away from the De la Bornes back to Burnham Market and Wells township.”
Jeanne shrugged her shoulders.
“I cannot help,” she said, “what people say. Every one has spoken of me always as being very rich, and a good many men have wanted to marry me to spend my money. That is why I came down here, if you want to know, Miss Caynsard. I came to escape from a man whom my stepmother was determined that I should marry, and whom I hated.”
The girl looked at her wonderingly.
“It is a strange manner of living,” she said, “when a girl is not to choose her own man.”
“In any case,” Jeanne said smiling, “if I had but one or two to choose from in the world, I should never choose Mr. De la Borne.”
The girl was gloomily silent. She was looking up towards the Red Hall, her lips a little parted, her face dark, her brows lowering.
“’Tis a family,” she said slowly, “that have come down well-nigh to their last acre. They hold on to the Hall, but little else. Folk say that for four hundred years or more the De la Bornes have heard the sea thunder from within them walls. ’Tis, perhaps, as some writer has said in a book I’ve found lately, that the old families of the country, when once their menkind cease to be soldiers or fighters in the world, do decay and become rotten. It is so with the De la Bornes, or rather with one of them.”
“Mr. Andrew,” Jeanne remarked timidly.
“Mr. Andrew,” the girl interrupted, “is a great gentleman, but he is never one of those who would stop the rot in a decaying race. He is a great strong man is Mr. Andrew, and deceit and littleness are things he knows nothing of. I wish he were here to-day.”
The girl’s face wore a troubled expression. Jeanne began to suspect that she had not as yet come to the real object of this interview.
“Why do you wish that Mr. Andrew were here?” Jeanne asked. “What could he do for you that Mr. Cecil could not?”
A strange look filled the girl’s eyes.
“I think,” she said, “that I would not go to Mr. Cecil whatever might betide, but there is a matter—”
She hesitated again. Jeanne looked at her thoughtfully.
“You have something on your mind, I think, Miss Caynsard,” she said. “Can I help you? Do you wish to tell me about it?”
The girl seemed to have made up her mind. She was standing quite close to Jeanne now, and she spoke without hesitation.
“You remember the young lord,” she said, “of whom there has been so much in the papers lately? He was staying at the Red Hall when you were, and is supposed to have left for London early one morning and disappeared.”