“I’m hanged if you are!” the Duke declared vigorously. “Look here, Miss Jeanne. This is your stepmother’s doing. I know all about it. Don’t you believe that in this country you are obliged to marry any one whom you don’t want to.”
“But I do want to,” Jeanne answered, “or rather I don’t mind whom I do marry, or whether I marry any one or no one.”
The Duke was grave.
“I thought,” he said, “that my friend Andrew had a chance.”
Her face was suddenly burning.
“Mr. Andrew,” she said, “does not want me; I mean that it is impossible. Oh, if you please,” she added, bursting into tears, “won’t you let me alone? I am going to marry the Count de Brensault. I have quite made up my mind. Perhaps you have not heard that it is all a mistake about my having a great fortune. The Count de Brensault is very kind, and he is going to marry me although I have no money.”
The Duke stared at her for several moments. Then he rang the bell.
“Will you tell your mistress,” he said to the servant, “that the Duke of Westerham would be exceedingly obliged if she would spare him five minutes here and now.”
The man bowed and withdrew. The Princess came almost at once.
“Madam,” the Duke said, “I trust that you will forgive my sending for you, but I am very much interested in the happiness of our little friend Miss Jeanne here. She tells me that she is going to marry the Count de Brensault, that she has lost her fortune and she is evidently very unhappy. Will you forgive me if I ask you whether this marriage is being forced upon her?”
The Princess hesitated.
“No,” she said, “it is not that. Jeanne told him of her loss of fortune. She told him, too, without any prompting from me, that she would marry him if he still wished it. That is all that I know.”
The Duke bowed. He moved a few steps across towards the Princess.
“Princess,” he said, “will you make a friend? Will you let me take your little girl to my sister’s for say one week? You shall have her back then, and you shall do as you will with her.”
“Willingly,” the Princess answered. “I am only anxious that she should be happy.”
The Duke marvelled then at the sincerity in her tone. Nevertheless, for fear she should change her mind, he hurried Jeanne out of the house into his brougham.
“So this,” the Duke said, “is your wonderful land.”
“Is there anything like it in the world?” Jeanne asked as she stood bareheaded on the grass-banked dyke with her face turned seaward.
Above their heads the larks were singing. To their right stretched the marshes and pasture land, as yet untouched by the sea, glorious with streaks of colour, fragrant with the perfume of wild lavender and mosses. To their left, through the opening in the sandbanks, came streaming the full tide, rushing up into the land, making silver water-ways of muddy places, bringing with it all the salt and freshness and joy of the sea. Over their heads the seagulls cried. Far away a heron lifted its head from a tuft of weeds, and sent his strange call travelling across the level distance.