“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.”
The 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 child,” she added, “is it really you?”
Jeanne accepted the proffered embrace, without enthusiasm. She recognized the Count, however, with a little wave of colour.