The Princess watched him from the corners of her eyes. He was evidently very much distracted. He walked up and down the room. Every now and then he glanced at Jeanne. Jeanne was very pale, but she wore a hat with a small green quill which he had once admired. Certainly she had an air, she was distinguished. There was something vaguely provocative about her, a charm which he could not help but feel. He stopped short in the middle of his perambulations. It was the moment of his life. He felt himself a hero.
“Madam,” he said, addressing the Princess, “I have been badly treated. There is no one who would not admit that. I have been deceived—a man less kind than I might say robbed. No matter. I forget it all. I forget my disappointment, I forget that this young lady whom you offer me for a wife has a dot so pitifully small that it counts for nothing. I take her. I accept her. Jeanne,” he added, moving towards her, “you hear? It is because I love you so very, very much.”
Jeanne shrank back in her chair.
“You mean,” she cried, “that you are willing to take me now that you know everything, now that you know I have so little money? You mean that you want to marry me still?”
The Count assented graciously. Never in the course of his whole life, had he admired himself so much.
“I forget everything,” he declared, with a little wave of the hand, “except that I love you, and that you are the one woman in the world whom I wish to make the Comtesse de Brensault. Mademoiselle permits me?”
He stooped and raised her cold hand to his lips. Jeanne looked at him with the fascinated despair of some stricken animal. The Princess rose to her feet. It was wonderful, this—a triumph beyond all thought.
“Jeanne, my child,” she said, “you are the most fortunate girl I know, to have inspired a devotion so great. Count,” she added, “you are wonderful. You deserve all the happiness which I am sure will come to you.”
The Count looked as though he were perfectly convinced of it. All the same he whispered in her ear a moment later—
“You must pay me back that three thousand pounds!”
For the Princess it was a day full of excitements. The Count had only just reluctantly withdrawn, and Jeanne had gone to her room under the plea of fatigue, when Forrest was shown in. She started at the look in his drawn face.
“Nigel,” she exclaimed hastily, “is everything all right?”
He threw himself into a chair.
“Everything,” he answered, “is all wrong. Everything is over.”
The Princess saw then that he had aged during the last few days, that this man whose care of himself had kept him comparatively youthful looking, notwithstanding the daily routine of an unwholesome life, was showing signs at last of breaking down. There were lines about his eyes, little baggy places underneath. He dragged his feet across the carpet as though he were tired. The Princess pushed up an easy-chair and went herself to the sideboard.