“I prefer,” Jeanne said steadily, “to hear it from Monsieur Laplanche himself. There are times when you say things which I do not understand. I have quite made up my mind that I will have things made plain to me by my trustee.”
The Princess was outwardly calm, but her eyes were like steel.
“You are a foolish child,” she said. “I am your guardian. You have nothing whatever to do with your trustees. They exist to help me, not you. Everything that you wish to know you must learn from me. It is not until you are of age that any measure of control passes from me. Give me that letter.”
Jeanne hesitated for a moment. Then she turned toward the door.
“No!” she said. “I am going to post it.”
The Princess rose from her chair, and crossing the room locked the door.
“Jeanne,” she said, “come here.”
The girl hesitated. In the end she obeyed. The Princess reached out her hand and struck her on the cheek.
“Give me that letter,” she commanded.
Jeanne shrank back. The suddenness of the blow, its indignity, and these new relations which it seemed designed to indicate, bewildered her. She stood passive while the Princess took the letter from her fingers and tore it into pieces. Then she unlocked the door.
“Go to your room, Jeanne,” she ordered.
Jeanne heard the sound of people ascending the stairs, and this time she did not hesitate. The Princess drew a little breath and looked at the fragments of the letter in the grate. It was victory of a sort, but she realized very well that the ultimate issue was more doubtful than ever. In her room Jeanne would have time for reflection. If she chose she might easily decide upon the one step which would be irretrievable.
The Count de Brensault was a small man, with a large pale face. There were puffy little bags under his eyes, from which the colour had departed. His hair, though skilfully arranged, was very thin at the top, and his figure had the lumpiness of the man who has never known any sort of athletic training. He looked a dozen years older than his age, which was in reality thirty-five, and for the last ten years he had been a constant though cautious devotee of every form of dissipation. Jeanne, who sat by his side at dinner-time, found herself looking at him more than once in a sort of fascinated wonder. Was it really possible that any one could believe her capable of marrying such a creature! There were eight people at dinner, in none of whom she was in the least interested. The Count de Brensault talked a good deal, and very loudly. He spoke of his horses and his dogs and his motor cars, but he omitted to say that he had ceased to ride his horses, and that he never drove his motor car. Jeanne listened to him in quiet contempt, and the Princess fidgetted in her chair. The man ought to know that this was not the way to impress a child fresh from boarding-school!