The Princess sighed gently.
“Those were the days,” she murmured, “in which it must have been worth while to live. Things happened then. To-day your ancestor would simply have been called a thief.”
“As a matter of fact,” Cecil remarked, “I do not think that he himself benefited a penny by any of his exploits. It was simply the love of adventure which led him into it.”
“Even if he did,” Major Forrest remarked, “that same predatory instinct is alive to-day in another guise. The whole world is preying upon one another. We are thieves, all of us, to the tips of our finger-nails, only our roguery is conducted with due regard to the law.”
The Princess smiled faintly as she glanced across the table at the speaker.
“I am afraid,” she said, with a little sigh, “that you are right. I do not think that we have really improved with the centuries. My own ancestors sacked towns and held the inhabitants to ransom. To-day I sit down to bridge opposite a man with a well-filled purse, and my one idea is to lighten it. Nothing, I am convinced, but the fear of being found out, keeps us reasonably moral.”
“If we go on talking like this,” Lord Ronald remarked, “we shall make Miss Le Mesurier nervous. She will feel that we, and the whole of the rest of the world, have our eyes upon her moneybags.”
“I am absolutely safe,” Jeanne answered smiling. “I do not play bridge, and even my signature would be of no use to any one yet.”
“But you might imagine us,” Lord Ronald continued, “waiting around breathlessly until the happy time arrived when you were of age, and we could pursue our diabolical schemes.”
Jeanne shook her head.
“You cannot frighten me, Lord Ronald,” she said. “I feel safe from every one. I am only longing for to-morrow, for a chance to explore this wonderful subterranean passage.”
“I am afraid,” their host remarked, “that you will be disappointed. With the passing of smuggling, the romance of the thing seems to have died. There is nothing now to look at but mouldy walls, a bare room, and any amount of the most hideous fungi. I can promise you that when you have been there for a few minutes your only desire will be to escape.”
“I am not so sure,” the girl answered. “I think that associations always have an effect on me. I can imagine how one might wait there, near the entrance, hear the soft swish of the oars, look down and see the smugglers, hear perhaps the muffled tramp of men marching from the village. Fancy how breathless it must have been, the excitement, the fear of being caught.”
Cecil curled his slight moustache dubiously.
“If you can feel all that in my little bit of underground world,” he said, “I shall think that you are even a more wonderful person—”
He dropped his voice and leaned toward her, but Jeanne laughed in his face and interrupted him.