As the door closed on Lord Leycester

As the door closed on Lord Leycester, Stella’s heart seemed to leave her bosom; it was as if all hope had fled with him, and as if her doom was irrevocably fixed. For a moment she did not realize that she was leaning upon Jasper Adelstone for support, but when her numbed senses woke to a capacity for fresh pain, and she felt his hand touching hers, she shrank away from him with a shudder, and summoning all her presence of mind, turned to him calmly:
“You have worked your will,” she said, in a low voice. “What remains? What other commands have you to lay upon me?”
He winced, and the color struggled to his pale face.
“In the future,” he said, in a low voice, “it will be your place to command, mine to obey those commands, willingly, cheerfully.”
Stella waved her hand with weary impatience.
“I am in your hands,” she said; “what am I to do now? where am I to go? No! I know that; I will go back——” then she stopped, and a look of pain and fear came upon her beautiful face as she thought of the alarm with which her uncle would discover her flight, and the explanation which he would demand. “How can I go back? What can I say?”
“I have thought of that,” he said, in a low voice. “I had foreseen the difficulty, and I have provided against it. I know that what I have done may only increase your anger, but I did it for the best.”
[217]
“What have you done?” asked Stella.
“I have telegraphed to your uncle to say that I had tempted you and Frank to run up to town, and that I would bring you back this evening. I knew he would not be anxious then, seeing that Frank was with you.”
Stella stared at the firm, self-reliant face. He had provided for every contingency, had foreseen everything, and had evidently felt so assured of the success of his plans. She could not refrain a slight shudder as she realized what sort of a man this was who held her in his power. She felt that it were as useless to attempt to escape him as it would be for a bird to flutter against the bars of its cage.
“Have I done wrong?” he asked, standing beside her, his head bent, his whole attitude one of deference and humility.
She shook her head.
“No, I suppose not. It does not matter if he can be spared pain.”
“He shall be,” he responded. “I will do all in my power to render both him and you and Frank happy.”
She looked at him with a pitiful smile.
“Happy!”
“Yes, happy!” he repeated, with low but intense emphasis. “Remember, that, though I have won you by force, I love you; that I would die for you, yes, die for you, if need were——”
She rose—she had sunk into a chair—and put her hand to her brow.
“Let me go now, please,” she said, wearily.
He put on his hat, but stopped her with a gesture.
“Frank,” he said.
She knew what he meant, and inclined her head.
Jasper went to the door and called him by name, and he entered. Jasper laid his hand on his shoulder and kept it there firmly, notwithstanding the boy’s endeavor to shrink away from him.
“Frank,” he said, in his low, quiet voice, “I want to say a few words to you. Let me preface them with the statement that what I am going to say tumblr_ogjiqpawo81v1k1h8o1_1280your cousin Stella fully endorses.”
Frank, looking at Stella—he had not taken his eyes from her face—said:
“Is that so, Stella?”
She inclined her head.
“I want you,” said Jasper—”we want you, we ask you, my dear Frank, to erase from your memory all that has occurred here this morning, and before that; remember only that your cousin Stella is my affianced wife. I am aware that the suddenness of the thing causes you surprise, as is only natural; but get over that surprise, and learn, as soon as possible, to recognize it as an inevitable fact. Of all that has passed between—between”—he hesitated at the hated name, and drew a little breath—”Lord Leycester and Stella, nothing remains—nothing! We will forget all that, will we not, Stella?”
She made the same gesture.
“And we ask you to do the same.”
[218]
“But!” exclaimed Frank, white with suppressed excitement and indignation.
Jasper glanced at Stella, almost with an air of command, and Stella went over to Frank and laying her hand on his arm, bent and kissed him.
“It must be so, dear,” she said in a low tremulous whisper. “Do not ask me why, but believe it. It is as he has said, inevitable. Every word from you in the shape of a question will add to my mis—will only pain me. Do not speak, dear, for my sake!”
He looked from one to the other, then he took her hand with a curious expression in his face.
“I will not ask,” he said. “I will be silent for your sake.”
She pressed his hand and let it drop.
“Come!” said Jasper with a smile, “that is the right way to take it, my dear Frank. Now let me say a word for myself, it is this, that you do not possess a truer friend and one more willing and anxious to serve you than Jasper Adelstone. Is that not so?” and he looked at Stella.
“Yes,” she breathed.
Frank stood with his eyes cast down; he raised them for a moment and looked Jasper full in the face, then lowered them again.
“And now,” said Jasper, with a smile and in a lighter voice, “you must take some refreshment,” and he went to the cupboard and brought out some wine. Frank turned away, but Stella, nerving and forcing herself, took the glass he extended to her and put the edge to her lips.
Jasper seemed satisfied, though he saw that she had not touched a drop.
“Let me see,” he said, taking out his watch, “there is a train back in half an hour. Shall we catch that?”
“Are you coming back with us?” said Frank in a quiet voice.
Jasper nodded.
“If you will allow me, my dear Frank,” he said, calmly. “I won’t keep you a moment.”
He rang the bell as he spoke and Scrivell entered.
There was no sign of any kind either in his face or his bearing that he was conscious of anything out of the ordinary having happened; he came in with his young old face and colorless eyes, and stood waiting patiently. Jasper handed him some letters, and gave him instructions in a business tone, then asked if the brougham was waiting.
“Yes, sir,” said Scrivell.
“Come then!” said Jasper, and Scrivell held the door open and bowed with the deepest respect as they passed out.
It was so sudden a change from the storm of passion that had just passed over them all, that Frank and Stella felt bewildered and benumbed, which was exactly as Jasper wished them to feel.
His manner was deferential and humble but fully self-possessed; he put Stella in the brougham, and insisted quietly upon Frank sitting beside her, he himself taking the front seat.
[219]
Stella shrank back into the corner, and lowered her veil. Frank sat staring out of the window, and avoiding even a glance at the face opposite him. Jasper made no attempt to break the silence, but sat, his eyes fixed on the passers-by, the calm, inscrutable expression on his face never faltering, though a triumph ran through his veins.
The train was waiting, and he put them into a carriage, lowered the window and drew the curtain for Stella, and at the last moment bought a bunch of flowers at the refreshment-bar, and laid it beside her. Then he got in and unfolded a newspaper and looked through it.
Scarcely a word was spoken during the whole journey; it was an express train, but it seemed ages to Stella before it drew up at Wyndward Station.
Jasper helped her to alight, she just touching his hand with her gloved fingers, and they walked across the meadow. As they came in sight of the Hall, shining whitely in the evening sunlight, Stella raised her eyes and looked at it, and a cold hand seemed to grasp her heart. As if he knew what was passing in her mind, Jasper took her sunshade and put it up.
“The sun is still hot,” he said; and he held it so as to shut the hall from her sight.
They came to the lane—to the spot where Stella had stood up on the bank and looked down at the upturned eyes which she had learned to love; she breathed a silent prayer that she might never see them again.
Jasper opened the gate, and a smile began to form on his lips.
“Prepare for a scolding,” he said, lightly. “You must put all the blame on me.”
But there was no scolding; the old man was seated in his arm-chair, and eyed them with mild surprise and anxiety.
“Stella,” he said, “where have you been? We have been very anxious. How pale and tired you look!”
Jasper almost stepped before her to screen her.
“It is all my fault, my dear sir,” he said. “Lay the blame on me. I ought to have known better, I admit, but I met the young people on their morning stroll and tempted them to take a run to town. It was done on the spur of the moment. You must forgive us!”
Mr. Etheridge looked from one to the other and patted Stella’s arm.
“You must ask Mrs. Penfold,” he said, with a smile. “She will be difficult to appease, I’m afraid. We have been very anxious. It was—well, unlike you, Stella.”
“I hope I shall be able to appease Mrs. Penfold,” said Jasper. “I want her good word; I know she has some influence with you, sir.”
He paused, and the old man looked up, struck by some significance in his tone.
Jasper stood looking down at him with a little smile of pleading interrogation.
“I have come as a suppliant for your forgiveness on more accounts[220] than one,” he continued. “I have dared to ask Stella to be my wife, sir.”
Stella started, but still looked out beyond him at the green hills and the water glowing in the sunset. Mr. Etheridge put his hand on her head and turned her face.
“Stella!”
“You wish to know what she has answered, sir,” said Jasper to spare Stella making any reply. “With a joy I cannot express, I am able to say that she has answered ‘Yes.'”
“Is that so, my dear?” murmured the old man.
Stella’s head drooped.
“This—this—surprises me!” he said in a low voice. “But if it is so, if you love him, my dear, I will not say ‘No.’ Heaven bless you, Stella!” and his hand rested upon her head.
There was silence for a moment, then he started and held out his other hand to Jasper.
“You are a fortunate man, Jasper,” he said. “I hope, I trust you will make her happy!”
Jasper’s small eyes glistened.
“I will answer for it with my life,” he said.

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