Jasper Adelstone was in love

Jasper Adelstone was in love.
It was some time before he would bring himself to admit it even to himself, for he was wont to pride himself on his superiority to all attacks of the tender passion.
Often and often had he amused himself and his chosen companions by ridiculing the conditions of those weak mortals who allowed themselves to be carried away by what he termed a weak and contemptible affection for the other sex.
Marriage, he used to say, was entirely a matter of business. A man didn’t marry until he was obliged, and then only did so to better himself. As to love, and that kind of thing—well, it was an exploded idea—a myth which had died out; at any rate, too absurd a thing altogether for a man possessed of common sense—for such a man, for instance, as Jasper Adelstone. He had seen plenty of pretty women and was received by them with anything but disfavor. He was good-looking, almost handsome, and would have been that if he could have got rid of the sharp, cunning glint of his small eyes; and he was clever and accomplished. He was just the man, it would have been supposed, to fall a victim to the tender passion; but he had stuck fast by his principles, and gone stealthily along the road to success, with his cold smile ready for everyone in general, and not a warm beam in his heart for anyone in particular.
And now! Yes, he was in love—in love as deeply, unreasoningly, as impulsively as the veriest school-boy.
This was very annoying! It would have been very annoying if the object of his passion had been an heiress or the lady of title whom he had in his inmost mind determined to marry, if he married at all; for he would have preferred to have attained to his ambition without any awkward and inconvenient love-making.
[113]
But the girl who had inspired him with this sudden and unreasoning passion was, much to his disgust, neither an heiress nor an offshoot of nobility.
She was a mere nobody—the niece of an obscure painter! She was not even in society!
There was no good to be got by marrying her, none whatever. She could not help him a single step on his ambitious path through life. On the first evening of his meeting with Stella, when the beauty, and, more than her beauty, the nameless charm of her bright, pure freshness, overwhelmed and startled him, he took himself to task very seriously.
“Jasper,” he said, “you won’t go and make a fool of yourself, I hope! She is entirely out of your line. She is only a pretty girl; you’ve seen a score, a hundred as pretty, or prettier; and she’s a mere nobody! Oh, no, you won’t make a fool of yourself—you’ll go back to town to-morrow morning.”
But he did not go back to town; instead, he went into the conservatory at the Rectory, and made up a bouquet and took it to the cottage, and sank deeper still into the mire of foolishness, as he would have called it.
But even then it was not too late. He might have escaped even then by dint of calling up his selfish nature and thinking of all his ambitions; but Stella unfortunately roused—what was more powerful in him than his sudden love—his self-conceit.
She actually dared to defend Lord Leycester Wyndward!
That was almost the finishing stroke, unwittingly dealt by Stella, and he went away inwardly raging with incipient jealousy.
But the last straw was yet to come that should break the back of all his prudent resolves, and that was the meeting with Stella and Lord Leycester in the river-woods, and Lord Leycester’s attack on him.
That moment—the moment when he lay on the ground looking up at the dark, handsome, angry, and somewhat scornful face of the young peer—Jasper Adelstone registered a vow.
He vowed that come what would, by fair means or foul, he would have Stella.
He vowed that he would snatch her from the haughty and fiery young lord who had dared to hurl him, Jasper, to the dust and insult him.
What love he already possessed for her suddenly sprang up into a fierce flame of jealous passion, and as he rode home to the Rectory he repeated that vow several times, and at once, without the loss of an hour, began to hunt about for some means to fulfill it.
He was no fool, this Jasper Adelstone, for all his conceit, and he knew the immense odds against him if Lord Leycester really meant anything by his attention to Stella; he knew what fearful advantages Leycester held—all the Court cards were in his hands. He was handsome, renowned, noble, wealthy—a suitor whom the highest in the land would think twice about before refusing.
He almost guessed, too, that Stella already loved Leycester;[114] he had seen her face turned to the young lord—had heard her voice as she spoke to him.
He ground his teeth together with vicious rage as he thought of the difference between her way of speaking to him and to Leycester.
“But she shall speak to me, look at me like that before the game is over,” he swore to himself. “I can afford to wait for my opportunity; it will come, and I shall know how to use it. Curse him! Yes, I am determined now. I will take him from her.”
It was a bold, audacious resolution; but then Jasper was both bold and audacious in the most dangerous of ways, in the cold, calculating manner of a cunning, unscrupulous man.
He was clever—undoubtedly clever; he had been very successful, and had made that success by his own unaided efforts. Already, young as he was, he was beginning to be talked about. When people were in any great difficulty in his branch of the law, they went to him, sure of finding him cool, ready, and capable.
His chambers in the inn held a little museum of secrets—secrets about persons of rank and standing, who were supposed to be quite free from such inconvenient things as skeletons in cupboards.
People came to him when they were in any social fix; when they owed more money than they could pay; when they wanted a divorce, or were anxious to hush up some secret, whose threatened disclosure involved shame and disgrace, and Jasper Adelstone was always ready with sound advice, and, better still, some subtle scheme or plan.
Yes, he was a successful man, and had failed so seldom—almost never—that he felt he could be confident in this matter, too.
“I have always done well for others,” he thought. “I have gained some difficult points for other people; now I will undertake this difficult matter for myself.”
tumblr_ogfhb8dlvv1qzoqofo1_1280He went home to the Rectory and pondered, recalling all he knew of old Etheridge. It was very little, and the rector could tell him no more than he knew already.
James Etheridge lived the life of a recluse, appearing to have no friends or relations save Stella; nothing was known about his former life. He had come down into the quiet valley some years ago, and settled at once in the mode of existence which was palpable to all.
“Is he, was he, ever married?” asked Jasper.
The rector thought not.
“I don’t know,” he said. “He certainly hasn’t been married down here. I don’t think anything is known about him.”
And with this Jasper had to be content. All the next day, after his meeting with Stella and Leycester, he strolled about the meadows hoping to see her, but failed. He knew he ought to be in London, but he could not tear himself away.
His arm felt a little stiff, and though there was nothing else the matter with it, he bound it up and hung it in a sling, explaining to the rector that he had fallen from his horse.
[115]
Then he heard of the party at the Hall, and grinding his teeth with envy and malice, he stole into the lane and watched Stella start.
In his eyes she looked doubly beautiful since he had sworn to have her, and he wandered about the lane and meadows thinking of her, and thinking, too, of Lord Leycester all that evening, waiting for her to return, to get one look at her.
Fortune favored him with more than a look, for while he was waiting the boy from the post-office came down the lane, and Jasper, with very little difficulty, persuaded him to give up the telegram to his keeping.
I am sorry to say that Jasper was very much tempted to open that telegram, and if he resisted the temptation, it was not in consequence of any pangs of conscience, but because he thought that it would scarcely be worth while.
“It is only some commission for a picture,” he said to himself. “People don’t communicate secretly by telegram excepting in cipher.”
So he delivered it unopened as we know, but when he heard that sudden exclamation of the old man’s he was heartily sorry he had not opened it.
When he parted from Stella at the gate, he walked off down the lane, but only until out of sight, and then returned under the shadow of the hedge and waited.
He could see into the studio, and see the old man sitting in the chair bowed with sorrow; and Stella’s graceful figure hovering about him.
“There was something worth knowing in that telegram,” he muttered. “I was a fool not to make myself acquainted with it. What will he do now?”
He thought the question out, still watching, and the old man’s movements seen plainly through the lighted windows—for Stella had only drawn the muslin curtain too hurriedly and imperfectly—afforded an answer.
“He is going up to town,” he muttered.
He knew that there was an early market train, and felt sure that the old man was going by it.
Hastily glancing at his watch, he set his hat firmly on his head, dipped his arm out of the sling, and ran toward the Rectory; entering by a side door he went to his room, took a bag containing some papers, secured his coat and umbrella, and leaving a note on the breakfast-table to the effect that he was suddenly obliged to go to town, made for the station.
As he did not wish to be seen, he kept in the shadow and waited, and was rewarded in a few minutes by the appearance of Mr. Etheridge.
There was no one on the station beside themselves, and Jasper had no difficulty in keeping out of the old man’s way. A sleepy porter sauntered up and down, yawning and swinging his lantern, and Jasper decided that he wouldn’t trouble him by taking a ticket.
The train came up, Mr. Etheridge got into a first-class carriage,[116] and Jasper, waiting until the last moment, sprang into one at the further end of the train.
“Never mind the ticket,” he said to the porter. “I’ll pay at the other end.”
The train was an express from Wyndward, and Jasper, who knew how to take care of himself, pulled the curtains closed, drew a traveling cap from his bag, and curling himself up went to sleep, while the old man, a few carriages further off, sat with his white head bowed in sorrowful and wakeful meditation.
When the train arrived at the terminus, Jasper, awaking from a refreshing sleep, drew aside the curtain and watched Mr. Etheridge get out, waited until he approached the cab-stand, then following up behind him nearer, heard him tell the cabman to drive him to King’s Hotel, Covent Garden.
Then Jasper called a cab and drove to the square in which his chambers were situated, dismissed the cab, and saw it crawl away out of sight, and climbed up the staircase which served as the approach to the many doors which lined the narrow grim passages.
On one of these doors his name was inscribed in black letters; he opened this door with a key, struck a light, and lit a candle which stood on a ledge, and entered a small room which served for the purpose of a clerk’s office and a client’s waiting-room.
Beyond this, and communicating by a green baize door, was his own business-room, but there were still other rooms behind, one his living-room, another in which he slept, and beyond that a smaller room.
He entered this, and holding the light on high allowed its rays to fall upon a man lying curled up on a small bed.
He was a very small man, with a thin, parchment-lined face, crowned by closely-cropped hair, which is ambiguously described as auburn.
This was Jasper’s clerk, factotum, slave. He it was who sat in the outer office and received the visitors, and ushered them into Jasper’s presence or put them off with excuses.
He was a singular-looking man, no particular age or individuality. Some of Jasper’s friends were often curious as to where Jasper had picked him up, but Jasper always evaded the question or put it by with some jest, and Scrivell’s antecedents remained a mystery.
That he was a devoted and never tiring servant was palpable to all; in Jasper’s presence he seemed to live only to obey his will and anticipate his wishes. Now, at the first touch of Jasper’s hand, the man started and sat bolt upright, screening his eyes from the light and staring at Jasper expectantly.
“Awake, Scrivell?” asked Jasper.
“Yes, sir, quite,” was the reply; and indeed he looked as if he had been on the alert for hours past.
“That’s right. I want you. Get up and dress and come into the next room. I’ll leave the candle.”
“You needn’t, sir,” was the reply. “I can see.”
Jasper nodded.
[117]
“I believe you can—like a cat,” he said, and carried the card with him.
In a few minutes—in a very few minutes—the door opened and Scrivell entered.
He looked wofully thin and emaciated, was dressed in an old but still respectable suit of black, and might have been taken for an old man but for the sharp, alert look in his gray eyes, and the sandy hair, which showed no signs of gray.
Jasper was sitting before his dressing-table opening his letters, which he had carried in from the other room.
“Oh, here you are,” he said. “I want you to go out.”
Scrivell nodded.
“Do you know King’s Hotel, Covent Garden?” asked Jasper.
“King’s? Yes, sir.”
“Well, I want you to go down there.”
He paused, but he might have known the man would not express any surprise.
“Yes, sir,” he said, as coolly as if Jasper had told him to go to bed again.
“I want you to go down there and keep a look-out for me. A gentleman has just driven there, an old man, rather bent, with long white hair. Understand?”
“Yes,” was the quiet reply.
“He will probably go out the first thing, quite early. I want to know where he goes.”
“Only the first place he goes to?” was the question.
Jasper hesitated.
“Suppose you keep an eye upon him generally till, say one o’clock, then come back to me. I want to know his movements, you understand, Scrivell!”
“I understand, sir,” was the answer. “Any name?”
Jasper hesitated a moment, and a faint color came into his face. Somehow he was conscious of a strange reluctance to mention the name—her name; but he overcame it.
“Yes, Etheridge,” he said, quietly, “but that doesn’t matter. Don’t make any inquiries at the hotel or elsewhere, if you can help it.”
“Very good, sir,” said the man, and noiselessly he turned and left the room.
Little did Stella, dreaming in the cottage by the sweet smelling meadows and the murmuring river, think that the first woof of the web which Jasper Adelstone was spinning for her was commenced that night in the grim chambers of Lincoln’s-inn.
As little did Lady Wyndward guess, as she lay awake, vainly striving to find some means of averting the consequences of her son’s “infatuation” for the painter’s niece, that a keener and less scrupulous mind had already set to work in the same direction.

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Lord Leycester stood for a minute or two looking after the carriage that bore Stella and her uncle away

Lord Leycester stood for a minute or two looking after the carriage that bore Stella and her uncle away; then he returned to the house. They were a hot-headed race, these Wyndwards, and Leycester was, to put it mildly, as little capable of prudence or calculation as any of his line; but though his heart was beating fast, and the vision of the beautiful girl in all her young unstained loveliness danced before his eyes as he crossed the hall, even he paused a moment to consider the situation. With a grim smile he felt forced to confess that it was rather a singular one.
The heir of Wyndward, the hope of the house, the heir to an ancient name and a princely estate, had plighted his troth to the niece of a painter—a girl, be she beautiful as she might, without either rank or wealth, to recommend her to his parents!
He might have chosen from the highest and the wealthiest; the highest and the wealthiest had been, so to speak, at his feet. He knew that no dearer wish existed in his mother’s heart of hearts than that he should marry and settle. Well, he was going to marry and settle. But what a marriage and settlement it would be! Instead of adding luster to the already illustrious name, instead of adding power to the already influential race of Wyndward, it would, in the earl and countess’s eyes, in the opinion of the world, be nothing but a mesalliance.
He paused in the corridor, the two footmen eying him with covert and respectful attention, and a smile curved his lips as he pictured to himself the manner in which the proud countess would receive his avowal of love for Stella Etheridge, the painter’s niece.
Even as it was, he was quite conscious that he had gone very far indeed this evening toward provoking the displeasure of the countess. He had almost neglected the brilliant gathering for the sake of this unknown girl; he had left his mother’s oldest friends, even Lady Lenore herself, to follow Stella. How would they receive him?
With a smile half-defiant, half anticipatory of amusement, he motioned to the servants to withdraw the curtain, and entered the room.
Some of the ladies had already retired; Lady Longford had gone for one, but Lady Lenore still sat on her couch attended by a circle of devoted adherents. As he entered, the countess,[103] without seeming to glance at him, saw him, and noticed the peculiar expression on his face.
It was the expression which it always wore when he was on the brink of some rashly mad exploit.
Leycester had plenty of courage—too much, some said. He walked straight up to the countess, and stood over her.
“Well, mother,” he said, almost as if he were challenging her, “what do you think of her?”
The countess lifted her serene eyes and looked at him. She would not pretend to be ignorant of whom he meant.
“Of Miss Etheridge?” she said. “I have not thought about her. If I had, I should say that she was a very pleasant-looking girl.”
“Pleasant-looking!” he echoed, and his eyebrows went up. “That is a mild way of describing her. She is more than pleasant.”
“That is enough for a young girl in her position,” said the countess.
“Or in any,” said a musical voice behind him, and Lord Leycester, turning round, saw Lady Lenore.
“That was well said,” he said, nodding.
“She is more than pleasant,” said Lady Lenore, smiling at him as if he had won her warmest approbation by neglecting her all the evening. “She is very pretty, beautiful, indeed, and so—may I say the word, dear Lady Wyndward?—so fresh!”
The countess smiled with her even brows unclouded.
“A school-girl should be fresh, as you put it Lenore, or she is nothing.”
Lord Leycester looked from one to the other, and his gaze rested on Lady Lenore’s superb beauty with a complacent eye.
To say that a man in love is blind to all women other than the one of his heart is absurd. It is not true. He had never admired Lady Lenore more than he did this moment when she spoke in Stella’s defense; but he admired her while he loved Stella.
“You are right, Lenore,” he said. “She is beautiful.”
“I admire her exceedingly,” said Lady Lenore, smiling at him as if she knew his secret and approved of it.
The countess glanced from one to the other.
“It is getting late,” she said. “You must go now, Lenore.”
Lady Lenore bowed her head. She, like all else who came within the circle of the mistress of Wyndward, obeyed her.
“Very well, I am a little tired. Good-night!”
Lord Leycester took her hand, but held it a moment. He felt grateful to her for the word spoken on Stella’s behalf.
“Let me see you to the corridor,” said Lord Leycester.
And with a bow which comprehended the other occupants of the room, he accompanied her.
They walked in silence to the foot of the stairs, then Lady Lenore held out her hand.
“Good-night,” she said, “and happy dreams.”
He looked at her curiously. Was there any significance in her[104] words?—did she know all that had passed between Stella and himself?
But nothing more significant met his scrutiny than the soft languor of her eyes, and pressing her hand as he bent over it, he murmured:
“I wish you the same.”
She nodded smilingly to him, and went away, and he turned back to the hall.
As he did so the billiard-room door opened, and Lord Charles put out his head.
“One game, Ley?” he said.
Lord Leycester shook his head.
“Not to-night, Charlie.”
Lord Charles looked at him, then laughed, and withdrew his head.
Leycester sauntered down the hall and back again; he felt very restless and disinclined for bed; Stella’s voice was ringing in his ears, Stella’s lips still clung with that last soft caress to his. He could not face the laughter and hard voices of the billiard-room; it would be profanation! With a sudden turn he went lightly up the stairs and entered his own room.
Throwing himself into a chair, he folded his arms behind his head and closed his eyes, to call up a vision of the girl who had rested on his breast—whose sweet, pure lips had murmured “I love you!”
“My darling!” he whispered—”my darling love! I have never known it till now. And I shall see you to-morrow, and hear you whisper that again, ‘I love you!’ And it’s ME she loves, not the viscount and heir to Wyndward, but me, Leycester! Leycester—it was a hard, ugly name until she spoke it—now it sounds like music. Stella, my star, my angel!”
Suddenly his reverie was disturbed by a knock at the door. With a start, he came back to reality, and got up, but before he could reach the door it opened, and the countess came in.
“Not in bed?” she said, with a smile.
“I have only just come up,” he replied.
The countess smiled again.
“You have been up nearly half an hour.”
He was almost guilty of a blush.
“So long!” he said, “I must have been thinking.”
And he laughed, as he drew a chair forward. He waited until she was seated before he resumed his own; never, by word or deed, did he permit himself to grow lax in courtesy to her; and then he looked up at her with a smile.
“Have you come for a chat, my lady?” he said, calling her by her title in the mock-serious way in which he was accustomed to address her when they were alone.
“Yes, I have come for a chat, Leycester,” she said, quietly.
“Does that mean a scold?” he asked, raising his eyebrows, but still smiling. “Your tone is suspicious, mother. Well, I am at your mercy.”
“I have nothing to scold you for,” said the countess, leaning[105] back in the comfortable chair—all the chairs were comfortable in these rooms of his. “Do you feel that you deserve one?”
Lord Leycester was silent. If he had answered he might have been compelled to admit that perhaps there was some excuse for complaint in regard to his conduct that evening; silence was safest.
“No, I have not come to scold you, Leycester. I don’t think I have ever done that,” said the countess, softly.
“No, you have been the best of mothers, my lady,” he responded. “I never saw you in an ill temper in my life; perhaps that is why you look so young. You do look absurdly young, you know,” he added, gazing at her with affectionate admiration.
When the countess seemed lost in thought, Leycester added:
“Devereux says that the majority of English wives and mothers look so girlish that he believes it must be the custom to marry them when they are children.”
The countess smiled.
“Lord Devereux is master of fine phrases, Leycester. Yes, I was married very young.”
Then she looked round the room: a strange reluctance to commence the task she had set herself took possession of her.
“You have made your rooms very pretty, Leycester.”
He leant back, watching her with a smile.
“You haven’t come to talk about my rooms, mother.”
Then she straightened herself for her work.
“No, Leycester, I have come to talk about you.”
“Rather an uninteresting subject. However, proceed.”
“You may make it very hard for me,” said the countess, with a little sigh.
He smiled.
“Then you have come to scold?”
“No, only to advise.”
“That is generally the same thing under another name.”
“I do not often do it,” said the countess, in a low voice.
“Forgive me,” he said, stooping forward and kissing her. “Now, mother, fire away. What is it? Not about that race money—you don’t want me to give up the horses?”
The countess smiled almost scornfully.
“Why should I, Leycester; they cost a great deal of money, but if they amuse you, why——” and she shrugged her shoulders slightly.
“They do cost a great deal of money,” he said, with a laugh, “but I don’t know that they amuse me very much. I don’t think anything amuses me very greatly.”
Then the countess looked at him.
“When a man talks like that, Leycester, it generally means that it is time he was married!”
He half expected what was coming, but he looked grave; nevertheless he turned to her with a smile.
“Isn’t that rather a desperate remedy, my lady?” he said. “I can give up my horses if they cease to amuse me and bore me too much; I can give up most of the other so-called amusements,[106] but marriage—supposing that should fail? It would be rather serious.”
“Why should it fail?”
“It does sometimes,” he retorted, gravely.
“Not when love enters into it,” she answered, gently.
He was silent, his eyes bent on the ground, from which seemed to rise a slim, girlish figure, with Stella’s face and eyes.
“There is no greater happiness than that which marriage affords when one is married to the person one loves. Do you think your father has been unhappy, Leycester?”
He turned to her with a smile.
“Every man—few men have his luck, my lady. Will you find me another Lady Ethel?”
She colored. This was a direct question, and she longed to answer it, but she dared not—not just yet.
“The world is full of fond, loving women,” she said.
He nodded. He thought he knew one at least, and his eyes went to that mental vision of Stella again.
“Leycester, I want to see you married and settled,” she murmured, after a pause. “It is time; it is fitting that you should be. I’ll put the question of your own happiness aside for the moment; there are other things at stake.”
“You would not like me to be the last Earl of Wyndward, mother? The title would die with me, would it not?”
“Yes,” she said. “That must not be, Leycester.”
He shook his head with a quiet smile. No, it should not be, he thought.
“I wonder,” she continued, “that the thing has not come about before this, and without any word of mine. I don’t think you are very hard-hearted, unimpressionable, Leycester. You and I have met some beautiful women, and some good and pure ones. I should not have been surprised if you had come to me with the confession of your conquest long ago. You would have come to me, would you not, Leycester?” she asked.
A faint flush stole over his face, and his eyes dropped slightly. He did not answer for a moment, and she went on as if he had assented.
“I should have been very glad to have heard of it. I should have welcomed your choice very heartily.”
“Are you sure?” he said, almost mechanically.
“Quite,” she answered, serenely. “Your wife will be a second daughter to me, I hope, Leycester. I know that I should love her if you do; are we ever at variance?”
“Never until to-night,” he might have answered, but he remained silent.
What if he should turn to her with the frank openness with which he had gone to her in all his troubles and joys, and say:
“I have made my choice—welcome her. She is Stella Etheridge, the painter’s daughter.”
But he could not do this; he knew so well how she would have looked at him, saw already with full prophetic insight the calm, serene smile of haughty incredulity with which she would have received his demand. He was silent.
[107]
“You wonder why I speak to you about this to-night, Leycester?”
“A little,” he said, with a smile that had very little mirth in it; he felt that he was doing what he had never done before—concealing his heart from her, meeting her with secrecy and evasion, and his proud, finely-tempered mind revolted at the necessity for it. “A little. I was just considering that I had not grown older by a score of years, and had not been doing anything particularly wild. Have they been telling you any dreadful stories about me, mother, and persuading you that matrimony is the only thing to save me from ruin?” and he laughed.
The countess colored.
“No one tells me any stories respecting you, Leycester, for the simple reason that I should not listen to them. I have nothing to do with—with your outer life, unless you yourself make me part and parcel of it. I am not afraid that you will do anything bad or dishonorable, Leycester.”
“Thanks,” he said, quietly. “Then what is it, mother? Why does this advice press so closely on your soul that you feel constrained to unburden yourself?”
“Because I feel that the time has come,” she said; “because I have your happiness and welfare so closely at heart that I am obliged to watch over you, and secure them for you if I can.”
“There never was a mother like you!” he said, gently. “But this is a serious step, my lady, and I am—shall I say slightly unprepared. You speak to me as if I were a sultan, and had but to throw my handkerchief at any fair maid whom I may fancy, to obtain her!”
The countess looked at him, and for a moment all her passionate pride in him shone in her eyes.
“Is there no one to whom you think you could throw that handkerchief, Leycester?” she asked, significantly.
His face flushed, and his eyes glowed. At that moment he felt the warm lips of his girl-love resting on his own.
“That is a blunt question, my lady,” he said; “would it be fair to reply, fair to her, supposing that there be one?”
“In whom should you confide but in me?” said the countess, with a touch of hauteur in her voice, hauteur softened by love.
He looked down and turned the ruby ring on his finger. If he could but confide in her!
“In whom else but in me, from whom you have, I think, had few secrets? If your choice is made, you would come to me, Leycester? I think you would; I cannot imagine your acting otherwise. You see I have no fear”—and she smiled—”no fear that your choice would be anything but a good and a wise one. I know you so well, Leycester. You have been wild—you yourself said it, not I!”
“Yes,” he said, quietly.
“But through it all you have not forgotten the race from whence you sprung, the name you bear. No, I do not fear that[108] most disastrous of all mistakes which a man in your position can make—a mesalliance.”
He was silent, but his brows drew together.
“You speak strangely, my lady,” he said, almost grimly.
“Yes,” she assented, calmly, serenely, but with a grave intensity in her tone which lent significance to every word—”yes, I feel strongly. Every mother who has a son in your position feels as strongly, I doubt not. There are few mad things that you can do which will not admit of remedy and rectification; one of them, the worst of them, is a foolish marriage.”
“Marriages are made in heaven,” he murmured.
“No,” she said, gently, “a great many are made in a very different place. But why need we talk of this? We might as well discuss whether it would be wise of you to commit manslaughter, or burglary, or suicide, or any other vulgar crime—and indeed a mesalliance would, in your case, strongly resemble one, suicide; it would be social suicide, at least; and from what I know of your nature, Leycester, I do not think that would suit you.”
“I think not,” he said, grimly. “But, mother, I am not contemplating a matrimonial union with one of the dairymaids, not at present.”
She smiled.
“You might commit a mesalliance with one in higher position, Leycester. But why do we talk of this?”
“I think you commenced it,” he said.
“Did I?” she said, sweetly. “I beg your pardon. I feel as if I had insulted you by the mere chance mention of such a thing; and I have tired you, too.”
And she rose with queenly grace.
“No, no,” he said, rising, “I am very grateful, mother; you will believe that?”
“Will you be more than that?” she asked, putting her hand on his shoulder, and sliding it round his neck. “Will you be obedient?”
And she smiled at him lovingly.
“Will I get out the handkerchief, do you mean?” he asked, looking at her with a curious gaze.
“Yes,” she replied; “make me happy by throwing it.”
“And suppose,” he said, “that the favored damsel declines the honor?”
“We will risk that,” she murmured, with a smile.
He laughed.
“One would think you had already chosen, mother,” he said.
She looked at him, with the smile still shining in her eyes and on her lips.
“Suppose I have? There is no matchmaker like a mother.”
He started.
“You have? You surprise me! May one ask on whom your choice has fallen, sultaness?”
“Think,” she said, in a low voice.
[109]
“I am thinking very deeply,” he answered, with hidden meaning.
“If I were left to choose for you, I should be very exacting, Leycester, don’t you think?”
“I am afraid so,” he said, with a smile. “Every goose thinks her bantling a swan, and would mate it with an eagle. Forgive me, mother!”
She inclined her head.
“I should require much. I should want beauty, wealth——”
“Of which we have too much already. Go on.”
“Rank, and what is still better, a high position. The Wyndwards cannot troop with crows, Leycester.”
“Beauty, wealth, rank, and a mysterious sort of position. A princess, perhaps, my lady?”
tumblr_o5ezn8n9ol1uqlhgjo1_1280A proud light shone in her eyes.
“I should not feel abased in the presence of a princess, if you brought her to me,” she said, with that serene hauteur which characterized her. “No, I am satisfied with less than that, Leycester.”
“I am relieved,” he said, smiling. “And this exalted personage—paragon I should say—who is she?”
“Look round—you need not strain your vision,” she returned: “I can see her now. Oh, blind, blind! that you cannot see her also! She whom I see is more than all these; she is a woman with a loving heart in her bosom, that needs but a word to set it beating for—you!”
His face flushed.
“I can think of no one,” he said. “You make one ashamed, mother.”
“I need not tell you her name, then?” she said.
But he shook his head.
“I must know it now, I think,” he said, gravely.
She was silent a moment, then she said in a low voice:
“It is Lenore, Leycester.”
He drew away from her, so that her arm fell from his shoulder, and looked her full in the face.
Before him rose the proud, imperial figure, before him stood the lovely face of Lenore, with its crown of golden hair, and its deep, eloquent eyes of violet, and beside it, hovering like a spirit, the face of his girl-love.
The violet eyes seemed to gaze at him with all the strength of conscious loveliness, seemed to bend upon him with a glance of defiance, as if they said—”I am here, waiting: I smile, you cannot resist me!” and the dark, tender eyes beside them seemed to turn upon him with gentle, passionate pleading, praying him to be constant and faithful.
“Lenore!” he said, in a low voice. “Mother, ought you to have said this?”
She did not shrink from his almost reproachful gaze.
“Why should I hesitate when my son’s happiness is at stake?” she said, calmly. “If I saw a treasure, some pearl of great price, lying at your feet, and felt that you were passing it by unnoticed and disregarded, should I be wrong in speaking the word[110] that would place it in your grasp? Your happiness is my—life Leycester! If ever there was a treasure, a pearl of great price among women, it is Lenore. Are you passing her by? You will not do that!”
Never, since he could remember, had he seen her so moved. Her voice was calm and even, as usual, but her eyes were warm with an intense earnestness, the diamonds trembled on her neck.
He stood before her, looking away beyond her, a strange trouble at his heart. For the first time he saw—he appreciated, rather—the beautiful girl whom, as it were, she held up to his mental gaze. But that other, that girl-love whose lips still seemed to murmur, “I love you, Leycester!” What of her!
With a sudden start he moved away.
“I do not think you should have spoken,” he said. “You cannot know——”
The countess smiled.
“A mother’s eyes are quick,” she said. “A word and the pearl is at your feet, Leycester.”
He was but a man, warm-blooded and impressionable, and for a moment his face flushed, but the “I love you” still rang in his ears.
“If that be so, all the more cause for silence, mother,” he said. “But I hope you are mistaken.”
“I am not mistaken,” she said. “Do you think,” and she smiled, “that I should have spoken if I had not been sure? Oh, Leycester,” and she moved toward him, “think of her! Is there any beauty so beautiful as hers; is there any one woman you have ever met who possessed a tithe of her charms! Think of her as the head of the house; think of her in my place——”
He put up his hand.
“Think of her,” she went on, quickly, “as your own, your very own! Leycester, there is no man born who could turn away from her!”
Almost involuntarily he turned and went to the fireplace, and leant upon it.
“There is no man, who, so turning, but would in time give all that he possessed to come back to her!”
Then her voice changed.
“Leycester, you have been very good. Are you angry?”
“No,” he said, and he went to her; “not angry, but—but troubled. You think only of me, but I think of Lenore.”
“Think of her still!” she said; “and be sure that I have made no mistake. If you doubt me, put it to the test——”
He started.
“And you will find that I am right. I am going now, Leycester. Good-night!” and she kissed him.
He went to the door and opened it; his face was pale and grave.
“Good-night,” he said, gently. “You have given me something to think of with a vengeance,” and he forced a smile.
She went out without a word. Her maid was waiting for her in her dressing-room, but she passed into the inner room and[111] sank down in a chair, and for the first time her face was pale, and her eyes anxious.
“It has gone further than I thought,” she murmured. “I, who know every look in his eyes, read his secret. But it shall not be. I will save him yet. But how? but how?”
Poor Stella!
Lord Leicester, left alone, fell to pacing the room, his brow bent, his mind in a turmoil.
He loved his mother with a passionate devotion, part and parcel of his nature. Every word she had said had sunk into his mind; he loved her, and he knew her; he knew that she would rather die than give her consent to his marriage with such an one as Stella, pure and good and sweet though she was.
He was greatly troubled, but he stood firm.
“Come what will,” he murmured, “I cannot part with her. She is my treasure and pearl of great price, and I have not passed her by. My darling!”
Suddenly, breaking into his reverie, came a knock at the door.
He went to open it but it opened before he could reach it, and Lord Charles walked in.
There was a smile on his handsome, light-hearted face, which barely hid an expression of affectionate sympathy.
“Anything the matter, old man?” he said, closing the door.
“Yes—no—not much—why?” said Leycester, forcing a smile.
“Why!” echoed Lord Charles, thrusting his hands into the huge pockets of his dressing-gown, and eying him with mock reproach. “Can you ask when you remember that my room is exactly underneath yours, and that it sounds as if you had turned this into the den of a traveling menagerie? What are you wearing the carpet out for, Ley?” and he sat down and looked up at the troubled face with that frank sincerity which invites confidence.
“I’m in a fix,” said Leycester.
“Come on,” said Lord Charles, curtly.
“I can’t. You can’t help me in this,” said Leycester, with a sigh.
Lord Charles rose at once.
“Then I’ll go. I wish I could. What have you been doing, Ley?—something to-night, I expect. Never mind; if I can help you, you’ll let me know.”
Leycester threw him a cigar-case.
“Sit down and smoke, Charlie,” he said. “I can’t open my mind, but I want to think, and you’ll help me. Is it late?”
“Awfully,” said Lord Charles with a yawn. “What a jolly evening it has been. I say, Ley, haven’t you been carrying it on rather thick with that pretty girl with the dark eyes?”
Leycester paused in his task of lighting a cigar, and looked down at him.
“Which girl?” he said, with a little touch of hauteur in his face.
“The painter’s niece,” said Lord Charles. “What a beautiful girl she is! Reminds me of a what-do-you-call-it.”
“What is that?”
[112]
“A—a gazelle. It’s rather a pity that she should be intended for that saucy lawyer fellow.”
“What?” asked Lord Leycester, quietly.
“Haven’t you heard?” said Lord Charles, grimly. “The fellows were talking about it in the billiard-room.”
“About what?” demanded Lord Leycester, still quietly, though his eyes glittered. Stella the common talk of the billiard-room. It was desecration.
“Oh, it was Longford, he knows the man!”
“What man?”
“This Jasper Adelstone she is engaged to.”
Lord Leycester held the cigar to his lips, and his teeth closed over it with a sudden fierce passion.
Coming upon all that had passed, this was the last straw.
“It’s a lie!” he said.
Lord Charles looked up with a start, then his face grew grave.
“Perhaps so,” he said; “but, after all, it can’t matter to you, Ley.”
Lord Leycester turned away in silence.

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Stella came to him quickly, with a little cry of dismay

“What shall I do?” exclaimed Mr. Etheridge.
Stella came to him quickly, with a little cry of dismay.
“What is it, uncle? Are you ill—is it bad news? Oh, what is the matter?”
And she looked up into his pale and agitated face with anxious concern.
His gaze was fixed on vacancy, but there was more than abstraction in his eyes—there was acute pain and anguish.
“What is it, dear?” she asked, laying her hand on his arm. “Pray tell me.”
At the words he started slightly, and crushed the telegram in his hand.
“No, no!” he said—”anything but that.” Then, composing himself with an effort, he pressed her hand and smiled faintly. “Yes, it is bad news, Stella; it is always bad news that a telegram brings.”
Stella led him in; his hands were trembling, and the dumb look of pain still clouded his eyes.
“Will you not tell me what it is?” she murmured, as he sank into his accustomed chair and leant his white head on his hand. “Tell me what it is, and let me help you to bear it by sharing it with you.”
And she wound her arm around his neck.
“Don’t ask me, Stella. I can’t tell you—I cannot. The shame would kill me. No! No!”
“Shame!” murmured Stella, her proud, lovely face paling, as she shrank back a little; but the next moment she pressed closer to him, with a sad smile.
tumblr_ogcpriygxm1qm31uro1_1280“Not shame for you, dear; shame and you were never meant to come together.”
[99]
He started, and raised his head.
“Yes, shame!” he repeated, almost fiercely, his hands clinched—”such bitter, debasing shame and disgrace. For the first time the name we have held for so many years will be stained and dragged in the dirt. What shall I do?” And he hid his face in his hands.
Then, with a sudden start, he rose, and looked round with trembling eagerness.
“I—I must go to London,” he said, brokenly. “What is the time? So late! Is there no train? Stella, run and ask Mrs. Penfold. I must go at once—at once; every moment is of consequence.”
“Go to London—to-night—so late? Oh, you cannot!” exclaimed Stella, aghast.
“My dear, I must,” he said more calmly. “It is urgent, most urgent business that calls for me, and I must go.”
Stella stole out of the room, and was about to wake Mrs. Penfold, when she remembered having seen a time-table in the kitchen, and stealing down-stairs again, hunted until she found it.
When she took it into the studio, she found her uncle standing with his hat on and his coat buttoned.
“Give it to me,” he said. “There is a train, an early market train that I can catch if I start at once,” and with trembling fingers he turned over the pages of the time-book. “Yes, I must go, Stella.”
“But not alone, uncle!” she implored. “Not alone, surely. You will let me come with you.”
He put his hand upon her arm and kissed her, his eyes moist.
“Stella, I must go alone; no one can help me in this matter. There are some troubles that we must meet unaided except by a Higher Power; this is one of them. Heaven bless you, my dear; you help me to bear it with your loving sympathy. I wish I could tell you, but I cannot, Stella—I cannot.”
“Do not then, dear,” she whispered. “You will not be away long?”
“Not longer than I can help,” he sighed. “You will be quite safe, Stella?”
“Safe!” and she smiled sadly.
“Mrs. Penfold must take care of you. I don’t like leaving you, but it cannot be helped! Child, I did not think to have a secret from you so soon!”
At the words Stella started, and a red flush came over her face.
She, too, had a secret, and as it flashed into her mind, from whence the sudden trouble had momentarily banished it, her heart beat fast and her eyes drooped.
“There should be no secrets between us two,” he said. “But—there—there—don’t look so troubled, my dear. I shall not be long gone.”
She clung to him to the last, until indeed the little white gate had closed behind him, then she went back to the house and sat down in his chair, and sat pondering and trembling.
[100]
For a time the secret trouble which had befallen her uncle absorbed all her mind and care, but presently the memory of all that had happened to her that evening awoke and overcame her sorrow, and she sat with clasped hands and drooping head recalling the handsome face and passionate voice of Lord Leycester.
It was all so wonderful, so unreal, that it seemed like a stage play, in which the magnificent house formed the scene and the noble men and women the players, with the tall, stalwart, graceful form of Lord Leycester for the hero. It was difficult to realize that she too took a part, so to speak, in the drama, that she was, in fact, the heroine, and that it was to her that all the passionate vows of the young lord had been spoken. She could feel his burning kisses on her lips; could feel the touch of the clinging, lingering caresses on her neck; yes, it was all real; she loved Lord Leycester, and he, strange and wonderful to add, loved her.
Why should he do it? she marveled. Who was she that he should deign to shower down upon her such fervent admiration and passionate devotion?
Mechanically she rose and went over to the Venetian mirror, and looked at the reflection which beamed softly in the dim light.
He had called her beautiful, lovely! She shook her head and smiled with a sigh as she thought of Lady Lenore. There were beauty and loveliness indeed! How had it happened that he had passed her by, and chosen her, Stella?
But it was so, and wonder, and gratitude and love welled up in her heart and filled her eyes with those tears which show that the cup of human happiness is full to overflowing. The clock struck the hour, and with a sigh, as she thought of her uncle, she turned from the glass. She felt that she could not go to bed; it was far pleasanter to sit up in the stillness and silence and think—think! To take one little incident after another, and go over it slowly and enjoyingly. She wandered about her room in this frame of mind, filled with happiness one moment as she thought of the great good which the gods had given unto her, then overwhelmed by a wave of troubled anxiety as she remembered that her uncle, the old man whose goodness to her had won her love, was speeding on the journey toward his secret trouble and sorrow.
Wandering thus she suddenly bethought her of a picture that stood with its face to the wall, and swooping down on it, as one does on a suddenly remembered treasure, she took up Leycester Wyndward’s portrait, and gazing long and eagerly at it, suddenly bent and kissed it. She knew now what the smile in those dark eyes meant; she knew now how the lovelight could flash from them.
“Uncle was right,” she murmured with a smile that was half sad. “There is no woman who could resist those eyes if they said ‘I love you.'”
She put the portrait down upon the cabinet, so that she could see it when she chose to look at it, and abstractedly began to set[101] the room in order, putting a picture straight here and setting the books upon their shelves, stopping occasionally to glance at the handsome eyes watching her from the top of the cabinet. As often happens when the mind is set on one thing and the hands upon another, she met with an accident. In one corner of the room stood a three-cornered what-not of Japanese work, inclosed by doors inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl; in attempting to set a bronze straight upon the top of this piece of furniture while she looked at the portrait of her heart’s lord and master, she let the bronze slip, and in the endeavor to save it from falling, overturned the what-not.
It fell with the usual brittle sounding crash which accompanies the overthrow of such bric-a-brac, and the doors being forced open, out poured a miscellaneous collection of valuable but useless articles.
With a little exclamation of self-reproach and dismay, Stella went down on her knees to collect the scattered curios. They were of all sorts; bits of old china from Japan, medals, and coins of ancient date, and some miniatures in carved frames.
Stella eyed each article as she picked it up with anxious criticism, but fortunately nothing appeared the worse for the downfall, and she was putting the last thing, a miniature, in its accustomed place, when the case flew open in her hand and a delicately painted portrait on ivory looked up at her. Scarcely glancing at it, she was about to replace it in the case, when an inscription on the back caught her eye, and she carried case and miniature to the light.
The portrait was that of a boy, a fair-haired boy, with a smiling mouth and laughing blue eyes. It was a pretty face, and Stella turned it over to read the inscription.
It consisted of only one word, “Frank.”
Stella looked at the face again listlessly, but suddenly something in it—a resemblance to someone whom she knew, and that intimately—flashed upon her. She looked again more curiously. Yes, there could be no doubt of it; the face bore a certain likeness to that of her uncle. Not only to her uncle, but to herself, for raising her eyes from the portrait to the mirror she saw a vague something—in expression only perhaps—looking at her from the glass as it did from the portrait.
“Frank, Frank,” she murmured; “I know no one of that name. Who can it be?”
She went back to the cabinet, and took out the other miniatures, but they were closed, and the spring which she had touched accidentally of the one of the boy she could not find in the others.
There was an air of mystery about the matter, which not a little heightened by the lateness of the hour and the solemn silence that reigned in the house, oppressed and haunted her.
With a little gesture of repudiation she put the boy’s face into its covering, and replaced it in the cabinet. As she did so she glanced up at that other face smiling down at her, and started, and a sudden thought, half-weird, half-prophetical, flashed across her mind.
[102]
It was the portrait of Lord Leycester which had greeted her on the night of her arrival, and foreshadowed all that had happened to her. Was there anything of significance in this chance discovery of the child’s face?
With a smile of self-reproach she put the fantastic idea from her, and setting the beloved face in its place amongst the other canvases, took the candle from the table, and stole quietly up-stairs.
But when she slept the boy’s face haunted her, and mingled in her dreams with that of Lord Leycester’s.

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