JEANNE OF THE MARSHES
E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
“A MAKER OF HISTORY,” “THE MISSIONER,” “THE GOVERNORS,” ETC.
J. V. McFALL AND C. E. BROCK
The Princess opened her eyes at the sound of her maid’s approach. She
turned her head impatiently toward the door.
“Annette,” she said coldly, “did you misunderstand me? Did I not say
that I was on no account to be disturbed this afternoon?”
Annette was the picture of despair. Eyebrows and hands betrayed alike
both her agitation of mind and her nationality.
“Madame,” she said, “did I not say so to monsieur? I begged him to call
again. I told him that madame was lying down with a bad headache, and
that it was as much as my place was worth to disturb her. What did he
answer? Only this. That it would be as much as my place was worth if I
did not come up and tell you that he was here to see you on a very
urgent matter. Indeed, madame, he was very, very impatient with me.”
“Of whom are you talking?” the Princess asked.
“But of Major Forrest, madame,” Annette declared. “It is he who waits
The Princess closed her eyes for a moment and then slowly opened them.
She stretched out her hand, and from a table by her side took up a
small gilt mirror.
“Turn on the lights, Annette,” she commanded.
The maid illuminated the darkened room. The Princess gazed at herself
in the mirror, and reaching out again took a small powder-puff from its
case and gently dabbed her face. Then she laid both mirror and
powder-puff back in their places.
“You will tell monsieur,” she said, “that I am very unwell indeed, but
that since he is here and his business is urgent I will see him. Turn
out the lights, Annette. I am not fit to be seen. And move my couch a
“Madame is only a little pale,” the maid said reassuringly. “That makes
nothing. These Englishwomen have all too much colour. I go to tell
She disappeared, and the Princess lay still upon her couch, thinking.
Soon she heard steps outside, and with a little sigh she turned her
head toward the door. The man who entered was tall, and of the ordinary
type of well-born Englishmen. He was carefully dressed, and his
somewhat scanty hair was arranged to the best advantage. His features
were hard and lifeless. His eyes were just a shade too close together.
The maid ushered him in and withdrew at once.
“Come and sit by my side, Nigel, if you want to talk to me,” the
Princess said. “Walk softly, please. I really have a headache.”
“No wonder, in this close room,” the man muttered, a little
ungraciously. “It smells as though you had been burning incense here.”
“It suits me,” the Princess answered calmly, “and it happens to be my
room. Bring that chair up here and say what you have to say.”
The man obeyed in silence. When he had made himself quite comfortable,
he raised her hand, the one which was nearest to him, to his lips, and
afterwards retained it in his own.
“Forgive me if I seem unsympathetic, Ena,” he said. “The fact is,
everything has been getting on my nerves for the last few days, and my
luck seems dead out.”
She looked at him curiously. She was past middle age, and her face
showed signs of the wear and tear of life. But she still had fine eyes,
and the rejuvenating arts of Bond Street had done their best for her.
“What is the matter, Nigel?” she asked. “Have the cards been going
He frowned and hesitated for a moment before replying.
“Ena,” he said, “between us two there is an ancient bargain, and that
is that we should tell the truth to one another. I will tell you what
it is that is worrying me most. I have suspected it for some time, but
this afternoon it was absolutely obvious. There is a sort of feeling at
the club. I can’t exactly describe it, but I am conscious of it
directly I come into the room. For several days I have scarcely been
able to get a rubber. This afternoon, when I cut in with Harewood and
Mildmay and another fellow, two of them made some sort of an excuse and
went off. I pretended not to notice it, of course, but there it was.
The thing was apparent, and it is the very devil!”
Again she looked at him closely.
“There is nothing tangible?” she asked. “No complaint, or scandal, or
anything of that sort?”
He rejected the suggestion with scorn.
“No!” he said. “I am not such an idiot as that. All the same there is
the feeling. They don’t care to play bridge with me. There is only
young Engleton who takes my part, and so far as playing bridge for
money is concerned, he would be worth the whole lot put together if
only I could get him away from them–make up a little party somewhere,
and have him to myself for a week or two.”
The Princess was thoughtful.
“To go abroad at this time of the year,” she remarked, “is almost
impossible. Besides, you have only just come back.”
“Absolutely impossible,” he answered. “Besides, I shouldn’t care to do
it just now. It looks like running away. A week or so ago you were
talking of taking a villa down the river. I wondered whether you had
thought any more of it.”
The Princess shook her head.
“I dare not,” she answered. “I have gone already further than I meant
to. This house and the servants and carriages are costing me a small
fortune. I dare not even look at my bills. Another house is not to be
Major Forrest looked gloomily at the shining tip of his patent boot.
“It’s jolly hard luck,” he muttered. “A quiet place somewhere in the
country, with Engleton and you and myself, and another one or two, and
I should be able to pull through. As it is, I feel inclined to chuck it
The Princess looked at him curiously. He was certainly more than
ordinarily pale, and the hand which rested upon the side of his chair
was twitching a little nervously.
“My dear Nigel,” she said, “do go to the chiffonier there and help
yourself to a drink. I hate to see you white to the lips, and trembling
as though death itself were at your elbow. Borrow a little false
courage, if you lack the real thing.”
The man obeyed her suggestion with scarcely a protest.
“I had hoped, Ena,” he remarked a little peevishly, “to have found you
“You are so sorry for yourself,” she answered, “that you seem scarcely
to need my sympathy. However, sit down and talk to me reasonably.”
“I talk reasonably enough,” he answered, “but I really am hard up
against it. Don’t think I have come begging. I know you’ve done all you
can, and it’s a matter with me now of more than a few hundreds. My only
hope is Engleton. Can’t you suggest anything?”
The Princess rested her head slightly upon the long slender fingers of
her right hand. Bond Street had taken care of her complexion, but the
veins in her hand were blue, and art had no means of concealing a
certain sharpness of features and the thin lines about the eyes,
nameless suggestions of middle age. Yet she was still a handsome woman.
She knew how to dress, and how to make the best of herself. She had the
foreigner’s instinct for clothes, and her figure was still
irreproachable. She sat and looked with a sort of calculating interest
at the man who for years had come as near touching her heart as any of
his sex. Curiously enough she knew that this new aspect in which he now
presented himself, this incipient cowardice–the first-fruits of
weakening nerves–did not and could not affect her feelings for him.
She saw him now almost for the first time with the mask dropped, no
longer cold, cynical and calculating, but a man moved to his shallow
depths by what might well seem to him, a dweller in the narrow ways of
life, as a tragedy. It looked at her out of his grey eyes. It showed
itself in the twitching of his lips. For many years he had lived upon a
little less than nothing a year. Now for the first time his means of
livelihood were threatened. His long-suffering acquaintances had left
him alone at the card-table.
“You disappoint me, Nigel,” she said. “I hate to see a man weaken.
There is nothing against you. Don’t act as though there could be. As to
this little house-party you were speaking of, I only wish I could think
of something to help you. By the by, what are you doing to-night?”
“Nothing,” he answered, “except that Engleton is expecting me to dine
“I have an idea,” the Princess said slowly. “It may not come to
anything, but it is worth trying. Have you met my new admirer, Mr.
Cecil de la Borne?”
Forrest shook his head.
“Do you mean a dandified-looking boy whom you were driving with in the
The Princess nodded.
“We met him a week or so ago,” she answered, “and he has been very
attentive. He has a country place down in Norfolk, which from his
description is, I should think, like a castle in Hermitland. Jeanne and
I are dining with him to-night at the Savoy. You and Engleton must
come, too. I can arrange it. It is just possible that we may be able to
manage something. He told me yesterday that he was going back to
Norfolk very soon. I fancy that he has a brother who keeps rather a
strict watch over him, and he is not allowed to stay up in town very
long at a time.”
“I know the name,” Forrest remarked. “They are a very old Roman
Catholic family. We’ll come and dine, if you say that you can arrange
it. But I don’t see how we can all hope to get an invitation out of him
on such a short acquaintance.”
The Princess was looking thoughtful.
“Leave it to me,” she said. “I have an idea. Be at the Savoy at a
quarter past eight, and bring Lord Ronald.”
Forrest took up his hat. He looked at the Princess with something very
much like admiration in his face. For years he had dominated this
woman. To-day, for the first time, she had had the upper hand.
“We will be there all right,” he said. “Engleton will only be too glad
to be where Jeanne is. I suppose young De la Borne is the same way.”
The Princess sighed.
“Every one,” she remarked, “is so shockingly mercenary!”
The Princess helped herself to a salted almond and took her first sip
of champagne. The almonds were crisp and the champagne dry. She was
wearing a new and most successful dinner-gown of black velvet, and she
was quite sure that in the subdued light no one could tell that the
pearls in the collar around her neck were imitation. Her afternoon’s
indisposition was quite forgotten. She nodded at her host approvingly.
“Cecil,” she said, “it is really very good of you to take in my two
friends like this. Major Forrest has just arrived from Ostend, and I
was very anxious to hear about the people I know there, and the frocks,
and all the rest of it. Lord Ronald always amuses me, too. I suppose
most people would call him foolish, but to me he only seems very, very
The young man who was host raised his glass and bowed towards the
“I can assure you,” he said, “that it has given me a great deal of
pleasure to make the acquaintance of Major Forrest and Lord Ronald, but
it has given me more pleasure still to be able to do anything for you.
You know that.”
She looked at him quickly, and down at her plate. Such glances had
become almost a habit with her, but they were still effectual. Cecil de
la Borne leaned across towards Forrest.
“I hear that you have been to Ostend lately, Major Forrest,” he said.
“I thought of going over myself a little later in the season for a few
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Forrest answered. “It is overrun just now
with the wrong sort of people. There is nothing to do but gamble, which
doesn’t interest me particularly; or dress in a ridiculous costume and
paddle about in a few feet of water, which appeals to me even less.”
“You were there a little early in the season,” the Princess reminded
Major Forrest assented.
“A little later,” he admitted, “it may be tolerable. On the whole,
however, I was disappointed.”
Lord Ronald spoke for the first time. He was very thin, very long, and
very tall. He wore a somewhat unusually high collar, but he was very
carefully, not to say exactly, dressed. His studs and links and
waistcoat buttons were obviously fresh from the Rue de la Paix. The set
of his tie was perfection. His features were not unintelligent, but his
mouth was weak.
“One thing I noticed about Ostend,” he remarked, “they charge you a
frightful price for everything. We never got a glass of champagne there
“I am glad you like it,” their host said. “From what you say I don’t
imagine that I should care for Ostend. I am not rich enough to gamble,
and as I have lived by the sea all my days, bathing does not attract me
particularly. I think I shall stay at home.”
“By the by, where is your home, Mr. De la Borne?” the Princess asked.
“You told me once, but I have forgotten. Some of your English names are
so queer that I cannot even pronounce them, much more remember them.”
“I live in a very small village in Norfolk, called Salthouse,” Cecil de
la Borne answered. “It is quite close to a small market-town called
Wells, if you know where that is. I don’t suppose you do, though,” he
added. “It is an out-of-the-way corner of the world.”
The Princess shook her head.
“I never heard of it,” she said. “I am going to motor through Norfolk
soon, though, and I think that I shall call upon you.”
Cecil de la Borne looked up eagerly.
“I wish you would,” he begged, “and bring your step-daughter. You can’t
imagine,” he added, with a glance at the girl who was sitting at his
left hand, “how much pleasure it would give me. The roads are really
not bad, and every one admits that the country is delightful.”
“You had better be careful,” the Princess said, “or we may take you at
your word. I warn you, though, that it would be a regular invasion.
Major Forrest and Lord Ronald are talking about coming with us.”
“It’s just an idea,” Forrest remarked carelessly. “I wouldn’t mind it
myself, but I don’t fancy we should get Engleton away from town before
“Well, I like that,” Engleton remarked. “Forrest’s a lot keener on
these social functions than I am. As a matter of fact I am for the
tour, on one condition.”
“And that?” the Princess asked.
“That you come in my car,” Lord Ronald answered. “I haven’t really had
a chance to try it yet, but it’s a sixty horse Mercedes, and it’s
fitted up for touring. Take the lot of us easy, luggage and everything.”
“I think it would be perfectly delightful,” the Princess declared. “Do
you really mean it?”
“Of course I do,” Lord Ronald answered. “It’s too hot for town, and I’m
rather great on rusticating, myself.”
“I think this is charming,” the Princess declared. “Here we have one of
our friends with a car and another with a house. But seriously, Cecil,
we mustn’t think of coming to you. There would be too many of us.”
“The more the better,” Cecil said eagerly. “If you really want to
attempt anything in the shape of a rest-cure, I can recommend my home
thoroughly. I am afraid,” he added, with a shrug of the shoulders,
“that I cannot recommend it for anything else.”
“A rest,” the Princess declared, “is exactly what we want. Life here is
becoming altogether too strenuous. We started the season a little
early. I am perfectly certain that we could not possibly last till the
end. Until I arrived in London with an heiress under my charge, I had
no idea that I was such a popular person.”
The girl who was sitting on the other side of their host spoke almost
for the first time. She was evidently quite young, and her pale cheeks,
dark full eyes, and occasional gestures, indicated clearly enough
something foreign in her nationality. She addressed no one in
particular, but she looked toward Forrest.
“That is one of the things,” she said, “which puzzles me. I do not
understand it at all. It seems as though every one is liked or
disliked, here in London at any rate, according to the amount of money
“Upon my word, Miss Jeanne, it isn’t so with every one,” Lord Ronald
She glanced at him indifferently.
“There may be exceptions,” she said. “I am speaking of the great
“For Heaven’s sake, child, don’t be cynical!” the Princess remarked.
“There is no worse pose for a child of your age.”
“It is not a pose at all,” Jeanne answered calmly. “I do not want to be
cynical, and I do not want to have unkind thoughts. But tell me, Lord
Ronald, honestly, do you think that every one would have been as kind
to a girl just out of boarding-school as they have been to me if it
were not that I have so much money?”
“I cannot tell about others,” Lord Ronald answered. “I can only answer
His last words were almost whispered in the girl’s ears, but she only
shrugged her shoulders and did not return his gaze. Their host, who had
been watching them, frowned slightly. He was beginning to think that
Engleton was scarcely as pleasant a fellow as he had thought him.
“Well,” he said, “Miss Le Mesurier will find out in time who are really
“It is a safe plan,” Major Forrest remarked, “and a pleasant one, to
believe in everybody until they want something from you. Then is the
time for distrust.”
“And by that time, perhaps,” she said, “one’s affections are hopelessly
engaged. I think that it is a very difficult world.”
The Princess shrugged her shoulders.
“Three months,” she remarked, “is not a long time. Wait, my dear child,
until you have at least lived through a single season before you commit
yourself to any final opinions.”
Their host intervened. He was beginning to find the conversation dull.
He was far more interested in another matter.
“Let us talk about that visit,” he said to the Princess. “I do wish
that you could make up your mind to come. Of course, I haven’t any
amusements to offer you, but you could rest as thoroughly as you like.
They say that the air is the finest in England. There is always bridge,
you know, for the evenings, and if Miss Jeanne likes bathing, my
gardens go down to the beach.”
“It sounds delightful,” the Princess said, “and exactly what we want.
We have a good many invitations, but I have not cared to accept any of
them, for I do not think that Jeanne would care much for the life at an
ordinary country house. I myself,” she continued, with perfect truth,
“am not squeamish, but the last house-party I was at was certainly not
the place for a very young girl.”
“Make up your mind, then, and say yes,” Cecil de la Borne pleaded.
“You shall hear from us within the next few days,” the Princess
answered. “I really believe that we shall come.”
The little party left the restaurant a few minutes later on their way
into the foyer for coffee. The Princess contrived to pass out with
Forrest as her companion.
“I think,” she said under her breath, “that this is the best
opportunity you could possibly have. We shall be quite alone down
there, and perhaps it would be as well that you were out of London for
a few weeks. If it does not come to anything we can easily make an
excuse to get away.”
“But who is this young man, De la Borne?” he asked. “I don’t mean that.
I know who he is, of course, but why should he invite perfect strangers
to stay with him?”
The Princess smiled faintly.
“Can’t you see,” she answered, “that he is simply a silly boy? He is
only twenty-four years old, and I think that he cannot have seen much
of the world. He told me that he had just been abroad for the first
time. He fancies that he is a little in love with me, and he is
dazzled, of course, by the idea of Jeanne’s fortune. He wants to play
the host to us. Let him. I should be glad enough to get away for a few
weeks, if only to escape from these pestering letters. I do think that
one’s tradespeople might let one alone until the end of the season.”
Forrest, who was feeling a good deal braver since dinner, on the whole
favoured the idea.
“I do not see,” he remarked, “why it should not work out very well
indeed. There will be nothing to do in the evenings except to play
bridge, and no one to interfere.”
“Besides which,” the Princess remarked, “you will be out of London for
a few weeks, and I dare say that if you keep away from the clubs for a
time and lose a few rubbers when you get back your little trouble may
“I suppose,” Forrest remarked thoughtfully, “this young De la Borne has
no people living with him, guardians, or that sort of thing?”
“No one of any account,” the Princess answered. “His father and mother
are both dead. I am afraid, though, he will not be of any use to you,
for from what I can hear he is quite poor. However, Engleton ought to
be quite enough if we can keep him in the humour for playing.”
“Ask him a few more questions about the place,” Forrest said. “If it
seems all right, I should like to start as soon as possible.”
They had their coffee at a little table in the foyer, which was already
crowded with people. Their conversation was often interrupted by the
salutations of passing acquaintances. Jeanne alone looked about her
with any interest. To the others, this sort of thing–the music of the
red-coated band, the flowers, and the passing throngs of people, the
handsomest and the weariest crowd in the world–were only part of the
treadmill of life.
“By the by, Mr. De la Borne,” the Princess asked, “how much longer are
you going to stay in London?”
“I must go back to-morrow or the next day,” the young man answered, a
little gloomily. “I sha’n’t mind it half so much if you people only
make up your minds to pay me that visit.”
The Princess motioned to him to draw his chair a little nearer to hers.
“If we take this tour at all,” she remarked, “I should like to start
the day after to-morrow. There is a perfectly hideous function on
Thursday which I should so like to miss, and the stupidest dinner-party
on earth at night. Should you be home by then, do you think?”
“If there were any chance of your coming at all,” the young man
answered eagerly, “I should leave by the first train to-morrow morning.”
“I think,” the Princess declared softly, “that we will come. Don’t
think me rude if I say that we could not possibly be more bored than we
are in London. I do not want to take Jeanne to any of the country
house-parties we have been invited to. You know why. She really is such
a child, and I am afraid that if she gets any wrong ideas about things
she may want to go back to the convent. She has hinted at it more than
“There will be nothing of that sort at Salt-house,” Cecil de la Borne
declared eagerly. “You see, I sha’n’t have any guests at all except
just yourselves. Don’t you think that would be best?”
“I do, indeed,” the Princess assented, “and mind, you are not to make
any special preparations for us. For my part, I simply want a little
rest before we go abroad again, and we really want to come to you
feeling the same way that one leaves one’s home for lodgings in a
farmhouse. You will understand this, won’t you, Cecil?” she added
earnestly, laying her fingers upon his arm, “or we shall not come.”
“It shall be just as you say,” he answered. “As a matter of fact the
Red Hall is little more than a large farmhouse, and there is very
little preparation which I could make for you in a day or a day and a
half. You shall come and see how a poor English countryman lives, whose
lands and income have shrivelled up together. If you are dull you will
not blame me, I know, for all that you have to do is to go away.”
The Princess rose and put out her hand.
“It is settled, then,” she declared. “Thank you, dear Mr. Host, for
your very delightful dinner. Jeanne and I have to go on to Harlingham
House for an hour or two, the last of these terrible entertainments, I
am glad to say. Do send me a note round in the morning, with the exact
name of your house, and some idea of the road we must follow, so that
we do not get lost. I suppose you two,” she added, turning to Forrest
and Lord Ronald, “will not mind starting a day or two before we had
“Not in the least,” they assured her.
“And Miss Le Mesurier?” Cecil de la Borne asked. “Will she really not
mind giving up some of these wonderful entertainments?”
Jeanne smiled upon him brilliantly. It was a smile which came so
seldom, and which, when it did come, transformed her face so utterly,
that she seemed like a different person.
“I shall be very glad, indeed,” she said, “to leave London. I am
looking forward so much to seeing what the English country is like.”
“It will make me very happy,” Cecil de la Borne said, bowing over her
hand, “to try and show you.”
Her eyes seemed to pass through him, to look out of the crowded room,
as though indeed they had found their way into some corner of the world
where the things which make life lie. It was a lapse from which she
recovered almost immediately, but when she looked at him, and with a
little farewell nod withdrew her hand, the transforming gleam had
“And there is the sea, too,” she remarked, looking backwards as they
passed out. “I am longing to see that again.”
Perhaps there was never a moment in the lives of these two men when
their utter and radical dissimilarity, physically as well as in the
larger ways, was more strikingly and absolutely manifest. Like a great
sea animal, huge, black-bearded, bronzed, magnificent, but uncouth,
Andrew de la Borne, in the oilskins and overalls of a village
fisherman, stood in the great bare hall in front of the open fireplace,
reckless of his drippings, at first only mildly amused by the half
cynical, half angry survey of the very elegant young man who had just
descended the splendid oak staircase, with its finely carved
balustrade, black and worm-eaten, Cecil de la Borne stared at his
brother with the angry disgust of one whose sense of all that is
holiest stands outraged. Slim, of graceful though somewhat undersized
figure, he was conscious of having attained perfection in matters which
he reckoned of no small importance. His grey tweed suit fitted him like
a glove, his tie was a perfect blend between the colour of his eyes and
his clothes, his shoes were of immaculate shape and polish, his socks
had been selected with care in the Rue de la Paix. His hair was brushed
until it shone with the proper amount of polish, his nails were
perfectly manicured, even his cigarette came from the dealer whose
wares were the caprice of the moment. That his complexion was pallid
and that underneath his eyes were faint blue lines, which were
certainly not the hall-marks of robust health, disturbed him not at
all. These things were correct. Health was by no means a desideratum in
the set to which he was striving to belong. He looked through his
eyeglass at his brother and groaned.
“Really, Andrew,” he said calmly, but with an undernote of anger
trembling in his tone, “I am surprised to see you like this! You might,
I think, have had a little more consideration. Can’t you realize what a
sight you are, and what a mess you’re making!”
Andrew took off his cap and shook it, so that a little shower of salt
water splashed on to the polished floor.
“Never mind, Cecil,” he said good-humouredly. “You’ve all the
deportment that’s necessary in this family. And salt water doesn’t
stain. These boards have been washed with it many a time.”
The young man’s face lost none of his irritation.
“But what on earth have you been doing?” he exclaimed. “Where have you
been to get in a state like that?”
Andrew’s face was suddenly overcast. It did not please him to think of
those last few hours.
“I had to go out to bring a mad woman home,” he said. “Kate Caynsard
was out in her catboat a day like this. It was suicide if I hadn’t
reached her in time.”
“You–did reach her in time?” the young man asked quickly.
Andrew turned to face the questioner, and the eyes of the brothers met.
Again the differences between them seemed to be suddenly and
marvellously accentuated. Andrew’s cheeks, bronzed and hardened with a
life spent wholly out of doors, were glistening still with the salt
water which dripped down from his hair and hung in sparkling globules
from his beard. Cecil was paler than ever; there was something almost
furtive in that swift insistent look. Perhaps he recognized something
of what was in the other’s mind. At any rate the good-nature left his
manner–his tone took to itself a sterner note.
“I came back,” he said grimly. “I should not have come back alone. She
was hard to save, too,” he added, after a moment’s pause.
“She is mad,” Cecil muttered. “A queer lot, all the Caynsards.”
“She is as sane as you or I,” his brother answered. “She does rash
things, and she chooses to treat her life as though it were a matter of
no consequence. She took a fifty to one chance at the bar, and she
nearly lost. But, by heaven, you should have seen her bring my little
boat down the creek, with the tide swelling, and a squall right down on
the top of us. It was magnificent. Cecil!”
“Why does Kate Caynsard treat her life as though it were of less value
than the mackerel she lowers her line for? Do you know?”
The younger man dropped his eyeglass and shrugged his shoulders
“Since when,” he demanded, “have I shown any inclination to play the
village Lothario? Thick ankles and robust health have never appealed to
me–I prefer the sicklier graces of civilization.”
“Kate Caynsard,” Andrew said thoughtfully, “is not of the villagers.
She leads their life, but her birth is better on her father’s side, at
any rate, than our own.”
“If I might be allowed to make the suggestion,” Cecil said, regarding
his brother with supercilious distaste, “don’t you think it would be
just as well to change your clothes before our guests arrive?”
“Why should I?” Andrea asked calmly.
“They are not my friends. I scarcely know even their names. I entertain
them at your request. Why should I be ashamed of my oilskins? They are
in accord with the life I live here. I make no pretence, you see,
Cecil,” he added, with a faintly amused smile, “at being an ornamental
member of Society.”
His brother regarded him with something very much like disgust.
“No!” he said sarcastically. “No one could accuse you of that.”
Something in his tone seemed to suggest to Andrew a new idea. He looked
down at the clothes he wore beneath his oilskins–the clothes almost of
a working man. He glanced for a moment at his hands, hardened and
blistered with the actual toil which he loved–and he looked his
brother straight in the face.
“Cecil,” he said, “I believe you’re ashamed of me.”
“Of course I am,” the younger man answered brutally. “It’s your own
fault. You choose to make a fisherman or a labouring man of yourself. I
haven’t seen you in a decent suit of clothes for years. You won’t dress
for dinner. Your hands and skin are like a ploughboy’s. And, d–n it
all, you’re my elder brother! I’ve got to introduce you to my friends
as the head of the De la Bornes, and practically their host. No wonder
I don’t like it!”
There was a moment’s silence. If his words hurt, Andrew made no sign.
With a shrug of the shoulders he turned towards the staircase.
“There is no reason,” he remarked, carelessly enough, “why I should
inflict the humiliation of my presence on you or on your friends. I am
going down to the Island. You shall entertain your friends and play the
host to your heart’s content. It will be more comfortable for both of
Cecil prided himself upon a certain impassivity of features and manner
which some fin de siecle oracle of the cities had pronounced good form,
but he was not wholly able to conceal his relief. Such an arrangement
was entirely to his liking. It solved the situation satisfactorily in
more ways than one.
“It’s a thundering good idea, Andrew, if you’re sure you’ll be
comfortable there,” he declared. “I don’t believe you would get on with
my friends a bit. They’re not your sort. Seems like turning you out of
your own house, though.”
“It is of no consequence,” Andrew said coldly. “I shall be perfectly
“You see,” Cecil continued, “they’re not keen on sport at all, and you
don’t play bridge–”
Andrew had already disappeared. Cecil turned back into the hall and lit
“Phew! What a relief!” he muttered to himself. “If only he has the
sense to keep away all the time!”
He rang the bell, which was answered by a butler newly imported from
“Clear away all this mess, James,” Cecil ordered, pointing in disgust
to the wet places upon the floor, and the still dripping southwester,
“and serve tea here in an hour, or directly my friends arrive–tea, and
whisky and soda, and liqueurs, you know, with sandwiches and things.”
“I will do my best, sir,” the man answered. “The kitchen arrangements
are a little–behind the times, if I might venture to say so.”
“I know, I know,” Cecil answered irritably. “The place has been allowed
to go on anyhow while I was away. Do what you can, and let them know
outside that they must make room for one, or perhaps two
Upstairs Andrew was rapidly throwing a few things together. With an odd
little laugh he threw into the bottom of a wardrobe an unopened parcel
of new clothes and a dress suit which had been carefully brushed. In
less than twenty minutes he had left the house by the back way, with a
small portmanteau poised easily upon his massive shoulders. As he
turned from the long ill-kept avenue, with its straggling wind-smitten
trees all exposed to the tearing ocean gales, into the high road, a
great automobile swung round the corner and slackened speed. Major
Forrest leaned out and addressed him.
“Can you tell me if this is the Red Hall, my man–Mr. De la Borne’s
place?” he asked.
Andrew nodded, without a glance at the veiled and shrouded women who
were leaning forward to hear his answer.
“The next avenue is the front way,” he said. “Mind how you turn in–the
corner is rather sharp.”
He spoke purposely in broad Norfolk, and passed on.
“What a Goliath!” Engleton remarked.
“I should like to sketch him,” the Princess drawled. “His shoulders
But neither of them had any idea that they had spoken with the owner of
the Red Hall.
About half-way through dinner that night, Cecil de la Borne drew a long
sigh of relief. At last his misgivings were set at rest. His party was
going to be, was already, in fact, pronounced, a success. A glance at
his fair neighbour, however, who was lighting her third or fourth
Russian cigarette since the caviare, sent a shiver of thankfulness
through his whole being. What a sensible fellow Andrew had been to
clear out. This sort of thing would not have appealed to him at all.
“My dear Cecil,” the Princess declared, “I call this perfectly
delightful. Jeanne and I have wanted so much to see you in your own
home. Jeanne, isn’t this nicer, ever so much nicer, than anything you
Jeanne, who was sitting opposite, lifted her remarkable eyes and
glanced around with interest.
“Yes,” she admitted, “I think that it is! But then, any place that
looks in the least like a home is a delightful change after all that
rushing about in London.”
“I agree with you entirely,” Major Forrest declared. “If our friend has
disappointed us at all, it is in the absence of that primitiveness
which he led us to expect. One perceives that one is drinking Veuve
Clicquot of a vintage year, and one suspects the nationality of our
“You can have all the primitivism you want if you look out of the
windows,” Cecil remarked drily. “You will see nothing but a line of
stunted trees, and behind, miles of marshes and the greyest sea which
ever played upon the land. Listen! You don’t hear a sound like that in
Even as he spoke they heard the dull roar of the north wind booming
across the wild empty places which lay between the Red Hall and the
sea. A storm of raindrops was flung against the window. The Princess
“It is an idyll, the last word in the refining of sensations,” Major
Forrest declared. “You give us sybaritic luxury, and in order that we
shall realize it, you provide the background of savagery. In the
Carlton one might dine like this and accept it as a matter of course.
Appreciation is forced upon us by these suggestions of the wilderness
“Not all without, either,” Cecil de la Borne remarked, raising his
eyeglass and pointing to the walls. “See where my ancestors frown down
upon us–you can only just distinguish their bare shapes. No De la
Borne has had money enough to have them renovated or even preserved.
They have eaten their way into the canvases, and the canvases into the
very walls. You see the empty spaces, too. A Reynolds and a Gainsboro’
have been cut out from there and sold. I can show you long empty
galleries, pictureless, and without a scrap of furniture. We have
ghosts like rats, rooms where the curtains and tapestries are falling
to pieces from sheer decay. Oh! I can assure you that our primitivism
is not wholly external.”
He turned from the Princess, who was not greatly interested, to find
that for once he had succeeded in riveting the attention of the girl,
whose general attitude towards him and the whole world seemed to be one
of barely tolerant indifference.
“I should like to see over your house, Mr. De la Borne,” she said. “It
all sounds very interesting.”
“I am afraid,” he answered, “that your interest would not survive very
long. We have no treasures left, nor anything worth looking at. For
generations the De la Bornes have stripped their house and sold their
lands to hold their own in the world. I am the last of my race, and
there is nothing left for me to sell,” he declared, with a momentary
“Hadn’t you–a half brother?” the Princess asked.
Cecil hesitated for a moment. He had drifted so easily into the
position of head of the house. It was so natural. He felt that he
filled the place so perfectly.
“I have,” he admitted, “but he counts, I am sorry to say, for very
little. You are never likely to come across him–nor any other
There was a subtle indication in his tone of a desire not to pursue the
subject. His guests naturally respected it. There was a moment’s
silence. Then Cecil once more leaned forward. He hesitated for a
moment, even after his lips had parted, as though for some reason he
were inclined, after all, to remain silent, but the consciousness that
every one was looking at him and expecting him to speak induced him to
continue with what, after all, he had suddenly, and for no explicit
reason, hesitated to say.
“You spoke, Miss Le Mesurier,” he began, “of looking over the house,
and, as I told you, there is very little in it worth seeing. And yet I
can show you something, not in the house itself, but connected with it,
which you might find interesting.”
The Princess leaned forward in her chair.
“This sounds so interesting,” she murmured. “What is it, Cecil? A
Their host shook his head.
“Something far more tangible,” he answered, “although in its way quite
as remarkable. Hundreds of years ago, smuggling on this coast was not
only a means of livelihood for the poor, but the diversion of the rich.
I had an ancestor who became very notorious. His name seems to have
been a by-word, although he was never caught, or if he was caught,
never punished. He built a subterranean way underneath the grounds,
leading from the house right to the mouth of one of the creeks. The
passage still exists, with great cellars for storing smuggled goods,
and a room where the smugglers used to meet.”
Jeanne looked at him with parted lips.
“You can show me this?” she asked, “the passage and the cellars?”
“I can,” he answered. “Quite a weird place it is, too. The walls are
damp, and the cellars themselves are like the vaults of a cathedral.
All the time at high tide you can hear the sea thundering over your
head. To-morrow, if you like, we will get torches and explore them.”
“I should love to,” Jeanne declared. “Can you get out now at the other
“The passage,” he said, “starts from a room which was once the library,
and ends half-way up the only little piece of cliff there is. It is
about thirty feet from the ground, but they had a sort of apparatus for
pulling up the barrels, and a rope ladder for the men. The preventive
officers would see the boat come up the creek, and would march down
from the village, only to find it empty. Of course, they suspected all
the time where the things went, but they could not prove it, and as my
ancestor was a magistrate and an important man they did not dare to
search the house.”
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
“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
“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.
“People who own things,” she remarked, “never look upon them with
proper reverence. Don’t you see that my mother is dying for some
The Princess was only obeying a faint sign from Forrest. She leaned
forward and addressed her host.
“It isn’t a bad idea,” she declared. “Where are we going to play
bridge, Cecil? In some smaller room, I hope. This one is really
beginning to get on my nerves a little. There is an ancestor exactly
opposite who has fixed me with a luminous and a disapproving eye. And
the blank spaces on the wall! Ugh! I feel like a Goth. We are too
modern for this place, Cecil.”
Their host laughed as he rose and turned towards Jeanne.
“Your mother,” he said, “is beginning to be conscious of her
environment. I know exactly how she is feeling, for I myself am a
constant sufferer. Are you, too, sighing for the gilded salons of
“Not in the least,” Jeanne answered frankly. “I am tired of mirrors and
electric lights and babble. I prefer our present surroundings, and I
should not mind at all if some of those disapproving ancestors of yours
stepped out of their frames and took their places with us here.”
“If they have been listening to our conversation,” he said, “I think
that they will stay where they are. Like royalty,” he continued, “we
can boast an octagonal chamber. I fear that its glories are of the
past, but it is at least small, and the wallpaper is modern. I have
ordered coffee and the card-tables there. Shall we go?”
He led the way out of the gloomy room, chilly and bare, yet in a way
magnificent still with its reminiscences of past splendour, across the
hall, modernized with rugs and recent furnishing, into a smaller
apartment, where cheerfulness reigned. A wood fire burnt in an open
grate. Lamps and a fine candelabrum gave a sufficiency of light. The
furniture, though old, was graceful, and of French design. It had been
the sitting chamber of the ladies of the De la Borne family for
generations, and it bore traces of its gentler occupation. One thing
alone remained of primevalism to remind them of their closer contact
with the great forces of nature. The chamber was built in the tower,
which stood exposed to the sea, and the roar of the wind was ceaseless.
“Here at least we shall be comfortable, I think,” Cecil remarked, as
they all entered. “My frescoes are faded, but they represent flowers,
not faces. There are no eyes to stare at you from out of the walls
The Princess laughed gaily as she seated herself before a Louis Quinze
card-table, and threw a pack of cards across the faded green baize
“It is charming, this,” she declared. “Shall we challenge these two
boys, Nigel? You are the only man who understands my leads, and who
does not scold me for my declarations.”
“I am perfectly willing,” Forrest answered smoothly. “Shall we cut for
Cecil de la Borne leaned over and turned up a card.
“I am quite content,” he remarked. “What do you say, Engleton?”
Engleton hesitated for a moment. The Princess turned and looked at him.
He was standing upon the hearthrug smoking, his face as expressionless
“Let us cut for partners,” he drawled. “I am afraid of the Princess and
Forrest. The last time I found them a quite invincible couple.”
There was a moment’s silence. The Princess glanced toward Forrest, who
only shrugged his shoulders.
“Just as you will,” he answered.
He turned up an ace and the Princess a three.
“After all,” he remarked, with a smile, “it seems as though fate were
going to link us together.”
“I am not so sure,” Cecil de la Borne said, also throwing down an ace.
“It depends now upon Engleton.”
Engleton came to the table, and drew a card at random from the pack.
Forrest’s eyes seemed to narrow a little as he looked down at it.
Engleton had drawn another ace.
“Forrest and I,” he remarked. “Jolly low cutting, too. I have played
against you often, Forrest, but I think this is our first rubber
together. Here’s good luck to us!”
He tossed off his liqueur and sat down. They cut again for deal, and
the game proceeded.
Jeanne had moved across towards the window, and laid her fingers upon
the heavy curtains. Cecil de la Borne, who was dummy, got up and stood
by her side.
“Do you know,” she said, “although your frescoes are flowers, I feel
that there are eyes in this room, too, only that they are looking in
from the night. Can one see the sea from here, Mr. De la Borne?”
“It is scarcely a hundred yards away,” he answered. “This window looks
straight across the German Ocean, and if you look long enough you will
see the white of the breakers. Listen! You will hear, too, what my
forefathers, and those who begat them, have heard, from the birth of
The girl, with strained face, stood looking out into the darkness.
Outside, the wind and sea imposed their thunder upon the land. Within,
there was no sound but the softer patter of the cards, the languid
voices of the four who played bridge. A curious little company, on the
whole. The Princess of Strurm, whose birth was as sure as her social
standing was doubtful, the heroine of countless scandals, ignored by
the great heads of her family, impoverished, living no one knew how,
yet remaining the legal guardian of a stepdaughter, who was reputed to
be one of the greatest heiresses in Europe. The courts had moved to
have her set aside, and failed. A Cardinal of her late husband’s faith,
empowered to treat with her on behalf of his relations, offered a
fortune for her cession of Jeanne, and was laughed at for his pains.
Whatever her life had been, she remained custodian of the child of the
great banker whom she had married late in life. She endured calmly the
threats, the entreaties, the bribes, of Jeanne’s own relations. Jeanne,
she was determined, should enter life under her wing, and hers only. In
the end she had her way. Jeanne was entering life now, not through the
respectable but somewhat bourgeois avenue by which her great monied
relatives would have led her, but under the auspices of her stepmother,
whose position as chaperon to a great heiress had already thrown open a
great many doors which would have been permanently closed to her in any
other guise. The Princess herself was always consistent. She assumed to
herself an arrogant right to do as she pleased and live as she pleased.
She was of the House of Strurm, which had been noble for centuries, and
had connections with royalty. That was enough. A few forgot her past
and admitted her claim. Those who did not she ignored….
Then there was Lord Ronald Engleton, an orphan brought up in Paris, a
would-be decadent, a dabbler in all modern iniquities, redeemed from
folly only by a certain not altogether wholesome cleverness, yet with a
disposition which sometimes gained for him friends in most unlikely
quarters. He had excellent qualities, which he did his best to conceal;
impulses which he was continually stifling.
By his side sat Forrest, the Sphynx, more than middle-aged, a man who
had wandered all over the world, who had tried many things without ever
achieving prosperity, and who was searching always, with tired eyes,
for some new method of clothing and feeding himself upon an income of
less than nothing a year. He had met the Princess at Marienbad years
ago, and silently took his place in her suite. Why, no one seemed to
know, not even at first the Princess herself, who thought him chic, and
adored what she could not understand. Curious flotsam and jetsam, these
four, of society which had something of a Continental flavour;
personages, every one of them, with claim to recognition, but without
any noticeable hall-mark….
There remained the girl, Jeanne herself, half behind the curtain now,
her head thrust forward, her beautiful eyes contracted with the effort
to penetrate that veil of darkness. One gift at least she seemed to
have borrowed from the woman who gambled with life as easily and
readily as with the cards which fell from her jewelled fingers. In her
face, although it was still the face of a child, there was the same
inscrutable expression, the same calm languor of one who takes and
receives what life offers with the indifference of the cynic, or the
imperturbability of the philosopher. There was little of the joy or the
anticipation of youth there, and yet, behind the eyes, as they looked
out into the darkness, there was something–some such effort, perhaps,
as one seeking to penetrate the darkness of life must needs show. And
as she looked, the white, living breakers gradually resolved
them-selves out of the dark, thin filmy phosphorescence, and the roar
of the lashed sea broke like thunder upon the pebbled beach. She leaned
a little more forward, carried away with her fancy–that the shrill
grinding of the pebbles was indeed the scream of human voices in pain!
With the coming of dawn the storm passed away northwards, across a sea
snow-flecked and still panting with its fury, and leaving behind many
traces of its violence, even upon these waste and empty places. A lurid
sunrise gave little promise of better weather, but by six o’clock the
wind had fallen, and the full tide was swelling the creeks. On a
sand-bank, far down amongst the marshes, Jeanne stood hatless, with her
hair streaming in the breeze, her face turned seaward, her eyes full of
an unexpected joy. Everywhere she saw traces of the havoc wrought in
the night. The tall rushes lay broken and prostrate upon the ground;
the beach was strewn with timber from the breaking up of an ancient
wreck. Eyes more accustomed than hers to the outline of the country
could have seen inland dismantled cottages and unroofed sheds, groups
of still frightened and restive cattle, a snapped flagstaff, a fallen
tree. But Jeanne knew none of these things. Her face was turned towards
the ocean and the rising sun. She felt the sting of the sea wind upon
her cheeks, all the nameless exhilaration of the early morning
sweetness. Far out seaward the long breakers, snow-flecked and white
crested, came rolling in with a long, monotonous murmur toward the
land. Above, the grey sky was changing into blue. Almost directly over
her head, rising higher and higher in little circles, a lark was
singing. Jeanne half closed her eyes and stood still, engrossed by the
unexpected beauty of her surroundings. Then suddenly a voice came
travelling to her from across the marshes.
She turned round unwillingly, and with a vague feeling of irritation
against this interruption, which seemed to her so inopportune, and in
turning round she realized at once that her period of absorption must
have lasted a good deal longer than she had had any idea of. She had
walked straight across the marshes towards the little hillock on which
she stood, but the way by which she had come was no longer visible. The
swelling tide had circled round through some unseen channel, and was
creeping now into the land by many creeks and narrow ways. She herself
was upon an island, cut off from the dry land by a smoothly flowing
tidal way more than twenty yards across. Along it a man in a
flat-bottomed boat was punting his way towards her. She stood and
waited for him, admiring his height, and the long powerful strokes with
which he propelled his clumsy craft. He was very tall, and against the
flat background his height seemed almost abnormal. As soon as he had
attracted her attention he ceased to shout, and devoted all his
attention to reaching her quickly. Nevertheless, the salt water was
within a few feet of her when he drove his pole into the bottom, and
brought the punt to a momentary standstill. She looked down at him,
“Shall I get in?” she asked.
“Unless you are thinking of swimming back,” he answered drily, “it
would be as well.”
She lifted her skirts a little, and laughed at the inappropriateness of
her thin shoes and open-work stockings. Andrew de la Borne held out his
strong hand, and she sprang lightly on to the broad seat.
“It is very nice of you,” she said, with her slight foreign accent, “to
come and fetch me. Should I have been drowned?”
“No!” he answered. “As a matter of fact, the spot where you were
standing is not often altogether submerged. You might have been a
prisoner for a few hours. Perhaps as the tide is going to be high, your
feet would have been wet. But there was no danger.”
She settled down as comfortably as possible in the awkward seat.
“After all, then,” she said, “this is not a real adventure. Where are
you going to take me to?”
“I can only take you,” he answered, “to the village. I suppose you came
from the Hall?”
“Yes!” she answered. “I walked straight across from the gate. I never
thought about the tide coming up here.”
“You will have to walk back by the road,” he answered. “It is a good
deal further round, but there is no other way.”
She hung her hand over the side, rejoicing in the touch of the cool
“That,” she answered, “does not matter at all. It is very early still,
and I do not fancy that any one will be up yet for several hours.”
He made no further attempt at conversation, devoting himself entirely
to the task of steering and propelling his clumsy craft along the
narrow way. She found herself watching him with some curiosity. It had
never occurred to her to doubt at first but that he was some fisherman
from the village, for he wore a rough jersey and a pair of trousers
tucked into sea-boots. His face was bronzed, and his hands were large
and brown. Nevertheless she saw that his features were good, and his
voice, though he spoke the dialect of the country, had about it some
quality which she was not slow to recognize.
“Who are you?” she asked, a little curiously. “Do you live in the
He looked down at her with a faint smile.
“I live in the village,” he answered, “and my name is Andrew.”
“Are you a fisherman?” she asked.
“Certainly,” he answered gravely. “We are all fishermen here.”
She was not altogether satisfied. He spoke to her easily, and without
any sort of embarrassment. His words were civil enough, and yet he had
more the air of one addressing an equal than a villager who is able to
be of service to some one in an altogether different social sphere.
“It was very fortunate for me,” she said, “that you saw me. Are you up
at this hour every morning?”
“Generally,” he answered. “I was thinking of fishing, higher up in the
“I am sorry,” she said, “that I spoiled your sport.”
He did not answer at once. He, in his turn, was looking at her. In her
tailor-made gown, short and fashionably cut, her silk stockings and
high-heeled shoes, she certainly seemed far indeed removed from any of
the women of those parts. Her dark hair was arranged after a fashion
that was strange to him. Her delicately pale skin, her deep grey eyes,
and unusually scarlet lips were all indications of her foreign
extraction. He looked at her long and searchingly. This was the girl,
then, whom his brother was hoping to marry.
“You are not English,” he remarked, a little abruptly.
She shook her head.
“My father was a Portuguese,” she said, “and my mother French. I was
born in England, though. You, I suppose, have lived here all your life?”
“All my life,” he repeated. “We villagers, you see, have not much
opportunity for travel.”
“But I am not sure,” she said, looking at him a little doubtfully,
“that you are a villager.”
“I can assure you,” he answered, “that there is no doubt whatever about
it. Can you see out yonder a little house on the island there?”
She followed his outstretched finger.
“Of course I can,” she answered. “Is that your home?”
“I am there most of my time,” he answered.
“It looks charming,” she said, a little doubtfully, “but isn’t it
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Perhaps,” he answered. “I am only ten minutes’ sail from the mainland,
She looked again at the house, long and low, with its plaster walls
bare of any creeping thing.
“It must be rather fascinating,” she admitted, “to live upon an island.
Are you married?”
“No!” he answered.
“Do you mean that you live quite alone?” she asked.
He smiled down upon her as one might smile at an inquisitive child. “I
have a ser–some one to look after me,” he said. “Except for that I am
quite alone. I am going to set you ashore here. You see those telegraph
posts? That is the road which leads direct to the Hall.”
She was still looking at the island, watching the waves break against a
little stretch of pebbly beach.
“I should like very much,” she said, “to see that house. Can you not
take me out there?”
He shook his head.
“We could not get so far in this punt,” he said, “and my sailing boat
is up at the village quay, more than a mile away.”
She frowned a little. She was not used to having any request of hers
“Could we not go to the village,” she asked, “and change into your
He shook his head.
“I am going fishing,” he said, “in a different direction. Allow me.”
He stepped on to land and lifted her out. She hesitated for a moment
and felt for her purse.
“You must let me recompense you,” she said coldly, “for the time you
have lost in coming to my assistance.”
He looked down at her, and again she had an uncomfortable sense that
notwithstanding his rude clothes and country dialect, this man was no
ordinary villager. He said nothing, however, until she produced her
purse, and held out a little tentatively two half-crowns.
“You are very kind,” he said. “I will take one if you will allow me.
That is quite sufficient. You see the Hall behind the trees there. You
cannot miss your way, I think, and if you will take my advice you will
not wander about in the marshes here except at high tide. The sea comes
in to the most unexpected places, and very quickly, too, sometimes.
“Good morning, and thank you very much,” she answered, turning away
toward the road.
* * * * *
Cecil de la Borne was standing at the end of the drive when she
appeared, a telescope in his hand. He came hastily down the road to
meet her, a very slim and elegant figure in his well-cut flannel
clothes, smoothly brushed hair, and irreproachable tie.
“My dear Miss Jeanne,” he exclaimed, “I have only just heard that you
were out. Do you generally get up in the middle of the night?”
She smiled a little half-heartedly. It was curious that she found
herself contrasting for a moment this very elegant young man with her
roughly dressed companion of a few minutes ago.
“To meet with an adventure such as I have had,” she answered, “I would
never go to bed at all. I have been nearly drowned, and rescued by a
most marvellous person. He brought me back to safety in a flat-bottomed
punt, and I am quite sure from the way he stared at them that he had
never seen open-work stockings before.”
“Are you in earnest?” Cecil asked doubtfully.
“Absolutely,” she answered. “I was walking there among the marshes, and
I suddenly found myself surrounded by the sea. The tide had come up
behind me without my noticing. A most mysterious person came to my
rescue. He wore the clothes of a fisherman, and he accepted half a
crown, but I have my doubts about him even now. He said that his name
was Mr. Andrew.”
Cecil opened the gate and they walked up towards the house. A slight
frown had appeared upon his forehead.
“Do you know him?” she asked.
“I know who he is,” he answered. “He is a queer sort of fellow, lives
all alone, and is a bit cranky, they say. Come in and have some
breakfast. I don’t suppose that any one else will be down for ages.”
She shook her head.
“I will send my woman down for some coffee,” she answered. “I am going
upstairs to change. I am just a little wet, and I must try and find
some thicker shoes.”
“One sees so little of you,” he murmured, “and I was looking forward to
a tete-a-tete breakfast.”
She shook her head as she left him in the hall.
“I couldn’t think of it,” she declared. “I’ll appear with the others
later on. Please find out all you can about Mr. Andrew and tell me.”
Cecil turned away, and his face grew darker as he crossed the hall.
“If Andrew interferes this time,” he muttered, “there will be trouble!”
The Princess appeared for luncheon and declared herself to be in a
remarkably good humour.
“My dear Cecil,” she said, helping herself to an ortolan in aspic, “I
like your climate and I like your chef. I had my window open for at
least ten minutes, and the sea air has given me quite an appetite. I
have serious thoughts of embracing the simple life.”
“You could scarcely,” Cecil de la Borne answered, “come to a better
place for your first essay. I will guarantee that life is sufficiently
simple here for any one. I have no neighbours, no society to offer you,
no distractions of any sort. Still, I warned you before you came.”
“Don’t be absurd,” the Princess declared. “You have the sea almost at
your front door, and I adore the sea. If you have a nice large boat I
should like to go for a sail.”
Cecil looked at her with upraised eyebrows.
“If you are serious,” he said, “no doubt we can find the boat.”
“I am absolutely serious,” the Princess declared. “I feel that this is
exactly what my system required. I should like to sit in a comfortable
cushioned seat and sail somewhere. If possible, I should like you men
to catch things from the side of the boat.”
“You will get sunburnt,” Lord Ronald remarked drily; “perhaps even
“Adorable!” the Princess declared. “A touch of sunburn would be quite
becoming. It is such an excellent foundation to build a complexion
upon. Jeanne is quite enchanted with the place. She’s had adventures
already, and been rescued from drowning by a marvellous person, who
wore his trousers tucked into his boots and found fault with her shoes
and stockings. She has promised to show me the place after luncheon,
and I am going to stand there myself and see if anything happens.”
“You will get your feet very wet,” Cecil declared.
“And sand inside your shoes,” Forrest remarked.
“These,” the Princess declared, “are trifles compared with the
delightful sensation of experiencing a real adventure. In any case we
must sail one afternoon, Cecil. I insist upon it. We will not play
bridge until after dinner. My luck last night was abominable. Oh, you
needn’t look at me like that,” she added to Cecil. “I know I won, but
that was an accident. I had bad cards all the time, and I only won
because you others had worse. Please ring the bell, Mr. Host, and see
about the boat.”
“Really,” Cecil remarked, as he called the butler and gave him some
instructions, “I had no idea that I was going to entertain such
“Oh, there are lots of things I mean to do!” the Princess declared. “I
am seriously thinking of going shrimping. I suppose there are shrimps
here, and I should love to tuck up my skirts and carry a big net, like
“Perhaps,” Cecil suggested, “you would like to try the golf links. I
believe there are some quite decent ones not far away.”
The Princess shook her head.
“No!” she answered. “Golf is too civilized a game. We will go out in a
fishing boat with plenty of cushions, and we will try to catch fish. I
know that Jeanne will love it, and that you others will hate it.
Between the two of you it should be amusing.”
“Very well,” Cecil declared, with an air of resignation, “whatever
happens will be upon your own shoulders. There is a boat in the village
which we can have. I will have it brought up to our own quay in an
hour’s time. If the worst comes to the worst, and we are bored to
death, we can play bridge on the way.”
“There will be no cards upon the boat,” the Princess declared
decidedly. “I forbid them. We are going to lounge and look at the sea
and get sunburnt. Jeanne can wear a veil if she likes. I shall not.”
Cecil shrugged his shoulders.
“Very well,” he said. “Whatever happens, don’t blame me.”
* * * * *
The Princess had her way and behaved like a schoolgirl. She sat in the
most comfortable place, surrounded with a multitude of cushions, with
her tiny Japanese spaniel in her arms, and a box of French bonbons by
her side. Jeanne stood in the bows, bareheaded and happy. Lord Ronald,
who was feeling a little sea-sick, sat at her feet.
“I had no idea,” he remarked plaintively, “that your mother was capable
of such crudities. If I had known, I certainly would not have trusted
myself to such a party. This sea air is hateful. It has tarnished my
cigarette-case already, and one’s nails will not be fit to be seen. To
be out of doors like this is worse than drinking unfiltered water.”
Jeanne smiled down at him a little contemptuously.
“You are a child of the cities, Lord Ronald,” she remarked. “Next year
I am going to buy a yacht myself, but I shall not ask you to come with
Lord Ronald groaned.
“That is the worst of all heiresses,” he said. “You have such queer
tastes. I shall never summon up my courage to propose to you.”
“There is always leap year,” Jeanne reminded him.
“What a bewildering suggestion!” he murmured, looking uncomfortably
over the side of the boat. “I say, Forrest, what do you think of this
sort of thing?”
“Idyllic!” Forrest declared cynically. “To sit upon a hard plank and to
have one’s digestion unmercifully interfered with like this is
unqualified rapture. If only there were cabins one might sleep.”
“There will be cabins on my yacht,” Jeanne declared laughing, “but I
shall not ask either of you. You are both of you knights of the candle
light. I shall get some great strong fisherman to be captain, and I
shall go round the world and forget the days and the months.”
Forrest shivered slightly.
“The country,” he remarked to the Princess, “is having a terrible
effect upon your stepdaughter.”
The Princess nodded and thrust a bonbon into the languid jaws of the
dog she was holding.
“It is my fault,” she declared. “It is I who have set this fashion. It
was a whim, and I am tired of it. Tell our host that we will go back.”
They tacked a few minutes later, and swept shoreward. Jeanne, still
standing in the bows, was gazing steadfastly upon the little island at
the entrance of the estuary.
“I should like,” she declared, pointing it out to Cecil, “to land there
and have some tea.”
Cecil looked at her doubtfully.
“We shall be home in a little more than an hour,” he said, “and I don’t
suppose we could get any tea there, even if we were able to land.”
“I have a conviction that we should,” Jeanne declared. “Mother,” she
added, turning round to the older woman, “there is an island just ahead
of us with a delightful looking cottage. I believe my preserver of this
morning lives there. Wouldn’t it be lovely to go and beg him to give us
“Charming!” the Princess declared, sitting up amongst her cushions. “I
should love to see him, and tea is the one thing in the world I want to
make me happy.”
Cecil de la Borne stood silent for a moment or two, looking steadfastly
at the whitewashed cottage upon the island. It seemed impossible, after
all, to escape from Andrew!
“The man lives there alone, I believe,” he said. “I don’t suppose there
is any one to get us tea. He would only be embarrassed by our coming,
and not know what to do.”
Jeanne smiled reflectively.
“I do not think,” she said, “that it would be easy to embarrass Mr.
Andrew. However, if you like we will put it off to another afternoon,
on one condition.”
“Let me hear the condition at any rate,” Cecil asked.
“That we go straight back, and that you show us that subterranean
passage,” Jeanne declared.
“Agreed!” Cecil answered. “I warn you that you will find it only damp
and mouldy and depressing, but you shall certainly see it.”
The girl moved toward the side of the boat, and stood leaning over,
with her eyes fixed upon the island. Standing on the small grass plot
in front of the cottage she could see the tall figure of a man with his
face turned toward them. A faint smile parted her lips as she watched.
She took out her handkerchief and waved it. The man for a moment stood
motionless, and then raising his cap, held it for a moment above his
head. The boat sped on, and very soon they were out of sight. She stood
there, however, watching, until they had rounded the sandy spit and
entered the creek which led into the harbour. There was something
unusually piquant to her in the thought of that greeting with the man,
whose response to it had been so unwilling, almost ungracious.
“Not another step!” the Princess declared. “I am going back at once.”
“I too,” Forrest declared. “Your smuggling ancestors, my dear De la
Borne, must indeed have loved adventure, if they spent much of their
time crawling about here like rats.”
“As you will,” Cecil answered. “The expedition is Miss Jeanne’s, not
“And I am going on,” Jeanne declared. “I want to see where we come out
on the beach.”
“This way, then,” Cecil said. “You need not be afraid to walk upright.
The roof is six feet high all the way. You must tread carefully,
though. There are plenty of holes and stones about.”
The Princess and Forrest disappeared. Jeanne, with her skirts held high
in one hand, and an electric torch in the other, followed Cecil slowly
along the gloomy way. The walls were oozing with damp, glistening
patches, like illuminated salt stains, and queer fungi started out from
unexpected places. Sometimes their footsteps fell on the rock, awaking
strange echoes down the gallery. Sometimes they sank deep into the
sand. Cecil looked often behind, and once held out his hand to help his
companion over a difficult place. At last he paused, and she heard him
struggling to turn a key in a great worm-eaten door on their right.
“This is the room,” he explained, “where they held their meetings, and
where the stuff was hidden. It was used for more than twenty years, and
the Customs’ people never seemed to have had even an inkling of its
He pushed the door open with difficulty. They found themselves in a
gloomy chamber, with vaulted roof and stone floor. A faint streak of
daylight from an opening somewhere in the roof, partially lit the
place. Here, too, the walls were damp and the odour appalling. There
were some fragments of broken barrels at one end, and an oak table in
the middle of the floor. Jeanne looked round and shivered.
“Let us go on to the end,” she said.
Cecil nodded, and they made their way on down the passage.
“The roof is getting lower now,” he said. “You had better stoop a
She stopped short.
“What is that?” she asked fearfully.
A sound like rolling thunder, faint at first, but growing more distinct
at every step, broke the chill silence of the place.
“The sea,” Cecil answered. “We are getting near to the beach.”
Jeanne nodded and crept on. Louder and louder the sound seemed to
become, until at last she paused, half terrified.
“Where are we?” she gasped. “It sounds as though the sea were right
over our heads.”
Cecil shook his head.
“It is an illusion,” he said. “The sound comes from the air-hole there.
We are forty yards from the cliff still.”
They crept on, until at last, after a turn in the gallery, they saw a
faint glimmering of light. A few more yards and they came to a
“The entrance is boarded up, you see,” Cecil said, “but you can see
through the chinks. There is the sea just below, and the rope ladder
used to hang from these staples.”
She looked out. Sheer below was the sea, breaking upon the rocks and
sending a torrent of spray into the air with every wave.
“We can’t get out this way, then?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“No, we should want a rope ladder,” he said, “and a boat. Have you seen
“More than enough,” Jeanne answered. “Let us get back.”
* * * * *
Jeanne sank into a garden seat a few minutes later with a little
exclamation of relief.
“Never,” she declared, “have I appreciated fresh air so much. I think,
Mr. De la Borne, that smuggling, though it was a very romantic
profession, must have had its unpleasant side.”
“There were more air-holes in those days,” he said, “but our ancestors
were a tougher race than we. Coarse brutes, most of them, I imagine,”
he added, lighting a cigarette. “Drank beer for breakfast, and smoked
clay pipes before meals. Fancy if one had their constitutions and our
“The two would scarcely go together,” Jeanne remarked. “But after all I
should think that absinthe and cigarettes are more destructive. I am
dying for some tea. Let us go in and find the others.”
Tea was set out in the hall, but only Engleton was there. Forrest and
the Princess were walking slowly up and down the avenue.
“I imagine,” the latter was saying drily, “that we are fairly free from
eavesdroppers here. Now tell me what it is that you have to say, Nigel.”
“I am bothered about Engleton,” Forrest said. “I didn’t like his
insisting upon cutting last night. What do you think he meant by it?”
The Princess shrugged her shoulders.
“Nothing at all,” she answered. “He may have thought that we were lucky
together, and of course he knows that you are the best player. There is
no reason why he should be willing to play with Cecil de la Borne, when
by cutting with you he would be more likely to win.”
“You think that that is all?” Forrest asked.
“I think so,” the Princess answered. “What had you in your mind?”
“I wondered,” Forrest said thoughtfully, “whether he had heard any of
the gossip at the club.”
The Princess frowned impatiently.
“For Heaven’s sake, don’t be imaginative, Nigel!” she declared. “If you
give way like this you will lose your nerve in no time.”
“Very well,” Forrest said. “Let us take it for granted, then, that he
did it only because he preferred to play with me to playing against me.
What is to become of our little scheme if we cut as we did last night
all the time?”
The Princess smiled.
“You ought to be able to manage that,” she said carelessly. “You are so
good at card tricks that you should be able to get an ace when you want
it. I always cut third from the end, as you know.”
“That’s all very well,” Forrest answered, “but we can’t go on cutting
two aces all the time. I ran it pretty fine last night, when for the
second time I gave you a three or a four, and drew a two myself. But he
seems to have the devil’s own luck. They cut under us, as you know.”
The Princess looked up toward the house. She had seen Jeanne and Cecil
“Those people are back from their underground pilgrimage,” she
remarked. “Have you anything definite to suggest? If not, we had better
“There is only one way, Ena,” Forrest said, “in which we could improve
“And what is that?” she asked quickly.
“Don’t you think we could get our host in?”
The Princess was silent for several moments.
“It is a little dangerous, I am afraid,” she said.
“I don’t see why,” Forrest answered. “If he were once in he’d have to
hold his tongue, and you can do just what you like with him. He seems
to me to be just one of those pulpy sort of persons whom you could
persuade into a thing before he had had time to think about it.”
“I will drop him a hint if you like,” the Princess said thoughtfully,
“and see how he takes it. Are you sure that the game is worth the
“Absolutely,” Forrest answered eagerly. “I saw Engleton drop two
thousand playing baccarat one night, and he never turned a hair. I
wasn’t playing, worse luck.”
“If I can get Cecil alone before dinner,” the Princess said, “I will
sound him. I think we had better go back now. We are a little old for
romantic wanderings, and the wind is beginning to disarrange my hair.”
“See what you can do with him, then,” Forrest said, as they retraced
their steps. “I’ll call in and hear if you’ve anything to tell me on my
way down for dinner.”
The Princess nodded. They entered the hall, and Cecil at once drew an
easy-chair to the tea-table.
“My good people,” the Princess declared, “I am famished. Your sea air,
Cecil, is the most wonderful thing in the world. For years I have not
known what it was like to be hungry. Hot cakes, please! And, Jeanne,
please make my tea. Jeanne knows just how I like it. Tell us about the
smuggler’s cave, Jeanne. Was it really so wonderful?”
“It was very, very weird and very smelly,” she said. “I think that you
were wise to turn back.”
Andrew came face to face with his brother in the village street on the
next morning. He looked at him for a moment in surprise.
“What have you been doing?” he asked, drily. “Sitting up all night?”
Cecil nodded dejectedly.
“Pretty well,” he admitted. “We played bridge till nearly five o’clock.”
“You lost, I suppose?” Andrew asked.
“Yes, I lost!” Cecil admitted.
“Your party,” Andrew said, “does not seem to me to be an unqualified
“It is not,” Cecil admitted. “Miss Le Mesurier has been quite
unapproachable the last few days. She’s just civil to me and no more.
She isn’t even half as decent as she was in town. I wish I hadn’t asked
them here. It’s cost a lot more money than we can afford, and done no
good that I can see.”
Andrew looked away seaward for a moment. Was it his fancy, or was there
indeed a slim white figure coming across the marshes from the Hall?
“Cecil,” he said, “are you quite sure that your guests are worth the
trouble you have taken to entertain them? I refer more particularly to
the two men.”
“They go everywhere,” Cecil answered. “Lord Ronald is a bit of a
wastrel, of course, and I am not very keen on Forrest, but we were all
together when I gave the invitation, and I couldn’t leave them out.”
“Well,” he said, “I should be careful how I played cards with Forrest
if I were you.”
Cecil’s face grew even a shade paler.
“You do not think,” he muttered, “that he would do anything that wasn’t
“On the contrary,” Andrew answered, “I have reason to believe that he
would. Isn’t that one of your guests coming? You had better go and meet
Andrew passed on his way, and Cecil walked towards Jeanne. All the
time, though, she was looking over his shoulder to where Andrew’s tall
figure was disappearing.
“What a nuisance!” she pouted. “I wanted to see Mr. Andrew, and
directly I came in sight he hurried away.”
“Can I give him any message?” Cecil asked with faint irony. “He will no
doubt be up with the fish later in the day.”
She turned her back on him.
“I am going back to the house,” she said. “I did not come out here to
walk with you.”
“Considering that I am your host,” he began–
“You lose your claim to consideration on that score when you remind me
of it,” she answered. “Really the only man who has not bored me for
weeks is Mr. Andrew. You others are all the same. You say the same
things, and you are always paving the way toward the same end. I am
tired of it. Stop!”