The Princess was enjoying a few minutes of well-earned repose. She had lunched with Jeanne at Ranelagh, where they had been the guests of a lady who certainly had the right to call herself one of the leaders of Society. The newspapers and the Princess’ confidences to a few of her friends had done all that was really necessary. Jeanne was accepted, and the Princess passed in her wake through those innermost portals which at one time had come perilously near being closed upon her. She was lying on a sofa in a white negligee gown. Jeanne had just brought in a pile of letters, mostly invitations. The Princess glanced them through, and smiled as she tossed them on one side.
“How these people amuse one!” she exclaimed. “Eighteen months ago I was in London alone, and not a soul came near me. To-day, because I am the guardian of a young lady whom the world believes to be a great heiress, people tumble over one another with their invitations and their courtesies.”
Jeanne looked up.
“Why do you say ‘believes to be?’” she asked quickly. “I am a great heiress, am I not?”
The Princess smiled, a slow, enigmatic smile, which might have meant anything, but which to Jeanne meant nothing at all.
“My dear child,” she said, “of course you are. The papers have said so, Society has believed them. If I were to go out and declare right and left that you had nothing but a beggarly twenty thousand pounds or so, I should not find a soul to believe me. Every one would believe that I was trying to scare them off, to keep you for myself, or some one of my own choice. Really it is a very odd world!”
Jeanne was looking a little pensive. Her stepmother sometimes completely puzzled her.
“Who are the trustees of my money?” she asked, a little abruptly.
The Princess raised her eyebrows.
“Bless the child!” she exclaimed. “What do you know about trustees?”
“When I am of age,” Jeanne said calmly, “which will happen sometime or other, I suppose, it will interest me to know exactly how much money I have and how it is invested.”
The Princess looked a little startled.
“My dear Jeanne,” she exclaimed, “pray don’t talk like that until after you are married. Your money is being very well looked after. What I should like you to understand is this. You are going to meet to-night at dinner the man whom I intend you to marry.”
Jeanne raised her eyebrows.
“I had some idea,” she murmured, “of choosing a husband for myself.”
“Impossible!” the Princess declared. “You have had no experience, and you are far too important a person to be allowed to think of such a thing. To-night at dinner you will meet the Count de Brensault. He is a Belgian of excellent family, quite rich, and very much attracted by you. I consider him entirely suitable, and I have advised him to speak to you seriously.”
“Thank you,” Jeanne said, “but I don’t like Belgians, and I do not mean to marry one.”