The Princess looked at her stepdaughter critically. Jeanne was dressed in white, with a great red rose stuck through her waistband. She was paler even than usual, her eyes were dark and luminous, and the curve of her scarlet lips suggested readily enough the weariness of which she spoke.
The Princess shrugged her shoulders and gathered up her skirts.
“Do what you like, my dear,” she said. “I will tell Cecil to leave you alone. But remember that he is our host. You must really be civil to him.”
She strolled across the lawn to where Cecil was still knocking the croquet balls about. Jeanne sank into her place, and Forrest looked at her for a few moments attentively.
“You are a strange child,” he said at last.
She glanced towards him as though she found his speech an impertinence. Then she looked away across the old-fashioned, strangely arranged garden, with its irregular patches of many coloured flowers, its wind-swept shrubs, its flag-staff rising from the grassy knoll at the seaward extremity. She watched the seagulls, wheeling in from the sea, and followed the line of smoke of a distant steamer. She seemed to find all these things more interesting than conversation.
“You do not like me,” he remarked quietly. “You have never liked me.”
“I have liked very few of my stepmother’s friends,” she answered, “any more than I like the life which I have been compelled to lead since I left school.”
“You would prefer to be back there, perhaps?” he remarked, a little sarcastically.
“I should,” she answered. “It was prison of a sort, but one was at least free to choose one’s friends.”
“If,” he suggested, “you could make up your mind that I was a person at any rate to be tolerated, I think that I could make things easier for you. Your stepmother is always inclined to follow my advice, and I could perhaps get her to take you to quieter places, where you could lead any sort of life you liked.”
“Thank you,” she answered. “Before very long I shall be my own mistress. Until then I must make the best of things. If you wish to do something for me you can answer a question.”
“Ask it, then,” he begged at once. “If I can, I shall be only too glad.”
“You can tell me something which since the other night,” she said, “has been worrying me a good deal. You can tell me who it was that drove Lord Ronald to the station the morning he went away. I thought that he sent his chauffeur away two days ago, and that there was no one here who could drive the car.”
Forrest was momentarily taken aback. He answered, however, with scarcely any noticeable hesitation.
“I did,” he answered. “I didn’t make much of a job of it, and the car has been scarcely fit to use since, but I managed it somehow, or rather we did between us. He came and knocked me up about five o’clock, and begged me to come and try.”