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Title: Only a Girl's Love
Author: Garvice, Charles
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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No. 215 (Eagle Series)

ONLY A GIRL'S LOVE

[Illustration]

by

CHARLES GARVICE

STREET & SMITH. PUBLISHERS. NEW YORK


      *      *      *      *      *      *

_Copyright Fiction by the Best Authors_

NEW EAGLE SERIES

A Big New Book Issued Weekly in this Line.

An Unequaled Collection of Modern Romances.


The books in this line comprise an unrivaled collection of copyrighted
novels by authors who have won fame wherever the English language is
spoken. Foremost among these is Mrs. Georgie Sheldon, whose works
are contained in this line exclusively. Every book in the New Eagle
Series is of generous length, of attractive appearance, and of
undoubted merit. No better literature can be had at any price. Beware
of imitations of the S. & S. novels, which are sold cheap because
their publishers were put to no expense in the matter of purchasing
manuscripts and making plates.


 ALL TITLES ALWAYS IN PRINT

 TO THE PUBLIC:--These books are sold by news dealers everywhere. If
 your dealer does not keep them, and will not get them for you, send
 direct to the publishers, in which case four cents must be added to
 the price per copy to cover postage.

    1--Queen Bess                          By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
    2--Ruby's Reward                       By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
    7--Two Keys                            By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
   12--Edrie's Legacy                      By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
   44--That Dowdy                          By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
   55--Thrice Wedded                       By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
   66--Witch Hazel                         By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
   77--Tina                                By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
   88--Virgie's Inheritance                By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
   99--Audrey's Recompense                 By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  111--Faithful Shirley                    By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  122--Grazia's Mistake                    By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  133--Max                                 By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  144--Dorothy's Jewels                    By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  155--Nameless Dell                       By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  166--The Masked Bridal                   By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  177--A True Aristocrat                   By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  188--Dorothy Arnold's Escape             By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  199--Geoffrey's Victory                  By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  210--Wild Oats                           By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  219--Lost, A Pearle                      By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  222--The Lily of Mordaunt                By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  233--Nora                                By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  244--A Hoiden's Conquest                 By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  255--The Little Marplot                  By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  266--The Welfleet Mystery                By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  277--Brownie's Triumph                   By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  282--The Forsaken Bride                  By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  288--Sibyl's Influence                   By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  291--A Mysterious Wedding Ring           By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  299--Little Miss Whirlwind               By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  311--Wedded by Fate                      By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  339--His Heart's Queen                   By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  351--The Churchyard Betrothal            By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  362--Stella Rosevelt                     By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  372--A Girl in a Thousand                By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  373--A Thorn Among Roses                 By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
         Sequel to "A Girl in a Thousand"
  382--Mona                                By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  391--Marguerite's Heritage               By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  399--Betsey's Transformation             By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  407--Esther, the Fright                  By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  415--Trixy                               By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  419--The Other Woman                          By Charles Garvice
  433--Winifred's Sacrifice                By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  440--Edna's Secret Marriage                   By Charles Garvice
  451--Helen's Victory                     By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  458--When Love Meets Love                     By Charles Garvice
  476--Earle Wayne's Nobility              By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  511--The Golden Key                      By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  512--A Heritage of Love                  By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
         Sequel to "The Golden Key"
  519--The Magic Cameo                     By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  520--The Heatherford Fortune             By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
         Sequel to "The Magic Cameo"
  531--Better Than Life                         By Charles Garvice
  537--A Life's Mistake                         By Charles Garvice
  542--Once in a Life                           By Charles Garvice
  548--'Twas Love's Fault                       By Charles Garvice
  553--Queen Kate                               By Charles Garvice
  554--Step by Step                        By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  555--Put to the Test                          By Ida Reade Allen
  556--With Love's Aid                            By Wenona Gilman
  557--In Cupid's Chains                        By Charles Garvice
  558--A Plunge Into the Unknown                  By Richard Marsh
  559--The Love That Was Cursed               By Geraldine Fleming
  560--The Thorns of Regret           By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  561--The Outcast of the Family                By Charles Garvice
  562--A Forced Promise                         By Ida Reade Allen
  563--The Old Homestead                        By Denman Thompson
  564--Love's First Kiss                    By Emma Garrison Jones
  565--Just a Girl                              By Charles Garvice
  566--In Love's Springtime                   By Laura Jean Libbey
  567--Trixie's Honor                         By Geraldine Fleming
  568--Hearts and Dollars                       By Ida Reade Allen
  569--By Devious Ways                          By Charles Garvice
  570--Her Heart's Unbidden Guest     By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  571--Two Wild Girls               By Mrs. Charlotte May Kingsley
  572--Amid Scarlet Roses                   By Emma Garrison Jones
  573--Heart for Heart                          By Charles Garvice
  574--The Fugitive Bride                         By Mary E. Bryan
  575--A Blue Grass Heroine                     By Ida Reade Allen
  576--The Yellow Face                            By Fred M. White
  577--The Story of a Passion                   By Charles Garvice
  579--The Curse of Beauty                    By Geraldine Fleming
  580--The Great Awakening                By E. Phillips Oppenheim
  581--A Modern Juliet                          By Charles Garvice
  582--Virgie Talcott's Mission                 By Lucy M. Russell
  583--His Greatest Sacrifice;
         or, Manch                                By Mary E. Bryan
  584--Mabel's Fate                   By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  585--The Ape and the Diamond                    By Richard Marsh
  586--Nell, of Shorne Mills                    By Charles Garvice
  587--Katherine's Two Suitors                By Geraldine Fleming
  588--The Crime of Love                         By Barbara Howard
  589--His Father's Crime                 By E. Phillips Oppenheim
  590--What Was She to Him?           By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  591--A Heritage of Hate                       By Charles Garvice
  592--Ida Chaloner's Heart                By Lucy Randall Comfort
  593--Love Will Find the Way                     By Wenona Gilman
  594--A Case of Identity                         By Richard Marsh
  595--The Shadow of Her Life                   By Charles Garvice
  596--Slighted Love                  By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  597--Her Fatal Gift                         By Geraldine Fleming
  598--His Wife's Friend                          By Mary E. Bryan
  599--At Love's Cost                           By Charles Garvice
  600--St. Elmo                                By Augusta J. Evans
  601--The Fate of the Plotter                      By Louis Tracy
  602--Married in Error               By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  603--Love and Jealousy                   By Lucy Randall Comfort
  604--Only a Working Girl                    By Geraldine Fleming
  605--Love, the Tyrant                         By Charles Garvice
  606--Mabel's Sacrifice                   By Charlotte M. Stanley
  607--Sybilla, the Siren                       By Ida Reade Allen
  608--Love is Love Forevermore       By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  609--John Elliott's Flirtation               By Lucy May Russell
  610--With All Her Heart                       By Charles Garvice
  611--Is Love Worth While?                   By Geraldine Fleming
  612--Her Husband's Other Wife             By Emma Garrison Jones
  613--Philip Bennion's Death                     By Richard Marsh
  614--Little Phillis' Lover          By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  615--Maida                                    By Charles Garvice
  617--As a Man Lives                     By E. Phillips Oppenheim
  618--The Tide of Fate                           By Wenona Gilman
  619--The Cardinal Moth                          By Fred M. White
  620--Marcia Drayton                           By Charles Garvice
  621--Lynette's Wedding              By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  622--His Madcap Sweetheart                By Emma Garrison Jones
  623--Love at the Loom                       By Geraldine Fleming
  624--A Bachelor Girl                         By Lucy May Russell
  625--Kyra's Fate                              By Charles Garvice
  626--The Joss                                   By Richard Marsh
  627--My Little Love                 By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  628--A Daughter of the Marionis         By E. Phillips Oppenheim
  629--The Lady of Beaufort Park                  By Wenona Gilman
  630--The Verdict of the Heart                 By Charles Garvice
  631--A Love Concealed                     By Emma Garrison Jones
  632--Cruelly Divided                By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  633--The Strange Disappearance
         of Lady Delia                              By Louis Tracy
  634--Love's Golden Spell                    By Geraldine Fleming
  635--A Coronet of Shame                       By Charles Garvice
  636--Sinned Against                             By Mary E. Bryan
  637--If It Were True!                           By Wenona Gilman
  638--A Golden Barrier               By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  639--A Hateful Bondage                         By Barbara Howard
  640--A Girl of Spirit                         By Charles Garvice
  641--Master of Men                      By E. Phillips Oppenheim
  642--A Fair Enchantress                       By Ida Reade Allen
  643--The Power of Love                      By Geraldine Fleming
  644--No Time for Penitence                      By Wenona Gilman
  645--A Jest of Fate                           By Charles Garvice
  646--Her Sister's Secret            By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  647--Bitterly Atoned                    By Mrs. E. Burke Collins
  648--Gertrude Elliott's Crucible         By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  649--The Corner House                           By Fred M. White
  650--Diana's Destiny                          By Charles Garvice
  651--Love's Clouded Dawn                        By Wenona Gilman
  652--Little Vixen                    By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller
  653--Her Heart's Challenge                     By Barbara Howard
  654--Vivian's Love Story                By Mrs. E. Burke Collins
  655--Linked by Fate                           By Charles Garvice
  656--Hearts of Stone                        By Geraldine Fleming
  657--In the Service of Love                     By Richard Marsh
  658--Love's Devious Course          By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  659--Told in the Twilight                     By Ida Reade Allen
  660--The Mills of the Gods                      By Wenona Gilman
  661--The Man of the Hour                   By Sir William Magnay
  662--A Little Barbarian                    By Charlotte Kingsley
  663--Creatures of Destiny                     By Charles Garvice
  664--A Southern Princess                  By Emma Garrison Jones
  666--A Fateful Promise                By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  667--The Goddess--A Demon                       By Richard Marsh
  668--From Tears to Smiles                     By Ida Reade Allen
  669--Tempted by Gold                By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  670--Better Than Riches                         By Wenona Gilman
  671--When Love Is Young                       By Charles Garvice
  672--Craven Fortune                             By Fred M. White
  673--Her Life's Burden              By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  674--The Heart of Hetta               By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  675--The Breath of Slander                    By Ida Reade Allen
  676--My Lady Beth                        By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  677--The Wooing of Esther Gray                    By Louis Tracy
  678--The Shadow Between Them        By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  679--Gold in the Gutter                       By Charles Garvice
  680--Master of Her Fate                     By Geraldine Fleming
  681--In Full Cry                                By Richard Marsh
  682--My Pretty Maid                 By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  683--An Unhappy Bargain               By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  684--True Love Endures                        By Ida Reade Allen
  685--India's Punishment                     By Laura Jean Libbey
  686--The Castle of the Shadows          By Mrs. C. N. Williamson
  687--My Own Sweetheart                          By Wenona Gilman
  688--Only a Kiss                    By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  689--Lola Dunbar's Crime                       By Barbara Howard
  690--Ruth, the Outcast                     By Mrs. Mary E. Bryan
  691--Her Dearest Love                       By Geraldine Fleming
  692--The Man of Millions                      By Ida Reade Allen
  693--For Another's Fault                 By Charlotte M. Stanley
  694--The Belle of Saratoga               By Lucy Randall Comfort
  695--The Mystery of the Unicorn            By Sir William Magnay
  696--The Bride's Opals                    By Emma Garrison Jones
  697--One of Life's Roses              By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  698--The Battle of Hearts                   By Geraldine Fleming
  700--In Wolf's Clothing                       By Charles Garvice
  701--A Lost Sweetheart                        By Ida Reade Allen
  702--The Stronger Passion             By Mrs. Lillian R. Drayton
  703--Mr. Marx's Secret                  By E. Phillips Oppenheim
  704--Had She Loved Him Less!                By Laura Jean Libbey
  705--The Adventure of Princess
         Sylvia                           By Mrs. C. N. Williamson
  706--In Love's Paradise                  By Charlotte M. Stanley
  707--At Another's Bidding                     By Ida Reade Allen
  708--Sold for Gold                          By Geraldine Fleming
  710--Ridgeway of Montana                By William MacLeod Raine
  711--Taken by Storm                       By Emma Garrison Jones
  712--Love and a Lie                           By Charles Garvice
  713--Barriers of Stone                          By Wenona Gilman
  714--Ethel's Secret                      By Charlotte M. Stanley
  715--Amber, the Adopted                    By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  716--No Man's Wife                            By Ida Reade Allen
  717--Wild and Willful                    By Lucy Randall Comfort
  718--When We Two Parted             By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  719--Love's Earnest Prayer                  By Geraldine Fleming
  720--The Price of a Kiss                    By Laura Jean Libbey
  721--A Girl from the South                    By Charles Garvice
  722--A Freak of Fate                      By Emma Garrison Jones
  723--A Golden Sorrow                     By Charlotte M. Stanley
  724--Norma's Black Fortune                    By Ida Reade Allen
  725--The Thoroughbred                           By Edith MacVane
  726--Diana's Peril                               By Dorothy Hall
  727--His Willing Slave                     By Lillian R. Drayton
  728--Her Share of Sorrow                        By Wenona Gilman
  729--Loved at Last                          By Geraldine Fleming
  730--John Hungerford's Redemption        By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
  731--His Two Loves                            By Ida Reade Allen
  732--Eric Braddon's Love            By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  733--Garrison's Finish                      By W. B. M. Ferguson
  734--Sylvia, the Forsaken                By Charlotte M. Stanley
  735--Married for Money                   By Lucy Randall Comfort
  736--Married in Haste                           By Wenona Gilman
  737--At Her Father's Bidding                By Geraldine Fleming
  738--The Power of Gold                        By Ida Reade Allen
  739--The Strength of Love           By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  740--A Soul Laid Bare                           By J. K. Egerton
  741--The Fatal Ruby                           By Charles Garvice
  742--A Strange Wooing                           By Richard Marsh
  743--A Lost Love                                By Wenona Gilman
  744--A Useless Sacrifice                  By Emma Garrison Jones
  745--A Will of Her Own                        By Ida Reade Allen
  746--That Girl Named Hazel          By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  747--For a Flirt's Love                     By Geraldine Fleming
  748--The World's Great Snare            By E. Phillips Oppenheim
  749--The Heart of a Maid                      By Charles Garvice
  750--Driven from Home                           By Wenona Gilman
  751--The Gypsy's Warning                  By Emma Garrison Jones
  752--Without Name or Wealth                   By Ida Reade Allen
  753--Loyal Unto Death               By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  754--His Lost Heritage                By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  755--Her Priceless Love                     By Geraldine Fleming
  756--Leola's Heart                       By Charlotte M. Stanley
  757--Dare-devil Betty                          By Evelyn Malcolm
  758--The Woman in It                          By Charles Garvice
  759--They Met by Chance                       By Ida Reade Allen
  760--Love Conquers Pride            By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  761--A Reckless Promise                   By Emma Garrison Jones
  762--The Rose of Yesterday            By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  763--The Other Girl's Lover                By Lillian R. Drayton
  764--His Unbounded Faith                 By Charlotte M. Stanley
  765--When Love Speaks                          By Evelyn Malcolm
  766--The Man She Hated              By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  767--No One to Help Her                       By Ida Reade Allen
  768--Claire's Love-Life                  By Lucy Randall Comfort
  769--Love's Harvest                     By Adelaide Fox Robinson
  770--A Queen of Song                        By Geraldine Fleming
  771--Nan Haggard's Confession                   By Mary E. Bryan
  772--A Married Flirt                By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  773--The Thorns of Love                        By Evelyn Malcolm
  774--Love in a Snare                          By Charles Garvice
  775--My Love Kitty                            By Charles Garvice
  776--That Strange Girl                        By Charles Garvice
  777--Nellie                                   By Charles Garvice
  778--Miss Estcourt; or, Olive                 By Charles Garvice
  779--A Virginia Goddess                       By Ida Reade Allen
  780--The Love He Sought                    By Lillian R. Drayton
  781--Falsely Accused                        By Geraldine Fleming
  782--His First Sweetheart                By Lucy Randall Comfort
  783--All for Love                   By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  784--What Love Can Cost                        By Evelyn Malcolm
  785--Lady Gay's Martyrdom              By Charlotte May Kingsley
  786--His Good Angel                       By Emma Garrison Jones
  787--A Bartered Soul                    By Adelaide Fox Robinson
  788--In Love's Shadows                        By Ida Reade Allen
  789--A Love Worth Winning                   By Geraldine Fleming
  790--The Fatal Kiss                 By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  791--A Lover Scorned                     By Lucy Randall Comfort
  792--After Many Days                  By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  793--An Innocent Outlaw                  By William Wallace Cook
  794--The Arm of the Law                        By Evelyn Malcolm
  795--The Reluctant Queen                By J. Kenilworth Egerton
  796--The Cost of Pride                     By Lillian R. Drayton
  797--What Love Made Her                     By Geraldine Fleming
  798--Brave Heart                      By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  799--Between Good and Evil               By Charlotte M. Stanley
  800--Caught in Love's Net                     By Ida Reade Allen
  801--Love is a Mystery                  By Adelaide Fox Robinson
  802--The Glitter of Jewels              By J. Kenilworth Egerton
  803--The Game of Life                 By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  804--A Dreadful Legacy                      By Geraldine Fleming
  805--Rogers, of Butte                    By William Wallace Cook
  806--The Haunting Past                         By Evelyn Malcolm
  807--The Love That Would Not Die              By Ida Reade Allen
  808--The Serpent and the Dove          By Charlotte May Kingsley
  809--Through the Shadows                By Adelaide Fox Robinson
  810--Her Kingdom                      By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  811--When Dark Clouds Gather                By Geraldine Fleming
  812--Her Fateful Choice                  By Charlotte M. Stanley
  813--Sorely Tried                         By Emma Garrison Jones


  To be published during January, 1913.

  814--Far Above Price                           By Evelyn Malcolm
  815--Bitter Sweet                     By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  816--A Clouded Life                           By Ida Reade Allen
  817--When Fate Decrees                  By Adelaide Fox Robinson
  818--The Girl Who Was True                    By Charles Garvice


  To be published during February, 1913.

  819--Where Love is Sent                 By Mrs. E. Burke Collins
  820--The Pride of My Heart                  By Laura Jean Libbey
  821--The Girl in Red                           By Evelyn Malcolm
  822--Why Did She Shun Him?            By Effie Adelaide Rowlands


  To be published during March, 1913.

  823--Between Love and Conscience       By Charlotte M. Stanley
  824--Spectres of the Past                   By Ida Reade Allen
  825--The Hearts of the Mighty         By Adelaide Fox Robinson
  826--The Irony of Love                      By Charles Garvice


  To be published during April, 1913.

  827--At Arms With Fate               By Charlotte May Kingsley
  828--Love's Young Dream                   By Laura Jean Libbey
  829--Her Golden Secret              By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  830--The Stolen Bride                        By Evelyn Malcolm
  831--Love's Rugged Pathway                  By Ida Reade Allen


  To be published during May, 1913.

  832--A Love Rejected--A Love Won          By Geraldine Fleming
  833--Her Life's Dark Cloud               By Lillian R. Drayton
  834--A Hero for Love's Sake         By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  835--When the Heart Hungers            By Charlotte M. Stanley


  To be published during June, 1913.

  836--Love Given in Vain               By Adelaide Fox Robinson
  837--The Web of Life                        By Ida Reade Allen
  838--Love Surely Triumphs            By Charlotte May Kingsley
  839--The Lovely Constance                 By Laura Jean Libbey


  To be published during July, 1913.

  840--On a Sea of Sorrow             By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  841--Her Hated Husband                       By Evelyn Malcolm
  842--When Hearts Beat True                By Geraldine Fleming
  843--Too Quickly Judged                     By Ida Reade Allen

In order that there may be no confusion, we desire to say that the
books listed above will be issued, during the respective months, in New
York City and vicinity. They may not reach the readers, at a distance,
promptly, on account of delays in transportation.



THE EAGLE SERIES

Principally Copyrights      Elegant Colored Covers

"THE RIGHT BOOKS AT THE RIGHT PRICE"


While the books in the New Eagle Series are undoubtedly better value,
being bigger books, the stories offered to the public in this line
must not be underestimated. There are over four hundred copyrighted
books by famous authors, which cannot be had in any other line. No
other publisher in the world has a line that contains so many different
titles, nor can any publisher ever hope to secure books that will match
those in the Eagle Series in quality.

This is the pioneer line of copyrighted novels, and that it has struck
popular fancy just right is proven by the fact that for fifteen years
it has been the first choice of American readers. The only reason
that we can afford to give such excellent reading at such a low
price is that our unlimited capital and great organization enable us
to manufacture books more cheaply and to sell more of them without
expensive advertising, than any other publishers.


 ALL TITLES ALWAYS IN PRINT

 TO THE PUBLIC:--These books are sold by news dealers everywhere. If
 your dealer does not keep them, and will not get them for you, send
 direct to the publishers, in which case four cents must be added to
 the price per copy to cover postage.

    3--The Love of Violet Lee                      By Julia Edwards
    4--For a Woman's Honor                        By Bertha M. Clay
    5--The Senator's Favorite          By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
    6--The Midnight Marriage                       By A. M. Douglas
    8--Beautiful But Poor                          By Julia Edwards
    9--The Virginia Heiress                    By May Agnes Fleming
   10--Little Sunshine                          By Francis S. Smith
   11--The Gipsy's Daughter                       By Bertha M. Clay
   13--The Little Widow                            By Julia Edwards
   14--Violet Lisle                               By Bertha M. Clay
   15--Dr. Jack                             By St. George Rathborne
   16--The Fatal Card       By Haddon Chambers and B. C. Stephenson
   17--Leslie's Loyalty                          By Charles Garvice
        (His Love So True)
   18--Dr. Jack's Wife                      By St. George Rathborne
   19--Mr. Lake of Chicago                   By Harry DuBois Milman
   21--A Heart's Idol                             By Bertha M. Clay
   22--Elaine                                    By Charles Garvice
   23--Miss Pauline of New York             By St. George Rathborne
   24--A Wasted Love                             By Charles Garvice
        (On Love's Altar)
   25--Little Southern Beauty          By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
   26--Captain Tom                          By St. George Rathborne
   27--Estelle's Millionaire Lover                 By Julia Edwards
   28--Miss Caprice                         By St. George Rathborne
   29--Theodora                                 By Victorien Sardou
   30--Baron Sam                            By St. George Rathborne
   31--A Siren's Love                           By Robert Lee Tyler
   32--The Blockade Runner                      By J. Perkins Tracy
   33--Mrs. Bob                             By St. George Rathborne
   34--Pretty Geraldine                By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
   35--The Great Mogul                      By St. George Rathborne
   36--Fedora                                   By Victorien Sardou
   37--The Heart of Virginia                    By J. Perkins Tracy
   38--The Nabob of Singapore               By St. George Rathborne
   39--The Colonel's Wife                         By Warren Edwards
   40--Monsieur Bob                         By St. George Rathborne
   41--Her Hearts Desire                         By Charles Garvice
        (An Innocent Girl)
   42--Another Woman's Husband                    By Bertha M. Clay
   43--Little Coquette Bonnie          By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
   45--A Yale Man                               By Robert Lee Tyler
   46--Off with the Old Love                   By Mrs. M. V. Victor
   47--The Colonel by Brevet                By St. George Rathborne
   48--Another Man's Wife                         By Bertha M. Clay
   49--None But the Brave                       By Robert Lee Tyler
   50--Her Ransom (Paid For)                     By Charles Garvice
   51--The Price He Paid                               By E. Werner
   52--Woman Against Woman               By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
   54--Cleopatra                                By Victorien Sardou
   56--The Dispatch Bearer                        By Warren Edwards
   58--Major Matterson of Kentucky          By St. George Rathborne
   59--Gladys Greye                               By Bertha M. Clay
   61--La Tosca                                 By Victorien Sardou
   62--Stella Stirling                             By Julia Edwards
   63--Lawyer Bell from Boston                  By Robert Lee Tyler
   64--Dora Tenney                     By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
   65--Won by the Sword                         By J. Perkins Tracy
   67--Gismonda                                 By Victorien Sardou
   68--The Little Cuban Rebel                      By Edna Winfield
   69--His Perfect Trust                          By Bertha M. Clay
   70--Sydney (A Wilful Young Woman)             By Charles Garvice
   71--The Spider's Web                     By St. George Rathborne
   72--Wilful Winnie                           By Harriet Sherburne
   73--The Marquis                               By Charles Garvice
   74--The Cotton King                               By Sutton Vane
   75--Under Fire                                   By T. P. James
   76--Mavourneen                         From the celebrated play
   78--The Yankee Champion                   By Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.
   79--Out of the Past (Marjorie)               By Charles Garvice
   80--The Fair Maid of Fez                By St. George Rathborne
   81--Wedded for an Hour                   By Emma Garrison Jones
   82--Captain Impudence                     By Edwin Milton Royle
   83--The Locksmith of Lyons              By Prof. Wm. Henry Peck
   84--Imogene                                  By Charles Garvice
         (Dumaresq's Temptation)
   85--Lorrie; or, Hollow Gold                  By Charles Garvice
   86--A Widowed Bride                     By Lucy Randall Comfort
   87--Shenandoah                              By J. Perkins Tracy
   89--A Gentleman from Gascony                 By Bicknell Dudley
   90--For Fair Virginia                            By Russ Whytal
   91--Sweet Violet                   By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
   92--Humanity                                     By Sutton Vane
   94--Darkest Russia                       By H. Grattan Donnelly
   95--A Wilful Maid (Philippa)                 By Charles Garvice
   96--The Little Minister                         By J. M. Barrie
   97--The War Reporter                          By Warren Edwards
   98--Claire                                   By Charles Garvice
         (The Mistress of Court Regna)
  100--Alice Blake                             By Francis S. Smith
  101--A Goddess of Africa                 By St. George Rathborne
  102--Sweet Cymbeline (Bellmaire)              By Charles Garvice
  103--The Span of Life                             By Sutton Vane
  104--A Proud Dishonor                         By Genie Holzmeyer
  105--When London Sleeps                         By Chas. Darrell
  106--Lillian, My Lillian            By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  107--Carla; or, Married at Sight      By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  108--A Son of Mars                       By St. George Rathborne
  109--Signa's Sweetheart                       By Charles Garvice
        (Lord Delamere's Bride)
  110--Whose Wife is She?                           By Annie Lisle
  112--The Cattle King                               By A. D. Hall
  113--A Crushed Lily                 By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  114--Half a Truth                                 By Dora Delmar
  115--A Fair Revolutionist                By St. George Rathborne
  116--The Daughter of the Regiment             By Mary A. Denison
  117--She Loved Him                            By Charles Garvice
  118--Saved from the Sea                         By Richard Duffy
  119--'Twixt Smile and Tear (Dulcie)           By Charles Garvice
  120--The White Squadron                        By T. C. Harbaugh
  121--Cecile's Marriage                   By Lucy Randall Comfort
  123--Northern Lights                               By A. D. Hall
  124--Prettiest of All                           By Julia Edwards
  125--Devil's Island                                By A. D. Hall
  126--The Girl from Hong Kong             By St. George Rathborne
  127--Nobody's Daughter                          By Clara Augusta
  128--The Scent of the Roses                       By Dora Delmar
  129--In Sight of St. Paul's                       By Sutton Vane
  130--A Passion Flower (Madge)                 By Charles Garvice
  131--Nerine's Second Choice                 By Adelaide Stirling
  132--Whose Was the Crime?                     By Gertrude Warden
  134--Squire John                         By St. George Rathborne
  135--Cast Up by the Tide                          By Dora Delmar
  136--The Unseen Bridegroom                  By May Agnes Fleming
  138--A Fatal Wooing                         By Laura Jean Libbey
  139--Little Lady Charles              By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  140--That Girl of Johnson's                  By Jean Kate Ludlum
  141--Lady Evelyn                            By May Agnes Fleming
  142--Her Rescue from the Turks           By St. George Rathborne
  143--A Charity Girl                   By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  145--Country Lanes and City
         Pavements                            By Maurice M. Minton
  146--Magdalen's Vow                         By May Agnes Fleming
  147--Under Egyptian Skies                By St. George Rathborne
  148--Will She Win?                        By Emma Garrison Jones
  149--The Man She Loved                By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  150--Sunset Pass                         By General Charles King
  151--The Heiress of Glen Gower              By May Agnes Fleming
  152--A Mute Confessor                          By Will M. Harben
  153--Her Son's Wife                                By Hazel Wood
  154--Husband and Foe                  By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  156--A Soldier Lover                         By Edward S. Brooks
  157--Who Wins?                              By May Agnes Fleming
  158--Stella, the Star                           By Wenona Gilman
  159--Out of Eden                                 By Dora Russell
  160--His Way and Her Will               By Frances Aymar Mathews
  161--Miss Fairfax of Virginia            By St. George Rathborne
  162--A Man of the Name of John                  By Florence King
  163--A Splendid Egotist                   By Mrs. J. H. Walworth
  164--Couldn't Say No                           By John Habberton
  165--The Road of the Rough                  By Maurice M. Minton
  167--The Manhattaners                      By Edward S. Van Zile
  168--Thrice Lost, Thrice Won                By May Agnes Fleming
  169--The Trials of an Actress                   By Wenona Gilman
  170--A Little Radical                     By Mrs. J. H. Walworth
  171--That Dakota Girl                           By Stella Gilman
  172--A King and a Coward              By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  173--A Bar Sinister                      By St. George Rathborne
  174--His Guardian Angel                       By Charles Garvice
  175--For Honor's Sake                           By Laura C. Ford
  176--Jack Gordon, Knight Errant                 By Barclay North
  178--A Slave of Circumstances        By Ernest De Lancey Pierson
  179--One Man's Evil                   By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  180--A Lazy Man's Work              By Frances Campbell Sparhawk
  181--The Baronet's Bride                    By May Agnes Fleming
  182--A Legal Wreck                           By William Gillette
  183--Quo Vadis                             By Henryk Sienkiewicz
  184--Sunlight and Gloom                     By Geraldine Fleming
  185--The Adventures of Miss
         Volney                             By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
  186--Beneath a Spell                  By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  187--The Black Ball                  By Ernest De Lancey Pierson
  189--Berris                             By Katharine S. MacQuoid
  190--A Captain of the Kaiser             By St. George Rathborne
  191--A Harvest of Thorns                   By Mrs. H. C. Hoffman
  193--A Vagabond's Honor              By Ernest De Lancey Pierson
  194--A Sinless Crime                        By Geraldine Fleming
  195--Her Faithful Knight                      By Gertrude Warden
  196--A Sailor's Sweetheart               By St. George Rathborne
  197--A Woman Scorned                  By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  200--In God's Country                               By D. Higbee
  201--Blind Elsie's Crime                   By Mary Grace Halpine
  202--Marjorie                           By Katharine S. MacQuoid
  203--Only One Love                            By Charles Garvice
  204--With Heart So True               By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  205--If Love Be Love                           By D. Cecil Gibbs
  206--A Daughter of Maryland                   By G. Waldo Browne
  208--A Chase for a Bride                 By St. George Rathborne
  209--She Loved But Left Him                     By Julia Edwards
  211--As We Forgive                          By Lurana W. Sheldon
  212--Doubly Wronged                            By Adah M. Howard
  213--The Heiress of Egremont               By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  214--Olga's Crime                               By Frank Barrett
  215--Only a Girl's Love                       By Charles Garvice
  216--The Lost Bride                             By Clara Augusta
  217--His Noble Wife                      By George Manville Fenn
  218--A Life for a Love                       By Mrs. L. T. Meade
  220--A Fatal Past                                By Dora Russell
  221--The Honorable Jane                          By Annie Thomas
  223--Leola Dale's Fortune                     By Charles Garvice
  224--A Sister's Sacrifice                   By Geraldine Fleming
  225--A Miserable Woman                     By Mrs. H. C. Hoffman
  226--The Roll of Honor                           By Annie Thomas
  227--For Love and Honor               By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  228--His Brother's Widow                   By Mary Grace Halpine
  229--For the Sake of the Family                 By May Crommelin
  230--A Woman's Atonement, and
         A Mother's Mistake                      By Adah M. Howard
  231--The Earl's Heir (Lady Norah)             By Charles Garvice
  232--A Debt of Honor                            By Mabel Collins
  234--His Mother's Sin                        By Adeline Sergeant
  235--Love at Saratoga                    By Lucy Randall Comfort
  236--Her Humble Lover                         By Charles Garvice
        (The Usurper; or, The Gipsy Peer)
  237--Woman or Witch?                              By Dora Delmar
  238--That Other Woman                            By Annie Thomas
  239--Don Cæsar De Bazan                           By Victor Hugo
  240--Saved by the Sword                  By St. George Rathborne
  241--Her Love and Trust                      By Adeline Sergeant
  242--A Wounded Heart (Sweet as a Rose)        By Charles Garvice
  243--His Double Self                           By Scott Campbell
  245--A Modern Marriage                            By Clara Lanza
  246--True to Herself                      By Mrs. J. H. Walworth
  247--Within Love's Portals                      By Frank Barrett
  248--Jeanne, Countess Du Barry                 By H. L. Williams
  249--What Love Will Do                      By Geraldine Fleming
  250--A Woman's Soul                           By Charles Garvice
        (Doris; Behind the Footlights)
  251--When Love is True                          By Mabel Collins
  252--A Handsome Sinner                            By Dora Delmar
  253--A Fashionable Marriage                  By Mrs. Alex Frazer
  254--Little Miss Millions                By St. George Rathborne
  256--Thy Name is Woman                             By F. H. Howe
  257--A Martyred Love                          By Charles Garvice
        (Iris; or, Under the Shadow)
  258--An Amazing Marriage                   By Mrs. Sumner Hayden
  259--By a Golden Cord                             By Dora Delmar
  260--At a Girl's Mercy                       By Jean Kate Ludlum
  261--A Siren's Heart                  By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  262--A Woman's Faith                            By Henry Wallace
  263--An American Nabob                   By St. George Rathborne
  264--For Gold or Soul                       By Lurana W. Sheldon
  265--First Love is Best                         By S. K. Hocking
  267--Jeanne (Barriers Between)                By Charles Garvice
  268--Olivia; or, It Was for Her Sake          By Charles Garvice
  270--Had She Foreseen                             By Dora Delmar
  271--With Love's Laurel Crowned                  By W. C. Stiles
  272--So Fair, So False                        By Charles Garvice
         (The Beauty of the Season)
  273--At Swords Points                    By St. George Rathborne
  274--A Romantic Girl                          By Evelyn E. Green
  275--Love's Cruel Whim                By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  276--So Nearly Lost                           By Charles Garvice
         (The Springtime of Love)
  278--Laura Brayton                              By Julia Edwards
  279--Nina's Peril                   By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  280--Love's Dilemma                           By Charles Garvice
         (For an Earldom)
  281--For Love Alone                             By Wenona Gilman
  283--My Lady Pride (Floris)                   By Charles Garvice
  284--Dr. Jack's Widow                    By St. George Rathborne
  285--Born to Betray                         By Mrs. M. V. Victor
  287--The Lady of Darracourt                   By Charles Garvice
  289--Married in Mask                    By Mansfield T. Walworth
  290--A Change of Heart                By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  292--For Her Only (Diana)                     By Charles Garvice
  294--A Warrior Bold                      By St. George Rathborne
  295--A Terrible Secret and
         Countess Isabel                      By Geraldine Fleming
  296--The Heir of Vering                       By Charles Garvice
  297--That Girl from Texas                 By Mrs. J. H. Walworth
  298--Should She Have Left Him?                  By Barclay North
  300--The Spider and the Fly                   By Charles Garvice
         (Violet)
  301--The False and the True           By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  302--When Man's Love Fades                         By Hazel Wood
  303--The Queen of the Isle                  By May Agnes Fleming
  304--Stanch as a Woman                        By Charles Garvice
         (A Maiden's Sacrifice)
  305--Led by Love  Sequel to                   By Charles Garvice
         "Stanch as a Woman"
  306--Love's Golden Rule                     By Geraldine Fleming
  307--The Winning of Isolde               By St. George Rathborne
  308--Lady Ryhope's Lover                  By Emma Garrison Jones
  309--The Heiress of Castle Cliffe           By May Agnes Fleming
  310--A Late Repentance                        By Mary A. Denison
  312--Woven on Fate's Loom and The             By Charles Garvice
         Snowdrift
  313--A Kinsman's Sin                  By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  314--A Maid's Fatal Love                  By Helen Corwin Pierce
  315--The Dark Secret                        By May Agnes Fleming
  316--Edith Lyle's Secret                  By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  317--Ione                                   By Laura Jean Libbey
  318--Stanch of Heart                          By Charles Garvice
         (Adrien Le Roy)
  319--Millbank                             By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  320--Mynheer Joe                         By St. George Rathborne
  321--Neva's Three Lovers                   By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  322--Mildred                              By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  323--The Little Countess                          By S. E. Boggs
  324--A Love Match                          By Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.
  325--The Leighton Homestead               By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  326--Parted by Fate                         By Laura Jean Libbey
  327--Was She Wife or Widow?                      By Malcolm Bell
  328--He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not             By Charles Garvice
         (Valeria)
  329--My Hildegarde                       By St. George Rathborne
  330--Aikenside                            By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  331--Christine                               By Adeline Sergeant
  332--Darkness and Daylight                By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  333--Stella's Fortune                         By Charles Garvice
         (The Sculptor's Wooing)
  334--Miss McDonald                        By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  335--We Parted at the Altar                 By Laura Jean Libbey
  336--Rose Mather                          By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  337--Dear Elsie                               By Mary J. Safford
  338--A Daughter of Russia                By St. George Rathborne
  340--Bad Hugh. Vol. I                     By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  341--Bad Hugh. Vol. II                    By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  342--Her Little Highness                By Nataly Von Eschstruth
  343--Little Sunshine                           By Adah M. Howard
  344--Leah's Mistake                        By Mrs. H. C. Hoffman
  345--Tresillian Court                      By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  346--Guy Tresillian's Fate                 By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
         Sequel to "Tresillian Court"
  347--The Eyes of Love                         By Charles Garvice
  348--My Florida Sweetheart               By St. George Rathborne
  349--Marion Grey                               By Mary J. Holmes
  350--A Wronged Wife                        By Mary Grace Halpine
  352--Family Pride. Vol. I                      By Mary J. Holmes
  353--Family Pride. Vol. II                     By Mary J. Holmes
  354--A Love Comedy                            By Charles Garvice
  355--Wife and Woman                           By Mary J. Safford
  356--Little Kit                       By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  357--Montezuma's Mines                   By St. George Rathborne
  358--Beryl's Husband                       By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  359--The Spectre's Secret                  By Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.
  360--An Only Daughter                              By Hazel Wood
  361--The Ashes of Love                        By Charles Garvice
  363--The Opposite House                 By Nataly Von Eschstruth
  364--A Fool's Paradise                     By Mary Grace Halpine
  365--Under a Cloud                           By Jean Kate Ludlum
  366--Comrades in Exile                   By St. George Rathborne
  367--Hearts and Coronets                       By Jane G. Fuller
  368--The Pride of Her Life                    By Charles Garvice
  369--At a Great Cost                  By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  370--Edith Trevor's Secret                 By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  371--Cecil Rosse                           By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
         Sequel to "Edith Trevor's Secret"
  374--True Daughter of Hartenstein             By Mary J. Safford
  375--Transgressing the Law             By Capt. Fred'k Whittaker
  376--The Red Slipper                     By St. George Rathborne
  377--Forever True                     By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  378--John Winthrop's Defeat                  By Jean Kate Ludlum
  379--Blinded by Love             By Nataly Von Eschstruth
  380--Her Double Life                       By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  381--The Sunshine of Love                  By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
         Sequel to "Her Double Life"
  383--A Lover from Across the Sea              By Mary J. Safford
  384--Yet She Loved Him                       By Mrs. Kate Vaughn
  385--A Woman Against Her              By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  386--Teddy's Enchantress                 By St. George Rathborne
  387--A Heroine's Plot                   By Katherine S. MacQuoid
  388--Two Wives                                     By Hazel Wood
  389--Sundered Hearts                       By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  390--A Mutual Vow                                By Harold Payne
  392--A Resurrected Love                     By Seward W. Hopkins
  393--On the Wings of Fate             By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  394--A Drama of a Life                       By Jean Kate Ludlum
  395--Wooing a Widow                                By E. A. King
  396--Back to Old Kentucky                By St. George Rathborne
  397--A Gilded Promise                       By Walter Bloomfield
  398--Cupid's Disguise                            By Fanny Lewald
  400--For Another's Wrong                          By W. Heimburg
  401--The Woman Who Came Between       By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  402--A Silent Heroine                       By Mrs. D. M. Lowrey
  403--The Rival Suitors                         By J. H. Connelly
  404--The Captive Bride                 By Capt. Fred'k Whittaker
  405--The Haunted Husband                   By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  406--Felipe's Pretty Sister              By St. George Rathborne
  408--On a False Charge                      By Seward W. Hopkins
  409--A Girl's Kingdom                 By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  410--Miss Mischief                                By W. Heimburg
  411--Fettered and Freed                      By Eugene Charvette
  412--The Love that Lives            By Capt. Frederick Whittaker
  413--Were They Married?                            By Hazel Wood
  414--A Girl's First Love                  By Elizabeth C. Winter
  416--Down in Dixie                       By St. George Rathborne
  417--Brave Barbara                    By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  418--An Insignificant Woman                       By W. Heimburg
  420--A Sweet Little Lady                      By Gertrude Warden
  421--Her Sweet Reward                            By Barbara Kent
  422--Lady Kildare                          By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  423--A Woman's Way                  By Capt. Frederick Whittaker
  424--A Splendid Man                   By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  425--A College Widow                            By Frank H. Howe
  427--A Wizard of the Moors               By St. George Rathborne
  428--A Tramp's Daughter                            By Hazel Wood
  429--A Fair Fraud                        By Emily Lovett Cameron
  430--The Honor of a Heart                     By Mary J. Safford
  431--Her Husband and Her Love         By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  432--Breta's Double                          By Helen V. Greyson
  435--Under Oath                              By Jean Kate Ludlum
  436--The Rival Toreadors                 By St. George Rathborne
  437--The Breach of Custom                   By Mrs. D. M. Lowrey
  438--So Like a Man                    By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  439--Little Nan                               By Mary A. Denison
  441--A Princess of the Stage            By Nataly Von Eschstruth
  442--Love Before Duty                        By Mrs. L. T. Meade
  443--In Spite of Proof                        By Gertrude Warden
  444--Love's Trials                          By Alfred R. Calhoun
  445--An Angel of Evil                 By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  446--Bound with Love's Fetters             By Mary Grace Halpine
  447--A Favorite of Fortune               By St. George Rathborne
  448--When Love Dawns                        By Adelaide Stirling
  449--The Bailiff's Scheme                  By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  450--Rosamond's Love                       By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
         Sequel to "The Bailiff's Scheme"
  452--The Last of the Van Slacks            By Edward S. Van Zile
  453--A Poor Girl's Passion                    By Gertrude Warden
  454--Love's Probation                         By Elizabeth Olmis
  455--Love's Greatest Gift             By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  456--A Vixen's Treachery                   By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  457--Adrift in the World                   By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
         Sequel to "A Vixen's Treachery"
  459--A Golden Mask                       By Charlotte M. Stanley
  460--Dr. Jack's Talisman                 By St. George Rathborne
  461--Above All Things                       By Adelaide Stirling
  462--A Stormy Wedding                           By Mary E. Bryan
  463--A Wife's Triumph                 By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  464--The Old Life's Shadows                By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  465--Outside Her Eden                      By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
         Sequel to "The Old Life's Shadows"
  466--Love, the Victor               By a Popular Southern Author
  467--Zina's Awaking                        By Mrs. J. K. Spender
  468--The Wooing of a Fairy                    By Gertrude Warden
  469--A Soldier and a Gentleman                   By J. M. Cobban
  470--A Strange Wedding               By Mary Hartwell Catherwood
  471--A Shadowed Happiness             By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  472--Dr. Jack and Company                By St. George Rathborne
  473--A Sacrifice to Love                    By Adelaide Stirling
  474--The Belle of the Season               By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  475--Love Before Pride                     By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
         Sequel to "The Belle of the Season"
  477--The Siberian Exiles                     By Col. Thomas Knox
  478--For Love of Sigrid               By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  479--Mysterious Mr. Sabin               By E. Phillips Oppenheim
  480--A Perfect Fool                           By Florence Warden
  481--Wedded, Yet No Wife                    By May Agnes Fleming
  482--A Little Worldling                       By L. C. Ellsworth
  483--Miss Marston's Heart                      By L. H. Bickford
  484--The Whistle of Fate                        By Richard Marsh
  485--The End Crowns All               By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  486--Divided Lives                              By Edgar Fawcett
  487--A Wonderful Woman                      By May Agnes Fleming
  488--The French Witch                         By Gertrude Warden
  489--Lucy Harding                         By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  490--The Price of Jealousy                          By Maud Howe
  491--My Lady of Dreadwood             By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  492--A Speedy Wooing        By the Author of "As Common Mortals"
  493--The Girl He Loved                      By Adelaide Stirling
  494--Voyagers of Fortune                 By St. George Rathborne
  495--Norine's Revenge                       By May Agnes Fleming
  496--The Missing Heiress                       By C. H. Montague
  497--A Chase for Love                       By Seward W. Hopkins
  498--Andrew Leicester's Love          By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  499--My Lady Cinderella                 By Mrs. C. N. Williamson
  500--Love and Spite                         By Adelaide Stirling
  501--Her Husband's Secret           By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  502--Fair Maid Marian                By Mrs. Emma Garrison Jones
  503--A Lady in Black                          By Florence Warden
  504--Evelyn, the Actress                        By Wenona Gilman
  505--Selina's Love-story              By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  506--A Secret Foe                             By Gertrude Warden
  507--A Mad Betrothal                        By Laura Jean Libbey
  508--Lottie and Victorine                By Lucy Randall Comfort
  509--A Penniless Princess                 By Emma Garrison Jones
  510--Doctor Jack's Paradise Mine         By St. George Rathborne
  513--A Sensational Case                       By Florence Warden
  514--The Temptation of Mary Barr      By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  515--Tiny Luttrell                              By E. W. Hornung
         (Author of "Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman")
  516--Florabel's Lover                       By Laura Jean Libbey
  517--They Looked and Loved          By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  518--The Secret of a Letter                   By Gertrude Warden
  521--The Witch from India                By St. George Rathborne
  522--A Spurned Proposal               By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  523--A Banker of Bankersville                By Maurice Thompson
  524--A Sacrifice of Pride                    By Mrs. Louisa Parr
  525--Sweet Kitty Clover                     By Laura Jean Libbey
  526--Love and Hate                             By Morley Roberts
  527--For Love and Glory                  By St. George Rathborne
  528--Adela's Ordeal                           By Florence Warden
  529--Hearts Aflame                              By Louise Winter
  530--The Wiles of a Siren             By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  532--True to His Bride                    By Emma Garrison Jones
  533--A Forgotten Love                       By Adelaide Stirling
  534--Lotta, the Cloak Model                 By Laura Jean Libbey
  535--The Trifler                               By Archibald Eyre
  536--Companions in Arms                  By St. George Rathborne
  538--The Fighting Chance                       By Gertrude Lynch
  539--A Heart's Triumph                By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  540--A Daughter of Darkness                   By Ida Reade Allen
  541--Her Evil Genius                        By Adelaide Stirling
  543--The Veiled Bride                       By Laura Jean Libbey
  544--In Love's Name                       By Emma Garrison Jones
  545--Well Worth Winning                  By St. George Rathborne
  546--The Career of Mrs. Osborne                By Helen Milecete
  549--Tempted by Love                  By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  550--Saved from Herself                     By Adelaide Stirling
  551--Pity--Not Love                         By Laura Jean Libbey
  552--At the Court of the Maharaja                 By Louis Tracy



_The Best of Everything!_


Our experience with the American reading public has taught us that
it expects better reading than readers of any other nationality.
Why? Because Americans, as a rule, are better educated and more
intelligent. We make it a point to cater to all classes of readers
with our paper-covered novels. If a man likes adventure or detective
stories, he can find more and better ones in the S. & S. novel list
than he can among the cloth books. If a woman wants love, society, or
mystery stories, the S. & S. catalogue again contains just what she
wants at the lowest possible price. If a boy wants up-to-date baseball,
athletic, or treasure-hunt stories, he cannot get anything that will
please him so much as the books in the MEDAL and NEW MEDAL LIBRARIES,
no matter how much he has to spend for his reading matter.

Here are a few suggestions:


BOOKS FOR MEN.

The Nick Carter stories in the NEW MAGNET LIBRARY.

The Howard W. Erwin stories in the FAR WEST LIBRARY.

The William Wallace Cook stories in the NEW FICTION LIBRARY.

The Dumas stories in the SELECT LIBRARY.


BOOKS FOR WOMEN.

The Mrs. Georgie Sheldon stories in the NEW EAGLE SERIES.

The Charles Garvice stories in the NEW EAGLE SERIES.

The Bertha Clay stories in the BERTHA CLAY LIBRARY.

The Southworth stories in the SOUTHWORTH LIBRARY.

The Mrs. Mary J. Holmes stories in the EAGLE and SELECT LIBRARIES.


BOOKS FOR BOYS.

The Burt L. Standish stories in the NEW MEDAL LIBRARY.

The Horatio Alger stories in the MEDAL and NEW MEDAL LIBRARIES.

The Oliver Optic stories in the MEDAL and NEW MEDAL LIBRARIES.

The Edward C. Taylor stories in the NEW MEDAL LIBRARY.

Send for our complete catalogue and look these stories up. It will pay
you.


STREET & SMITH, _Publishers_, NEW YORK

      *      *      *      *      *      *


ONLY A GIRL'S LOVE

by

CHARLES GARVICE



[Illustration]

New York
Street & Smith, Publishers



Why Take a Chance?


Most everybody thinks that the public library is a mighty fine
institution--teaches people to read, and all that. Well, so it does,
but does any one ever think of the great risk that a person, who takes
a book out of a public library, runs of catching some contagious
disease?

Every time a bacteriological examination is made of the public-library
book, germs of every known disease are found among its pages. Probably,
from your own experience, you know that lots of people never think of
taking a book from the public library, until some one in their family
is sick and wants something to read.

As records prove that ninety per cent of the demand for books at the
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STREET & SMITH, _Publishers_
NEW YORK



ONLY A GIRL'S LOVE.



CHAPTER I.


It is a warm evening in early Summer; the sun is setting behind a long
range of fir and yew-clad hills, at the feet of which twists in and
out, as it follows their curves, a placid, peaceful river. Opposite
these hills, and running beside the river, are long-stretching meadows,
brilliantly green with fresh-springing grass, and gorgeously yellow
with newly-opened buttercups. Above, the sunset sky gleams and glows
with fiery red and rich deep chromes. And London is almost within sight.

It is a beautiful scene, such as one sees only in this England of
ours--a scene that defies poet and painter. At this very moment it
is defying one of the latter genus; for in a room of a low-browed,
thatched-roofed cottage which stood on the margin of the meadow, James
Etheridge sat beside his easel, his eyes fixed on the picture framed in
the open window, his brush and mahl-stick drooping in his idle hand.

Unconsciously he, the painter, made a picture worthy of study. Tall,
thin, delicately made, with pale face crowned and set in softly-flowing
white hair, with gentle, dreamy eyes ever seeking the infinite and
unknown, he looked like one of those figures which the old Florentine
artists used to love to put upon their canvases, and which when one
sees even now makes one strangely sad and thoughtful.

The room was a fitting frame for the human subject; it was a true
painter's studio--untidy, disordered, and picturesque. Finished and
unfinished pictures hung or leant against the walls, suits of armor,
antique weapons, strange costumes littered the floor or hung limply
over mediæval chairs; books, some in bindings which would have made the
mouth of a connoisseur water, lay open upon the table or were piled in
a distant corner. And over all silence--unbroken save by the sound of
the water rushing over the weir, or the birds which flitted by the open
window--reigned supreme.

The old man sat for some time listening to Nature's music, and lost in
dreamy admiration of her loveliness, until the striking of the church
clock floated from the village behind the house; then, with a start,
he rose, took up his brushes, and turned again to the easel. An hour
passed, and still he worked, the picture growing beneath the thin,
skillful hand; the birds sank into silence, the red faded slowly from
the sky, and night unfolded its dark mantle ready to let it fall upon
the workaday world.

Silence so profound took to itself the likeness of loneliness; perhaps
the old man felt it so, for as he glanced at the waning light and lay
his brush down, he put his hand to his brow and sighed. Then he turned
the picture on the easel, made his way with some little difficulty,
owing to the litter, across the room, found and lit an old briar-wood
pipe, and dropping into the chair again, fixed his eyes upon the scene,
and fell into the dreamy state which was habitual with him.

So lost in purposeless memory was he, that the opening of the door
failed to rouse him.

It was opened very gently and slowly, and as slowly and noiselessly a
young girl, after pausing a moment at the threshold, stepped into the
room, and stood looking round her and at the motionless figure in the
chair by the window.

She stood for full a minute, her hand still holding the handle of the
door, as if she were not certain of her welcome--as if the room were
strange to her, then, with a little hurried pressure of her hand to her
bosom, she moved toward the window.

As she did so her foot struck against a piece of armor, and the noise
aroused the old man and caused him to look round.

With a start he gazed at the girl as if impressed with the idea that
she must be something unsubstantial and visionary--some embodiment of
his evening dreams, and so he sat looking at her, his artist eye taking
in the lithe, graceful figure, the beautiful face, with its dark eyes
and long, sweeping lashes, its clearly penciled brows, and soft, mobile
lips, in rapt absorption.

It is possible that if she had turned and left him, never to have
crossed into his life again, he would have sunk back into dreamland,
and to the end of his days have regarded her as unreal and visionary;
but, with a subtle, graceful movement, the girl threaded the maze of
litter and disorder and stood beside him.

He, still looking up, saw that the beautiful eyes were dim, that the
exquisitely curved lips were quivering with some intense emotion, and
suddenly there broke upon the silence a low, sweet voice:

"Are you James Etheridge?"

The artist started. It was not the words, but the tone--the voice that
startled him, and for a brief second he was still dumb, then he rose,
and looking at her with faint, trembling questioning, he answered:

"Yes, that is my name. I am James Etheridge."

Her lips quivered again, but still, quietly and simply, she said:

"You do not know me? I am Stella--your niece, Stella."

The old man threw up his head and stared at her, and she saw that he
trembled.

"Stella--my niece--Harold's child!"

"Yes," she said, in a low voice, "I am Stella."

"But, merciful Heaven!" he exclaimed, with agitation, "how did
you come here? Why--I thought you were at the school there in
Florence--why--have you come here alone?"

Her eyes wandered from his face to the exquisite scene beyond, and at
that moment her look was strangely like his own.

"Yes, I came alone, uncle," she said.

"Merciful Heaven!" he murmured again, sinking into his chair. "But
why--why?"

The question is not unkindly put, full, rather, of a troubled
perplexity and bewilderment.

Stella's eyes returned to his face.

"I was unhappy, uncle," she said, simply.

"Unhappy!" he echoed, gently--"unhappy! My child, you are too young to
know what the word means. Tell me"--and he put his long white hand on
her arm.

The touch was the one thing needed to draw them together. With a
sudden, yet not abrupt movement, she slid down at his side and leant
her head on his arm.

"Yes, I was very unhappy, uncle. They were hard and unkind. They meant
well perhaps, but it was not to be borne. And then--then, after papa
died, it was so lonely, so lonely. There was no one--no one to care for
me--to care whether one lived or died. Uncle, I bore it as long as I
could, and then I--came."

The old man's eyes grew dim, and his hand rose gently to her head, and
smoothed the rich, silky hair.

"Poor child! poor child!" he murmured, dreamily, looking not at her,
but at the gloaming outside.

"As long as I could, uncle, until I felt that I must run away, or
go mad, or die. Then I remembered you, I had never seen you, but I
remembered that you were papa's brother, and that, being of the same
blood, you must be good, and kind, and true; and so I resolved to come
to you."

His hand trembled on her head, but he was silent for a moment; then he
said, in a low voice:

"Why did you not write?"

A smile crossed the girl's face.

"Because they would not permit us to write, excepting under their
dictation."

He started, and a fiery light flashed from the gentle, dreamy eyes.

"No letters were allowed to leave the school unless the principals had
read them. We were never out alone, or I would have posted a letter
unknown to them. No, I could not write, or I would have done so,
and--and--waited."

"You would not have waited long, my child," he murmured.

She threw back her head and kissed his hand. It was a strange gesture,
more foreign than English, full of the impulsive gracefulness of the
passionate South in which she had been born and bred; it moved the old
man strangely, and he drew her still closer to him as he whispered--

"Go on!--go on!"

"Well I made up my mind to run away," she continued. "It was a dreadful
thing to do, because if I had been caught and brought back, they would
have----"

"Stop, stop!" he broke in with passionate dread. "Why did I not know
of this? How did Harold come to send you there? Great Heaven! a young
tender girl! Can Heaven permit it?"

"Heaven permits strange things, uncle," said the girl, gravely. "Papa
did not know, just as you did not know. It was an English school, and
all was fair and pleasant outside--outside! Well the night just after I
had received the money you used to send me each quarter, I bribed one
of the servants to leave the door open and ran away. I knew the road to
the coast and knew what day and time the boat started. I caught it and
reached London. There was just enough money to pay the fare down here,
and I--I--that is all, uncle."

"All?" he murmured. "A young, tender child!"

"And are you not angry?" she asked, looking up into his face. "You will
not send me back?"

"Angry! Send you back! My child, do you think if I had known, if I
could have imagined that you were not well treated, that you were not
happy, that I would have permitted you to remain a day, an hour longer
than I could have helped? Your letters always spoke of your contentment
and happiness."

She smiled.

"Remember, they were written with someone looking over my shoulder."

Something like an imprecation, surely the first that he had uttered for
many a long year, was smothered on the gentle lips.

"I could not know that--I could not know that, Stella! Your father
thought it best--I have his last letter. My child, do not cry----"

She raised her face.

"I am not crying; I never cry when I think of papa, uncle, Why should
I? I loved him too well to wish him back from Heaven."

The old man looked down at her with a touch of awe in his eyes.

"Yes, yes," he murmured; "it was his wish that you should remain there
at school. He knew what I was, an aimless dreamer, a man living out of
the world, and no fit guardian for a young girl. Oh, yes, Harold knew.
He acted for the best, and I was content. My life was too lonely, and
quiet, and lifeless for a young girl, and I thought that all was right,
while those fiends----"

She put her hand on his arm.

"Do not let us speak of them, or think of them any more, uncle. You
will let me stay with you, will you not? I shall not think your life
lonely; it will be a Paradise after that which I have left--Paradise.
And, see, I will strive to make it less lonely; but"--and she turned
suddenly with a look of troubled fear--"but perhaps I shall be in your
way?" and she looked round.

"No, no," he said, and he put his hand to his brow. "It is strange! I
never felt my loneliness till now! and I would not have you go for all
the world!"

She wound her arms round him, and nestled closer, and there was silence
for a space; then he said:

"How old are you, Stella?"

She thought a moment.

"Nineteen, uncle."

"Nineteen--a child!" he murmured; then he looked at her, and his lips
moved inaudibly as he thought, "Beautiful as an angel," but she heard
him, and her face flushed, but the next moment she looked up frankly
and simply.

"You would not say that much if you had seen my mamma. _She_ was
beautiful as an angel. Papa used to say that he wished you could
have seen her; that you would have liked to paint her. Yes, she was
beautiful."

The artist nodded.

"Poor, motherless child!" he murmured.

"Yes, she was beautiful," continued the girl, softly. "I can just
remember her, uncle. Papa never recovered from her death. He always
said that he counted the days till he should meet her again. He loved
her so, you see."

There was silence again; then the artist spoke:

"You speak English with scarcely an accent, Stella."

The girl laughed; it was the first time she had laughed, and it caused
the uncle to start. It was not only because it was unexpected, but
because of its exquisite music. It was like the trill of a bird. In an
instant he felt that her childish sorrow had not imbittered her life or
broken her spirit. He found himself almost unconsciously laughing in
harmony.

"What a strange observation, uncle!" she said, when the laugh had died
away. "Why I am English! right to the backbone, as papa used to say.
Often and often he used to look at me and say: 'Italy has no part and
parcel in you beyond your birth, Stella; you belong to that little
island which floats on the Atlantic and rules the world.' Oh, yes, I am
English. I should be sorry to be anything else, notwithstanding mamma
was an Italian."

He nodded.

"Yes, I remember Harold--your father--always said you were an English
girl. I am glad of that."

"So am I," said the girl, naively.

Then he relapsed into one of his dreamy silences, and she waited silent
and motionless. Suddenly he felt her quiver under his arm, and heave a
long, deep sigh.

With a start he looked down; her face had gone wofully pale to the very
lips.

"Stella!" he cried, "what is it? Are you ill? Great Heaven!"

She smiled up at him.

"No, no, only a little tired; and," with naive simplicity, "I think I
am a little hungry. You see, I only had enough for the fare."

"Heaven forgive me!" he cried, starting up so suddenly as almost to
upset her. "Here have I been dreaming and mooning while the child was
starving. What a brainless idiot I am!"

And in his excitement he hurried up and down the room, knocking over a
painting here and a lay figure there, and looking aimlessly about as if
he expected to see something in the shape of food floating in the air.

At last with his hand to his brow he bethought him of the bell, and
rang it until the little cottage resounded as if it were a fire-engine
station. There was a hurried patter of footsteps outside, the door was
suddenly opened, and a middle-aged woman ran in, with a cap very much
awry and a face startled and flushed.

"Gracious me, sir, what's the matter?" she exclaimed.

Mr. Etheridge dropped the bell, and without a word of explanation,
exclaimed--"Bring something to eat at once, Mrs. Penfold, and some
wine, at once, please. The poor child is starving."

The woman looked at him with amazement, that increased as glancing
round the room she failed to see any poor child, Stella being hidden
behind the antique high-backed chair.

"Poor child, what poor child! You've been dreaming, Mr. Etheridge!"

"No, no!" he said, meekly; "it's all true, Mrs. Penfold. She has come
all the way from Florence without a morsel to eat."

Stella rose from her ambush.

"Not all the way from Florence, uncle," she said.

Mrs. Penfold started and stared at the visitor.

"Good gracious me!" she exclaimed; "who is it?"

Mr. Etheridge rubbed his brow.

"Did I not tell you? It is my niece--my niece Stella. She has come
from Italy, and--I wish you'd bring some food. Bring a bottle of the
old wine. Sit down and rest, Stella. This is Mrs. Penfold--she is my
housekeeper, and a good woman, but,"--he added, without lowering his
tone in the slightest, though he was evidently under the idea that he
was inaudible--"but rather slow in comprehension."

Mrs. Penfold came forward, still flushed and excited, and with a smile.

"Your niece, sir! Not Mr. Harold's daughter that you so often have
spoken of! Why, how did you come in, miss?"

"I found the door open," said Stella.

"Good gracious me! And dropped from the clouds! And that must have
been an hour ago! And you, sir," looking at the bewildered artist
reproachfully, "you let the dear young thing sit here with her hat and
jacket on all that time, after coming all that way, without sending for
me."

"We didn't want you," said the old man, calmly.

"Want me! No! But the dear child wanted something to eat, and to rest,
and to take her things off. Oh, come with me, miss! All the way from
Florence, and Mr. Harold's daughter!"

"Go with her, Stella," said the old man, "and--and," he added, gently,
"don't let her keep you long."

The infinite tenderness of the last words caused Stella to stop on her
way to the door; she came back, and, putting her arms around his neck,
kissed him.

Then she followed Mrs. Penfold up-stairs to her room, the good woman
talking the whole while in exclamatory sentences of astonishment.

"And you are Mr. Harold's daughter. Did you see his portrait over the
mantel-shelf, miss? I should have known you by that, now I come to look
at you," and she looked with affectionate interest into the beautiful
face, as she helped Stella to take off her hat. "Yes, I should have
known you, miss, in a moment? And you have come all the way from Italy?
Dear me, it is wonderful. And I'm very glad you have, it won't be so
lonely for Mr. Etheridge. And is there anything else you want, miss?
You must excuse me for bringing you into my own room; I'll have a room
ready for you to-night, your own room, and the luggage, miss----"

Stella smiled and blushed faintly.

"I have none, Mrs. Penfold. I ran--I left quite suddenly."

"Dearie me!" murmured Mrs. Penfold, puzzled and sympathetic. "Well,
now, it doesn't matter so long as you are here, safe, and sound. And
now I'll go and get you something to eat! You can find your way down?"

"Yes," Stella said. She could find her way down. She stood for a moment
looking through the window, her long hair falling in a silky stream
down her white shoulders, and the soft, dreamy look came into her eyes.

"Is it true?" she murmured. "Am I really here at home with someone to
love me--someone whom I can love? Or is it only a dream, and shall I
wake in the cold bare room and find that I have still to endure the old
life? No! It is no dream, it is true!"

She wound up the long hair and went down to find that Mrs. Penfold had
already prepared the table, her uncle standing beside and waiting with
gentle impatience for her appearance.

He started as she entered, with a distinct feeling of renewed surprise;
the relief from uncertainty as to her welcome, the kindness of her
reception had already refreshed her, and her beauty shone out unclouded
by doubt or nervousness.

The old man's eyes wandered with artistic approval over the graceful
form and lovely face, and he was almost in the land of dreams again
when Mrs. Penfold roused him by setting a chair at the table, and
handing him a cobwebbed bottle and a corkscrew.

"Miss Stella must be starving, sir!" she said, suggestively.

"Yes, yes," he assented, and both of them set to work exhorting
and encouraging her to eat, as if they feared she might drop under
the table with exhaustion unless she could be persuaded to eat of
everything on the table.

Mr. Etheridge seemed to place great faith in the old port as a
restorative, and had some difficulty in concealing his disappointment
when Stella, after sipping the first glass, declined any more on the
score that it was strong.

At last, but with visible reluctance, he accepted her assertion that
she was rescued from any chance of starvation, and Mrs. Penfold cleared
the table and left them alone.

A lamp stood on the table, but the moonbeams poured in through the
window, and instinctively Stella drew near the window.

"What a lovely place it is, uncle!" she said.

He did not answer, he was watching her musingly, as she leant against
the edge of the wall.

"You must be very happy here."

"Yes," he murmured, dreamily. "Yes, and you think you will be, Stella."

"Ah, yes," she answered, in a low voice, and with a low sigh. "Happier
than I can say."

"You will not feel it lonely, shut up with an old man, a dreamer, who
has parted with the world and almost forgotten it?"

"No, no! a thousand times no!" was the reply.

He wandered to the fireplace and took up his pipe, but with a sudden
glance at her laid it down again. Slight as was the action she saw it,
and with the graceful, lithe movement which he had noticed, she glided
across the room and took up the pipe.

"You were going to smoke, uncle."

"No, no," he said, eagerly. "No, a mere habit----"

She interrupted him with a smile, and filled the pipe for him with her
taper little fingers, and gave it to him.

"You do not want me to wish that I had not come to you uncle?"

"Heaven forbid!" he said, simply.

"Then you must not alter anything in your life; you must go on as if I
had never dropped from the clouds to be a burden upon you."

"My child!" he murmured, reproachfully.

"Or to make you uncomfortable. I could not bear that, uncle."

"No, no!" he said, "I will alter nothing, Stella; we will be happy, you
and I."

"Very happy," she murmured, softly.

He wandered to the window, and stood looking out; and, unseen by him,
she drew a chair up and cleared it of the litter, and unconsciously he
sat down.

Then she glided to and fro, wandering round the room noiselessly,
looking at the curious lumber, and instinctively picking up the books
and putting them in something like order on the almost empty shelves.

Every now and then she took up one of the pictures which stood with
their faces to the wall, and her gaze would wander from it to the
painter sitting in the moonlight, his white hair falling on his
shoulders, his thin, nervous hands clasped on his knee.

She, who had spent her life in the most artistic city of the world,
knew that he was a great painter, and, child-woman as she was, wondered
why the world permitted him to remain unknown and unnoticed. She had
yet to learn that he cared as little for fame as he did for wealth,
and to be allowed to live for his art and dream in peace was all he
asked from the world in which he lived but in which he took no part.
Presently she came back to the window, and stood beside him; he started
slightly and put out his hand, and she put her thin white one into it.
The moon rose higher in the heavens, and the old man raised his other
hand and pointed to it in silence.

As he did so, Stella saw glide into the scene--as it was touched by
the moonbeams--a large white building rearing above the trees on the
hill-top, and she uttered an exclamation of surprise.

"What house is that, uncle? I had no idea one was there until this
moment!"

"That is Wyndward Hall, Stella," he replied, dreamily; "it was hidden
by the shadow and the clouds."

"What a grand place!" she murmured. "Who lives there uncle?"

"The Wyndwards," he answered, in the same musing tone, "the Wyndwards.
They have lived there for hundreds of years, Stella. Yes, it is a grand
place."

"We should call it a palace in Italy, uncle."

"It is a palace in England, but we are more modest. They are contented
to call it the Hall. An old place and an old race."

"Tell me about them," she said, quietly. "Do you know them--are they
friends of yours?"

"I know them. Yes, they are friends, as far as there be any friendship
between a poor painter and the Lord of Wyndward. Yes, we are friends;
they call them proud, but they are not too proud to ask James
Etheridge to dinner occasionally; and they accuse him of pride because
he declines to break the stillness of his life by accepting their
hospitality. Look to the left there, Stella. As far as you can see
stretch the lands of Wyndward--they run for miles between the hills
there."

"They have some reason to be proud," she murmured, with a smile. "But I
like them because they are kind to you."

He nodded.

"Yes, the earl would be more than kind, I think----"

"The earl?"

"Yes, Lord Wyndward, the head of the family; the Lord of Wyndward they
call him. They have all been called Lords of Wyndward by the people
here, who look up to them as if they were something more than human."

"And does he live there alone?" she asked, gazing at the gray stone
mansion glistening in the moonlight.

"No, there is a Lady Wyndward, and a daughter--poor girl."

"Why do you say poor girl?" asked Stella.

"Because all the wealth of the race would not make her otherwise than
an object of tender pity. She is an invalid; you see that window--the
one with the light in it?"

"Yes," Stella said.

"That is the window of her room; she lies there on a sofa, looking down
the valley all the day!"



CHAPTER II.


"Poor girl!" murmured Stella. There was silence for a moment. "And
those three live there all alone?" she said.

"Not always," he replied, musingly. "Sometimes, not often, the son
Leycester comes down. He is Viscount Trevor."

"The son," said Stella. "And what is he like?"

The question seemed to set some train of thought in action; the old man
relapsed into silence for a few minutes. Then suddenly but gently he
rose, and going to the other end of the room, fetched a picture from
amongst several standing against the wall, and held it toward her.

"That is Lord Leycester," he said.

Stella took the canvas in her hand, and held it to the light, and an
exclamation broke involuntarily from her lips.

"How beautiful he is!"

The old man took the picture from her, and resting it on his knees,
gazed at it musingly.

"Yes," he said, "it is a grand face; one does not see such a face
often."

Stella leant over the chair and looked at it with a strange feeling of
interest and curiosity, such as no simply beautiful picture would have
aroused.

It was not the regularity of the face, with its clear-cut features
and its rippling chestnut hair, that, had it been worn by a Wyndward
of a hundred years ago, would have fallen in rich curls upon the
square, well-formed shoulders. It was not the beauty of the face, but a
something indefinable in the carriage of the head and the expression of
the full, dark eyes that attracted, almost fascinated, her.

It was in a voice almost hushed by the indescribable effect produced by
the face, that she said:

"And he is like that?"

"It is lifelike," he answered. "I, who painted it, should not say it,
but it is like him nevertheless--that is Leycester Wyndward. Why did
you ask?"

Stella hesitated.

"Because--I scarcely know. It is such a strange face, uncle. The
eyes--what is it in the eyes that makes me almost unable to look away
from them?"

"The reflection of a man's soul, Stella," he said.

It was a strange answer, and the girl looked down at the strange face
interrogatively.

"The reflection of a man's soul, Stella. The Wyndwards have always
been a wild, reckless, passionate race; here, in this village, they
have innumerable legends of the daring deeds of the lords of Wyndward.
Murder, rapine, and high-handed tyranny in the olden times, wild
license and desperate profligacy in these modern ones; but of all the
race this Leycester Wyndward is the wildest and most heedless. Look
at him, Stella, you see him here in his loose shooting-jacket, built
by Poole; with the diamond pin in his irreproachable scarf, with
his hair cut to the regulation length: I see him in armor with his
sword upraised to watch the passionate fire of his eyes. There is a
picture in the great gallery up yonder of one of the Wyndwards clad
just so, in armor of glittering steel, with one foot on the body of a
prostrate foe, one hand upraised to strike the death-dealing blow of
his battle-ax. Yes, Leycester Wyndward should have lived four centuries
back."

Stella smiled.

"Has he committed many murders, uncle, burnt down many villages?"

The old man started and looked up at the exquisite face, with its arch
smile beaming in the dark eyes and curving the red, ripe lips, and
smiled in response.

"I was dreaming, Stella; an odd trick of mine. No, men of his stamp
are sadly circumscribed nowadays. We have left them no vent for their
natures now, excepting the gambling-table, the turf, and----" he roused
suddenly. "Yes, it's a beautiful face, Stella, but it belongs to a man
who has done more harm in his day than all his forefathers did before
him. It is rather a good thing that Wyndward Hall stands so firmly, or
else Leycester would have melted it at ecarte and baccarat long ago."

"Is he so bad then?" murmured Stella.

Her uncle smiled.

"Bad is a mild word, Stella; and yet--look at the face again. I have
seen it softened by a smile such as might have been worn by an innocent
child; I have heard those lips laugh as--as women are supposed to laugh
before this world has driven all laughter out of them; and when those
eyes smile there is no resisting them for man or woman."

He stopped suddenly and looked up.

"I am wandering on like an old mill. Put the picture away, Stella."

She took it from him and carried it across the room, but stood for
a moment silently regarding it by the lamp light. As she did so, a
strange fancy made her start and set the picture on the table suddenly.
It seemed to her as if the dark eyes had suddenly softened in their
intense fixed gaze and smiled at her.

It was the trick of a warm, imaginative temperament, and it took
possession of her so completely that with a swift gesture she laid her
hand over the dark eyes and so hid them.

Then, with a laugh at her own folly, she put the picture against the
wall and went back to the window and sat beside the old man.

"Tell me about your past life, Stella," he said, in a low voice.

"It seems to me as if you had always been here. You have a quiet way of
speaking and moving about, child."

"I learnt that while papa was ill," she said, simply. "Sometimes he
would sit for hours playing softly, and I did not wish to disturb him."

"I remember, I remember," he murmured. "Stella, the world should have
known something of him; he was a born musician."

"He used to say the same of you, uncle; you should have been a famous
artist."

The old man looked up with a smile.

"My child, there are many men whom the world knows nothing of--luckily
for them. Your father and I were dreamers, both; the world likes men of
action. Can you play?"

She rose and stood for a moment hesitating. In the corner of the room
there was a small chamber organ--one of those wonderful instruments
which in a small space combine the grand tones of a cathedral organ
with the melodious softness of a flute. It was one of the few luxuries
which the artist had permitted himself, and he was in the habit of
playing snatches of Verdi and Rossini, of Schubert and Mozart, when the
fading light compelled him to lay the brush aside.

Stella went up to it softly and seated herself, and presently began to
play. She attempted no difficult fugue or brilliant march, but played
a simple Florentine vesper hymn, which she had heard floating from the
devout lips of the women kneeling before the altar of the great church
in Florence, and presently began to sing it.

The old man started as the first clear bird-like notes rose softly
upon the evening air, and then covering his face with his hands went
straight to dreamland.

The vesper hymn died softly, slowly out, and she rose, but with a
gesture of his hand he motioned her to remain at the organ.

"You have your father's voice, Stella; sing again."

She sang a pleasant ditty this time, with a touch of pathos in the
refrain, and hearing a slight noise as she finished, looked round, and
saw the old man rise, and with quivering lips turn toward the door.

The young girl's sweet voice had brought back the past and its dead too
plainly, and he had gone out lest she should see his emotion.

Stella rose and went to the window, and stood looking into the night.
The moonlight was glinting the river in the distance, and falling
in great masses upon the lawn at her feet. Half unconsciously she
opened the window, and stepping out, found herself in a small garden,
beautifully kept and fragrant with violets; her love for flowers was
a passion, and she stepped on to the path in search of them. The path
led in zigzag fashion to a little wooden gate, by which the garden was
entered from the lane. Stella found some violets, and looking about in
search of further treasure store, saw a bunch of lilac blossom growing
in the lane side.

To open the gate and run lightly up the side of the bank was the
impulse of the moment, and she obeyed it; there were still deeper
masses of flowers a little further down, and she was walking toward
them when she heard the sound of a horse galloping toward her.

For a moment she was so startled by the unexpected sound that she
stood looking toward the direction whence it came, and in that moment
a horse and rider turned the corner and made full pelt for the spot
where she was standing. Stella glanced back toward the little white
gate to discover that it was not in sight, and that she had gone
further than she intended. It was of no use to attempt to get back
before the horseman reached her, there was only time to get out of the
way. Lightly springing up the bank, she stood under the lilac tree and
waited.

As she did so, the horse and man came out of the shadow into the
moonlight. To Stella, both looked tremendously big and tall in the
deceptive light, but it was not the size, but the attitude of the rider
which struck her and chained her attention.

She could not see his face, but the figure was that of a young man,
tall and stalwart, and full of a strange, masterful grace which
displayed itself in the easy, reckless way in which he sat the great
animal, and in the poise of the head which, slightly thrown back,
seemed in its very attitude eloquent of pride and defiance. There was
something strange and unusual about the whole bearing that struck
Stella, unused as she was to meeting horsemen in an English country
lane.

As he came a little nearer she noticed that he was dressed in evening
dress, excepting his coat, which was of velvet, and sat loosely, yet
gracefully, upon the stalwart frame. In simple truth the rider had
thrown off his dress coat for a smoking jacket, and still wore his
dress boots. Stella saw the moonlight shining upon them and upon a
ruby, which blazed sullenly upon the white hand which held the whip.

As if rider and horse were one, they came up the lane, and were abreast
of her, the man all unconscious of her presence. But not so the horse;
his quick, restless eye had caught sight of the shimmer of Stella's
dress, and with a toss of the head he swerved aside and stood still.
The rider brought his eyes from the sky, and raising his whip, cut the
horse across the flank, with a gesture of impatient anger; but the
horse--a splendid, huge-boned Irish mare, as fiery and obstinate as a
lion--rose on its hind legs instantly, and the whip came down again.

"Confound you! what is the matter?" exclaimed its master. "Go on, you
idiot!"

The horse pricked its ears at the sound of the familiar voice, but
stood stock still, quivering in every limb.

Stella saw the whip raised again, and instinctively, before she was
aware of it, her womanly protest sprang from her lips.

"No! no!"

At the sound of the eager, imploring voice, the rider kept his whip
poised in the air, then let his arm fall, and dragging rather than
guiding the horse, forced it near the hedge.

"Who is it? Who are you?" he demanded, angrily. "What the----"

Then he stopped suddenly, and stared speechlessly, motionless, and
transfixed--horse and rider, as it were, turned to stone.

Tall and graceful, with that grace which belongs to the girlhood which
stands on the threshold of womanhood, with her exquisite face fixed in
an expression of mingled fear and pity, and a shyness struggling with
maidenly pride, she made a picture which was lovely enough to satisfy
the requirements of the most critical and artistic mind--a picture
which he who looked upon it carried with him till the day he died.

For a moment he sat motionless, and as he sat the moon fell full upon
his face, and Stella saw the face of the portrait whose eyes she had
but a few minutes since hidden from her sight.

A lifetime of emotion may pass in a minute; a life's fate hangs upon
the balance of a stroke of time. It was only for a moment that they
looked into each other's eyes in silence, but that moment meant so much
to each of them! It was the horse that broke the spell by attempting
to rise again. With a slight movement of the hand Leycester Wyndward
forced him down, and then slid from the saddle and stood at Stella's
feet, hat in hand.

Even then he paused as if afraid, lest a word should cause the vision
to vanish into thin air; but at last he opened his lips.

"I beg your pardon."

That was all. Four words only, and words that one hears daily; words
that have almost lost their import from too familiar commonplace,
and yet, as he said them, they sounded so entirely, so earnestly, so
intensely significant and full of meaning that all the commonplace
drifted from them, and they conveyed to the listener's ear a real and
eager prayer for forgiveness; so real and earnest that to have passed
them by with the conventional smile and bow would have been an insult,
and impossible.

But it was not only the words and the tone, but the voice that thrilled
through Stella's soul, and seemed to wake an echoing chord. The picture
which had so awed her had been dumb and voiceless; but now it seemed
as if it had spoken even as it had smiled, and for a moment she felt a
woman's desire to shut out the sound, as she had shut out the smiling
eyes.

It was the maidenly impulse of self-protection, against what evil she
did not know or dream.

"I beg your pardon," he said again, his voice deep and musical, his
eyes raised to hers. "I am afraid I frightened you. I thought I was
alone here. Will you forgive me?"

Stella looked down at him, and a faint color stole into her cheeks.

"It is I who should beg pardon; I am not frightened, but your horse
was--and by me?"

He half glanced at the horse standing quiet enough now, with its bridle
over his arm.

"He is an idiot!" he said, quickly; "an obstinate idiot, and incapable
of fear. It was mere pretense."

"For which you punished him," said Stella, with a quick smile.

He looked up at her, and slowly there came into his eyes and his lips
that smile of which Mr. Etheridge had spoken, and which Stella had
foreseen.

"You are afraid I am going to whip him again?"

"Yes," she said, with simple directness.

He looked at her with a curious smile.

"You are right," he said; "I was. There are times when he requires a
little correction; to-night is one of them. We have not seen each other
for some little time, and he has forgotten who is master. But I shall
not forget your 'No,' and will spare the whip; are you satisfied?"

It was a strange speech, closing with a strangely abrupt question. It
was characteristic of the speaker, who never in all his life probably
had known for a moment what nervousness or embarrassment meant. Judging
by his tone, the easy flow of the musical voice, the frank, open
manner, one would have imagined that this meeting with a strange and
beautiful girl was the most matter-of-fact affair.

"Are you satisfied?" he repeated, as Stella remained silent, trying
to fight against the charm of his simple and direct manner. "If not,
perhaps that will do it?" and taking the whip, a strong hunter's crop,
in both his white hands, he broke it in two as easily as if it were a
reed, and flung it over his shoulder.

Stella flushed, but she laughed, and her dark eyes beamed down upon him
with serious archness.

"Does not that look as if you were afraid you should not keep your
promise?"

He smiled up at her.

"It does," he said--"you are right; I may have been tempted beyond my
strength. He is a bad-tempered beast, and I am another. Why do you
laugh----?"

He broke off, his voice changing as subtly as some musical instrument.

Stella hesitated a moment.

"I beg you will tell me--I shall not be offended."

She laughed, and clung with one hand to the lilac, looking down on him.

"I was thinking how fortunate it was that he could not whip you. It is
not fair, as you are both so bad-tempered, that one only should get
punished."

He did not laugh, as another man would have done; but there came into
the dark eyes a flash of surprised amusement, such as might have shone
in those of the giant Gulliver when some Liliputian struck him with a
pin-sized stick; and his lips parted with a smile.

"It was a natural reflection," he said, after a pause. "Will you let me
help you down?"

Stella shook her head. Somehow she felt safe up there above him, where
but the dark eyes could reach her.

"Thank you, no; I am gathering some lilac. Do not trouble."

And she turned slightly from him, and stretched up her hand for a
branch above her head. The next moment he sprang up the bank lightly,
and stood beside her.

"Permit me," he said. And with one sweep he drew the fragrant branch
within her reach.

"And now will you come down?" he asked, as if she were some willful
child. Stella smiled, and he held out his hand. She put hers into it,
and his fingers closed over it with a grasp firm as steel, but as
smooth as a woman's. As the warm fingers closed over hers, which were
cold with her long grasp of the branch above her head, a thrill ran
through her and caused her to shudder slightly.

"You are cold," he said, instantly. "The Spring evenings are
treacherous. Have you far to go?"

"I am not cold, thanks," she said, with quick alarm, for there was
a look in his eyes and a movement of his hand which seemed to give
warning that he was about to take his coat off.

"I am not at all cold!"

"Have you far to go?" he repeated, with the air, gentle as it was, of a
man who was accustomed to have his questions answered.

"Not far; to the little white gate there," she answered.

"The little white gate--to Etheridge's, the artist's?" he said gently,
with a tone of surprise.

Stella bent her head; his eyes scanned her face.

"You live there--are staying there?"

"Yes."

"I never saw you in Wyndward before."

"No, I was never here till to-night."

"Till to-night?" he echoed. "I knew that I had not seen you before."

There was something in the tone, wholly unlike commonplace flattery,
that brought the color to Stella's face.

They had reached the gate by this time, he walking by her side, the
bridle thrown over his arm, the great horse pacing quiet and lamb-like,
and Stella stopped.

"Good-night," she said.

He stopped short and looked at her, his head thrown back, as she had
seen it as he rode toward her, his eyes fixed intently on her face, and
seeming to sink through her downcast eyes into her soul.

"Good-night," he replied. "Wait."

It was a word of command, for all its musical gentleness, and Stella,
woman-like, stopped.

"I am going away," he said, not abruptly, but with calm directness. "If
you have only come to-night I shall not be able to learn your name;
before I go, will you tell it me?"

Stella smiled.

"Why not?" he said, as she hesitated.

"My name is Stella Etheridge, I am Mr. Etheridge's niece."

"Stella!" he repeated. "Stella! Thank you. I shall not forget. My
name," and he raised his hat with a simple gesture of proud humility,
"is Wyndward--Leycester Wyndward."

"I know it," said Stella, and the next moment she could have called the
impulsive words back again.

"You know it!" he said; "and came here only to-night! How is that?"

Stella's brows contracted, dark and full they met across her brow in
true southern fashion, and lent a significant eloquence to her face;
she would have given much to avoid answering.

"How is that?" he asked, his eyes fixed on hers.

"It is very simple," she said, as if vexed at her hesitation. "I saw
your portrait and--knew you."

He smiled a curious smile.

"Knew me before we met! I wonder----" he paused and his eyes seemed to
read her thoughts. "I wonder whether you were prejudiced by what you
saw by that forshadowing of me? Is that a fair question?"

"It is a strange one," said Stella.

"Is it? I will not press it. Good-night!" and he raised his hat.

"Good-night, and good-bye," she said, and impulsively again she held
out her hand.

His eyes showed no surprise, whatever he may have felt, as he took her
hand and held it.

"No," he said, as he let her draw it away. "Not good-bye. I have
changed my mind. I shall not go. It is only good-night," and with a
smile flashing out of his eyes, he leapt upon his horse and was gone.



CHAPTER III.


Stella stood watching until the big chestnut had borne its master out
of sight, and down the lane, across the meadow; she caught one more
glimpse of them as he rode through the ford, the water dashing up a
silver shower of spray as high as the horse's head; then they vanished
in the shadow of the woods which engirdled Wyndward Hall.

But she still stood, lost in a dreamy reverie that was not thought,
until her uncle's voice came floating down the garden, and with a start
she ran up the path and stood breathless before him.

The old man's placid face wore a slight look of anxiety, which faded
instantly as he said:

"Where have you been, Stella? I thought you had changed your mind,
and flown back to Italy again. Mrs. Penfold is searching the meadows
wildly."

Stella laughed, as she put her arm round his neck.

"You will not get rid of me so easily, uncle. No, I have only been down
the pretty lane at the end of the garden. See, here are some flowers;
are they not sweet? You shall have them for your table, and they shall
stand within sight while you are at work." And she filled a vase with
water, and arranged them. "But the flowers are not all the fruits of my
wandering, uncle," she went on; "I have had an adventure."

He was strolling up and down with his pipe in his mouth, his hands
folded behind him.

"An adventure!"

"Yes," she nodded. "I have met--can you guess whom?"

He smiled.

"Mr. Fielding, the clergyman? It is his usual evening stroll."

"No."

"Perhaps an old lady in a lace shawl, with a fat pug by her side. If
so, you have made an acquaintance with the great Mrs. Hamilton, the
doctor's wife."

"No, it was not anybody's wife, uncle--it was a man. You shan't guess
any more; but what do you say to Lord Leycester?"

"Lord Leycester!" said Mr. Etheridge. "I did not even know he was at
home. Lord Leycester! And does my picture do him justice?" he asked,
turning to her with a smile.

She bent over the flowers, ashamed of the meaningless blush which rose
to her face.

"Yes, uncle, it is like him; but I could not see very distinctly you
know. It was moonlight. He was riding a great, huge chestnut horse."

"I know," he murmured, "and tearing along like a lost spirit. He
flashed past like a meteor, I expect. No, you could not see him, and
cannot judge of my portrait."

"But he didn't flash past. He would have done, no doubt, but the
chestnut declined. I think it was frightened by me, for I was standing
on the bank."

"And he stopped?" asked Mr. Etheridge. "It was a wonder; such a little
thing even as the shying of his horse was sufficient to rouse the devil
in him! He stopped!"

"Because he was obliged," said Stella, in a low voice, a deep blush of
maidenly shame rising to her face, as she remembers that it was she who
had really stopped him.

"And was he very furious?"

"No; the proverbial lamb could not have been more quiet," said Stella,
with a musical laugh.

Mr. Etheridge laughed.

"He must have been in a good humor. It was strange his being out
to-night. The Hall is full of people from town; but it would not matter
to him if he wanted to ride, though the prince himself were there; he
would go. And my picture?"

"Did him justice, uncle. Yes, he is very handsome; he wore a loose
velvet coat to-night of a dark purple; I did not know gentlemen wore
such colors now."

"A smoking coat," he explained. "I think I can see him. No doubt he had
obeyed the impulse of the moment--had jumped up and left them there at
the Hall--saddled his own horse and tore away across the river. Well,
you have probably seen the last of him for some time, Stella. He rarely
stays at the Hall more than a day or two. Town has too great a charm
for him."

Stella's lips opened, and she was about to reply that he had suddenly
resolved to stay, but something stopped the words on her lips.

Presently there was a knock at the door, and Mrs. Penfold came in with
the candles.

"You have given me quite a turn, Miss Stella," she said, with a smile
of reproach; "I thought you were lost. Your room is quite ready now,
miss."

Stella went up to the old man and kissed him.

"Good-night, uncle," she murmured.

"Good-night, my child," he said, his eyes dwelling on her tenderly, but
with something of the bewildered look clouding them; "Good-night, and
happy dreams for this, your first night at home."

"At home!" murmured Stella; "at home! You are very good to me, uncle,"
and she kissed him again.

Mrs. Penfold had done wonders in so short a time permitted her, and
Stella found herself standing alone in a tiny room, modestly but
comfortably--oh, so comfortably!--furnished, with its white bed and its
old-fashioned dimity curtains framing the lattice window. As her gaze
wandered round the room, her glorious eyes grew moist. It was all so
sudden, so sweet a contrast to the gaunt, bare room, which, for a weary
year she had shared with a score of girls as miserable as herself; so
sudden that she could scarcely believe it was real.

But youth is ever ready to accept the surprises of life, and she fell
asleep--fell asleep to dream that she was back in the wretched school
in Italy, and chained to a stone wall from which all her efforts to
free herself were unavailing, but presently she thought that a tall,
stalwart figure came riding down on a big chestnut horse, and that with
one sweep of his strong hand he broke her chains asunder, and, lifting
her into his saddle, bore her away. Then the scene changed; she seemed
to be following her rescuer who, with his handsome face turned over his
shoulder, drew her on continually with a strange fascinating smile. All
through her dreams the smiling eyes haunted her, and once she stretched
out her hands to keep it from her, but even in the action the gesture
of repulse turned in a strange, subtle manner to one of entreaty and
welcome, and she drew the smile, as it were, to her bosom, and folded
her hands over it. A girlish fancy, perhaps, but such fancies influence
a life for good or ill, for joy or misery.

Lord Leycester Wyndward, of whose smile Stella was dreaming, had ridden
up the hills, the great chestnut scarcely breaking his pace, but
breathing hard and defiantly from its wide, red nostrils--had ridden
up the hills and through the woods, and reached the open plateau lying
round the Hall.

A noble park occupied the plateau--a park of chestnuts and oaks,
which were the pride of the county. Through the park wound the road,
gleaming white in the moonlight, to the front gates of Wyndward. The
lodge-keeper heard the beat of the chestnut's feet, for which he had
been listening intently, and threw open the gates, and Lord Leycester
entered the grounds. They were vast in extent and exquisitely laid out,
the road winding between a noble avenue of trees that arched overhead.
The present earl's grandfather had gone in for arboriculture, and the
way was lined for fifty feet back with rare shrubs and conifers.

So serpentine was the road that the great gray mansion broke upon the
gaze suddenly, mentally startling him who approached it for the first
time.

To Lord Leycester it was a familiar sight, but familiar as it was he
glanced up at it with what was almost a nod of approval. Like most men
of his nature, he possessed a passionate love and appreciation for the
beautiful, and there was to-night a strange, indefinable fire in his
hot blood which made him more than usually susceptible to the influence
of the scene. A sweeping curve of the road led to the terrace which
stretched along the whole front of the house, and by which the
principal entrance was gained.

Lord Leycester struck off to the right, and entered a modern courtyard,
three sides of which were occupied by the admirable stables. A couple
of grooms had been listening as intently as the lodge-keeper, and as he
entered the yard they hurried forward silently and took the chestnut.
Lord Leycester dropped to the ground, patted the horse, which made a
playfully-affectionate snap at his arm, and, ascending a flight of
steps, entered the lower end of the long hall, which stretched through
the building.

The hall was softly but sufficiently lighted by shaded lamps, supported
by huge figures in bronze, which diffused a charming glow upon the
innumerable pictures upon the panels of dark oak. From the vaulted
roof hung tattered flags, most of them borne by the earlier Wyndwards,
some of them bestowed by the graceful hands of dead and gone princes;
the somewhat gloomy aspect of the place was lightened by the gleaming
armor of the knightly effigies which stood at regular intervals upon
the tesselated floor, and by the deep crimson of the curtains which
screened the heavy doors and tall windows. The whole scene, the very
atmosphere, as it seemed, was characteristic of an ancient and powerful
race. Notwithstanding that the house was full of guests, and that a
brilliant party was at that moment in the drawing-room, not a sound
penetrated the vast hall. The two or three servants who were standing
by the doors or sitting on the benches, talking in hushed voices, were
silent the moment he entered, and one came forward to receive any
commands.

Notwithstanding the brusqueness which is the salient characteristic of
our present life, the old world state and formality still existed at
Wyndward. Be as exacting and capricious as you might, you had no fear
of meeting with inattention or disrespect from the army of servants,
whose one aim and purpose in life seemed to be to minister to the wants
and moods of their superiors.

It was a princely house, conducted in stately fashion, without regard
to cost or trouble, and the servants, from the pages to the countess's
own maid, were as proud of their position, in its degree, as the Lord
of Wyndward of his.

"Send Oliver to me," said Lord Wyndward, as he passed the man. "I am
going to my room."

He went up the stairs, and passing along the principal corridor,
entered a room fronting the park. It was one of a suite which consisted
of a sort of sitting-room, a dressing-room, and beyond a bedroom.

The sitting-room gave pretty plain indications of the owner's tastes
and dispositions.

It was a medley of objects connected with sport and art. Here a set
of boxing-gloves and foils; a gun-rack, well stocked; fishing-rods
and whips hung over the antique fireplace with the wide open hearth
and dog-irons. On one side of the room hung a collection of etchings,
unique and priceless; on another half a dozen gems in oil, while
against the third stood a piano, and an easel upon which rested a
canvas displaying a half-finished Venus rising from her cradle of sea
foam; for upon this, the only son of the house, the partial gods had
bestowed many gifts; any one of which, had he been a poor man, would
have made the world regard him as one of its masters. But as it was,
he painted and played for amusement only, and there were only a few of
his friends, and only those who were most intimate, who suspected that
the wild, reckless Leycester could do more than ride like a centaur and
shoot like a North American Indian. How were they to know, seeing that
he rarely spoke of art, and never of his own passionate love of it? Had
they known, it would have given them a key to much in his character
which puzzled and bewildered them; they would have been nearer
understanding how it was that in one man could be combined the soft
tenderness of a southern nature with the resolute, defiant recklessness
of the northern.

He entered the room and went to the fireplace in which a log was
burning brightly, to guard against the too frequent treachery of an
early summer evening, and flinging his hat on to a chair, passed his
hand through his hair with a thoughtful yet restless smile.

"Stella!" he murmured. "Stella! That was wrong. A star should be fair
and golden, all light and sunshine, while she--great Heaven! what eyes!
It was surely the sweetest, loveliest face that a man ever looked upon.
No wonder that coming upon it so suddenly--with my thoughts a hundred
miles away, coming upon it suddenly as it shone up above me--that I
should think it only a vision! If that face as I saw it could smile
out from the Academy next Spring, what crowds of fools would gather
round to gape and stare at it? If--yes, but who could do it? No one! No
one! As well try and catch the sunlight on a brush and paint it on the
canvas--as well try----" he broke off suddenly, his eye caught by the
Venus Aphrodite smiling from the easel, and going across to it, stood
and contemplated it.

"Venus with a pale pink face and meaningless blue eyes, with insipid
yellow hair and simpering smile! Never more will Venus take that
semblance for me. No, she will be as I saw her to-night, with dark
silken hair, and sweeping lashes shading the dark brown eyes, in which
one sees the soul peering from their depths. That is Venus, not this,"
and with a smile of derision he took up a brush and drew a dark, broad
effacing line across the fair face.

"So departs forever all my former dreams of womanly loveliness.
Loveliness! I have never seen it until to-night. Stella! A star! Yes,
she is rightly named, after all. She shone down on me like a star,
and I--great Heaven!--was like one bewitched! While she--she made a
laughing-stock of me. Compared me with the nag, and treated me like a
school-boy too big to be whipped but not too large to be laughed at.

"By Jove it is not a thing to be proud of; called to task by a girl--a
little slip of a girl not yet a woman! and yet I would not have missed
that laugh and the light scorn of those dark eyes, though they lighted
up at my expense. Stella----"

There was a knock at the door, and his valet, Oliver, entered.

Lord Leycester stared at him a moment abstractedly, then roused himself
from his reverie.

"What is it, Oliver?"

"You sent for me, my lord."

"Oh, yes! I had forgotten. I will wash and get into my other coat."

Oliver passed noiselessly into the other room and assisted his master
to change the velvet smoking-jacket for the dress coat, brushed the
thick, short-cut chestnut hair into order, and opened the door.

"Where are they all?" he asked. "Are any of them in the smoking-room?"

"Yes, my lord, Lord Barton and Captain Halliday; the Marquis of
Sandford and Sir William are in the billiard-room."

Lord Leycester nodded, and went down the stairs across the hall;
a servant drew a curtain aside and opened a door, and Lord
Leycester entered a small ante-room, one side of which opened into
a long-stretching fernery, from which came the soft trip trip of
fountains, and the breath which filled the whole atmosphere with a
tropical perfume.

A couple of footmen in gorgeous livery were standing beside a double
curtain, and at a sign from Lord Leycester they drew it apart. Lord
Leycester passed through and down a small corridor lined with statuary,
at the end of which was another curtain. No passage, or door, or
ante-room but was thus masked, to shut out the two things which the
earl held as abominations--draught and noise.

With the opening of these curtains the large saloon was revealed
like the scene on the stage of a theater. It was a magnificent room
in keeping with the rest of the place, richly but not gorgeously
decorated, and lighted by wax candles shining through faintly hued
globes. At one end stood a grand piano in white and ormolu, and a lady
was playing and singing, while others were standing round with tea-cups
in their hands. Near the fireplace was a table, upon which stood a
silver tea equipage, with which the countess was busied.

Lady Wyndward was still in her prime, notwithstanding that Lord
Leycester was twenty-three; she had been married at eighteen, and was
now in the perfection of matronly beauty; one had only to glance at
her to learn from whence Leycester had got his strange beauty. Near
her stood a tall, thin gentleman with proud, haughty, clean-cut face,
and iron gray hair, worn rather long and brushed back from a white,
lofty brow. It was the earl. His dark piercing eyes were bent upon the
ground as he stood listening to the music, but he saw Leycester enter,
and raised his head as a slight frown crossed his face. Lady Wyndward
saw the frown and sought the cause, but her face showed no signs of
surprise or displeasure. It was calm and impassive at all times, as if
its owner disdained the weakness of ordinary mortals. Leycester paused
a moment, taking in the scene; then he crossed the room, and went up to
the table.

Lady Wyndward looked up with her serene, imperial smile.

"Will you have some tea, Leycester?"

"Thanks," he said.

She gave him his cup, and as he took it a young man left the group at
the piano, and came up to him laughing.

"Where have you been, Leycester?" he asked, putting his hand on the
broad shoulder. It was Lord Charles Guildford, Leycester's most
intimate friend.

Between these two existed an affection which was almost, say rather
more than fraternal. They had been together at Eton, where Leycester,
the great, stalwart lad, had fought the slight frail boy's battles;
they had lived in the same rooms at Oxford, had been comrades in all
the wild escapades which made their term at college a notorious one,
and they were inseparable. Leycester had grown from a tall lad into a
stalwart man; Lord Charles--or Charlie, as he was called--had fulfilled
the promise of his frail boyhood, and developed into a slight, thin,
fair-haired youth, with the indolent grace which sometimes accompanies
weakness, and the gentle nature of a woman.

Leycester turned to him with a smile, and the earl looked up to hear
the answer; the countess busied herself with the teapot, as if she were
not listening as intently.

"I went for a galop, Charlie," said Leycester. "You fellows were half
asleep in the smoking-room, and I had listened to Barton's Indian story
for the hundredth time, and it got rather slow; then I remembered that
the chestnut had been eating his head off for the last five weeks, and
thought I would give him a turn."

The earl frowned and turned away; Lord Charles laughed.

"Pretty behavior!" he exclaimed; "and here were we hunting all over the
place for you."

"Why didn't you come into the drawing-room to us, Lord Leycester?" said
a beautiful girl who was sitting near; "we should not have bored you
with any Indian stories."

"But, you see, I should have bored you, Lady Constance," he said.

The girl smiled up into his face.

"Perhaps you would," she said. "You are more considerate than I
thought."

"I never venture into the ladies' sanctum after dinner till the tea is
announced," he retorted. "I have an idea, shared by my sex generally,
that it is not safe--that, in short, you are too ferocious."

"And you prefer riding about the country till we quiet down. Are we
quiet now, or do we look ferocious?"

And she smiled up at him from behind her fan with a plain invitation.

He sat down beside her and began to talk the infinite nothings which
came to his lips so easily, the trivial small change which his musical
voice and rare smile seemed to transform to true coin; but while he
talked his thoughts were wandering to the dark-haired girl who had
shone down upon him from her green and fragrant bower in the lane, and
he found himself picturing her in the little room at the cottage in the
meadows, amongst the curious litter of the old artist's studio; and
gradually his answers grew disjointed and inconsequential.

He got up presently, got up abruptly, and wandered across the room
stopping to exchange a word or two with one and the other, his tall,
graceful figure towering above those of the other men, his handsome
head thrown back musingly. Many an admiring and wistful glance
followed him from among the women, and not a few would have exerted
all their fascinations to keep him by their side, had they not known
by experience, that when he was in his present mood he was deaf to the
voice and smile of the charmer, charmed she never so wisely.



CHAPTER IV.


The countess watched him from her table, and, looking up at the earl,
murmured:

"Leycester is in one of his restless moods to-night."

"Yes," he said, with a sigh. "What is it?--do you know?"

"No," she said, calmly. "He was all right at dinner."

"Why can he not behave like other people?" said the earl, sadly. "Can
you fancy any other man leaving his father's guests and riding about
the country?"

"Leycester never was like any other," she said, not without a touch of
pride. "He is as he is, and nothing can alter him."

The earl was silent for a moment, his long white hands folded behind
his back, his dark eyes fixed on the floor.

"Has he told you of his last escapade--his last mad freak?" he said, in
a low voice.

"Yes," she answered, calmly. "He has never concealed anything from me."

"It is nearly twenty thousand pounds. Even Wyndward must feel such
strains as this."

The countess raised her head.

"I know," she said; "he has told me everything. It was a point of
honor. I did not quite understand; horse-racing is a pastime with which
I have little sympathy, though we have always owned race-horses. It was
a point of honor. Some one had been taking advantage of his name to act
dishonestly, and he withdrew the horse. He could take no other course,"
he says.

The earl sighed.

"No doubt. But it is mad folly, and there is no end to it--if he could
see some limit! Why does he not marry?"

The countess glanced at the handsome face.

"He will not marry until he meets with some one he can love."

The earl looked round the room at the many beautiful graceful women who
adorned it, and sighed impatiently.

"He is hard to please."

"He is," assented the countess, with the same touch of pride.

"It is time he married and settled," continued the earl. "For most men
a year or two would not matter, but with him--I do not like to think
that the title rests only on our two lives, as mine must be near its
close."

"Algernon!"

"And on his, which is risked daily."

He stooped, silenced by the sudden look of pain in the beautiful eyes.

"Why do you not speak to him? He will do anything for you."

The countess smiled.

"Everything but that. No, I cannot speak to him; it would be useless. I
do not wish to weaken my influence."

"Get Lilian to speak to him," he said.

The countess sighed.

"Lilian!" she murmured; "she would not do it. She thinks him something
more than human, and that no woman in the world can be good enough
to--to hold his stirrup or fill his wineglass."

The earl frowned.

"Between you," he said, "you have spoiled him."

The countess shook her head gently.

"No, we have not. He is now as a man what he was as a boy. Do you
remember what Nelson said, when Hardy asked him why he did nothing
while one of their ships was fighting two of the enemy's? 'I am doing
all I can--watching.'"

Before the earl could reply, a cabinet minister came up and engaged him
in conversation, and the countess rose and crossed the room to where an
elderly lady sat with a portfolio of engravings before her. It was the
Dowager Countess of Longford, a tiny little woman with a thin wrinkled
face, and keen but kindly gray eyes that lit up her white face and made
it remarkable.

She was dressed as simply as a quakeress, excepting for some old and
priceless lace which softened the rigor of her plainly made gray satin
dress. She looked up as the younger countess approached, and made room
for her on the sofa.

Lady Wyndward sat down in silence, which was unbroken for a minute.
Then the old countess said without looking at her--

"The boy grows handsomer every day, Ethel!"

Lady Wyndward sighed.

"What is the matter?" asked the other, with a keen smile. "What has he
been doing now, burning a church or running off with a Lord Mayor's
daughter?"

"He has not been doing anything very much," answered Lady Wyndward.
"Except losing some money."

The old countess raised her eyebrows lightly.

"That does not matter."

"Not much. No, he has not been doing anything; I wish he would. That's
what is the matter."

"I understand," retorted the other. "He is most dangerous when quiet;
you are always afraid he is preparing for some piece of madness beyond
the ordinary. Well, my dear, if you will give the world such a
creature you must put up with the consequences--be prepared to pay the
penalty. I should be quite content to do so."

"Ah, you don't know," said the countess, with a smile that had
something pathetic in it.

"Yes, I do," retorted the old lady, curtly. "And I envy you still. I
love the boy, Ethel. There is not a woman of us in the room, from the
youngest to the oldest, who does not love him. You cannot expect one
whom the gods have so favored to behave like an ordinary mortal."

"Why not? It is just what Algernon has said to me."

"I thought as much. I was watching you two. Of all things, beware of
this: don't let Algernon interfere with him. It is a strange thing to
say, but his father is the worst man in all the world to attempt to put
the bridle on Leycester. It is we women who alone have the power to
guide him."

"That is where my fear lies," said the countess. "It is the thought of
what may happen in that quarter which fills me with daily dread."

"There is only one safeguard--marry him," remarked the old countess,
but with a comical smile.

The countess sighed.

"Again, that is what Algernon says. You both say it as calmly as if you
told me to give him a cup of tea."

The old countess was silent for a moment, then she said--

"Where is Lenore Beauchamp?"

Lady Wyndward was almost guilty of a start.

"You read my thoughts," she said.

The old lady nodded.

"She is the only woman who can really touch him. Ask her here; let them
be together. She will be glad to come."

"I am not sure, Lenore is proud; she might guess why we wanted her."

The old lady drew up her head as haughtily as if she was Leycester's
mother.

"And then? Is there any girl among them who would not jump at the
chance? I don't mean because he is the heir to Wyndward; he is enough
in himself without that."

"It is well you are not his mother; you would have made him what he is
not now--vain."

The old lady sighed.

"I know it. But you are wrong about Lenore. If she ever cared for
anyone, it is Leycester. She is proud, but love levels pride, and
she may put forth her power. If she should, not even Leycester can
withstand her. Ask her down, and leave the rest to her--and Providence."

The countess sat for a moment in silence, then she put her hand upon
the thin, wrinkled hand, unadorned by a single gem.

"I have always you to come to. I think you understand him better than
his own mother."

"No," said the old lady, "but I love him nearly as well."

"I will write at once," said the countess. And she rose and crossed to
the ante-room.

There was a writing-table amongst the furniture; the servants saw her
go to it, and noiselessly left the room.

She took up the pen and thought a moment, then wrote:

 "MY DEAR LENORE,--Will you come down and spend a week with us? We have
 a few friends with us, but we are not complete without you. Do not say
 'No,' but come. I do not name any day, so that you may be free to fix
 your own."

     "Yours affectionately,

          "ETHEL WYNDWARD."

 "P.S.--Leycester is with us."

As she wrote the signature she heard a step behind her, which she knew
was Leycester's.

He stopped short as he saw her, and coming up to her, put his hand on
her white shoulder.

"Writing, mother?" he said.

The countess folded her letter.

"Yes. Where are you going?"

He pointed to the Louis Quatorze clock that ticked solemnly on a
bracket.

"Ten o'clock, mother," he said, with a smile.

"Oh, yes; I see," she assented.

He stood for a moment looking down at her with all a young man's filial
pride in a mother's beauty, and, bending down, touched her cheek with
his lips, then passed out.

The countess looked after him with softened eyes.

"Who could help loving him?" she murmured.

Humming an air from the last opera bouffe, he ran lightly up the
staircase and passed along the corridor, but as he reached the further
end and knocked at a door, the light air died upon his lips.

A low voice murmured, "Come in;" and opening the door gently, he
entered.

The room was a small one, and luxuriously furnished in a rather strange
style. On the first entrance, a stranger would have been struck by
the soft and delicate tints which pervaded throughout. There was not
a brilliant color in the apartment; the carpet and hangings, the
furniture, the pictures themselves were all of a reposeful tint, which
could not tire the eye or weary the sense. The carpet was a thick
Persian rug, which deadened the sound of footsteps, costly hangings of
a cool and restful gray covered the walls, save at intervals; the fire
itself was screened by a semi-transparent screen, and the only light in
the room came from a lamp which was suspended by a silver chain from
the ceiling, and was covered by a thick shade.

On a couch placed by the window reclined a young girl. As Leycester
entered, she half rose and turned a pale, but beautiful face toward him
with an expectant smile.

Beautiful is a word that is easily written, and written so often that
its significance has got dulled: it fails to convey any idea of the
ethereal loveliness of Lilian Wyndward. Had Mr. Etheridge painted a
face with Leycester's eyes, and given it the delicately-cut lips and
spiritual expression of one of Raphael's angels, it would have been a
fair representation of Lilian Wyndward.

"It is you Leycester," she said. "I knew you would come," and she
pointed to a small traveling clock that stood on a table near her.

He went up to her and kissed her, and she put her arms round his neck
and laid her face against his, her eyes looking into his with rapt
devotion.

"How hot you are, dear. Is it hot down there?"

"Awfully," he said, seating himself beside her, and thrusting his
hands into his pockets. "There is not a breath of air moving, and if
there were the governor would take care to shut it out. This room is
deliriously cool, Lil; it is a treat to come into it."

"Is it?" she said, with a glad eagerness. "You really think it is. I
like to hear you say that."

"Yes, it's the prettiest room in the house. What is it smells so sweet?"

"Lilac," she said, and she pointed to a bunch on the table.

He started slightly, and, stretching out his hand, took a spray out of
the epergne.

"I thought it was lilac," he said, quietly. "I noticed it when I came
in."

She took the spray from him and fastened it in his coat, against which
her hands looked white as the driven snow.

"You shall take it to your own room, Ley," she said. "You shall take
them all."

"Not for worlds, Lil," he said. "This will do."

"And what are they doing?" she asked.

"The usual thing," he replied; "playing, singing, rubber at whist, and
boring each other to death generally."

She smiled.

"And what have you been doing?"

"Assisting in the latter amusement," he answered, lightly.

"They told me you had gone out," she said.

He nodded.

"Yes, I took the chestnut for a spin."

She laughed, a soft, hushed laugh.

"And left them the first night! That was like you, Ley!"

"What was the use of staying? It was wrong, I suppose. I am
unfortunate! Yes, I went for a ride."

"It was a lovely evening. I watched the sunset," and she looked at the
window. "If I had known you were going, I would have looked for you. I
like to see you riding that big chestnut. You went across the meadows?"

"Yes," he said, "across the meadows."

He was silent for a minute, then he said, suddenly, "Lil, I have seen a
vision to-night."

"A vision, Ley!" she repeated, looking up at him eagerly.

He nodded.

"A vision. The most beautiful girl I have ever seen, excepting you,
Lil!"

She made no protest, but smiled.

"Ley! A girl! What was she like?"

"I can't tell you," he said. "I came upon her in a moment. The chestnut
saw her first, and was human enough to be struck motionless. I was
struck too!"

"And you can't tell me what she was like?"

"No; if I were to describe her with usual phrases you would smile. You
women always do. You can't help being a woman, Lil!"

"Was she dark or fair?"

"Dark," he replied. "I did not know it at the time; it was impossible
to think whether she was dark or fair while one looked at her, but I
remembered afterward. Lil, you remember that picture I sent you from
Paris--the picture of the girl with the dark eyes and long, silky
hair--not black, but brown in the sunlight, with long lashes shading
the eyes, and the lips curved in a half-serious smile as she looks down
at the dog fawning at her feet?"

"I remember, Ley. Was she like that?"

"Yes; only alive. Fancy the girl in the picture alive. Fancy yourself
the dog she was smiling at! I was the dog!"

"Ley!"

"And she spoke as well as smiled. You can imagine the voice that girl
in the picture would have. Soft and musical, but clear as a bell and
full of a subtle kind of witchery, half serious, half mockery. It was
the voice of the girl I met in the lane this evening."

"Ley! Ley, you have come to make poetry to me to-night. I am very
grateful."

"Poetry! It is truth. But you are right; such a face, such a voice
would make a poet of the hardest man that lives."

"And you are not hard, Ley! But the girl! Who is she? What is her name?"

"Her name"--he hesitated a moment, and his voice unconsciously grew
wonderfully musical--"is Stella--Stella."

"Stella!" she repeated. "It is a beautiful name."

"Is it not? Stella!"

"And she is--who?"

"The niece of old Etheridge, the artist, at the cottage."

Lilian's eyes opened wide.

"Really, Ley, I must see her!"

His face flushed, and he looked at her.

She caught the eager look, and her own paled suddenly.

"No," she said, gravely. "I will not see her. Ley--you will forget her
by to-morrow."

He smiled.

"You will forget her by to-morrow. Ley, let me look at you!"

He turned his face to her, and she looked straight into his eyes, then
she put her arm round his neck.

"Oh, Ley! has it come at last?"

"What do you mean?" he asked, not angrily, but with a touch of
grimness, as if he were afraid of the answer.

"Ley," she said, "you must not see her again. Ley, you will go
to-morrow, will you not?"

"Why?" he asked. "It is not like you to send me away, Lil."

"No, but I do. I who look forward to seeing you as the sweetest thing
in my life--I who would rather have you near me than be--other than I
am--I who lie and wait and listen for your footsteps--I send you, Ley.
Think! You must go, Ley. Go at once, for your own sake and for hers."

He rose, and smiled down at her.

"For my sake, perhaps, but not for hers. You foolish girl, do you think
all your sex is as partial as you are? You did not see her as I saw her
to-night--did not hear her ready wit at my expense. For her sake! You
make me smile, Lil."

"I cannot smile, Ley. You will not stay! What good can come of it? I
know you so well. You will not be content until you have seen your
Venus again, and then--ah, Ley, what can she do but love you, and love
you but to lose you? Ley, all that has gone before has made me smile,
because with them I knew you were heart-whole; I could look into your
eyes and see the light of laughter in their depths; but not this time,
Ley--not this time. You must go. Promise me!"

His face went pale under her gaze, and the defiant look, which so
rarely shone out in her presence, came into his eyes, and about his
lips.

"I cannot promise, Lil," he said.



CHAPTER V.


     For love lay lurking in the clouds and mist,
        I heard him singing sweetly on the mountain side:
    "'Tis all in vain you fly, for everywhere am I--
        In every quiet valley, on every mountain side!"

In the clear, bird-like tones of Stella's voice the musical words
floated from the open window of her room above and through the open
French windows of the old man's studio.

With a little start he turned his head away from the easel and looked
toward the door.

Stella had only been in the house three days, but he had already
learned something of her habits, and knew that when he heard the
beautiful voice singing at the window in the early morning, he might
expect to see the owner of the voice enter shortly.

His expectation was not doomed to disappointment. The voice sounded on
the stairs, in the hall, and a moment afterward the door opened and
Stella stood looking smilingly into the room.

If he had thought her beautiful and winsome on that first evening of
her coming, when she was weary with anxiety and traveling, and dressed
in dust-stained clothes, be sure he thought her more beautiful still,
now that the light heart felt free to reveal itself, and the shabby
dress had given place to the white and simple but still graceful
morning gown.

Mrs. Penfold had worked hard during those three days, and with the aid
of the Dulverfield milliner had succeeded in filling a small wardrobe
for "her young lady," as she had learned to call her. The old artist,
ignorant of the power of women in such direction, had watched the
transformation with inward amazement and delight, and was never tired
of hearing about dresses, and hats, jackets, and capes, and was rather
disappointed than otherwise when he found that the grand transformation
had been effected at a very small cost.

Bright and beautiful she stood, like a vision of youth and health in
the doorway, her dark eyes laughingly contemplating the old man's
gentle stare of wonder,--the look which always came into his eyes when
she appeared.

"Did I disturb you by my piping, uncle?" she asked as she kissed him.

"Oh no, my dear," he answered, "I like to hear you,--I like to hear
you."

She leant against his shoulder, and looked at his work.

"How beautiful it is!" she murmured. "How quickly it grows. I heard
you come down this morning, and I meant to get up, but I was so
tired--lazy, wasn't I?"

"No, no!" he said, eagerly. "I am sorry I disturbed you. I came down as
quietly as I could. I knew you would be tired after your dissipation.
You must tell me all about it."

"Yes, come to breakfast and I will tell you."

"Must I?" he said, glancing at his picture reluctantly.

He had been in the habit of eating his breakfast by installments,
painting while he ate a mouthful and drank his cup of coffee, but
Stella insisted upon his changing what she called a very wicked habit.

"Yes, of course! See how nice it looks," and she drew him gently to the
table and forced him into a chair.

The old man submitted with a sigh that was not altogether one of
regret, and still humming she sat opposite the urn and began to fill
the cups.

"And did you enjoy yourself?" he asked, gazing at her dreamily.

"Oh, very much; they were so kind. Mrs. Hamilton is the dearest old
lady; and the doctor--what makes him smile so much, uncle?"

"I don't know. I think doctors generally do."

"Oh, very well. Well, he was very kind too, and so were the Miss
Hamiltons. It was very nice indeed, and they took so much notice of
me--asked me all sorts of questions. Sometimes I scarcely knew what to
answer. I think they thought because I had been brought up in Italy, I
ought to have spoken with a strong accent, and looked utterly different
to themselves. I think they were a little disappointed, uncle."

"Oh," he said, "and who else was there?"

"Oh, the clergyman, Mr. Fielding--a very solemn gentleman indeed. He
said he didn't see much of you, and hoped he should see me in church."

Mr. Etheridge rubbed his head and looked rather guilty.

"I expect that was a back-handed knock for me, Stella," he said rather
ruefully. "You see I don't go to church often. I always mean to go, but
I generally forget the time, or I wander into the fields, or up into
the woods, and forget all about the church till it's too late."

"But that's very wicked, abominably so," said Stella, gravely, but with
a twinkle in her dark eyes. "I must look after your morals as well as
your meals, I see, uncle."

"Yes," he assented, meekly--"do, do."

"Well, then there was a Mr. Adelstone, a young gentleman from London.
He was quite the lion of the evening. I think he was a nephew of Mr.
Fielding's."

The old man nodded.

"Yes; and did you like him?"

Stella thought a moment, holding the cream-jug critically over the
coffee-cup.

"Not much, uncle. It was very wrong, and very bad taste, I am afraid,
for they all seemed to admire him immensely, and so did he himself."

Mr. Etheridge looked at her rather alarmed.

"I must say, Stella, you get too critical. I don't think we are quite
used to it."

She laughed.

"I don't fancy Mr. Adelstone was at all conscious of adverse criticism;
he seemed quite satisfied with everybody, himself in particular. He
certainly was beautifully dressed, and he had the dearest little hands
and feet in the world; and his hair was parted to a hair, and as
smooth as a black-and-tan terrier's; so that he had some grounds for
satisfaction."

"What did he do to offend you, Stella?" asked the old man, rather
shrewdly.

She laughed again, and a little touch of color came into her face, but
she answered quite frankly:

"He paid me compliments, uncle."

"That doesn't offend your sex generally, Stella."

"It offends me," said Stella, quickly. "I--I detest them! especially
when the man who pays them does it with a self-satisfied smile which
shows that he is thinking more of his own eloquence and gallantry than
of the person he is flattering."

The old man looked at her.

"Will you oblige me by telling me your age again?" he said.

She laughed.

"Am I too wise, uncle? Well, never mind--I'll promise to be good and
stupid, if you like. But you are not eating any breakfast; and you must
not keep looking at that odious easel all the time, as if you were
longing to get back to it. Did you ever see a jealous woman?"

"No, never."

"Well, if you don't want to, you must not confine all your attention to
your work."

"I don't think there is much fear of that when you are near," he said,
meekly.

She laughed, and jumped up to kiss him with delight.

"Now that was a splendid compliment, sir! You are improving
rapidly--Mr. Adelstone himself couldn't have done it more neatly."

Scarcely had the words left her lips than the door opened.

"Mr. Adelstone," said Mrs. Penfold.

A young man, tall and dark, and faultlessly dressed, stood in the
doorway, his hat in one hand, a bouquet of flowers in the other. He was
undeniably good-looking, and as he stood with a smile upon his face,
looked at his best. A severe critic might have found fault with his
eyes, and said that they were a little too small and a little too near
together, might also have added that they were rather shifty, and that
there was something approaching the sinister in the curves of the thin
lips; but he was undeniably good-looking, and notwithstanding his well
cut clothes and spotless boots with their gray gaiters, his white hands
with the choice selection of rings, there was an indication of power
about him; no one could have suspected him of being a fool, or lacking
the power of observation; for instance, as he stood now, smiling and
waiting for a welcome, his dark eyes took in every detail of the room
without appearing to leave Stella's face.

Mr. Etheridge looked up with the usual confused air with which he
always received his rare visitors, but Stella held out her hand with a
smile calm and self-possessed. There is a great deal of the woman even
about a girl of nineteen.

"Good-morning, Mr. Adelstone," she said. "You have come just in time
for a cup of coffee."

"I ought to apologize for intruding at such an unseasonable hour," he
said, as he bent over her hand, "but your good housekeeper would not
hear of my going without paying my respects. I am afraid I'm intruding."

"Not at all, not at all," murmured the artist. "Here's a chair," and
he rose and cleared a chair of its litter by the simple process of
sweeping it on to the floor.

Mr. Adelstone sat down.

"I hope you are not tired after your mild dissipation last night?" he
asked of Stella.

She laughed.

"Not at all. I was telling uncle how nice it was. It was my first party
in England, you know."

"Oh, you musn't call it a party," he said. "But I am very glad you
enjoyed it."

"What beautiful flowers," said Stella, glancing at the bouquet.

He handed them to her.

"Will you be so kind as to accept them?" he said. "I heard you admire
them in the conservatory last night and I brought them for you from the
rectory green-house."

"For me?" exclaimed Stella, open-eyed. "Oh, I didn't know! I am so
sorry you should have troubled. It was very kind. You must have robbed
the poor plants terribly."

"They would be quite consoled if they could know for whom their
blossoms were intended," he said, with a low bow.

Stella looked at him with a smile, and glanced half archly at her uncle.

"That was very nice," she said. "Poor flowers! it is a pity they can't
know! Can't you tell them? There is a language of flowers, you know!"

Mr. Adelstone smiled. He was not accustomed to have his compliments met
with such ready wit, and was nonplussed for a moment, while his eyes
dropped from her face with a little shifty look.

Mr. Etheridge broke the rather embarrassing pause.

"Put them in the vase for her, Mr. Adelstone, will you, please, and
come and have some breakfast. You can't have had any."

He waited until Stella echoed the invitation, then drew up to the table.

Stella rang for cup and saucer and plates, and poured him out some
coffee; and he plunged into small talk with the greatest ease, his keen
eyes watching every graceful turn of Stella's arm, and glancing now and
again at the beautiful face.

It was very good small talk, and amusing. Mr. Adelstone was one of
those men who had seen everything. He talked of the London season that
was just coming on, to Stella, who sat and listened, half amused, half
puzzled, for London was an unknown land to her, and the string of
names, noble and fashionable, which fell from his ready tongue, was
entirely strange to her.

Then he talked of the coming Academy to Mr. Etheridge, and seemed to
know all about the pictures that were going to be exhibited, and which
ones would make a stir, and which would fail. Then he addressed himself
to Stella again.

"You must pay London a visit, Miss Etheridge; there is no place like it
the whole world through--not even Paris or Rome."

Stella smiled.

"It is not very likely that I shall see London for a long time. My
uncle does not often go, although it is so near, do you?"

"No, no," he assented, "not often."

"Perhaps you are to be congratulated," said Mr. Adelstone. "With all
its charms, I am glad to get away from it."

"You live there?" said Stella.

"Yes," he said, quietly, welcoming the faint look of interest in her
eyes. "Yes; I live in chambers, as it is called, in one of the old law
inns. I am a lawyer!"

Stella nodded.

"I know. You wear a long black gown and a wig."

He smiled.

"And address a jury; and do you say 'm'lud' instead of 'my lord,' as
people in novels always make barristers say?"

"I don't know; perhaps I do," he answered, with a smile; "but I don't
address a jury, or have an opportunity of calling a judge 'my lud,' or
'my lord,' often. Most of my work is done at my chambers. I am very
glad to get down into the country for a holiday."

"Are you going to stay long?" asked Mr. Etheridge, with polite interest.

Mr. Adelstone paused a moment, and glanced at Stella before answering.

"I don't know," he said. "I meant going back to-day, but--I think I
have changed my mind."

Stella was only half listening, but the words caused her to start. They
were the same as those which Lord Leycester had uttered three nights
ago.

Mr. Adelstone's keen eyes saw the start, and he made a mental note of
it.

"Ah! it is beautiful weather," said Mr. Etheridge. "It would be a pity
to leave Wyndward for London now."

"Yes: I shall be more than ever sorry to go now," said Mr. Adelstone,
and his glance rested for a moment on Stella's face, but it was quite
lost, for Stella's eyes were fixed on the scene beyond the window
dreamily.

With almost a start she turned to him.

"Let me give you some more coffee!"

"No, thanks," he said; then, as Stella rose and rang the bell, he
walked to the easel. "That will be a beautiful picture, Mr. Etheridge,"
he said, viewing it with a critical air.

"I don't know," said the artist, simply.

"You will exhibit it?"

"I never exhibit anything," was the quiet reply.

"No! I am surprised!" exclaimed the young man, but there was something
in the quiet manner of the old man that stopped any further questions.

"No," said Mr. Etheridge; "why should I? I have"--and he smiled--"no
ambition. Besides I am an old man, I have had my chance; let the young
ones take theirs, I leave them room. You are fond of art?"

"Very," said Mr. Adelstone. "May I look round?"

The old man waved his hand, and took up his brush.

Jasper Adelstone wandered round the room, taking up the canvases and
examining them; Stella stood at the window humming softly.

Suddenly she heard him utter an involuntary exclamation, and turning
round saw that he had the portrait of Lord Leycester in his hand.

His face was turned toward her, and as she turned quickly, he was in
time to catch a sinister frown of dislike, which rested for a moment on
his face, but vanished as he raised his eyes and met hers.

"Lord Leycester," he said, with a smile and an uprising of the
eyebrows. "A remarkable instance of an artist's power."

"What do you mean?" asked Stella, quietly, but with lowered eyes.

"I mean that it is a fair example of ideality. Mr. Etheridge has
painted a likeness of Lord Leycester, and added an ideal poetry of his
own."

"You mean that it is not like him?" she said.

Mr. Etheridge painted on, deaf to both of them.

"No," he said, looking at the picture with a cold smile. "It is like
him, but it--honors him. It endows him with a poetry which he does not
possess."

"You know him?" said Stella.

"Who does not?" he answered, and his thin lips curled with a smiling
sneer.

A faint color came into Stella's face, and she raised her eyes for a
moment.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that Lord Leycester has made himself too famous--I was going to
say infamous--"

A vivid crimson rushed to her face, and left it pale again the next
instant.

"Do not," she said, then added quickly, "I mean do not forget that he
is not here to defend himself."

He looked at her with a sinister scrutiny.

"I beg your pardon. I did not know he was a friend of yours," he said.

She raised her eyes and looked at him steadily.

"Lord Leycester is no friend of mine," she said, quietly.

"I am glad of it," he responded.

Stella's eyes darkened and deepened in a way peculiar to her, and her
color came. It was true that Lord Leycester was no friend of hers, she
had but seen and spoken with him by chance, and for a few moments; but
who was this Mr. Adelstone that he should presume to be glad or sorry
on her account?

He was quick to see that he had made a slip, and quick to recover
himself.

"Pray forgive me if I have presumed too far upon our slight
acquaintance, but I was only thinking at that moment that you had been
so short a time in England as to be ignorant of people who are well
known to us with whom they have lived, and that you would not know Lord
Leycester's real character."

Stella inclined her head gravely. Something within her stirred her to
take up arms in the absent man's defense; the one word "infamous,"
stuck and rankled in her mind.

"You said that Lord Leycester was 'infamous,'" she said, with a grave
smile. "Surely that is too strong a word."

He thought a moment, his eyes resting on her face keenly.

"Perhaps, but I am not sure. I certainly used it as a play upon the
word 'famous,' but I don't think even then that I did him an injustice.
A man whose name is known all over the country--whose name is familiar
as a household word--must be notorious either for good or evil, for
wisdom or folly. Lord Leycester is not famous for virtue or wisdom. I
cannot say any more."

Stella turned aside, a faint crimson dyeing her face, a strange thrill
of pity, ay, and of impatience, at her heart. Why should he be so
wicked, so mad and reckless--so notorious that even this self-satisfied
young gentleman could safely moralize about him and warn her against
making his acquaintance! "Oh, the pity of it--the pity of it!" as
Shakespeare has it--that one with such a beautiful, god-look face,
should be so bad.

There was a few moments' silence. Jasper Adelstone still stood with
the picture in his hand, but glancing at Stella's face with covert
watchfulness. For all his outward calmness, his heart was beating
quickly. Stella's was the sort of beauty to make a man's heart beat
quickly, or not at all; those who came to offer at her shrine would
offer no half-measured oblations. As he watched her his heart beat
wildly, and his small, bright eyes glittered. He had thought her
beautiful at the party last night, where she had outshone all the other
girls of the village as a star outshines a rushlight; but this morning
her loveliness revealed itself in all its fresh purity, and he--Jasper
Adelstone, the critical man of the world, the man whose opinion about
women was looked upon by his companions in Lincoln's-inn and the
bachelors' haunts at the West-end as worth having--felt his heart
slipping from him. He put the picture down and approached her.

"You have no idea how beautiful and fresh the meadows are. Will you
stroll down to the river with me?" he said, resolving to take her by
surprise and capture her.

But he did not know Stella. She was only a school-girl--innocent and
ignorant of the ways of men and the world; but, perhaps, because
of that--because she had not learnt the usual hackneyed words of
evasion--the ordinary elementary tactics of flirtation, she was not to
be taken by surprise.

With a smile she turned her eyes upon him and shook her head.

"Thank you; no, that is impossible. I have all my household duties
to perform, and that"--pointing to the sun with her white slim
hand--"reminds me that it is time I set about them."

He took up his hat instantly, turning to hide the frown that knitted
his brow and spoiled his face, and went up to the painter to say
"good-morning."

Mr. Etheridge started and stared at him; he had quite forgotten his
presence.

"Good-morning, good-morning--going? I beg your pardon. Won't you stop
and take some tea with us?"

"Mr. Adelstone would like some dinner first, uncle," said Stella.

Then she gave him her hand.

"Good-morning," she said, "and thank you very much for the flowers."

He held her hand as long as he dared, then passed out.

Stella, perhaps unconsciously, gave a sigh of relief.

"Very nice young fellow, my dear," said Mr. Etheridge, without taking
his eyes from the canvas. "Very clever, too. I remember him quite a
little boy, and always said he would make his way. They say that he has
done so. I am not surprised. Jasper----"

"Jasper!" said Stella. "What a horrible name."

"Eh? Horrible? I don't know--I don't know."

"But I do," said Stella, laughing. "Well, what were you going to say?"

"That Jasper Adelstone is the sort of man to insist upon having
anything he sets his heart upon."

"I am glad to hear it," said Stella, as she opened the door, "for his
sake; and I hope, also for his sake, that he won't set his mind upon
the sun or the moon!" and with a laugh she ran away.

In the kitchen Mrs. Penford was awaiting her with unconcealed
impatience. Upon the white scrubbed table stood the preparations for
the making of pastry, an art which Stella, who had insisted upon making
herself useful, had coaxed Mrs. Penfold into teaching her. At first
that good woman had insisted that Stella should do nothing in the
little household. She had announced with terrible gravity that such
things weren't becoming to a young lady like Miss Stella, and that she
had always done for Mr. Etheridge, and she always would; but before
the second day had passed Stella had won the battle. As Mrs. Penfold
said, there was no resisting the girl, who mingled willfulness with
bewitching firmness and persuasion, and Mrs. Penfold had given in.
"You'll cover yourself with flour, Miss Stella, and give your uncle the
indigestion, miss, that you will," she remonstrated.

"But the flour will brush off, and uncle needn't eat pies and puddings
for a little while; I'll eat them, I don't mind indigestion," Stella
declared, and she made a delightfully piquant little apron, which
completed Mrs. Penfold's conquest.

With a song upon her lips she burst into the kitchen and caught up the
rolling pin.

"Am I not awfully late?" she exclaimed. "I was afraid you would have
done it all before I came, but you wouldn't be so mean as to take an
advantage, would you?"

Mrs. Penfold grunted.

"It's all nonsense, Miss Stella, there's no occasion for it."

Stella, with her hand in the flour, elevated the rolling-pin in heroic
style.

"Mrs. Penfold!" she exclaimed, with the air of a princess, "the woman,
be her station what it may, who cannot make a jam roley-poley or an
apple tart is unworthy the name of an Englishwoman. Give me the jam;
stop though, don't you think rhubarb would be very nice for a change?"

"I wish you'd go and play the organ, Miss Stella, and leave the rhubarb
alone."

"Man cannot live on music," retorted Stella; "his soul craves for
puddings. I wonder whether uncle's soul craves for jam or rhubarb. I
think I'll go and ask him," and dropping the rolling-pin--which Mrs.
Penfold succeeded in catching before it fell on the floor--she wiped
her hand of a fifteenth part of the floor and ran into the studio.

"Uncle! I have come to lay before you the rival claims of rhubarb
and strawberry jam. The one is sweet and luscious to the taste, but
somewhat cloying; the other is fresh and young, but somewhat sour----"

"Good Heavens! What are you talking about?" exclaimed the bewildered
painter, staring at her.

"Rhubarb or jam. Now, noble Roman, speak or die!" she exclaimed with
upraised arm, her eyes dancing, her lips apart with rippling laughter.

Mr. Etheridge stared at her with all an artist's admiration in his eyes.

"Oh! the pudding," he said, then he suddenly stopped, and stared beyond
her.



CHAPTER VI.


Stella heard a step on the threshold of the window, and turning to
follow the direction of his eyes, saw the stalwart form of Lord
Leycester standing in the window.

He was dressed in a suit of brown velveteen, with tight-fitting
breeches and stockings, and carried a whip in his hand with which he
barred the entrance against a couple of colleys, a huge mastiff, and a
Skye terrier, the last barking with furious indignation at being kept
outside.

Even at the moment of surprise, Stella was conscious of a sudden
reluctant thrill of admiration for the graceful figure in the
close-fitting velvet, and the handsome face with its dark eyes
regarding her with a grave, respectful intenseness.

"Back dogs!" he said. "Go back, Vix!" then as they drew back, the big
ones throwing themselves down on the path with patient obedience, he
came into the room.

"I beg your pardon," he said, standing before Stella, his head bent. "I
thought Mr. Etheridge was alone, or I should not have entered in this
rough fashion."

As he spoke in the lane, so now it was no meaningless excuse, but
with a tone of most reverential respect and proud humility, Stella,
girl-like, noticed that he did not even venture to hold out his hand,
and certainly Mr. Adelstone's self-satisfied smile and assured manner
rose in her mind to contrast with this stately, high-bred humility.

"Do not apologize; it does not matter," she said, conscious that her
face had grown crimson and that her eyes were downcast.

"Does it not? I am forgiven," and he held out his hand.

Stella had crossed her hands behind her as he entered with an
instinctive desire to hide her bare arms and the flour, now she put out
her hand a few inches and held it up with a smile.

"I can't," she said.

He looked at the white hand--at the white arm so beautifully molded
that a sculptor would have sighed over it in despair at his inability
to imitate it, and he still held out his hand.

"I do not mind the flour," he said, not as Mr. Adelstone would have
said it, but simply, naturally.

Stella gave him one small taper finger and he took it and held it for a
moment, his eyes smiling into hers; then he relinquished it, with not
a word of commonplace compliment, but in silence, and turned to Mr.
Etheridge.

"It is quite hopeless to ask you to forgive me for interrupting you
I know, so I won't ask," he said, and there was in his voice, Stella
noticed, a frank candor that was almost boyish but full of respect. At
once it seemed to intimate that he had known and honored the old man
since he, Leycester, was a boy.

"How are you, my lord?" said Mr. Etheridge, giving him his long, thin
hand, but still keeping a hold, as it were, on his beloved easel.
"Taking the dogs for a walk? Are they safe? Take care, Stella!"

For Stella was kneeling down in the midst of them, making friends with
the huge mastiff, much to the jealous disgust of the others, who were
literally crowding and pushing round her.

Lord Leycester looked round and was silent for a moment; his eyes fixed
on the kneeling girl rather than on the dogs. Then he said, suddenly:

"They are quite safe," and then he added, for Stella's behalf, "they
are quite safe, Miss Etheridge."

Stella turned her face toward him.

"I am not afraid. I should as soon think of biting them as they would
dream of biting me, wouldn't you?" and she drew the mastiffs great
head on to her lap, where it lay with his big eyes looking up at her
piteously, as he licked her hand.

"Great Heavens, what a herd of them!" said Mr. Etheridge, who loved
dogs--on canvas.

"I ought not to have brought them," said Lord Leycester, "but they will
be quite quiet, and will do no harm, I assure you."

"I don't care if they don't bite my niece," said Mr. Etheridge.

"There is no fear of that," he said, quietly, "or I should not allow
her to go near them. Please go on with your work, or I shall think I am
a nuisance."

Mr. Etheridge waved him to a chair.

"Won't you sit down?" he said.

Lord Leycester shook his head.

"I have come to ask you a favor," he said.

Mr. Etheridge nodded.

"What is it?"

Lord Leycester laughed his rare laugh.

"I am trembling in my shoes," he said. "My tongue cleaves to my mouth
with nervousness----"

The old painter glanced round at him, and his face relaxed into a smile
as his eyes rested on the bold, handsome face and easy grace of the
speaker.

"Yes, you look excessively frightened," he said. "What is it?"

It was noticeable that, excepting in his first greeting, the old man
had not given him the benefit of his title; he had known him when
Leycester had been a boy, running in and out of the cottage, always
followed by a pack of dogs, and generally doing some mischief.

"I want you to do a little scene for me."

The old man groaned and looked at his picture firmly.

"You know the glade in the woods opening out opposite the small island.
I want you to paint it."

"I am sorry," began the old man.

Lord Leycester went on, interrupting him gently:

"Have you seen it lately?" he said, and as he spoke Stella came into
the room enticing the mastiff after her, with a handful of biscuits
she had taken from the cheffonier. "It is very beautiful. It is the
loveliest bit on the whole river. Right up from the stream it stretches
green, with the young Spring leaves, to the sky above the hill. In the
open space between the trees the primroses have made a golden carpet. I
saw two kingfishers sailing up it as I stood and looked this morning,
and as I looked I thought how well, how delightfully you would put it
on canvas. Think! The bright green, the golden foreground, the early
Summer sky to crown the whole, and reflected in the river running
below."

Mr. Etheridge paused in his work and listened, and Stella, kneeling
over the dog, listened too, with down-bent face, and wondered how the
painter could stand so firm and obstinate.

To her the voice sounded like the sweetest music set to some poem. She
saw the picture as he drew it, and in her heart the music of the words
and voice found an echoing harmony.

Forgotten was the other man's warning; vain it would have been if he
had repeated it at that moment. As well associate the darkness of a
Winter's night with the bright gladness of a Summer's morning, as think
of evil in connection with that noble face and musical voice.

Mr. Etheridge paused, but he shook his head.

"Very fine, very temptingly put; you are a master of words, Leycester;
but I am immovable as a rock. Indeed your eloquence is wasted; it is
not an impressionable man whom you address. I, James Etheridge, am on
this picture. I am lost in my work, Lord Leycester."

"You will not do it?"

The old man smiled.

"I will not. To another man I should present an excuse, and mask my
refusal. With you anything but a simple 'no' is of no avail."

Lord Leycester smiled and turned away.

"I am sorry," he said. "I meant it for a present to my sister Lilian."

Again Stella's eyes turned toward him. This man--infamous!

The old man put down his brush and turned upon him.

"Why didn't you say so at first?" he said.

Lord Leycester smiled.

"I wanted to see if you would do something for me--for myself," he
said, with infinite _naivete_.

"You want it for Lady Lilian," said Mr. Etheridge. "I will do it, of
course."

"I shan't say thank you," said Lord Leycester. "I have nothing to thank
you for. She shall do that. When will you come----"

"Next week--next month----"

"Now at once," said Lord Leycester, stretching out his hand with a
peculiar gesture which struck Stella by its infinite grace.

The old man groaned.

"I thought so! I thought so! It would always be now at once with you."

"The Spring won't wait for you! The green of those leaves is changing
now, very slowly, but surely, as we speak; in a week it will be gone,
and with it half--all the beauty will go too. You will come now, will
you not?"

Mr. Etheridge looked round with comical dismay, then he laughed.

Lord Leycester's laugh chimed in, and he turned to Stella with the air
of a man who has conquered and needs no more words.

"You see," said Mr. Etheridge, "that is the way I am led, like a pig to
market, will I or will I not! And the sketch will take me, how long?"

"A few hours!"

"And there will be all the things to drag down----"

Lord Leicester strode to an old-fashioned cabinet.

"I will carry them, and yourself into the bargain if you like."

Then, with his hand upon the cabinet, he stopped short and turned to
Stella.

"I beg your pardon!--I am always sinning. I forgot that there was now
a presiding spirit. I am so used to taking liberties with your uncle's
belongings; I know where all his paraphernalia is so well, that----"

Stella rose and smiled at them.

"Your knowledge is deeper than my uncle's, then," she said. "Do not beg
pardon of me."

"May I?" he said, and he opened the cabinet and took out the
sketching-pad and color-box; then, with some difficulty, he
disentangled a folding camp-stool from a mass of artistic litter in a
corner, and then prepared to depart.

Mr. Etheridge watched these proceedings with a rueful countenance, but
seeing that resistance had long passed out of his power, he said:

"Where is my hat, Stella? I must go, I suppose."

Lord Leycester opened the door for her, and she went out, followed by
all the dogs, and fetched the soft felt hat, holding it by the very
tips of her fingers.

With a sigh, Mr. Etheridge dropped it on his head.

"Give me some of the things," he said; but Lord Leycester declined.

"Not one," he said, laughing. And Mr. Etheridge, without another word,
walked out.

Lord Leycester stood looking at Stella, a wistful eagerness in his eyes.

"I have gone so far," he said, "that I am emboldened to venture still
further. Will you come too?"

Stella started, and an eager light flashed for a moment in her eyes;
then she held out her hands and laughed.

"I have to make a pudding," she said.

He looked at the white arms, and then at her, with an intensified
eagerness.

"If you knew how beautiful the morning is--how grand the river
looks--you would let the pudding go."

Stella shook her head.

He inclined his head, too highly bred to persist.

"I am so sorry," he said, simply. "I am sorry now that I have gained my
way. I thought that you would have come."

Stella stood silent, and, with something like a sigh, put down the
things and held out her hand; but as he took the finger which she gave
him, his face brightened, and a light came into his eyes.

"Are you still firm?"

"I would not desert the pudding for anything, my lord," said Stella,
naively.

At the "my lord," a slight shade covered his face, but it went again
instantly, as he said:

"Well, then, will you come when the inevitable pudding is made? There,"
he said, eagerly, and still holding her hand he drew her to the window
and pointed with his whip, "there's the place! It is not far--just
across the meadows, and through the first gate. Do you see it?"

"Yes," said Stella, gently withdrawing her hand.

"And you will come?" he asked, his eyes fixed on hers with their intent
earnestness.

At that instant the word--the odious word--"infamous" rang in her ears,
and her face paled. He noticed the sudden pallor, and his eyes grew
dark with earnest questioning.

"I see," he said, quietly, "you will not come!"

What was it that moved her? With a sudden impulse she raised her eyes
and looked at him steadily.

"Yes, I will come!" she said.

He inclined his head without a word, called to the dogs, and passed out.

Stella stood for a moment looking after them; then she went into the
kitchen--not laughing nor singing, but with a strange gravity; a
strange feeling had got possession of her.

She felt as if she was laboring under some spell. "Charmed" is an often
misused word, but it is the right word to describe the sensation.
Was it his face or his voice that haunted her? As she stood absently
looking down at the table, simple words, short and commonplace, which
he had used rang in her ears with a new meaning.

Mrs. Penfold stood and regarded her in curious astonishment. She was
getting used to Stella's quickly changing moods, but the sudden change
bewildered her.

"Let me do it, Miss Stella," she pleaded, but Stella shook her head
firmly; not by one inch would she swerve from her cause for all the
beautiful voice and noble face.

In rapt silence she finished her work, then she went up-stairs and put
on her hat and came down. As she passed out of the house and down the
path, the mastiff leaped the gate and bounded toward her, and the next
moment she saw Lord Leycester seated on a stile.

He dropped down and came toward her.

"How quick you have been," he said, "I thought a pudding was a mystery
which demanded an immensity of time."

Stella looked up at him, her dark brows drawn to a straight line.

"You waited for me?" she said.

"No," he said, simply, "I came back. I did not like to think that you
should come alone."

Stella was silent.

"Are you angry?" he asked, in a low voice.

Stella was silent for a moment, then she looked at him frankly.

"No," she said.

If she had but said "yes," and turned back! But the path, all beautiful
with the bright coloring of Spring stretched before her, and she had
no thought of turning back, no thought or suspicion of the dark and
perilous land toward which she was traveling by his side.

Already the glamour of love was falling upon her like the soft mist of
a Summer evening; blindly, passively she was moving toward the fate
which the gods had prepared for her.



CHAPTER VII.


Side by side they walked across the meadows; the larks rising before
them and soaring up to the heavens with a burst of song; the river
running in silvery silence to the sea; the green trees waving gently in
the Summer breeze; and above them the long stretching gray masonry of
Wyndward Hall.

Lord Leycester was strangely silent for some minutes since that "Are
you angry?" and Stella, as she walked by his side, stooping now and
again to gather a cowslip, glanced up at his face and wondered whether
her uncle could be mistaken, whether they were not all deceived in
thinking the quiet, graceful creature with the beautiful face and
dreamy, almost womanly, soft eyes, wild and reckless, and desperate and
altogether bad. She almost forgot how she had seen him on that first
night of their meeting, with his whip upraised and the sudden fire of
anger in his eyes.

Presently he spoke, so suddenly that Stella, who had been lost in her
speculations respecting him, started guiltily:

"I have been wondering," he said, "how Mr. Etheridge takes the change
which your presence must make in the cottage."

Stella looked up with surprise, then she smiled.

"He bears it with admirable resignation," she said, with that air of
meek archness which her uncle found so amusing.

Lord Leycester looked down at her.

"That is a rebuke for the presumption of my remark?" he said.

"No," said Stella.

"I did not mean to be presumptuous. Think. Your uncle has lived the
whole of his life alone, the life of a solitary, a hermit; suddenly
there enters into that life a young and beau--a young girl, full of the
spirit of youth and its aspirations. It must make a great change."

"As I said," says Stella, "he bears it with pious fortitude." Then she
added, in a lower voice, "He is very good to me."

"He could not be otherwise," was the quiet response. "I mean that he
could not be anything but good, gentle, and loving with any living
thing. I have known him since I was a boy," he added. "He was always
the same, always living a life of dreams. I wonder whether he takes you
as a dream?"

"A very substantial and responsible one, then," said Stella, with her
little laugh. "One that lasts through the daytime."

He looked at her with that strange intent look which she had learned
that she could not meet.

"And you?" he said.

"I?" said Stella, though she knew what he meant.

He nodded.

"How do you like the change?--this still, quiet life in the Thames
valley. Are you tired of it already? Will you pine for all the gayeties
you have left?"

Stella looked up at him--his eyes were still fixed on hers.

"I have left no gayeties," she said. "I left a bare and horrid school
that was as unlike home as the desert of Sahara is like this lovely
meadow. How do I feel? As if I had been translated to Paradise--as if
I, who was beginning to think that I was alone in the world I had no
business to be in, had found some one friend to love----"

She paused, and he, glancing at the black waistband to her white dress,
said, with the tenderest, most humble voice:

"I beg your pardon. Will you forgive me?--I did not know----"

And his voice broke.

Stella looked up at him with a smile shining through the unshed tears.

"How--why should you know? Yes, I was quite alone in the world. My
father died a year ago."

"Forgive me," he murmured; and he laid his hand with a feather's weight
on her arm. "I implore you to forgive me. It was cruel and thoughtless."

"No," said Stella. "How should you know?"

"If I had been anything better than an unthinking brute, I might have
guessed."

There was a moment's pause, then Stella spoke.

"Yes, it is Paradise. I had no idea England was like this, they called
it the land of fogs."

"You have not seen London on a November evening," he said, with a
laugh. "Most foreigners come over to England and put up at some hotel
at the west-end, and judge the whole land by the London sample--very
few come even so far as this. You have not been to London?"

"I passed through it," said Stella, "that is all. But I heard a great
deal about it last night," she added, with a smile.

"Yes!" he said, with great interest--"last night?"

"Yes, at Mrs. Hamilton's. She was kind enough to ask me to an evening
party, and one of the guests took great pains to impress me with the
importance and magnificence of London."

He looked at her.

"May I ask who she was?" he said.

"It was not a she, but a gentleman. It was Mr. Adelstone."

Lord Leycester thought a moment.

"Adelstone. Adelstone. I don't know him."

Before she was quite aware of it the retort slipped from her lips.

"He knows you."

He looked at her with a thoughtful smile.

"Does he? I don't remember him. Stay, yes, isn't he a relation of Mr.
Fielding's?"

"His nephew," said Stella, and feeling the dark, penetrating eyes on
her she blushed faintly. It annoyed her, and she struggled to suppress
it, but the blush came and he saw it.

"I remember him now," he said; "a tall, thin dark man. A lawyer, I
believe. Yes, I remember him. And he told you about London?"

"Yes," said Stella, and as she remembered the conversation of a few
hours ago, her color deepened. "He is very amusing and well-informed,
and he took pity on my ignorance in the kindest way. I was very
grateful."

There was something in her tone that made him look at her questioningly.

"I think," he said, "your gratitude is easily earned."

"Oh, no," she retorted; "I am the most ungrateful of beings. Isn't that
uncle sitting there?" she added, quickly, to change the subject.

He looked up.

"Yes, he is hard at work. I did not think I should have won him. It was
my sister's name that worked the magic charm."

"He is fond of your sister," said Stella, thoughtfully.

His eyes were on her in an instant.

"He has spoken of her?" he said.

Stella could have bitten her tongue out for the slip.

"Yes," she said. "He--he told me about her--I asked him whose house it
was upon the hills."

"Meaning the Hall?" he said, pointing with his whip.

"Yes, and he told me. I knew by the way he spoke of your sister that he
was fond of her. Her name is Lilian, is it not?"

"Yes," he said, "Lilian," and the name left his lips with soft
tenderness. "I think every one who knows her loves her. This picture is
for her."

Stella glanced up at his face; anything less imperious at that moment
it would be impossible to imagine.

"Lady Lilian is fond of pictures?" she said.

"Yes," he said; "she is devoted to art in all its forms. Yes, that
little sketch will give her more pleasure than--than--I scarcely know
what to say. What are women most fond of?"

Stella laughed.

"Diamonds, are they not?"

"Are you fond of them?" he said. "I think not."

"Why not?" she retorted. "Why should I not have the attributes of my
sex? Yes, I am fond of diamonds. I am fond of everything that is
beautiful and costly and rare. I remember once going to a ball at
Florence."

He looked at her.

"Only to see it!" she exclaimed. "I was too young to be seen, and
they took me in a gallery overlooking the great salon; and I watched
the great ladies in their beautiful dresses and shining gems, and I
thought that I would give all the world to be like one of them; and the
thought spoiled my enjoyment. I remember coming away crying; you see it
was so dark and solitary in the great gallery, and I felt so mean and
insignificant." And she laughed.

He was listening with earnest interest. Every word she said had a charm
for him; he had never met any girl--any woman--like her, so frank and
open-minded. Listening to her was like looking into a crystal lake, in
which everything is revealed and all is bright and pure.

"And are you wiser now?" he asked.

"Not one whit!" she replied. "I should like now, less than then,
to be shut up in a dark gallery and look on at others enjoying
themselves. Isn't that a confession of an envious and altogether wicked
disposition?"

"Yes," he assented, with a strange smile barely escaping from under
his tawny mustache. "I should be right in prophesying all sorts of bad
endings to you."

As he spoke he opened the gate for her, driving the dogs back with a
crack of his whip so that she might pass first--a small thing, but
characteristic of him.

The painter looked up.

"Keep those dogs off my back, Leycester," he said. "Well, Stella, have
you concocted your poison?"

Stella went and looked over his shoulder.

"Yes, uncle," she said.

"You have been long enough to make twenty indigestible compounds," he
said, gazing at the view he was sketching.

Stella bent her head, to hide the blush which rose as she remembered
how slowly they had walked across the meadows.

"How are you getting on?" said Lord Leycester.

The old man grunted.

"Pretty well; better than I shall now you have come to fidget about."

Lord Leycester laughed.

"A pretty plain hint that our room is desired more than our company,
Miss Etheridge. Can we not vanish into space?"

Stella laughed and sank down on the grass.

"It is uncle's way of begging us to stay," she said.

Lord Leycester laughed, and sending the dogs off, flung himself down
almost at her feet.

"Did I exaggerate?" he said, pointing his whip at the view.

"Not an atom," replied Stella. "It is beautiful--beautiful, and that is
all that one can find to say."

"I wish you would be content to say it and not insist upon my painting
it," replied Mr. Etheridge.

Lord Leycester sprang to his feet.

"That is the last straw. We will not remain to be abused, Miss
Etheridge," he said.

Stella remained immovable. He came and stood over her, looking down at
her with wistful eagerness in silence.

"What lovely woods," she said. "You were right; they are carpeted with
primroses. We have none in our meadow."

"Would you like to go and get some?" he asked.

Stella turned her face up to him.

"Yes, but I don't care to swim across."

He smiled, and went down to the bank, unfastened a boat, and leaping
into it, called to her.

Stella sprang to her feet with the impulsive delight of a girl at the
sight of a boat, when she had expected nothing better than rushes.

"Is it a boat--really?" she exclaimed.

"Come and see," he said.

She went down to the water's edge and looked at it.

"How did it come there?" she asked.

"I pay a fairy to drop a boat from the skies whenever I want it."

"I see," said Stella, gravely.

He laughed.

"How did you think I came across? Did you think I swam?" and he
arranged a cushion.

She laughed.

"I forgot that; how stupid of me."

"Will you step in?" he said.

Stella looked back at her uncle, and hesitated a moment.

"He will assure you that I shall not drown you," he said.

"I am not afraid--do you think I am afraid?" she said, scornfully.

"Yes, I think that at this moment you are trembling with nervousness
and dread."

She put her foot--he could not help seeing how small and shapely it
was--on the gunwale, and he held out his hand and took hers; it was
well he did so, for the boat was only a small, lightly built gig, and
her sudden movement had made it rock.

As it was, she staggered slightly, and he had to take her by the arm.
So, with one hand grasping her hand and the other her arm, he held
her for a moment--for longer than a moment. Then he placed her on the
cushion, and seating himself, took up the sculls and pushed off.

Stella leant back, and of course dropped one hand in the water. Not one
woman out of twenty who ever sat in a boat can resist that impulse to
have closer communion with the water; and he pulled slowly across the
stream.

The sun shone full upon them, making their way a path of rippling gold,
and turning Stella's hair into a rich brown.

Little wonder that, as he sat opposite her, his eyes should rest on her
face, and less that, thus resting, its exquisite beauty and freshness
and purity should sink into the soul of him to whom beauty was the one
thing worth living for.

Unconscious of his rapt gaze, Stella leant back, her eyes fixed on the
water, her whole attention absorbed by its musical ripple as it ran
through her fingers.

In silence he pulled the sculls, slowly and noiselessly; he would not
have spoken and broken the spell for worlds. Before him, as he looked
upon her, rose the picture of which he had spoken to his sister last
night.

"But more beautiful," he mused--"more beautiful! How lost she is! She
has forgotten me--forgotten everything. Oh, Heaven! if one were to
waken her into love!"

For an instant, at the thought, the color came into his face and the
fire to his eyes; then a half guilty, half repentful feeling struck
through him.

"No, it would be cruel--cruel: and yet to see the azure light shining
in those eyes--to see those lips half parted with the breath of a great
passion, would be worth--what? It would make amends for all that a man
might suffer, though he died the next moment, if those eyes smiled, if
those lips were upturned, for love of him!"

So lost were they that the touching of the boat and the bank made them
start.

"So soon," murmured Stella. "How beautiful it is! I think I was
dreaming."

"And I know that I was," he said, with a subtle significance, as he
rose and held out his hand. But Stella sprang lightly on shore without
accepting it. He tied up the boat and followed her; she was already on
her knee, picking the yellow primroses.

Without a word, he followed her example. Sometimes they were so near
together that she could feel his breath stirring her hair--so near that
their hands almost met.

At last she sank on to the mossy ground with a laugh, and, pointing to
her hat, which was full of the spring earth-stars, said laughingly:

"What ruthless pillage! Do not pick any more; it is wanton waste!"

"Are you sure you have plenty?" he said. "Why hesitate when there are
such millions?"

"No, no more!" she said. "I feel guilty already!"

He glanced at the handful he had gathered, and she saw the glance and
laughed.

"You do not know what to do with those you have, and still want more.
See, you must tie them in bundles.

"Show me," he said, and he threw himself down beside her.

She gathered them up into bundles, and tied them with a long stem of
fern, and he tried to do the same, but his hands, white and slender as
they were, were not so deft as hers, and he held the huge bundle to her.

"You must tie it," he said.

She laughed and put the fern round, but it broke, and the primroses
fell in a golden shower over their hands. They both made a grasp at
them, and their hands met.

For a moment Stella laughed, then the laugh died away, for he still
held her hand, and the warmth of his grasp seemed stealing upward to
her heart. With something like an effort she drew her hand away, and
sprang to her feet.

"I--I must go," she said. "Uncle will wonder where I have gone," and
she looked down at the water with almost frightened eagerness.

"He will know you are here, quite safe," he said. "Wait, do not go this
moment. Up there, above our heads, we can see the river stretching away
for miles. It is not a step; will you come?"

She hesitated a moment, then she turned and walked beside him between
the trees.

A step or two, as he said, and they reached a sort of plateau, crowned
by a moss-grown rock, in which some rough steps were hewn. He sprang up
the steps and reached the top, then bent down and held out his hand.

Stella hesitated a moment.

"It will repay your trouble; come," he said, and she put her hand in
his and her foot on the first step, and he drew her up beside him.

"Look!" he said.

An exclamation of delight broke from Stella's lips.

"You are not sorry you came?"

"I did not think it would be so lovely," she said.

He stood beside her, not looking at the view, but at her dark eyes
dilating with dreamy rapture--at her half-parted lips, and the sweet,
clear-cut profile presented to him.

She turned suddenly, and to hide the look of admiration he raised his
hand and pointed out the objects in the view.

"And what is that little house there?" asked Stella.

"That is one of the lodges," he said.

"One of the lodges--one of your own lodges, you mean?" she asked.

He nodded lightly, "Yes."

"And all this between here and that lodge belongs to you?"

"No, not an inch," he said, laughing. "To my father."

"It is a great deal," she said.

"Too much for one man, you think?" he said, with a smile. "A great many
other people think so too. I don't know what you would think if you
knew how much we Wyndwards have managed at one time or the other to lay
our acquiring grasp on. This is one of our smallest estates," he said,
simply.

Stella looked at the view dreamily.

"One of the smallest? Yes, I have heard that you are very rich. It must
be very nice."

"I don't know," he said. "You see one cannot tell until one has been
poor. I don't think there is anything in it. I don't think one is any
the happier. There is always something left to long for."

She turned her dark eyes on him with a smile of incredulity.

"What can you possibly have to long for?" she said.

He looked at her with a strange smile; then suddenly his face grew
grave and wistful--almost sad, as it seemed to her.

"You cannot guess, and I cannot tell you; but believe me that, as I
stand here, there is an aching void in my heart, and I do long for
something very earnestly."

The voice was like music, deep and thrilling; she listened and wondered.

"And you should be so happy," she said, almost unconsciously.

"Happy!" he echoed, and his dark eyes rested on hers with a strange
expression that was half-mocking, half-sad. "Do you know what the poets
say?"

"'Count no man happy till he dies,' do you mean?" said Stella.

"Yes," he said. "I do not think I know what happiness means. I have
been pursuing it all my life; sometimes have been within reach of it
but it has always evaded me--always slipped from my grasp. Sometimes
I have resolved to let it go--to pursue it no longer; but fate has
decreed that man shall always be seeking for the unattainable--that he
who once looks upon happiness with the eyes of desire, who stretches
out his hands toward her, shall pursue her to the end."

"And--but surely some get their desire."

"Some," he said, "to find that the prize is not worth the race they
have run for it; to find that they have wearied of it when it is
gained; to find that it is no prize at all, but a delusive blank; all
dead sea fruit that turns to dust upon the lips."

"Not all; surely not all!" she murmured, strangely moved by his words.

"No; not all," he said, with a hidden light in his eyes that she
did not see. "To some there comes a moment when they know that
happiness--real true happiness--lies just beyond their grasp. And the
case of rich men is more to be pitied than all others. What would you
say if I told you that it was mine?"

She looked up at him with a gentle smile, not on her lips but in her
eyes.

"I should say that I was very sorry," she murmured. "I should say that
you deserved----" she stopped short, smitten by sudden remembrance of
all she had heard of him.

He filled up the pause with a laugh: a laugh such as she had not heard
upon his lips till now.

"You were right to stop," he said. "If I get all the happiness I
deserve--well, no man will envy me."

"Let us go down now," said Stella, gently; "my uncle----"

He leapt down, and held up his hand.



CHAPTER VIII.


Stella put hers into it, but reluctantly, and tried to spring, but her
dress caught and she slipped forward.

She would have fallen but that he was on the alert to save her. Quite
simply and naturally he put his arms round her and lifted her down.

Only for a moment he held her in his embrace, her panting form close to
his, her face almost resting on his shoulders, but that moment roused
the blood in his fiery heart, and her face went pale.

"Are you hurt?" he murmured.

"No, no!" she said, and she slipped out of his arms and stood a little
away from him, the color coming and going in her face; it was the first
time that any man's arms, save her father's, had ever encircled her.

"Are you quite sure?" he repeated.

"Quite," she said, then she laughed. "What would have happened if I had
slipped?"

"You would have sprained your ankle," he said.

"Sprained my ankle, really?" she repeated, with open eyes.

"Yes, and I should have had to carry you down to the boat," he said,
slowly.

She looked away from him.

"I am glad I did not slip."

"And I," he said, "am--glad also."

She stooped and picked up the primroses and ran down the slope, her
cheeks aflame, a feeling that was something like shame, and yet too
full of a strange, indefinable joy to be sullen shame, took possession
of her.

With light feet, her hat swinging in her hand, she threaded her way
between the trees and sprang on to the grassy road beside the river
bank.

He did not follow so quickly, but stood for a moment looking at her,
his face pale, his eyes full of a strange, wistful restlessness.

Then Stella heard his step, firm and masterful, behind her. A sudden
impulse tempted her sorely to jump into the boat and push off--she
could pull a pair of sculls--and her hand was on the edge of the boat,
when she heard the sound of bells, and paused with astonishment.
Looking up she saw a tiny phæton drawn by a pair of cream-white ponies
coming along the road; it was the bells on their harness that she had
heard.

They came along at a fair pace, and Stella saw that the phæton was
being driven by a coachman in dark-brown livery, but the next moment
all her attention was absorbed by the young girl who sat beside him.

She was so fair, so lovely, so ethereal looking, that Stella was
spellbound.

A book was in her hand--ungloved and small and white as a child's--but
she was not reading. She held it so loosely that as the phæton came
along the top of the bank which hid Stella, the book dropped from the
lax grasp of the white fingers.

The girl uttered an exclamation, and Stella, obeying one of her sudden
impulses, sprang lightly up the bank, and picking up the book, held it
toward her.

Her appearance was so sudden that Lady Lilian was startled and for a
moment the pale face was dyed with a faint color; even after the moment
had passed she sat speechless, and the surprise in her eyes gave place
to a frank, generous admiration.

"Oh, thank you--thank you!" she said. "How kind of you. It was so
stupid of me to drop it. But where did you come from--the clouds?" And
there was a delicious hint of flattery in the look that accompanied the
words.

"Quite the reverse," said Stella, with her open smile. "I was standing
below there, by the boat."

And she pointed.

"Oh?" said Lady Lilian. "I did not see you."

"You were looking the other way," said Stella, drawing back to allow
the carriage to proceed; but Lady Lilian seemed reluctant to go, and
made no sign to the coachman, who sat holding the reins like an image
of stone, apparently deaf and dumb.

For a few strokes of Time's scythe the two girls looked at each
other--the one with the pale face and the blue eyes regarding the
fresh, healthful beauty of the other with sad, wistful gaze. Then Lady
Lilian spoke.

"What beautiful primroses! You have been gathering them on the slopes?"
with a suggestion of a sigh.

"Yes," said Stella. "Will you take them?"

"Oh, no, no; I could not think of robbing you."

Stella smiled with her characteristic archness.

"It is I who have been the thief. I have been taking what did not
belong to me. You will take these?"

Lady Lilian was too well bred to refuse; besides, she thirsted for them.

"If you will give them to me, and will not mind picking some more," she
said.

Stella laid the bunch on the costly sables which wrapped the frail
figure.

Lady Lilian put them to her face with a caressing gesture. "You are,
like me, fond of flowers?" she said.

Stella nodded. "Yes."

Then there was a pause. Above them, unseen by Lilian, forgotten by
Stella, stood Lord Leycester.

He was watching and waiting with a strange smile. He could read the
meaning in his sister's eyes; she was longing to know more of the
beautiful girl who had sprang like a fairy to her side.

With a faint flush, Lady Lilian said:

"You--you are a stranger, are you not? I mean you do not live here?"

"Yes," said Stella; "I live"--and she smiled and pointed to the cottage
across the meadow--"there."

Lady Lilian started, and Lord Leycester seized the moment, and coming
down, quietly stood by Stella's side.

"Leycester!" exclaimed Lilian, with a start of surprise.

He smiled into her eyes, his strange, masterful, irresistible smile. It
was as if he had said, "Did I not tell you? Can you withstand her?"

But aloud he said:

"Let me make the introduction in due form. This is Miss Etheridge,
Lilian. Miss Etheridge, this is my sister. As the French philosopher
said, 'Know each other.'"

Lady Lilian held out her hand.

"I am very glad," she said.

Stella took the thin, white hand, and held it for a moment; then Lady
Lilian looked from one to the other.

Lord Leycester interpreted the glance at once.

"Miss Etheridge has intrusted herself on the watery deep with me," he
said. "We came across to gather flowers, leaving Mr. Etheridge to paint
there."

And he waved his hand across the river.

Lady Lilian looked.

"I see," she said--"I see. And he is painting. Is he not clever? How
proud you must be of him!"

Stella's eyes grew dark. It was the one word wanting to draw them
together. She said not a word.

"Your uncle and I are old friends," Lady Lilian continued. "Sometime
when--when I am stronger, I am coming to see him--when the weather
gets warmer--" Stella glanced at the frail form clad in sables, with
a moistened eye--"I am going to spend a long afternoon among the
pictures. He is always so kind and patient, and explains them all to
me. But, as I am not able to come to you, you will come and see me,
will you not?"

There was a moment's silence. Lord Leycester stood looking over the
river as if waiting for Stella's reply.

Stella looked up.

"I shall be very glad," she said, and Lord Leycester drew a breath,
almost of relief.

"You will, will you not?" said Lady Lilian, with a sweet smile.

"Yes, I will come," said Stella, almost solemnly.

"You will find me poor company," said the daughter of the great earl,
with meek humility. "I see so little of the world that I grow dull and
ignorant; but I shall be so glad to see you," and she held out her hand.

Stella took it in her warm, soft fingers.

"I will come," she said.

Lady Lilian looked at the coachman, who, though his eyes were fixed in
quite another direction, seemed to see the glance, for he touched the
horses with the whip.

"Good-bye," she said, "good-bye."

Then, as the phæton moved on, she called out, in her low, musical
voice, that was a low echo of her brother's:

"Oh, Leycester, Lenore has come!"

Leycester raised his hat.

"Very well," he said. "Good-bye."

Stella stood a moment looking after her. Strangely enough the last
words rang in her ears with a senseless kind of insistence and
emphasis. "Lenore has come!" She found herself repeating them mentally.

Recalling herself she turned swiftly to Lord Leycester.

"How beautiful she is!" she said, almost in a whisper.

He looked at her with gratitude in his eloquent eyes.

"Yes."

"So beautiful and so kind!" Stella murmured, and the tears sprang to
her eyes. "I can see her face now. I can hear her voice. I do not
wonder that you love her as you do."

"How do you know that I love her?" he said. "Brothers, generally----"

Stella stopped him with a gesture.

"No man with a heart warmer than a stone could help loving her."

"And so you agree that my heart is warmer than a stone. Thank you for
that, at least," he said, with a smile that was not at all unselfish.

Stella looked at him.

"Let us go now," she said. "See, uncle is getting his things together."

"Not without the primroses," he said; "Lilian will break her heart if
you go without any. Let me get some," and he went up the slope.

Stella stood in thought. The sudden meeting with the fairy-like
creatures, had filled her with strange thoughts. She understood now
that rank and money are not all that is wanted for earthly happiness.

So lost in thought was she that she did not hear the sound of a horse
coming along the mossy road, though the animal was coming at a great
pace.

Lord Leycester's ears were freer or quicker however, for he caught the
sound and turned round.

Turned round in time to see a huge bay horse ridden by a tall, thin,
dark young man, almost upon the slim form, standing with its back to it.

With something like an oath on his lips, he dropped the flowers and
with one spring stood between her and the horse, and seizing the bridle
with both hands threw the beast, with sheer force, on to its haunches.

The rider had been staring at the river, and was taken by surprise so
complete, that, as the horse rose on its legs, he was thrown from the
saddle.

Stella, alarmed by the noise, turned and swerved out of the path.
And so they were grouped. Lord Leycester, pale with furious passion,
still holding the reins and forcing the horse in an iron grip, and the
erstwhile rider lying huddled up on the mossy road.

He lay still, only for a moment, however; the next he was on his feet
and advancing toward Lord Leycester. It was Jasper Adelstone.

His face was deadly pale, making, by contrast, his small eyes black as
coals.

"What do you mean?" he exclaimed, furiously, and half-unconsciously he
raised his whip.

It was an unlucky gesture, for it was all that was needed to rouse the
devil in Lord Leycester's breast.

With one little irresistible gesture he seized the whip arm and the
whip, and flinging the owner to the ground again with one movement,
broke the whip, and flung it on the top of him with the other.

It was all done in a second. With all the will in the world, Stella had
no time to interpose before the rash act was accomplished; but now she
sprang between them.

"Lord Leycester," she cried, pale and horror-stricken, as she gazed
into his face, white and working with passion; all its beauty gone,
and with the mask of a fury in its place. "Lord Leycester!"

At the sound of her voice--pleading, expostulating, rebuking--a shiver
ran through him, his hand fell to his side, and still holding the now
plunging and furious horse with a grip of steel, he stood humbly before
her.

Not so Jasper Adelstone. With a slow, sinuous movement he rose
and shook himself, and glared at him. Speechless from the sheer
breathlessness of furious hate he stood and looked at the tall,
velvet-clad figure.

Stella was the first to break the silence.

"Oh, my lord!" she said.

At the sound of her reproachful voice, Lord Leycester's face paled.

"Forgive me," he said, humbly. "I beg--I crave your forgiveness; but I
thought you were in danger, you were--you were!" Then, at the thought,
his fiery passion broke out again, and he turned to the silent,
white-faced Jasper. "What the devil do you mean by riding in that
fashion?"

Jasper Adelstone's lips moved, and at last speech came.

"You shall answer for this, Lord Leycester."

It was the worst word he could have said.

In an instant all Lord Leycester's repentances fled.

With a smothered oath on his lips, he advanced toward him.

"What! Is that all you have to say? Do you know, you miserable wretch,
that you nearly rode over this lady--yes, rode over her? Answer for it!
Confound you----" and he raised his arm.

But Stella, all her wits on the _qui vive_, was in time, and her
own arms were wound about his, on which the muscles stood thick and
prominent--like iron bands.

With a gesture he became calm again, and there was a mute prayer for
pardon in his eyes as he looked at her.

"Do not be afraid," he murmured, between his lips; "I will not hurt
him. No, no."

Then he pointed to the horse.

"Mount, sir, and get out of my sight. Stop!" and the fiery passion
broke out again. "No, by Heaven, you shall not, until you have begged
the lady's pardon."

"No, no!" said Stella.

"But I say 'Yes!'" said Lord Leycester, his eyes blazing. "Is every
tailor to ride through the Chase and knock down whom he will? Ask for
pardon, sir, or----"

Jasper stood looking from one to the other.

"No, no!" said Stella. "It was all an accident. Please, pray do not say
another word. Mr. Adelstone, I beg you will go without another word."

Jasper Adelstone hesitated for a moment.

"Miss Stella," he said, hoarsely.

Alas! it was oil on the smoldering fire.

"Miss Stella!" exclaimed Lord Leycester. "Who gave you the right to
address this lady by her Christian name, sir?"

Jasper bit his lip.

"Miss Etheridge, you cannot doubt that I am heartily sorry that this
unpleasant contretemps should have been caused by my carelessness. I
was riding carelessly----"

"Like an idiot!" broke in Lord Leycester.

"And did not see you. No harm would have resulted, however, if this
man--if Lord Leycester Wyndward had not, with brutal force, thrown me
from the saddle. I should have seen you in time, and, as I say, no harm
would have been done. All that has occurred is this man--Lord Leycester
Wyndward's--fault. Again I beg your pardon."

And he bent his head before her. But as he did so a malignant gleam
shot out of his eyes in the direction of the tall, stalwart figure and
white, passionate face.

"No, no, there is no occasion!" said Stella, trembling. "I do not want
you to beg my pardon. It was only an accident. You did not expect to
see anyone here--I--I--oh, I wish I had not come."

Lord Leycester started.

"Do not say that," he murmured.

Then aloud:

"Here is your horse, sir; mount him and go home, and thank your stars
the lady has escaped without a broken limb."

Jasper stood a moment looking at him, then, with another inclination of
the head, he slowly mounted the horse.

Lord Leycester, his passion gone, stood calm and motionless for a
moment, then raised his hat with an old-world gesture.

"Good-day to you, and remember to ride more carefully in future."

Jasper Adelstone looked down at him with a malignant smile on his thin
lips.

"Good-day, my lord. I shall remember. I am not one to forget. No, I am
not one to forget," and striking spurs into the horse, he rode off.



CHAPTER IX.


"Who is 'Lenore,' uncle?"

It was the evening of the same day--a day never to be forgotten by
Stella, a day marked with a white stone in her mental calendar. Never
would she be able to look upon a field of primroses, never hear the
music of the river running over the weir, without remembering this
morning the first she had spent with Lord Leycester.

It was evening now, and the two--the painter and the girl--were sitting
by the open window, looking out into the gloaming, he lost in memory,
she going over and over again the incidents of the morning, from the
visit of Mr. Jasper Adelstone to his encounter with Lord Leycester.

It was strange, it was almost phenomenal--for Stella was frankness and
candor itself--that she had said nothing of the encounter to her uncle;
once or twice she had opened her lips--once at dinner, and once again
as she sat beside him, leaning her arm on his chair while he smoked his
pipe--she had opened her lips to tell him of that sudden outburst of
fury on the part of Lord Leycester--that passionate rage which proved
all that the painter had said of his hot temper to be true, but she had
found some difficulty in the recital which had kept her silent.

She had told him of her walk in the woods, had told him of her meeting
with Lady Lilian, but of that passionate encounter between the two men
she said nothing.

When Jasper had ridden on, pale and livid with suppressed passion, Lord
Leycester had stood looking at her in silence. Now, as she sat looking
into the gloaming, she saw him in her mind's eye still, his beautiful
eyes eloquent with remorse and humility, his clear-cut lip quivering
with the sense of his weakness.

"Will you forgive me?" he said, at last, and that was all. Without
another word, he had offered to help her into the boat, help which
Stella had disregarded, and had rowed her across to her uncle. Without
a word, but with the same penitent, imploring look in his eyes, he
raised his hat and left her--had gone home to the Hall, to his sister
Lady Lilian, and to Lenore.

Ever since she had heard the name drop softly from Lady Lilian's lips
it had rung in her ears. There was a subtle kind of charm about it that
half fascinated, half annoyed her.

And now, leaning her head on her arm, and with her dark eyes fixed on
the stars which glittered merrily in the sky, she put the question:

"Who is Lenore, uncle?"

He stirred in his chair and looked at her absently.

"Lenore, Lenore? I don't know, Stella, and yet the name sounds
familiar. Where did you hear it? It's scarcely fair to spring a
question like that on me; you might ask me who is Julia, Louisa, Anna
Maria----"

Stella laughed softly.

"I heard it this morning, uncle. Lady Lilian told her brother as she
left us that 'Lenore had come.'"

"Ah, yes," he said. "Now I know. So she has come, has she? Who is
Lenore?" and he smiled. "There is scarcely another woman in England who
would need to ask that question, Stella."

"No?" she said, turning her eyes upon him with surprise. "Why? Is she
so famous?"

"Exactly, yes; that is just the word. She is famous."

"For what, uncle? Is she a great actress, painter, musician--what?"

"She is something that the world, nowadays, reckons far above any of
the classes you have named, Stella--she is a great beauty."

"Oh, is that all!" said Stella, curtly.

"All!" he echoed, amused.

"Yes," and she nodded. "It seems so easy."

"So easy!" and he laughed.

"Yes," she continued; "so very easy, if you happen to be born so. There
is no merit in it. And is that all she is?"

He was staggered by her _sang froid_ for a moment.

"Well, I was scarcely fair, perhaps. As you say, it is very easy to be
a great beauty--if you are one--but it is rather difficult if you are
not; but Lenore is something more than that--she is an enchantress."

"That's better," remarked Stella. "I like that. And how does she
enchant? Does she keep tame snakes, and play music to them, or
mesmerize people, or what?"

The painter laughed again with great enjoyment at her _naivete_.

"You are quite a cynic, Stella. Where did you learn the trick; from
your father, or is it a natural gift? No, she does not keep tame
snakes, and I don't know that she has acquired the art of mesmerism;
but she can charm for all that. First, she is, really and truly, very
beautiful----"

"Tell me what she is like?" interrupted Stella, softly.

The old man paused a moment to light his pipe.

"She is very fair," he said.

"I know," said Stella, dreamily, and with a little smile; "with yellow
hair and blue eyes, and a pink and white complexion, and blue veins and
a tiny mouth."

"All wrong," he said, with, a laugh. "You have, woman-like, pictured
a china doll. Lenore is as unlike a china doll as it is possible to
imagine. She has golden hair it is true--but golden hair, not yellow;
there is a difference. Then her eyes are not blue; they are violet."

"Violet!"

"Violet!" he repeated, gravely. "I have seen them as violet as the
flowers that grow on the bank over there. Her mouth is not small; there
was never yet a woman worth a fig who had a small mouth. It is rather
large than otherwise, but then it is--a mouth."

"Expressive?" said Stella, quietly.

"Eloquent," he corrected. "The sort of mouth that can speak volumes
with a curve of the lip. You think I exaggerate? Wait until you see
her."

"I don't think," said Stella, slowly, "that I am particularly desirous
of seeing her, uncle. It reminds we of what they say of Naples--see
Naples and die! See Lenore and die!"

He laughed.

"Well, it is not altogether false; many have seen her--many men, and
been ready to die for love of her."

Stella laughed, softly.

"She must be very beautiful for you to talk like this, uncle. She is
charming too?"

"Yes, she is charming," he said, low; "with a charm that one is bound
to admit at once and unreservedly."

"But what does she do?" asked Stella, with a touch of feminine
impatience.

"What does she not?" he answered. "There is scarcely an accomplishment
under the sun or moon that she has not at her command. In a word,
Stella, Lenore is the outcome of the higher civilization; she is the
type of our latest requirement, which demands more than mere beauty,
and will not be satisfied with mere cleverness; she rides beautifully
and fearlessly; she plays and sings better than one-half the women one
hears at concerts; they tell me that no woman in London can dance with
greater grace, and I have seen her land a salmon of twenty pounds with
all the skill of a Scotch gillie."

Stella was silent a moment.

"You have described a paragon, uncle. How all her women friends must
detest her."

He laughed.

"I think you are wrong. I never knew a woman more popular with her sex."

"How proud her husband must be of her," murmured Stella.

"Her husband! What husband? She is not married."

Stella laughed.

"Not married! Such a perfection unmarried! Is it possible that mankind
can permit such a paragon to remain single. Uncle, they must be afraid
of her!"

"Well, perhaps they are--some of them," he assented, smiling. "No,"
he continued, musingly; "she is not married. Lenore might have been
married long before this: she has had many chances, and some of them
great ones. She might have been a duchess by this time if she had
chosen."

"And why did she not?" said Stella. "Such a woman should be nothing
less than a duchess. It is a duchess whom you have described, uncle."

"I don't know," he said, simply. "I don't think anyone knows; perhaps
she does not know herself."

Stella was silent for a moment; her imagination was hard at work.

"Is she rich, poor--what, uncle?"

"I don't know. Rich, I should think," he answered.

"And what is her other name, or has she only one name, like a princess
or a church dignitary?"

"Her name is Beauchamp--Lady Lenore Beauchamp."

"Lady!" repeated Stella, surprised. "She has a title, then; it was all
that was wanted."

"Yes, she is the daughter of a peer."

"What a happy woman she must be;--is she a woman or a girl, though. I
have imagined her a woman of thirty."

He laughed.

"Lady Lenore is--is"--he thought a moment--"just twenty-three."

"That's a woman," said Stella, decidedly. "And this wonderful creature
is at the Hall, within sight of us. Tell me, uncle, do they keep her in
a glass case, and only permit her to be seen as a curiosity at so much
a head? They ought to do so, you know."

He laughed, and his hand stroked her hair.

"What is it Voltaire says, Stella," he remarked. "'If you want a woman
to hate another, praise her to the first one.'"

Stella's face flushed hotly, and she laughed with just a touch of scorn.

"Hate! I don't hate her, uncle--I admire her; I should like to see her,
to touch her--to feel for myself the wonderful charm of which you
speak. I should like to see how she bears it; it must be strange, you
know, to be superior to all one's kind."

"If she feels strange," he said, thoughtfully, "she does not show it.
I never saw more perfect grace and ease than hers. I do not think
anything in the world would ruffle her. I think if she were on board
a ship that was going down inch by inch, and she knew that she was
within, say, five minutes of death, she would not flinch, or drop for
a moment the smile which usually rests upon her lips. That is her
charm, Stella--the perfect ease and perfect grace which spring from a
consciousness of her power."

There was silence for a moment. The painter had spoken in his usual
dreamy fashion, more like communion with his own thoughts than a direct
address to his hearer, and Stella, listening, allowed every word to
sink into her mind.

His description impressed her strongly, more than she cared to admit.
Already, so it seemed to her, she felt fascinated by this beautiful
creature, who appeared as perfect and faultless as one of the heathen
goddesses--say Diana.

"Where does she live?" she asked, dreamily.

He smoked in silence for a moment.

"Live? I scarcely know; she is everywhere. In London in the season,
visiting in country houses at other times. There is not a house in
England where she would not be received with a welcome accorded to
princes. It is rather strange that she should be down here just now;
the season has commenced, most of the visitors have left the Hall, some
of them to be in their places in Parliament. It is rather strange that
she should have come down at this time."

Stella colored, and a feeling of vague irritation took possession of
her--why, she scarcely knew.

"I should think that everyone would be glad to come to Wyndward Hall at
any time--even Lady Lenore Beauchamp," she said, in a low voice.

He nodded.

"Wyndward Hall is a fine place," he said, slowly, "but Lady Lenore is
accustomed to--well, to palaces. There is not a ball-room in London
where her absence will not be noticed. It is strange. Perhaps"--and he
smiled--"Lady Wyndward has some motive."

"Some motive?" repeated Stella, turning her eyes toward him. "What
motive can she have?"

"There is Leycester," he said, musingly.

"Leycester?"

The word was out of her lips before she was aware of it, and a vivid
crimson dyed her face.

"Lord Leycester, I mean."

"Yes," he answered. "Nothing would please his mother more than to see
him marry, and he could not marry a more suitable person than Lenore.
Yes, that must be it, of course. Well, he could not do better, and as
for her, though she has refused greater chances, there is a charm in
being the future Countess of Wyndward, which is not to be despised. I
wonder whether he will fall into the trap--if trap it is intended to
be."

Stella sat silent, her head thrown back, her eyes fixed on the stars.
He saw she was very pale, and there was a strange, intent look in her
eyes. There was also a dull aching in her heart which was scarcely
distinct enough for pain, but which annoyed and shamed her. What
could it matter to her--to her, Stella Etheridge, the niece of a
poor painter--whom Lord Leycester, future Earl of Wyndward, married?
Nothing, less than nothing. But still the dull aching throbbed in her
heart, and his face floated between her and the stars, his voice rang
in her ears.

How fortunate, how blessed, some women were! Here, for instance, was
this girl of twenty-three, beautiful, famously beautiful, noble, and
reigning like a queen in the great world, and yet the gods were not
satisfied, but they must give her Leycester Wyndward! For of course it
was impossible that he should resist her if she chose to put forth her
charm. Had not her uncle just said that she could fascinate?--had she
not even evidently fascinated him, the dreamer, the artist, the man who
had seen and who knew the world so well?

For a moment she gave herself up to this reflection and to the dull
aching, then with a gesture of impatience she rose, so suddenly as to
startle the old man.

"What is the matter, Stella?" he asked.

"Nothing, nothing," she said. "Shall we have lights? The room is so
dark and still, and----" her voice broke for a moment.

She went to the mantel-shelf and lit a candle, and as she did so she
looked up and saw her face reflected in the antique mirror and started.

Was that her face?--that pale, half-startled visage looking at her so
sadly. With a laugh she put the dark hair from her brow, and gliding to
the organ began to play; feverishly, restlessly at first, but presently
the music worked its charm and soothed her savage breast.

Yes, she was savage, she knew it, she felt it! This woman had
everything, while she----

The door opened and a stream of light broke in from the lamp carried by
Mrs. Penfold.

"Are you there, Miss Stella? Oh, yes, there you are! I thought it was
Mr. Etheridge playing; you don't often play like that. There's a note
for you."

"A note! For me!" exclaimed Stella, turning on her stool with amazement.

Mrs. Penfold smiled and nodded.

"Yes, miss; and there's an answer, please."

Stella took the note hesitatingly, as if she half expected it to
contain a charge of explosive dynamite; the envelope was addressed in
a thin, beautiful hand to Miss Stella Etheridge. Stella turned the
envelope over and started as she saw the arms stamped upon it. She knew
it, it was the Wyndward crest.

For a moment she sat looking down at it without offering to open
it, then with an effort she tore it open, slowly, and read the note
enclosed.

 "DEAR MISS ETHERIDGE:--Will you redeem the promise you made me this
 afternoon and come and see me? Will you ask Mr. Etheridge to bring you
 to dine with them to-morrow at eight o'clock? I say 'them' because I
 dine always alone; but perhaps you will not mind coming to me after
 dinner for a little while. Do not let Mr. Etheridge refuse as he
 generally does, but tell him to bring you for my sake."

     "Yours very truly,

          "LILIAN WYNDWARD."

Stella read it and re-read it as if she could not believe her senses.
Lady Lilian's invitation had sounded so vague that she had scarcely
remembered it, and now here was a direct invitation to Wyndham Hall,
and to dinner.

"Well, miss?" said Mrs. Penfold.

Stella started.

"I will give you the answer directly," she said.

Then she went across to her uncle and stood beside him, the letter
in her hand. He was lost in thought, and quite unsuspicious of the
thunder-clap preparing for him.

"Uncle, I have just got a letter."

"Eh? Where from, Stella?"

"From Lady Lilian."

He looked up quickly.

"She has asked me to dinner to-morrow."

"No!" he said. She put the letter in his hand. "Read it, will you, my
dear?" he said.

And she read it, conscious that her voice trembled.

"Well?" he said.

"Well?" she repeated, with a smile.

He put his hand to his brow.

"To dinner--to-morrow? Oh, dear me! Well, well! You would like to go?"
and he looked up at her. "Of course you would like to go."

She looked down, her face was delicately flushed--her eyes shone.

"Of course," he said. "Well, say 'Yes.' It is very kind. You see,
Stella, your wish is gratified almost as soon as you utter it. You will
see your paragon--Lady Lenore."

She started, and her face went pale.

"I have changed my mind," she said, in a low voice. "I find I don't
want to see her so badly as I thought. I think I don't care to go,
uncle."

He stared at her. She was still an enigma to him.

"Nonsense, child! Not care to see Wyndward Hall! Nonsense! Besides,
it's Lady Lilian; we must go, Stella."

She still stood with the letter in her hand.

"But--but, uncle--I have nothing to wear."

"Nothing to wear!" And he looked at her up and down.

"Nothing fit for Wyndward Hall," she said. "Uncle, I don't think I care
to go."

He laughed gently.

"You will find something to wear between now and half-past seven
to-morrow," he said, "or my faith in Mrs. Penfold's resources will be
shaken. Accept, my dear."

She went slowly to the table and wrote two lines--two lines only.

 "DEAR LADY LILIAN.--We shall be very glad indeed to come and see you
 to-morrow. Yours very truly,"

     "STELLA ETHERIDGE."

Then she rang the bell and gave the note to Mrs. Penfold.

"I am going to Wyndward Hall to-morrow," she said, with a smile, "and I
have got nothing to wear, Mrs. Penfold!" and she laughed.

Mrs. Penfold threw up her hands after the manner of her kind.

"To the Hall, Miss Stella, to-morrow! Oh, dear, what shall we do?" Then
she glanced at the arm-chair, and beckoned Stella out of the room.

"Come up-stairs, then, and let us see what we can manage. To the Hall!
Think of that!" and she threw up her head proudly.

Stella sat on a chair, looking on with a smile, while the scanty
wardrobe was overhauled.

Scanty as it was it contained everything that was needful for such use
as Stella might ordinarily require, but a dinner at the Hall was quite
out of the ordinary. At last, after holding up dress after dress, and
dropping it with a shake of the head, Mrs. Penfold took up a cream
sateen.

"That's very pretty," said Stella.

"But it's only sateen!" exclaimed Mrs. Penfold.

"It looks like satin--a little," said Stella "by candlelight, at least."

"And they have real satin, and silks, and velvets," deplored Mrs.
Penfold, eagerly.

"Nobody will notice me," said Stella, consolingly. "It doesn't matter."

Mrs. Penfold glanced at her with a curious smile.

"Will they not, Miss Stella? I don't know, I think they will; but it
must be this dress or nothing; you can't go in a cotton, or the black
merino, and the muslin you wore the other night----"

"Wouldn't do at all," said Stella. "We'll make this sateen do, Mrs.
Penfold. I think it looks very nice; the lace is good, isn't it?"

"The lace?" said Mrs. Penfold, thoughtfully, then her face brightened.
"Wait a moment," she said, and she dropped the dress and hurried from
the room, returning in a few moments with a small box. "Speaking of
lace just reminded me, Miss Stella, that I had some by me. It was made
by my mother--I don't know whether it's good," and as she spoke she
opened the box and lifted some lace from the interior.

"Why it's point!"

"Point, is it, miss? I didn't know. Then it is good."

"Good!" exclaimed Stella--"it's beautiful, delicious, heavenly. And
will you lend it to me?"

"No, I'll give it to you if you will take it, Miss Stella," said the
good woman, with a proud smile.

"No, no, not for worlds, but I will wear it if you'll let me?" said
Stella, and she took a long strip and put it round her throat. "Oh, it
is beautiful, beautiful! It would make the poorest dress look handsome!
I will take great care of it, indeed I will."

"What nonsense, dear Miss Stella! How glad I am I thought of it. And
it does look pretty now you wear it," and she looked at the beautiful
face admiringly. "And you'll want gloves--let me see--yes, you have got
some cream gloves; they'll go with the dress, won't they? Now, you go
down-stairs, and I'll look the things out and tack the lace on. Going
to the Hall? I'm so glad, Miss Stella."

"Are you?" said Stella, softly, as she went down-stairs, "I don't know
whether I'm glad or sorry!"



CHAPTER X.


The great clock in the Hall stables chimed the half-hour--half-past
seven, and the sound came floating down the valley.

Mr. Etheridge stood at the door clad in evening dress, which,
old-fashioned and well-worn as it was, sat upon him with a gracious
air, and made him look more distinguished than ever. The fly was
waiting at the door, and he glanced at his watch and took a step toward
the stairs, when a light appeared above, and a light step sounded over
his head. The next moment a vision, as it seemed to him, floated into
sight, and came down upon him.

Stella was in the cream sateen dress--the exquisite lace was clinging
round her slender, graceful throat--there was a red rose in her
hair; but it was not the dress, nor the lace, nor the rose even,
which chained the painter's eye--it was the lovely girlish face. The
excitement had brought a dash of warm color in the clear olive cheeks
and a bright light into the dark eyes; the lips were half-apart with a
smile, and the whole face was eloquent of youth's fresh tide of life
and spirits. If they had had all Howell and James' stock to choose
from, they could not have chosen a more suitable dress--a more becoming
color; the whole made a fitting frame for the girlish beauty.

"Well, uncle!" she said, with a little blush.

"What have you done to yourself, my child?" he said, with simple
open-eyed wonder.

"Isn't she--isn't it beautiful?" murmured Mrs. Penfold, in an ecstasy.
"But then, if it had been a morning cotton, it would have been all the
same." And she proceeded to wrap a woolen shawl round her so carefully
as if she was something that might be destroyed at too hard a touch.
"Mind she has this wound round her like this when she comes out, sir,
and be sure and keep the window up."

"And don't let the air breathe on me, or I shall melt, uncle," laughed
Stella.

"Upon my word, I'm half disposed to think so," he muttered.

Then they entered the fly--Mrs. Penfold disposing the short train of
the despised sateen with gingerly care--and started.

"How have you managed it all?" asked the old man, quite bewildered. "I
feel quite strange conveying a brilliant young lady."

"And I feel--frightened out of my life," said Stella, with a little
breath and a laugh.

"Then you conceal your alarm with infinite art," he retorted.

"That's just it," she assented. "My heart is beating like a steam
hammer, but, like an Indian at the stake, I am determined to smile to
the end. They will be very terrible, uncle, will they not?"

"Who?" he asked.

"The countess and the paragon--I mean Lady Lenore Beauchamp. I shall
have to be careful, or I shall be calling her the paragon to her face.
What would she do, uncle?"

"Smile and pass it by with a gracious air," he said, laughing. "You are
a clever and a bold girl, Stella, but even you could not take 'a rise,'
as we used to say in my school-days, out of Lady Lenore."

"I am not clever, and I am trembling like a mouse," said Stella, with a
piteous little pout. "You'll stand by me, uncle, won't you?"

He laughed.

"I think you are quite able to defend yourself, my dear," he said.
"Never knew one of your sex who was not."

The fly rumbled over the bridge and entered the long avenue, and
Stella, looking out, saw the lights of the house shining at the end of
the vista.

"What a grand place it is," she murmured, almost to herself. "Uncle, I
feel as if I were about to enter another world; and I am, I think. I
have never seen a countess in my life before; have been shut up within
the four walls of a school. If she says one word to me I shall expire."

He laughed, and began to feel for the sketch which he had brought with
him.

"You will not find her so very terrible," he said.

The fly got to the end of the avenue at last, and wound round the broad
drive to the front entrance.

It loomed so large and awe-inspiring above them, that Stella's heart
seemed to sink; but her color came again as two tall footmen, in grand,
but not gorgeous, livery, came down the broad steps and opened the fly
door. She would not let them see that she was--afraid. Afraid; yes that
was the word which described her feelings as she was ushered into the
hall, and she looked round at its vastness.

There were several other footmen standing about with solemn faces,
and a maid dressed in black, with a spotless muslin cap, came forward
with what seemed to Stella solemn and stately steps, and asked her, in
almost a reverential whisper, whether she would come up-stairs; but
Stella shook her head, and was about to unwind the shawl, when the
maid, with a quick but respectful movement, undertook the task, going
through it with the greatest care and attention.

Then her uncle held his arm and she put her hand upon it, and in the
instant, as if they had been waiting and watching, though their eyes
had been fixed on the ground, two footmen drew aside the curtains
shutting off the corridor to the drawing-room, and another footman
paced slowly and with head erect before them.

It was all so solemn, the dim yet sufficient light, the towering hall,
with its flags and armor, the endless curtains, with their gold fringe,
that Stella was reminded of some gothic cathedral. The white gleaming
statues seemed to look down at her, as she passed between them, with
a frown of astonishment at her audacity in entering their solemn
presence, the very silence seemed to reproach her light footsteps on
the thickly-carpeted mosaic floor.

She began to be overpowered, but suddenly she remembered that she too
was of ancient birth, that she was an Etheridge, and that the man whose
arm she was leaning upon was an artist, and a great one, and she held
her head erect and called the color to her face.

It was not a moment too soon, for another pair of curtains were
drawn aside, and the next instant she stood on the threshold of the
drawing-room, and she heard a low but distinct voice say--

"Mr. and Miss Etheridge."

She had not time to look round; she saw, as in a flash, the exquisite
room, with its shaded candles and softly-gleaming mirrors, saw
several tall, black-coated, white-chested forms of gentlemen, and
richly-dressed ladies; then she was conscious that a tall, beautiful,
and stately lady was gliding across the room toward them, and knew it
was the countess.

Lady Wyndward had heard the announcement and had risen from where she
was sitting with the Countess of Longford to welcome the guests. The
painter was a favorite of hers, and if she could have had her will he
would have been a frequent visitor at the hall.

When Lilian had told her of her meeting with Mr. Etheridge's niece and
asked permission to invite her, she had assented at once, expecting
to see some well-subdued middle-aged woman. Why she should have thus
pictured her she could not have told; perhaps because Mr. Etheridge
was old and so subdued himself. She had scarcely listened to Lilian's
description, and Leycester had said no word.

But now as she came forward and saw a young and beautiful girl,
graceful and self-possessed, dressed with perfect taste, and looking
as distinguished as if she had gone through a couple of London
seasons, when the vision of Stella, in all her fresh young loveliness,
broke upon her suddenly and unexpectedly, an infinite surprise took
possession of her, and for a moment she half paused, but it was only
for a moment, and by no change in her face, however slight, was her
surprise revealed.

"How do you do, Mr. Etheridge? It was so kind of you to come. I know
how great an honor this is, and I am grateful."

This is what Stella heard in the softest, most dulcet of voices--"Kind,
grateful!" This was how a countess welcomed a poor painter. A glow of
light seemed to illumine Stella's mind. She had expected to see a tall
stately woman dressed in satin and diamonds, and with a courtly severe
manner, and instead here was a lady with a small gentle voice and a
face all softness and kindness. In an instant she had learned her first
lesson--that a mark of high rank and breeding is pure gentleness and
humility. The queen sits beside the bed of a sick peasant; the peer
thanks the waiter who hands him his umbrella.

"Yes, it was very good of you to come. And this is your niece? How do
you do, Miss Etheridge? I am very glad to see you."

Stella took her gloved hand, her courage came instantly, and she raised
her eyes to the beautiful, serene face, little guessing that as she did
so, the countess was filled with surprise and admiration as the dark
orbs raised.

"We are quite a small party," said the countess. "Nearly all our
friends have left us. We should have been in town before this, but Lord
Wyndward is detained by business."

As she spoke the earl approached them, and Stella saw a tall, thin,
noble-looking man bending before her as if he were expecting a touch of
her hand.

"How do you do, Mr. Etheridge? We have managed to entice you from your
hermitage at last, eh? How do you do, Miss Etheridge? I hope you didn't
feel the cold driving."

Stella smiled, and she knew why every approach was screened by curtains.

The earl drew the painter aside, and the countess, just laying her
fingers on Stella's arm, guided her to the old countess of Longford.

"Mr. Etheridge's niece," she said; then, to Stella, "This is Lady
Longford."

Stella was conscious of a pair of keen gray eyes fixed on her face.

"Glad to know you, my dear," said the old lady. "Come and sit beside
me, and tell me about your uncle; he is a wonderful man, but a very
wicked one."

"Wicked!" said Stella.

"Yes, wicked," repeated the old lady, with a smile on her wrinkled
face. "All obstinate people are wicked; and he is obstinate because he
persists in hiding himself away instead of coming into the world and
consenting to be famous, as he should be."

Stella's heart warmed directly.

"But perhaps now that you have come, you will persuade him to leave his
shell."

"Do you mean the cottage? I don't think anything would persuade him to
leave that. Why should he? He is quite happy."

The countess looked at her.

"That's a sensible retort," she said. "Why should he? I don't know--I
don't know what to answer. But I owe him a grudge. Do you know that he
has persistently refused to come and see me, though I have almost gone
on my knees to him?"

Stella smiled.

"He does not care to go anywhere," she said. "If he went anywhere, I am
sure he would come to you."

The old countess glanced at her approvingly.

"That was nicely said," she murmured. "How old are you?"

"Nineteen," said Stella, simply.

"Then you have inherited your uncle's brains," the old lady replied,
curtly. "It is not given to every girl to say the right thing at
nineteen."

Stella blushed, and looked round the room.

There were ten or twelve persons standing and sitting about, some of
them beautiful women, exquisitely dressed, talking to some gentlemen;
but Lord Leycester was not amongst the latter. She was conscious of
that, although she scarcely knew that she was looking for him. She
wondered which was Lady Lenore. There was a tall, fair girl leaning
against the piano, but somehow Stella did not think it was the famous
beauty.

The clock on the bracket struck eight, and she saw the earl take out
his watch and glance at it mechanically; and as he did so, a voice
behind her said:

"Dinner is served, my lady."

Nobody took any notice however, and the countess did not show by sign
or look that she heard. Suddenly the curtains at the other end of the
room were swung apart, and a tall form entered.

Though her eyes were fixed on another part of the room, she knew who it
was, and for a moment she would not look that way, then she directed
her eyes slowly, and saw that her instinct had not misled her.

It was Leycester!

For a moment she was conscious of a feeling of surprise. She thought
she knew him well, but in that instant he looked so different that he
seemed almost a stranger.

She had not seen him before in evening dress, and the change from the
velvet coat and knickerbockers to the severe, but aristocratic, black
suit struck her.

Like all well-made, high-bred men he looked at his best in the dress
which fashion has decreed shall be the evening costume of gentlemen.
She had thought him handsome, noble, in the easy, careless suit of
velvet, she knew that he was distinguished looking in his suit of
evening sables.

With his hand upon the curtain he stood, his head erect, his eyes not
eagerly, but commandingly, scanning the room.

She could not tell why or how she knew, but she knew that he was
looking for her.

Presently he sees her, and a subtle change came over his face, it was
not a smile so much as a look of satisfaction, and she knew again that
a frown would have settled on his white brow if she whom he sought had
not been there.

With a high but firm step he came across the room and stood before her,
holding out his hand.

"You have come," he said; "I thought you would not come. It is very
kind of Mr. Etheridge."

She gave him her hand without a word. She knew that the keen gray
eyes of the old lady beside her were fixed on her face. He seemed to
remember too, for in a quieter, more commonplace, tone, he added:

"I am late; it is an habitual fault of mine."

"It is," said the old countess.

He turned his smile upon her.

"Are you going to scold me?"

"I am not fond of wasting my time," she said. "Come and sit down for a
minute if you can."

He glanced at the clock.

"Am I not keeping you all waiting?" he said.

Lady Longford shook her head.

"No; we are waiting for Lenore."

"Then she is not here!" thought Stella.

"Oh, Lenore!" he said, with a smile. "Well, no one will dare to scold
her."

As he spoke the curtain parted, and someone entered.

Framed by the curtain that fell behind her in crimson folds stood a
girl--not yet a woman, for all her twenty-three years--of wonderful
beauty, with deep golden hair and violet eyes.

Stella knew her at once from her uncle's description, but it was not
the beauty that surprised her and made her start; it was something more
than that. It was the nameless, indescribable charm which surrounded
her; it was the grace which distinguished her figure, her very attitude.

She stood a moment, with a faint half-smile upon her lips, looking
round; then she glided with a peculiar movement, that struck Stella as
grace itself, to Lady Wyndward, and bent her head down to the countess.

Stella could not hear what she said, but she knew that she was
apologizing for her tardiness by the way the earl, who was standing
by, smiled at her. Yes, evidently Lady Lenore would not be scolded for
keeping dinner waiting.

Stella sat watching her; she felt her eyes riveted to her in fact, and
suddenly she was aware that the violet eyes were fixed on hers.

She saw the beautiful lips move, saw the earl make answer, and then
watched them move together across the room.

Whither were they going? To her surprise they came toward her and
stopped in front of her.

"Miss Etheridge," said the earl, in his low, subdued voice, "let me
introduce Lady Lenore Beauchamp to you."

Stella looked up, and met the violet eyes fixed on her.

For a moment she was speechless; the eyes, so serene and full and
commanding, seemed to seek out her soul and to read every thought it
held; to read it so closely and clearly that her own eyes dropped; then
with an effort she held out her hand, and as the great beauty's closed
softly over it she raised her lids again, and so they stood looking
at each other, and Lord Leycester stood beside with the characteristic
smile on his face.



CHAPTER XI.


As Stella looked up at the great beauty, she felt for the first time
that her own dress, pretty as it was, was only sateen. She had not been
conscious of it before, but she felt it now in the presence of this
exquisitely-dressed woman. In very truth, Lady Lenore was well-dressed;
it was not only that her costumes came from Redfern's or Worth's, and
her millinery from Louise, but Lenore had acquired the art of wearing
the productions of these artistes. When looking at her, one was
forcibly reminded of the Frenchman's saying, that the world was divided
into two classes--the people who were clothed and the people who wore
their clothes. Lady Lenore belonged to those who wear their clothes;
the beautiful dress sat upon her as if she had been made to it, instead
of it to her; not a piece of lace, not a single article of jewelry, but
sat in its place gracefully and artistically.

To-night she wore a dress composed of some soft and readily-draping
material, neither cashmere nor satin--some one of the new materials
which have come over from the far east, and of which we scarcely yet
know the names. It was of the most delicate shade of grayish-blue,
which was brought out and accentuated by the single camellia resting
amidst the soft lace on her bosom. The arms were bare from the elbows,
exquisitely, warmly white and beautifully formed; one heavy bracelet,
set with huge Indian pearls, lined the wrist; there were similar huge
pearls in the rings on her fingers, and in the pendant which hung by a
seed-pearl necklace.

Imagine a beautiful, an almost faultlessly-beautiful face, rising from
the delicate harmony of color--imagine a pair of dark eyes, now blue,
now violet, as she stood in repose or smiled, and fringed, by long,
silken lashes--and you may imagine the bare material outward beauty of
Lenore Beauchamp, but no words can describe what really was the charm
of the face--its wonderful power of expression, its eloquent mobility,
which, even when the eyes and lips were in repose, drew you to watching
and waiting for them to speak.

Stella, though she had scarcely heard those lips utter a word knew what
her uncle meant when he said that there was a peculiar fascination
about her which went beyond her mere beauty; and, as she looked, a
strange feeling crossed Stella's mind. She remembered an old story
which she had heard years ago, when she was sitting on the lap of
her Italian nurse--the story of the strange and beautiful Indian
serpent which sits beneath the tree, and fixing its eyes upon the bird
overhead, draws and charms it with its spell, until the bird drops
senseless and helpless to its fate.

But even as she thought of this she was ashamed of the idea, for there
is nothing serpent-like in Lenore's beauty; only this Stella thought,
that if ever those eyes and lips smiled and murmured to a man "I love
you," that man must drop; resistance would be vain and useless.

All this takes long to write; it flashed across Stella's mind in a
moment, even as they looked at each other in silence; then at last Lady
Lenore spoke.

"Have you been gathering primroses to-day?" she said, with a smile.

It was a strange way of beginning an acquaintance, and Stella felt the
color mount to her face; the words recalled the whole of the scene of
yesterday morning. The speaker intended that they should.

"No," she said, "not to-day."

"Miss Etheridge gathered enough yesterday for a week, did you
not?" said Lord Leycester, and the voice sounded to Stella like an
assistance. She half glanced at him gratefully, and met his eyes fixed
on her with a strange light in them that caused hers to drop again.

"I must find this wonderful flower-land," said Lady Lenore. "Lilian was
quite eloquent about it last night."

"We shall be happy to act as pioneers in the discovery," he said, and
Stella could not help noticing the "we." Did he mean she and he?

At that moment Lady Wyndward came toward them, and murmured something
to him, and he left them and offered his arm to a lady at the other end
of the room; then Lady Wyndward waved her fan slightly and smiled, and
a tall, thin, fair-haired man came up.

"Lord Charles, will you take charge of Miss Etheridge?"

Lord Guildford bowed and offered his arm.

"I shall be delighted," he said, and he smiled down at Stella in his
frank way.

There was a general movement, ladies and gentlemen were pairing off and
moving toward the door, beside which stood the two footmen, with the
solemn air of soldiers attending an execution.

"Seven minutes late," said Lord Charles, glancing up at the clock as
they passed. "We must chalk that up to Lady Lenore. I admire and envy
her courage, don't you, Miss Etheridge? I should no more dare to be
late for dinner at Wyndward than--than--what's the most audacious thing
you can think of?"

Stella smiled; there was something catching in the light-hearted,
frank, and free tones of the young viscount.

"Standing on a sofa in muddy boots has always been my idea of a great
social crime," she said.

He laughed approvingly, and his laugh seemed to float lightly through
the quiet room.

"That's good--that's awfully good!" he said, with intense enjoyment.
"Standing on a sofa--that's awfully good! Must tell Leycester that! Did
you ever do it, by the way?"

"Never," said Stella, gravely, but with a smile.

"No!" he said. "Do you know I think you are capable of it if you were
provoked?"

"Provoked?" said Stella.

"Dared, I mean," he explained. "You know we used to have a game at
school called 'Dare him?' I expect all fellows have played it. One
fellow does the most extraordinary things and dares the other fellows
to do it. Leycester used to play it best. He was a regular good hand at
it. The worst of it was that we all used to get thrashed; the masters
didn't care about half-a-dozen fellows flinging stones at the windows
and climbing on to the roof at the dead of night."

"Poor masters!" said Stella.

He laughed.

"Yes, they didn't have a particularly fine time of it when Leycester
was at school."

As he spoke, he glanced at the tall figure of Lord Leycester in front
of them with an admiring air such as a school-boy might wear.

"There isn't much that Leycester wouldn't dare," he said.

They entered the dining-room, a large room lined with oak and
magnificently furnished, in which the long table with its snowy cloth,
and glittering plate and glass, shone out conspicuously.

Lord Guildford found no difficulty in discovering their seats, each
place being distinguished by a small tablet bearing the name of the
intended occupant. As Stella took her seat, she noticed a beautiful
bouquet beside her serviette, and saw that one was placed for every
lady in the room.

A solemn, stately butler, who looked like a bishop, stood beside the
earl's chair, and with a glance and a slight movement of his hand
directed the noiseless footmen.

A clergyman said grace, and the dinner commenced. Stella, looking
round, saw that her uncle was seated near Lady Wyndward, and that Lady
Lenore was opposite herself. She looked round for Lord Leycester, and
was startled to hear his voice at her left. He was speaking to Lady
Longford. As she turned to look at him she happened to catch Lady
Wyndward's eye also fixed upon him with a strange expression, and
wondered what it meant; the next moment she knew, for, bending his head
and looking straight before him, he said--

"Do you like your flowers?"

Stella took up the bouquet; it was composed almost entirely of white
blossoms, and smelt divinely.

"They are beautiful," she said. "Heliotrope and camellias--my favorite
flowers."

"It must have been instinct," he said.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I chose them," he said, in the same low voice.

"Chose them?" she retorted.

"Yes," and he smiled. "That was what made me late. I came in here first
and had a grand review of the bouquets. I was curious to know if I
could guess your favorite flowers."

"You--you--changed them!" said Stella, with a feeling of mild horror.
"Lord Guildford asked me just now what I considered the most audacious
act a man would commit. I know now."

He smiled.

"I changed something else," he said.

Stella looked at him inquiringly. There was a bold smile in his dark
eyes.

He pointed to the little tablet bearing his name.

"This. I found it over the way there, next to that old lady in
the emeralds. She is a dreadful old lady--beware of her. She is a
politician, and she always asks everybody who comes near her what they
think of the present Parliament. I thought it would be nicer to come
over here."

The color crept slowly into Stella's face, and her eyes dropped.

"It was very wrong," she said. "I am sure Lady Wyndward will be angry.
How could you interfere with the arrangements? They all seem so solemn
and grand to me."

He laughed softly.

"They are. We always eat our meals as if they were the last we could
expect to have--as if the executioner was waiting outside and feeling
the edge of the ax impatiently. There is only one man here who dares to
laugh outright."

"Who is that?" asked Stella.

He nodded to Lord Guildford, who was actively engaged in bending
his head over his soup with the air of a hungry man. "Charlie," he
said--"Lord Guildford, I mean. He laughs everywhere, don't you,
Charlie?"

"Eh? Yes, oh, yes. What is he telling you about me, Miss Etheridge?
Don't believe a word he says. I mean to have him up for libel some day."

"He says you laugh everywhere," said Stella.

Lord Charles laughed at once, and Stella looked round half alarmed, but
nobody seemed to faint or show any particular horror.

"Nobody minds him," said Lord Leycester, balancing his spoon. "He is
like the King's Jester, licensed to play wheresoever he pleases."

"I'm fearfully hungry," said Lord Charles. "I've been in the saddle
since three o'clock--is that the _menu_, Miss Etheridge? Let us mark
our favorite dishes," and he offered her a half-hold of the porcelain
tablet on which was written the items of the various courses.

Stella looked down the long list with something like amused dismay.

"It's dreadfully long," she said. "I don't think I have any favorite
dishes."

"No; not really!" he demanded. "What a treat! Will you really let me
advise you?"

"I shall be most grateful," said Stella.

"Oh, this is charming," said Lord Guildford. "Next to choosing one's
own dinner, there is nothing better than choosing one for someone else.
Let me see;" and thereupon he made a careful selection, which Stella
broke into with an amused laugh.

"I could not possibly eat all these things," she said.

"Oh, but you must," he said. "Why, I have been most careful to pick out
only those dishes suitable for a lady's delicate appetite; you can't
leave one of them out, you can't, indeed, without spoiling your dinner."

"My dear," said the countess, bending forward, "don't let him teach
you anything, except to take warning by his epicureanism; he is only
anxious that you should be too occupied to disturb him."

Lord Charles laughed.

"That is cruel," he said. "You take my advice, Miss Etheridge; there
are only two things I understand, and those are a horse and a good
dinner."

Meanwhile the dinner was proceeding, and to Stella it seemed that
"good" scarcely adequately described it. One elaborate course after
another followed in slow succession, borne in by the richly-liveried
footmen on the massive plate for which Wyndward Hall was famous. Dishes
which she had never heard of seemed to make their appearance only to
pass out again untouched, excepting by the clergyman, Lord Guildford,
and one or two other gentlemen. She noticed that the earl scarcely
touched anything beyond a tiny piece of fish and a mutton cutlet; and
Lord Guildford, who seemed to take an interest in anything connected
with the dinner, remarked, as he glanced at the stately head of the
house--

"There is one other person present who is of your way of thinking, Miss
Etheridge--I mean the earl. He doesn't know what a good dinner means. I
don't suppose he will taste anything more than the fish and a piece of
Cheshire. When he is in town and at work----"

"At work? said Stella.

"In the House of Lords, you know; he is a member of the Cabinet."

Stella nodded.

"He is a statesman?"

"Exactly. He generally dines off a mutton chop served in the library.
I've seen him lunching off a penny biscuit and a glass of water.
Terrible, isn't it?"

Stella laughed.

"Perhaps he finds he can work better on a chop and a glass of water,"
she said.

"Don't believe it!" retorted Lord Guildford. "No man can work well
unless he is well-fed."

"Guildford ought to know," said Lord Leycester, audibly. "He does so
much work."

"So I do," retorts Lord Charles. "Stay and keep you in order, and if
that isn't hard work I don't know what is!"

This was very amusing for Stella; it was all so strange, too, and so
little what she imagined; here were two peers talking like school-boys
for her amusement, as if they were mere nobodies and she were somebody
worth amusing.

Every now and then she could hear Lady Lenore's voice, musical and
soft, yet full and distinct; she was talking of the coming season, and
Stella heard her speak of great people--persons' names which she had
read of, but never expected to hear spoken of so familiarly. It seemed
to her that she had got into some charmed circle; it scarcely seemed
real. Then occasionally, but very seldom, the earl's thin, clear,
high-bred voice would be heard, and once he looked across at Stella
herself, and said:

"Will you not try some of those rissoles, Miss Etheridge? They are
generally very good."

"And he never touches them," murmured Lord Charles, with a mock groan.

She could hear her uncle talking also--talking more fluently than
was his wont--to Lady Wyndward, who was speaking about the pictures,
and once Stella saw her glance in her direction as if they had been
speaking of her. The dinner seemed very long, but it came to an end
at last, and the countess rose. As Stella rose with the rest of the
ladies, the old Countess of Longford locked her arm in hers.

"I am not so old that I can't walk, and I am not lame, my dear," she
said, "but I like something young and strong to lean upon; you are
both. You don't mind?"

"No!" said Stella. "Yes, I am strong."

The old countess looked up at her with a glance of admiration in her
gray eyes.

"And young," she said significantly.

They passed into a drawing-room--not the one they had entered first,
but a smaller room which bore the name of "my lady's." It was
exquisitely furnished in the modern antique style. There were some
beautiful hangings that covered the walls, and served as background for
costly cabinets and brackets, upon which was arranged a collection of
ancient china second to none in the kingdom. The end of the room opened
into a fernery, in which were growing tall palms and whole miniature
forests of maidenhair, kept moist by sparkling fountains that fell with
a plash, plash, into marble basins. Birds were twitting and flitting
about behind a wire netting, so slight and carefully concealed as to be
scarcely perceptible.

No footman was allowed to enter this ladies' paradise; two maids, in
their soft black dresses and snowy caps, were moving about arranging a
table for the countess to serve tea upon.

It was like a scene from the "Arabian Nights," only more beautiful and
luxurious than anything Stella had imagined even when reading that
wonderful book of fairy-tales.

The countess went straight to her table and took off her gray-white
gloves, some of the ladies settled themselves in the most indolent of
attitudes on the couches and chairs, and others strolled into the fern
house. The old countess made herself comfortable on a low divan, and
made room for Stella beside her.

"And this is your first visit to Wyndward Hall, my dear?" she said.

"Yes," answered Stella, her eyes still wandering round the room.

"And you live in that little village on the other side of the river?"

"Yes," said Stella, again. "It is very pretty, is it not?"

"It is, as pretty as anything in one of your uncle's pictures. And are
you quite happy?"

Stella brought her eyes upon the pale, wrinkled face.

"Happy! Oh, yes, quite," she said.

"Yes, I think you are," said the old lady with a keen glance at the
beautiful face and bright, pure eyes. "Then you must keep so, my dear,"
she said.

"But isn't that rather difficult?" said Stella, with a smile.

Lady Longford looked at her.

"That serves me right for meddling," she said. "Yes, it is difficult,
very difficult, and yet the art is easy enough; it contains only one
rule, and that is 'to be content.'"

"Then I shall continue to be happy," said Stella; "for I am very
content."

"For the present," said the old lady. "Take care, my dear!"

Stella smiled; it was a strange sort of conversation, and there was a
suggestion of something that did not appear on the surface.

"Do you think that I look very discontented, then?" she asked.

"No," said the old lady, eying her again. "No, you look very
contented--at present. Isn't that a beautiful forest?"

It was an abrupt change of the subject, but Stella was equal to it.

"I have been admiring it since I came in," she said; "it is like fairy
land."

"Go and enter it," said the old countess--"I am going to sleep for
exactly ten minutes. Will you come back to me then? You see, I am very
frank and rude; but I am very old indeed."

Stella rose with a smile.

"I think you are very kind to me," she said.

The old countess looked up at the beautiful face with the dark, soft
eyes bent down on her; and something like a sigh of regret came into
her old, keen eyes.

"You know how to make pretty speeches, my dear," she said. "You learnt
that in Italy, I expect. Mind you come back to me."

Then, as Stella moved away, the old lady looked after her.

"Poor child!" she murmured--"poor child! she is but a child; but he
won't care. Is it too late, I wonder? But why should I worry about it?"

But it seemed as if she must worry about it, whatever it was, for
after a few minutes' effort to sleep, she rose and went across to the
tea-table.

Lady Wyndward was making tea, but looked up and pushed a chair close
beside her.

"What is it?" she asked, with a smile.

"Who is she?" asked the countess, taking a cup and stirring the tea
round and round, very much as Betty the washerwoman does--very much
indeed.

Lady Wyndward did not ask "Who?" but replied in her serene, placid
voice directly:

"I don't know. Of course, I know that she is Mr. Etheridge's niece, but
I don't know anything about her, except that she has just come here
from Italy. She said that she was not happy there."

"She is very beautiful," murmured the countess.

"She is--very," assented Lady Wyndward.

"And something more than distinguished. I never saw a more graceful
girl. She is only a child, of course."

"Quite a child," assented Lady Wyndward again.

There was a pause, then the old countess said, almost abruptly:

"Why is she here?"

Lady Wyndward filled a cup carefully before replying.

"She is a friend of Lilian's," she said; "at least she invited her."

"I thought she was rather a friend of Leycester's," said the old lady,
dryly.

Lady Wyndward looked at her, and a faint, a very faint color came into
her aristocratic face.

"You mean that he has noticed her?" she said.

"Very much! I sat next to him at dinner. Was it wise to put him next to
her? A child's head is quickly turned."

"I did not arrange it so," replied Lady Wyndward. "I put his tablet
next to Lenore's, as usual; but it got moved. I don't know who could
have done it."

"I do," said the old lady. "It was Leycester himself. I am sure of it
by the way he looked."

Lady Wyndward's white brow contracted for a moment.

"It is like him. He will do or dare anything for an hour's amusement. I
ought to be angry with him!"

"Be as angry as you like, but don't let him know that you are," said
the old lady, shrewdly.

Lady Wyndward understood.

"How beautiful Lenore looks to-night," she said, looking across the
room where Lady Lenore stood fanning herself, her head thrown back, her
eyes fixed on a picture.

"Yes," assented the old countess. "If I were a man I should not rest
until I had won her; if I were a man--but then men are so different to
what we imagine them. They turn aside from a garden lily to pluck a
wayside flower----"

"But they come back to the lily," said Lady Wyndward, with a smile.

"Yes," muttered the old countess, suavely; "after they have grown tired
of the wild flower and thrown it aside."

As she spoke the curtains were withdrawn and the gentlemen came
sauntering in.

No one rests long over the wine, nowadays; the earl scarcely drank
a glass after the ladies left; he would fill his glass--fill two
perhaps, but rarely did more than sip them. Lord Leycester would
take a bumper of claret--the cellars were celebrated for the Chateau
Margaux. To-night it seemed as if he had taken an additional one, for
there was a deeper color on his face, and a brighter light in his eyes
than usual; the light which used to shine there in his school-days,
when there was some piece of wildness on, more mad than usual. Lord
Guildford came in leaning lightly upon his arm, and he was talking to
him in a low voice.

"One of the most beautiful faces I have ever seen, Ley: not your
regular cut-out-to-pattern kind of face, but fresh and--and--natural.
The sort of face Venus might have had when she rose from the sea that
fine morning----"

"Hush!" said Lord Leycester, with a slight start, and he thought of the
picture in his room, the picture of the Venus with the pale, fair face,
across which he had drawn the defacing brush that night he had come
home from his meeting with Stella. "Hush! they will hear you! Yes, she
is beautiful."

"Yes, beautiful! Take care, take care, Ley!" muttered Lord Charles.

Leicester put his hand from him with a smile.

"You talk in parables to-night, Charlie, and don't provide the key. Go
and get some tea."

He went himself toward the table and got a cup, but his eyes wandered
round the room, and the old countess and Lady Wyndward noticed the
searching glance.

"Leycester," said his mother, "will you ask Lenore to sing for us?"

He put down his cup and went down the room to where she was sitting
beside the earl.

"My mother has sent me as one of her ambassadors to the queen of
music," he said. "Will your majesty deign to sing for us?"

She looked up at him with a smile, then gave her cup to one of the
maids, and put her hand upon his arm.

"Do you know that this is the first time you have spoken to me
since--since--I cannot remember?"

"One does not dare intrude upon royalty too frequently; it would be
presumptuous," he said.

"In what am I royal?" she asked.

"In your beauty!" he said, and he was the only man in the room who
would have dared so pointed a reply.

"Thanks," she said, with a calm smile; "you are very frank to-night."

"Am I? And why not? We do not hesitate to call the summer sky blue
or the ocean vast. There are some things so palpable and generally
acknowledged that to be reserved about them would be absurd."

"That will do," she said. "Since when have you learnt such eloquent
phrases? What shall I sing, or shall I sing at all?"

"To please me you have but to sing to please yourself!" he said.

"Find me something then," she said, and sat down with her hands folded,
looking a very queen indeed.

He knelt down beside the canterbury, and, as at a signal, there was
a general gathering round the piano, but she still sat calm and
unconscious, very queen-like indeed.

Leycester found a song, and set it up for her, opened the piano, took
her bouquet from her lap, and waited for her gloves, the rest looking
on as if interference were quite out of the question.

Slowly she removed her gloves and gave them to him, touched the piano
with her jeweled fingers, and began to sing.

At this moment Stella, who had been wandering round the fernery, came
back to the entrance, and stood listening and absorbed.

She had never heard so beautiful a voice, not even in Italy. But
presently, even while a thrill of admiration was running through
her, she became conscious that there was something wanting. Her
musical sense was unsatisfied. The notes were clear, bell-like, and
as harmonious as a thrush's, the modulation perfect; but there was
something wanting. Was it heart? From where she stood she could see the
lovely face, with its dark violet eyes upturned, its eloquent mouth
curved to allow the music vent, and the loveliness held her inthralled,
though the voice did not move her.

The song came to an end, and the singer sat with a calm smile receiving
the murmurs of gratitude and appreciation, but she declined to sing
again, and Stella saw Lord Leycester hand her her gloves and bouquet
and stand ready to conduct her whither she would.

"He stands like her slave, to obey her slightest wish," she thought.
"Ah! how happy she must be," and with a something that was almost
a sigh, she turned back into the dim calm of the fernery; she felt
strangely alone and solitary at that moment.

Suddenly there was a step behind her, and looking up she saw Lord
Leycester.

"I have found you!" he said, and there was a ring of satisfaction and
pleasure in his voice that went straight to her heart. "Where have you
been hiding?"

She looked up at the handsome face full of life and strong manhood, and
her eyes fell.

"I have not been hiding," she said. "I have been here."

"You are right," he said, seating himself beside her; "this is the best
place; it is cool and quiet here; it is more like our woods, is it not,
with the ferns and the primroses?" and at the "our" he smiled into her
eyes.

"It is very lovely here," she said. "It's all lovely. How beautifully
she sings!" she added, rather irrelevantly.

"Sings?" he said. "Oh, Lenore! Yes, she sings well, perfectly. And that
reminds me. I have been sent to ask you to make music for us."

Stella shrank back with a glance of alarm.

"I? Oh, no, no! I could not."

He smiled at her.

"But your uncle----"

"He should not!" said Stella, with a touch of crimson. "I could not
sing. I am afraid."

"Afraid! You?" he said. "Of what?"

"Of--of--everything," she said, with a little laugh. "I could not sing
before all these people. I have never done so. Besides, to sing after
Lady Lenore would be like dancing a hornpipe."

"I should be content if you would dance a hornpipe," he said. "I should
think it good and wise."

"Are you laughing at me?" she said, looking up at the dark eyes. "Why?"

"Laughing at you?" he repeated. "I! I could not. It is you who laugh at
me; I think you are laughing at me most times. You will not sing, then?"

"I cannot," she said.

"Then you shall not," he responded; "you shall not do anything you do
not like. But some time you will sing for us, will you not? Your uncle
has been telling us about your voice, and how you came by it," and his
own voice grew wonderfully gentle.

"My father, he meant," said Stella, simply. "Yes; he could sing. He was
a great musician, and when I think of that, I am inclined to resolve
never to open my lips again."

There was a moment's pause. Stella sat pulling a piece of maidenhair
apart, her eyes downcast; his eyes were reading her beautiful face,
and noting the graceful turns of the white neck. Someone was playing
the grand piano, and the music floated in and about the tall palms. It
was an intoxicating moment for him! The air was balmy with perfumes
from the exotics, the warm blood was running freely in his veins, the
beauty of the girl beside him seemed to entrance him. Instinctively his
hand, being idly near her, went toward hers, and would have touched it,
but suddenly one of the maids entered, and with a slow, respectful air
approached them. She held a silver salver, on which lay a small note,
folded in a lover's knot.

Lord Leycester looked up; the interruption came just in time.

"For me?" he said.

"For Miss Etheridge, my lord," replied the maid, with a courtesy.

"For me?" echoed Stella, taking the note.

"I can guess who it is from," he said, with a smile. "Lilian is growing
impatient--if she is ever that."

Stella unfolded the note. This was it: "Will you come to me now, if you
care to?"

"Oh, yes, I will go at once," she said, standing up.

He rose with a sigh.

"It is the first time I have envied Lilian anything," he said, in a
low voice.

"This way, if you please, miss," said the maid.

"A moment--a moment only," said Lord Leycester, and as Stella stopped,
he gathered a few sprays of maidenhair from the margin of the fountain.

"It is a peace-offering. Will you take it to her? I promised that I
would ask you to go directly after dinner," he said, softly.

"Yes," said Stella, and as she took it there rose once more in her mind
the word Jasper Adelstone had spoken--"infamous." This man who sent his
sister such a message in such a voice!

"Thanks," he said. "But it was scarcely necessary. I have sent her
something more beautiful, more precious."

Stella did not understand far a moment, then as her eyes met his, she
knew that he meant herself, and the color flooded her face.

"You should not say that," she said, gravely, and before he could
answer she moved away, and followed the maid.

The maid led her through the hall and up the broad stairs, across the
corridor and knocked at Lady Lilian's door.

Stella entered, and a grave peace seemed to fall upon her.

Lady Lilian was lying on the couch by the window, and raised herself to
hold out her hand.

"How good of you to come!" she said, eagerly, and as the voice broke on
Stella's ear, she knew what Lady Lenore's voice wanted. "You think me
very selfish to bring you away from them all do you not?" she added,
still holding Stella's hand in her white, cool one.

"No," said Stella, "I am very glad to come. I would have come before,
but I did not know whether I might."

"I have been waiting, and did not like to send for you," said Lady
Lilian, "and have you had a pleasant evening?"

Stella sank into a low seat beside the couch, and looked up into the
lovely face with a smile.

"I have had a wonderful evening!" she said.

Lady Lilian looked at her inquiringly.

"Wonderful," said Stella, frankly. "You see I have never been in such
a place as this before; it all seems so grand and beautiful--more
beautiful than grand indeed, that I can scarcely believe it is real."

"It is real--too real," said Lady Lilian, with a smile and a little
sigh. "I daresay you think it is very nice, and I--do you know what I
think?"

Stella shook her head.

"I think, as I look down at your little cottage, how beautiful, how
nice your life must be."

"Mine!" said Stella. "Well, yes, it is very nice. But this is
wonderful."

"Because you are not used to it," said Lady Lilian. "Ah! you would soon
get tired of it, believe me."

"Never," breathed Stella, looking down; as she did so she saw the
maidenhair, and held it up.

"Lord Leycester sent these to you," she said.

A loving light came into Lady Lilian's eyes as she took the green,
fragrant sprays.

"Leycester?" she said, touching her cheek with them. "That is like
him--he is too good to me."

Stella looked across the room at a picture of the Madonna rising from
the earth, with upturned, glorious eyes.

"Is he?" she murmured.

"Oh, yes, yes, there never was a brother like him in all the wide
world," said Lady Lilian, in a rapt voice. "I cannot tell you how
good he is to me; he is always thinking of me--he who has so much to
think of. I fancy sometimes that people are apt to deem him selfish
and--and--thoughtless, but they do not know----"

"No," said Stella again. The voice sounded like music in her ears--she
could have listened forever while it sung his song; and yet that word
suddenly rang out in discord, and she smiled. "He seems very kind," she
said--"he is very kind to me."

Lady Lilian looked at her suddenly, and an anxious expression came into
her eyes. It was not many nights ago that she had implored Leycester to
see no more of the girl with the dark eyes and silky hair; and here was
the girl sitting at her feet, and it was her doing! She had not thought
of that before; she had been so fascinated by the fresh young beauty,
by the pure, frank eyes, that she had actually acted against her own
instincts, and brought her into Leycester's path!

"Yes, he is very kind to everybody," she said. "And you have enjoyed
yourself? Have they been singing?"

"Yes, Lady Beauchamp."

"Lenore," said Lilian, eagerly. "Ah, yes; does she not sing
beautifully, and is she not lovely?"

"She sings beautifully, and she is very lovely," said Stella, still
looking at the Madonna.

Lady Lilian laughed softly.

"I am very fond of Lenore. You will like her very much when you know
her better. She is--I was going to say--very imperial."

"That would be right," said Stella; "she is like a queen, only more
beautiful than most queens have been."

"I am so glad you admire her," said Lady Lilian; then she paused a
moment, and her white hand fell like a thistle down on the dark head
beside her. "Shall I tell you a secret?"

Stella looked up, with a smile.

"Yes; I will promise to keep it."

Lilian smiled down at her.

"How strangely you said that--so gravely. Yes, I think you would keep
a secret to the death. But this is not one of that sort; it is only
this--that we hope, all of us, that Lenore will become my sister."

Stella did not start; did not remove her eyes from the pale, lovely
face, but into those eyes a something came that was not wonder nor
pain, but a strong, indefinable expression, as if she were holding her
breath in the effort to suppress any sign of feeling.

"Do you mean that Lord Leycester will marry her?" she said, distinctly.

Lady Lilian nodded.

"Yes, that is it. Would it not be nice?"

Stella smiled.

"For Lord Leycester?"

Lady Lilian laughed her soft laugh.

"What a strange girl you are," she said, smoothing the silky hair.
"What am I to say to that? Well--yes, of course. And for Lenore, too,"
she added, with a touch of pride.

"Yes, for Lady Lenore also," said Stella, and her eyes went back to the
Madonna.

"We are all so anxious to see Leycester married," went on Lady Lilian,
with a smile. "They say he is--so wild, I think it is, they say! Ah,
they do not see him as I see him. Do you think he is wild?"

Stella paled. The strain was great, her heart was beating with
suppressed throbs. The gentle girl did not know how she was torturing
her with such questions.

"I?" she murmured. "I do not know. I cannot tell. How should I? I
scarcely know your brother."

"Ah, no, I forget," said Lady Lilian. "To me it seems as if we had
known each other so long, and we only met the other morning for a few
minutes. How is it? Do you possess some charm, and did you conceal it
in the flowers you gave me, so that I am under a spell, Stella? That is
your name, isn't it? It is a beautiful name; are you angry with me for
calling you by it?"

"Angry! No!" said Stella, putting up her warm, firm hand, and touching
the thin white one resting on her hair. "No, I like you to call me by
it."

"And you will call me by mine--Lilian?"

"If you wish it," said Stella. "Yes, I will."

"And we shall be great friends. See, I have kept your flowers quite
cool and fresh," and she pointed to a vase in which the primroses stood
at the other end of the room. "I love wild flowers. They are Heaven's
very own, are they not? No human hand does anything for them, or helps
them to grow."

Stella listened to the low, beautiful voice with a rapt awe.

Lady Lilian looked down at her with a smile.

"I wonder whether you would grant me a favor if I asked it?" she said.

"I would do anything for you," said Stella, looking up at her.

"Will you go and play for me?" she said. "I know that you can play and
sing because I have looked into your eyes."

"Suppose I say that I cannot," said Stella, laughing softly.

"You cannot!" said Lady Lilian. "I am never mistaken. Leycester says
that I am a witch in such matters."

"Well, I will try," said Stella, and she crossed the room and opened
the tiny piano, and began to play a sonata by Schubert.

"I cannot play like Lady Lenore," she said, almost to herself, but Lady
Lilian heard her.

"You play exquisitely," she said.

"No, I can't play," repeated Stella, with almost a touch of impatience;
then she looked up and saw the Madonna, and on the impulse of the
moment began to sing Gounod's "Ave Maria." There is no more exquisite
piece of devotional music in the world, and it was Stella's favorite.
She had sung it often and often in the dreary school-days, with all
her longing heart in her voice; she had sung it in solemn aisled
cathedrals, while the incense rose to the vaulted roof; but she had
never sung it as she sang it now--now that the strange, indefinable
pain was filling her heart with wistful vague longing. Lady Lilian
leant forward--her lips parted, her eyes filling with tears--so rapt
that she did not notice that the door had opened, and that Lord
Leycester stood in the room. When she did see him he held up his hand
to silence any word of greeting, and stood with his head lowered, his
eyes fixed on Stella's face, upturned, white, and rapt. As he listened,
his handsome face grew pale, his dark eyes deepened with intense
emotion; he had stood beside the piano down-stairs while Lady Lenore
had been singing, with a calm, polite attention; here and at this
moment his heart beat and throbbed with an intense longing to bend and
kiss the upturned face--with an intense longing to draw the eyes toward
his--to silence the exquisite voice--to change its imploring prayer
into a song of love.

All unconsciously Stella sang on till the end, that last, lingering,
exquisite, long-drawn sigh; then she turned and saw him, but she did
not move--only turned pale, her eyes fixed on his. And so they looked
at each other.

With an effort he broke the spell, and moved. But he did not speak to
her at once, but to Lilian.

"I have brought you something," he said, in a low voice, and he held up
the sketch.

Lady Lilian uttered a cry of delight.

"And it is for me! Oh, Leycester, that is nice! It is beautiful! I know
who painted it--it was your uncle, Stella! Oh, yes, I know!"

"You are right," said Leycester, then he went toward Stella.

"How can I thank you?" he said, in a low voice. "I know now why you
would not sing to to us down-stairs! You were quite right. I would not
have you sing to a mob in a drawing-room after dinner. What shall I
say?--what can I say?"

Stella looked up pale and almost breathless beneath the passionate fire
that burned in his eyes.

"I did not know you were here," she said, at last.

"Or you would not have sung. I am glad I came--I cannot say how glad!
You will not sing again?"

"No, no," she said.

"No," he said. "I did not think you would, and yet I would give
something to hear you once--only once more."

"No," said Stella, and she rose and went back to her seat.

"Isn't it beautiful?" said Lady Lilian, in a murmur. "I have been
richly endowed to-night. Your song and this picture. How exquisite it
was! Where did you learn to sing like that?"

"Nowhere," said Leycester. "That cannot be learnt!"

Lilian looked at him; he was still pale, and his eyes seemed to burn
with suppressed eagerness.

"Go and thank Mr. Etheridge," she said.

"Presently," he said, and he came and put his hand on her arm.
"Presently! let me rest here a little while. It is Paradise after----"
he paused.

"You shall not rest," she said. "Go and sing something, Ley."

Then, as Stella looked up, she laughed softly.

"Did you not know he could sing? He is a bad, wicked, indolent boy.
He can do all sorts of things when he likes, but he never will exert
himself. He will not sing, now will you?"

He stood looking at Stella, and as if constrained to speak and look at
him, Stella raised her eyes.

"Will you sing?" she said, almost inaudibly.

As if waiting for her command, he bent his head and went to the piano.

His fingers strayed over the notes slowly for a moment or two, then he
said, without turning his head:

"Have you seen these flowers?"

Stella did not wish to move; but the voice seemed to draw her, and she
rose and crossed to the piano.

He looked up.

"Stay," he murmured.

She hesitated a second, then stood with downcast eyes, which, hidden as
they were, seemed to feel his ardent gaze fixed upon her.

He still touched the keys gently, and then, without further prelude, he
began in a low voice:

    "I wandered down the valley in the eventide,
    The birds were singing sweetly in the summer air,
    The river glided murm'ring to the ocean wide,
      But still no peace was there;
    For love lay lurking in the ferny brake;
    I saw him lying with his bow beside;
    He cried, 'Sweetheart, we will never, never part!'
    By the river in the valley at the eventide.

    "I fled to the mountains, to the clouds and mist,
    Where the eagle and the hawk share their solitary throne;
    'Here at least,' I cried, 'wicked love I can deride,
      He will leave me here at peace alone.'
    But love lay lurking in the clouds and mist;
    I heard him singing sweetly on the mountain side,
    ''Tis all in vain you fly, for everywhere am I,
    In every quiet valley, on every mountain side.'"

With his eyes fixed on hers, he sang as if every word were addressed to
her; his voice was like a flute, mellow and clear, and musical, but it
was not the voice but the words that seemed to sink into Stella's heart
as she listened. It seemed to her as if he dared her to fly, to seek
safety from him--his love, he seemed to say, would pursue her in every
quiet valley, on every mountain side.

For a moment she forgot Lady Lenore, forgot everything; she felt
helpless beneath the spell of those dark eyes, the musical voice; her
head drooped, her eyes closed.

"'Tis all in vain you fly, for everywhere am I, in every quiet valley,
on every mountain side."

Was it to be so with her? Would his presence haunt her ever and
everywhere?

With a start she turned from him and glided swiftly to the couch as if
seeking protection.

Lady Lilian looked at her.

"You are tired," she said.

"I think I am," said Stella.

"Leycester take her away; I will not have her wearied, or she will not
come again. You will come again, will you not?"

"Yes," said Stella, "I will come again."

Lord Leycester stood beside the open door, but Lilian still clung to
her hand.

"Good-night," she said, and she put up her face.

Stella bent and kissed her.

"Good-night," she answered, and passed out.

They went down the stairs in silence, and reached the fernery; then he
stopped short.

"Will you not wait a moment here?" he said.

Stella shook her head.

"It must be late," she said.

"A moment only," he said. "Let me feel that I have you to myself for a
moment before you go--you have belonged to others until now."

"No, no," she said--"I must go."

And she moved on; but he put out his hand, and stopped her.

"Stella!"

She turned, and looked at him most piteously; but he saw only her
loveliness before him like a flower.

"Stella," he repeated, and he drew her nearer, "I must speak--I must
tell you--I love you!"



CHAPTER XII.


"I love you," he said.

Only three words, but only a woman can understand what those three
words meant to Stella.

She was a girl--a mere child, as Lady Wyndward had said; never, save
from her father's lips, had she heard those words before.

Even now she scarcely realized their full meaning. She only knew that
his hand was upon her arm; that his eyes were fixed on hers with a
passionate, pleading entreaty, combined with a masterful power which
she felt unable to resist.

White and almost breathless she stood, not downcast, for her eyes felt
drawn to his, all her maidenly nature roused and excited by this first
declaration of a man's love.

"Stella, I love you!" he repeated, and his voice sounded like some low,
subtle music, which rang through her ears even after the words had died
from his lips.

Pale and trembling she looked at him, and put her hand to gently force
his grasp from her arm.

"No, no!" she panted.

"But it is 'yes,'" he said, and he took her other hand and held her
a close prisoner, looking into the depths of the dark, wondering,
troubled eyes. "I love you, Stella."

"No," she repeated again, almost inaudibly. "It is impossible!"

"Impossible!" he echoed, and a faint smile flitted across the eager
face--a smile that seemed to intensify the passion in his eyes. "It
seems to me impossible not to love you. Stella, are you angry with
me--offended? I have been too sudden, too rude and rough."

At his tender pleading her eyes drooped for the first time.

Too rough, too rude! He, who seemed to her the type of knightly
chivalry and courtesy.

"I should have remembered how pure and delicate a flower my beautiful
love was," he murmured. "I should have remembered that my love was a
star, to be approached with reverence and awe, not taken by storm. I
have been too presumptuous; but, oh, Stella, you do not know what such
love as mine is! It is like a mountain torrent hard to stem; it sweeps
all before it. That is my love for you, Stella. And now, what will you
say to me?"

As he spoke he drew her still nearer to him; she could feel his breath
stirring her hair, could almost hear the passionate beating of his
heart.

What should she say to him? If she allowed her heart to speak she would
hide her face upon his breast and whisper--"Take me." But, girl as she
was, she had some idea of all that divided them; the very place in
which they stood was eloquent of the difference between them; between
him, the future lord of Wyndward, and she, the poor painter's niece.

"Will you not speak to me?" he murmured. "Have you not a single word
for me? Stella, if you knew how I long to hear those beautiful lips
answer me with the words I have spoken. Stella, I would give all I
possess in the world to hear you say, 'I love you!'"

"No, no," she said, again, almost pantingly. "Do not ask me--do not say
any more. I--I cannot bear it!"

His face flushed hotly for a moment, but he held her tightly, and his
eyes searched hers for the truth.

"Does it pain you to hear that I love you?" he whispered. "Are you
angry, sorry? Can you not love me, Stella? Oh, my darling!--let me call
you my darling, mine, if only for once, for one short minute! See,
you are mine, I hold you in both hands! Be mine for a short minute at
least, while you answer me. Are you sorry? Can you not give me a little
love in return for all the love I bear you? Cannot you, Stella?"

Panting now, and with the rich color coming and going on her face, she
looks this way and that like some wild, timid animal seeking to escape.

"Do not press me, do not force me to speak," she almost moans. "Let me
go now."

"No, by Heaven!" he says, almost fiercely. "You shall not, must not go,
until you have answered me. Tell me, Stella, is it because I am nothing
to you, and you do not like to tell me so? Ah! better the truth at
once, hard as it may be to bear, than suspense. Tell me, Stella."

"It--it--is not that," she says, with drooping head.

"What is it, then?" he whispers, and he bends his head to catch her
faintly whispered words, so that his lips almost touch her face.

From the drawing-room comes the sound of some one playing; it recalls
all the grandeur of the scene, all the high mightiness of the house to
which he belongs--of which he is so nearly the head, and it gives her
strength.

Slowly she raises her head and looks at him.

There is infinite tenderness, infinite yearning, and suppressed
maidenly passion in her eyes.

"It is not that," she says. "But--do you forget?"

"Forget!" he asks, patiently, gently, though his eyes are burning with
impetuous eagerness.

"Do you forget who I am--who you are?" she says, faintly.

"I forget everything except that you are to me the most lovely and
precious of creatures on God's earth," he says, passionately. Then,
with a touch of his characteristic pride, "What need have I to remember
anything else, Stella?"

"But I have," she said. "Oh yes, it is for me to remember. I cannot--I
ought not to forget. It is for me to remember. I am only Stella
Etheridge, an artist's niece, a nobody--an insignificant girl, and
you--oh, Lord Leycester!"

"And I?" he says, as if ready to meet her fairly at every point.

"And you!"--she looks around--"you are a nobleman; will be the lord of
all this beautiful place--of all that you were showing me the other
day. You should not, ought not to tell me that--that--what you have
told me."

He bent over her, and his hand closed on her arm with a masterful
caressing touch.

"You mean that because I am what I am--that because I am rich I am to
be made poor; because I have so much--too much, that the one thing on
earth which would make the rest worth having is to be denied me."

He laughed almost fiercely.

"Better to be the poorest son of the soil than lord of many acres, if
that were true, Stella. But it is not. I do not care whether I am rich
or poor, noble or nameless--yes, I do! I am glad for your sake. I have
never cared before. I have never realized it before, but I do now. I am
glad now. Do you know why?"

She shook her head, her eyes downcast.

"Because I can lay them all at your feet," and as he speaks he bends
on one knee beside her and draws her hand with trembling hands to his
heart.

"See, Stella, I lay them at your feet. I say take them, if you think
them worth--take them, and make them worth having; no, I say rather,
share them with me? Set against your love, my darling, title, lands,
wealth--are all worthless dross to me. Give me your love, Stella; I
must, I will have it!" and he presses a passionate clinging kiss
on her hand.

Frightened by his vehemence, Stella draws her hand away and shrinks
back.

He rises and draws her to a seat, standing beside her calm and penitent.

"Forgive me, Stella! I frighten you! See, I will be quite gentle and
quiet--only listen to me!"

"No, no," she murmurs, trembling, "I must not. Think--if--if--I said
what you wish me to say, how could I meet the countess? What would they
say to me? They would blame me for stealing your love."

"You have not stolen; no nun from a convent could have been more free
from artifice than you, Stella. You have stolen nothing; it is I who
have _given_--GIVEN you all."

She shook her head.

"It is the same," she murmured. "They would be so displeased. Oh, it
cannot be."

"It cannot be?" he repeated, with a smile. "But it has already come to
pass. Am I one to love and unlove in a breath, Stella? Look at me!"

She raises her eyes, and meets his eager, passionate gaze.

"Do I look like one to be swayed as a reed by any passing wind, gentle
or rough? No, Stella, such love as I feel for you is not to be turned
aside. Even if you were to tell me that you do not, cannot love me,
my love would not die; it has taken root in my heart--it has become
part of myself. There is not one hour since I saw you that I have not
thought about you. Stella, you have come to me even in my sleep; I have
dreamed that you whispered to me, 'I love you.' Let the dream be a true
one. Oh, my life, my darling, let your heart speak, if it is to say
that it loves me. See, Stella, you are all the world to me--do not rob
me of happiness. You do not doubt my love?"

Doubt his love! That was not possible for her to do, since every word,
every look, bore the impress of truth.

But still she would not yield. Even as he spoke, she fancied she
could see the stern face of the earl looking at her with hard
condemnation--could see the beautiful eyes of the countess looking down
at her with cold displeasure and wondering, amazed scorn.

Footsteps were approaching, and she rose hurriedly, to fly from him if
need be. But Lord Leycester was not a man to be turned aside. As she
rose he took her arm gently, tenderly, with loving persuasion, and drew
her near to him.

"Come with me," he said. "Do not leave me for a moment. See, the door
is open--it is quite warm. We shall be alone here. Oh, my darling, do
not leave me in suspense."

She was powerless to resist, and he led her on to the terrace outside.

Out into the dusky night, odorous with the breath of the flowers, and
mystical in the dim light of the stars. A gentle summer, zephyr-like
air stirred the trees; the sound of the water falling over the weir
came like music up the hillside. A nightingale sang in the woods below
them; all the night seemed full of slumberous passion and unspoken love.

"We are alone here, Stella," he murmured. "Now answer me. Listen once
more, darling! I am not tired of telling you; I shall never tire of it.
Listen! I love you--I love you!"

The stars grew dull and misty before her eyes, the charm of his voice,
of his presence, was stealing over her; the passionate love which burnt
in her heart for him was finding its way through cool prudence, her
lips were tremulous. A sigh, long and deep, broke from them.

"I love you!" he replied, as if the words were a spell, as indeed they
were--a spell not to be resisted. "Give me your answer, Stella. Come
close to me. Whisper it! whisper 'I love you,' or send me away. But
you will not do that; no, you shall not do that!" and forgetful of his
vow to be gentle with her, he put his arm round her, drew her to him
and--kissed her.

It was the first kiss. A thrill ran through her, the sky seemed to
sink, the whole night to pause as if it were waiting. With a little
shudder of exquisite pleasure, mingled with that subtle pain which
ecstasy always brings in its train, she laid her head upon his breast,
and hiding her eyes, murmured--

"I love you!"

If the words meant much to him--to him the man of the world before
whom many a beautiful woman had been ready to bow with complaisant
homage--if they meant much to him, how much more did they mean to her?

All her young maiden faith spoke in those three words. With them she
surrendered her young, pure life, her unstained, unsullied heart to
him. With a passion as intense as his own, she repaid him tenfold.
For a moment he was silent, his eyes fixed on the stars, his whole
being thrilling under the music--the joy of this simple avowal. Then
he pressed her to him, and poured a shower of kisses upon her hair and
upon her arm which lay across his breast.

"My darling, my darling!" he murmured. "Is it really true? Can I--dare
I believe it: you love me? Oh, my darling, the whole world seems
changed to me. You love me! See, Stella, it seems so wonderful that I
cannot realize it. Let me see your eyes, I shall find the truth there."

She pressed still closer to him, but he raised her head gently--in his
very touch was a caress, and it was as if his hands kissed her--and
looked long into the rapt, upturned eyes. Then he bent his head slowly,
and kissed her once--hungrily, clingingly.

Stella's eyes closed and her face paled under that passionate caress,
then slowly and with a little sigh she raised her head and kissed him
back again, kiss for kiss.

No word was spoken; side by side, with her head upon his breast, they
stood in silence. For them Time had vanished, the whole world seemed to
stand still.

Half amazed, with a dim wonder at this new delight which had entered
her life, Stella watched the stars and listened to the music of the
river. Something had happened to change her whole existence, it was
as if the old Stella whom she knew so well had gone, and a new being,
wonderfully blessed, wonderfully happy, had taken her place.

And as for him, for the man of the world, he too stood amazed,
overwhelmed by the new-born joy. If any one had told him that life held
such a moment for him, he would not have believed it; he who had, as he
thought, drained the cup of earthly pleasure to the dregs. His blood
ran wildly through his veins, his heart beat madly.

"At last," he murmured; "this is love."

But suddenly the awakening came. With a start she looked up at him and
strove to free herself, vainly, from his embrace.

"What have I done?" she whispered, with awe-subdued voice.

"Done!" he murmured, with a rapt smile. "Made one man happier than he
ever dreamed it possible for mortal to be. That is all."

"Ah, no!" she said; "I have done wrong! I am afraid!--afraid!"

"Afraid of what? There is nothing to make you afraid. Can you speak of
fear while you are in my arms--with your head on my breast? Lean back,
my darling; now speak of fear."

"Yes, even now," she whispered. "Now--and I am so happy!" she broke off
to herself, but he heard her. "So happy! Is it all a dream? Tell me."

He bent and kissed her.

"Is it a dream, do you think?" he answered.

The crimson dyed her face and neck, and her eyes drooped.

"And you are happy?" he said. "Think what I must be. For a man's love
is deeper, more passionate than a woman's, Stella. Think what I must
be!"

She sighed and looked up at him.

"But still it is wrong! I fear that. All the world will say that."

"All the world!" he echoed, with smiling scorn. "What have we to do
with the world? We two stand outside, beyond it. Our world is love--is
our two selves, my darling."

"All the world," she said. "Ah! what will they say?" and instinctively
she glanced over her shoulder at the great house with the glow of light
streaming from its many windows. "Even now--now they are wondering
where you are, expecting, waiting for you. What would they say if they
knew you were here with me--and--and all that has happened?"

His eyes darkened. He knew better than she, with all her fears, what
they would say, and already he was braving himself to meet the storm,
but he smiled to re-assure her.

"They will say that I am the most fortunate of men. They will say that
the gods have lavished their good gifts with both hands--they have
given me all the things that you make so much of, and the greatest of
all things--the true sole love of a pure, beautiful angel."

"Oh, hush, hush!" she murmured.

"You are an angel to me," he said, simply. "I am not worthy to touch
the hem of your dress! If I could but live my worthless, sinful life
over again, for your sake, my darling, it should be purer and a little
less unworthy of you."

"Oh, hush!" she murmured. "You unworthy of me! You are my king!"

Strong man as he was he was stirred and moved to the depths of his
being at the simple words, eloquent of her absolute trust and devotion.

"My Stella," he murmured, "if you knew all; but see, my life is yours
from henceforth. I place it in your hands, mold it as you will. It is
yours henceforth."

She was looking at him, all her soul in her eyes, and at his words
of passionate protestation, a sudden thrill ran through her, then as
instantly, as if a sudden cold hand had come between them, she shivered.

"Mine," she breathed, fearfully, "until they snatch it from me."



CHAPTER XIII.


He started. The words had almost the solemnity of a prophesy.

"Who will dare?" he said; then he laughed. "My little, fearsome,
trembling darling!" he murmured, "fear nothing or rather, tell me what
you fear, and whom."

She glanced toward the windows.

"I fear them all!" she said, quietly and simply.

"My father?"

She inclined her head and let her head fall upon his shoulder.

"The countess, all of them. Lord Leycester----"

He put his hand upon her lips softly.

"What was that I heard?" he said, with tender reproach.

She looked up.

"Leycester," she whispered.

He nodded.

"Would to Heaven the name stood alone," he said, almost bitterly. "The
barrier you fancy stands between us would vanish and fade away then.
Never, even in sport, call me by my title again, my darling, or I shall
hate it!"

She smiled.

"I shall never forget it," she said. "They will not let me. I am not
Lady Lenore."

He started slightly, then looked down at her.

"Thank Heaven, no!" he said, with a smile.

Stella smiled almost sadly.

"She might forget; she is noble too. How beautiful she is!"

"Is she?" he said, smiling down at her. "To me there is only one
beautiful face in the world, and--it is here," and he touched it with
his finger--"here--my very own. But what is Lenore to us to-night, my
darling? Why do you speak of her?"

"Because--shall I tell you?"

He nodded, looking down at her.

"Because they said--Lady Lilian said, that----" she stopped.

"Well?"

"That they wished you to marry her," she whispered.

He laughed, his short laugh.

"She might say the same of several young ladies," he said. "My mother
is very anxious on the point. Yes, but wishes are not horses, or one
could probably be persuaded to mount and ride as their parents wish
them--don't that sound wise and profound? I shall not ride to Lady
Lenore; I have ridden to your feet, my darling!"

"And you will never ride away again," she murmured.

"Never," he said. "Here, by your side, I shall remain while life lasts!"

"While life lasts!" she repeated, as if the words were music. "I shall
have you near me always. Ah, it sounds too beautiful! too beautiful!"

"But it will be true," he said.

The clock chimed the hour. Stella started.

"So late!" she said, with a little sigh. "I must go!" and she glanced
at the windows with a little shudder. "If I could but steal away
without seeing them--without being seen! I feel--" she paused, and the
crimson covered her face and neck--"as if they had but to glance at me
to know--to know what has happened," and she trembled.

"Are you so afraid?" he said. "Really so afraid? Well, why should they
know?"

She looked up eagerly.

"Oh, no, do not let them know! Why should we tell them; it--it is like
letting them share in our happiness; it is our secret, is it not?"

"Let us keep it," he said, quietly, musingly. "Why should they know,
indeed! Let us keep the world outside, for a while at least. You and I
alone in our love, my darling."

With his arm round her they went back to the fernery, and here she drew
away from him, but not until he had taken another kiss.

"It is our real 'good night,' you know," he said; "the 'good-night' we
shall say presently will mean nothing. This is our 'good-night.' Happy
dreams, my angel, my star!"

Stella clung to him for a moment with a little reluctant sigh, then she
looked up at him with a smile.

"I am afraid I am awfully tumbled and tangled," she said, putting her
hand to her hair.

He smoothed the silken threads with his hand, and as he did so drew the
rose from her hair.

"This is mine," he murmured, and he put it in his coat.

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "And this is how you keep our secret! Do you
not think every eye would notice that great rose, and know whence it
came?"

"Yes, yes, I see," he said. "After all, a woman is the one for a
secret--the man is not in the field; but then it will be safe here,"
and he put the rose inside the breast of his coat.

Then trying to look as if nothing had happened, trying to look as if
the whole world had not become changed for her, Stella sauntered into
the drawing-room by his side.

And it really seemed as if no one had noticed their entrance. Stella
felt inclined to congratulate herself, not taking into consideration
the usages of high breeding, which enable so many people to look as if
they were unaware of an entrance which they had been expecting for an
hour since.

"No one seems to notice," she whispered behind her fan, but Lord
Leycester smiled--he knew better.

She walked up the room, and Lord Leycester stopped before a picture
and pointed to it; but he did not speak of the picture--instead, he
murmured:

"Will you meet me by the stile by the river to-morrow evening, Stella?"

"Yes," she murmured.

"I will bring the boat, and we will row down the stream. Will you come
at six o'clock?"

"Yes," she said again.

If he asked her to meet him on the banks of the Styx, she would have
answered as obediently.

Then Mr. Etheridge approached with the countess, and before he could
speak Lord Leycester took the bull by the horns, as it were.

"Lilian is delighted with the sketch," he said. "We left her filled
with gratitude, did we not Miss Etheridge?"

Stella inclined her head. The large, serene eyes of the countess seemed
to penetrate to the bottom of her heart and read her--their--secret
already.

"I think we must be going, Stella; the fly has been waiting some time,"
said her uncle in his quiet fashion.

"So soon!" murmured the countess.

But Mr. Etheridge glanced at the clock with a smile, and Stella held
out her hand.

As she did so, she felt rather than saw the graceful form of Lady
Lenore coming toward them.

"Are you going, Miss Etheridge?" she said, her clear voice full of
regret. "We have seen so little of you; and I meant to ask you so much
about Italy. I am so sorry."

And as she spoke, she looked full into poor Stella's eyes.

For a moment Stella was silent and downcast, then she raised her eyes
and held out her hand.

"It is late," she murmured. "Yes, we must go."

As she looked up, she met the gaze of the violet eyes, and almost
started, for there seemed to be shining in them a significant smile of
mocking scorn and contemptuous amusement; they seemed to say, quite
plainly:

"You think that no one knows your secret. You think that you have
triumphed, that you have won him. Poor simple child, poor fool. Wait
and see!"

If ever eyes spoke, this is what Lady Lenore's seemed to say in that
momentary glance, and as Stella turned aside, her face paled slightly.

"You must come and see us again, Miss Etheridge," said the countess,
graciously.

"Lilian has extorted a solemn promise to that effect," said Leycester,
as he shook hands with Mr. Etheridge.

Then he held out his hand to Stella, but in spite of prudence he could
not part from her till the last moment.

"Let me take you to your carriage," he said, "and see that you are well
wrapped up."

The countess's eyes grew cold, and she looked beyond them rather than
at them, and Stella murmured something about trouble, but he laughed
softly, and drawing her hand on his arm led her away.

All the room saw it, and a sort of thrill ran through them; it was
an attention he paid only to such old and honored friends as the old
countess and Lenore.

"Oh, why did you come?" whispered Stella, as they reached the hall.
"The countess looked so angry."

He smiled.

"I could not help it. There, not a word more. Now let me wrap this
round you;" and, of course, as he wrapped it round her, he managed to
convey a caress in the touch of his hand.

"Remember, my darling," he murmured, almost dangerously loud, as he put
her into the fly. "To-morrow at six."

Then he stood bareheaded, and the last Stella saw was the light of
tender, passionate love burning in his dark eyes.

She sank back in the furthermost corner of the fly in silent, rapt
reflection. Was it all a dream? Was it only a trick of fancy, or did
she feel his passionate kisses on her lips and face entangled in her
hair. Had she really heard Lord Leycester Wyndward declare that he
loved her?

"Are you asleep, Stella?" said her uncle, and she started.

"No, not asleep, dear," she said. "But--but tired and so happy!" The
word slipped out before she was aware of it.

But the unsuspecting recluse did not notice the thrill of joy in the
tone of her reply.

"Ah, yes, just so, I daresay. It was something new and strange to you.
It is a beautiful place. By the way, what do you think of Lady Lenore?"

Stella started.

"Oh, she is very beautiful, and as wonderful as you said, dear," she
murmured.

"Yes, isn't she. She will make a grand countess, will she not?"

"What!" said Stella.

He smiled.

"Wonderful creatures women are, to be sure. For the life of me I
could not tell in exact words how the countess managed to give me the
impression, but she did give it me, and unmistakably."

"What impression!" said Stella.

He laughed.

"That matters were settled between Lord Leycester and Lady Lenore, and
that they were to be married. They will make a fine match, will they
not?"

"Yes--no--I mean yes," said Stella, and a happy smile came into her
eyes as she leant back.

No, it was not Lady Lenore he was going to marry--not the great beauty
with the golden hair and violet eyes, but a little mere nobody, called
Stella Etheridge. She leant back and hugged her secret to her bosom
and caressed it. The fly trundled along after the manner of flys, and
stopped at last at the white gate in the lane.

Mr. Etheridge got out and held his hand for Stella, and she leapt out.
As she did so, she uttered a slight cry, for a tall figure was standing
beside the gate in the light by the lamps.

"Bless my soul, what's the matter?" exclaimed Mr. Etheridge, turning
round. "Oh, it's you, Mr. Adelstone."

"I am very sorry to have startled you, Miss Stella," said Jasper
Adelstone, and he came forward with his hat raised by his left hand;
his right was in a sling. Stella's gentle eyes saw it, and her face
paled.

"I was taking a stroll through the meadows and looked in. Mrs. Penfold
said that you had gone to the Hall. Coming back from the river I heard
the fly, and waited to say 'good-night.'"

"It is very kind," murmured Stella, her eyes still fixed on the useless
arm with a kind of fascination.

"Come in and have a cigar," said Mr. Etheridge. "Ah! what is the matter
with your arm, man?"

Jasper looked at him, then turned his small keen eyes on Stella's face.

"A mere trifle," he said. "I--met with an accident the other day
and sprained it. It is a mere nothing. No, I won't come in, thanks.
By-the-way, I'm nearly forgetting a most important matter," and he
put his left hand in his pocket and drew something out. "I met the
post-office boy in the lane, and he gave me this to save his legs," and
he held out a telegram envelope.

"A telegram for me!" exclaimed Mr. Etheridge. "Wonders will never
cease. Come inside, Mr. Adelstone."

But Jasper shook his head.

"I will wish you good-night, now," he said. "Will you excuse my left
hand, Miss Stella?" he added, as he extended it.

Stella took it; it was burning, hot, and dry.

"I am so sorry," she said, in a low voice. "I cannot tell how sorry I
am!"

"Do not think of it," he said. "Pray forget it, as--I do," he added,
with hidden irony. "It is a mere nothing."

Stella looked down.

"And I am sure that--Lord Leycester is sorry."

"No doubt," he said. "I am quite sure Lord Leycester did not want to
break my arm. But, indeed, I was rightly punished for my carelessness,
though, I assure you, that I should have pulled up in time."

"Yes, yes; I am sure of that. I am sure I was in no danger," said
Stella, earnestly.

"Yes," he said, in a low voice. "There was really no necessity for Lord
Leycester to throw me off my horse, or even to insult me. But Lord
Leycester is a privileged person, is he not?"

"I--I don't know what you mean!" said Stella, faintly.

"I mean that Lord Leycester may do things with impunity which others
cannot even think of," and his sharp eyes grew to her face, which
Stella felt was growing crimson.

"I--I am sure he will be very sorry," she said, "when he knows how
much you are hurt, and he will apologize most sincerely."

"I have no doubt," he said, lightly, "and, after all, it is something
to have one's arm sprained by Lord Leycester Wyndward, is it not? It is
better than a broken heart."

"A broken heart! What do you mean?" said Stella, her face flushed, her
eyes challenging his with a touch of indignation.

He smiled.

"I meant that Lord Leycester is as skilled in breaking hearts as limbs.
But I forgot I must not say anything against the heir to Wyndward in
your hearing. Pray forgive me. Good-night."

And, with a bow and a keen look from his small eyes, he moved away.

Stella stood looking after him for a moment, and a shiver ran through
her as if from a cold wind.

Breaking hearts! What did he mean?

An exclamation from her uncle caused her to turn suddenly.

He was standing in the light of the window, with the open telegram in
his hand, his face pale and anxious.

"Great Heaven!" he muttered, "what am I to do?"



CHAPTER XIV.


"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.

"Not shame for you, dear; shame and you were never meant to come
together."

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.

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 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.

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.



CHAPTER XV.


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, 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
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 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, 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.

"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 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.

"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?"

A 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 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 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?"

"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.



CHAPTER XVI.


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.

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; 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."

He 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.

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, 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.

"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.



CHAPTER XVII.


Jasper undressed and went to bed, and slept as soundly as men of his
peculiar caliber do sleep, while Scrivell was standing at the corner
of a street in Covent Garden, with his hands in his pockets and his
eyes on the entrance to King's Hotel. A little after nine Jasper awoke,
had his bath, dressed, went out, got some breakfast, and sat down to
work, and for the time being forgot--actually forgot--that such an
individual as Stella Etheridge existed.

That was the secret of his power, that he could concentrate his
attention on one subject to the absolute abnegation of all others.

Several visitors put in an appearance on business, Jasper opening the
door by means of a wire which drew back the handle, without moving.

At about half-past twelve someone knocked. Jasper opened the door, and
a tall, fashionably-dressed young gentleman entered.

It was a certain Captain Halliday, who had been one of the guests at
Wyndward Hall on the first night of our introduction there.

Captain Halliday was a man about town; one who had been rich, but who
had worked very hard to make himself poor--and nearly succeeded. He
was a well-known man, and a member of a fast club, at which high play
formed the chief amusement.

Jasper knew him socially, and got up--a thing he did not often do--to
shake hands.

"How do you do?" he said, motioning him to a chair. "Anything I can do
for you?"

It was generally understood by Jasper's acquaintances that Jasper's
time was money, and they respected the hours devoted by him to business.

Captain Halliday smiled.

"You always come to the point, Adelstone," he replied. "Yes, I want a
little advice."

Jasper sat down and clasped his hands over his knee; they were very
white and carefully-kept hands.

"Hope I may be able to give it to you. What is it?"

"Well look here," said the captain, "you don't mind my smoking a
cigarette, do you? I can always talk better while I am smoking."

"Not at all--I like it," said Jasper.

"But the lady clients?" said the captain, with a little contraction of
the eyelids, which was suspiciously near a wink.

"I don't think they mind," said Jasper. "They are generally too
occupied with their own business to notice. A light?" and he handed the
wax tapers which stood on his desk for sealing purposes.

The captain lighted his cigarette slowly. It was evident that the
matter upon which he required advice was delicate, and only to be
attacked with much deliberation.

"Look here!" he began; "I've come upon rather an awkward business."

Jasper smiled. It not unfrequently happened that his clients came
to him for money, and not unfrequently he managed to find some for
them--of course through some friend, always through some friend "in
the City," who demanded and obtained a tolerably large interest.

Jasper smiled, and wondered how much the captain wanted, and whether it
would be safe to lend it.

"What is it?" he said.

"You know the Rookery?" asked the captain.

Jasper nodded.

"I was there the other night--I'm there every night, I'm afraid," he
added; "but I am referring to the night before last----"

"Yes," said Jasper, intending to help him. "And luck went against you,
and you lost a pile."

"No, I didn't," said the captain; "I won a pile."

"I congratulate you," said Jasper, with a cool smile.

"I won a pile!" said the captain, "from all round; but principally from
a young fellow--a mere boy, who was there as a visitor, introduced by
young Bellamy--know young Bellamy?"

"Yes, yes," said Jasper--he was very busy. "Everybody knows Bellamy.
Well!"

"Well, the young fellow--I was awfully sorry for him, and tried to
persuade him to turn it up, but he wouldn't. You know what youngsters
are when they are green at this confounded game?"

Jasper nodded again rather more impatiently. Scrivell would be back
directly, and he was anxious to hear the result of his scrutiny.

"Luck went with him at first, and he won a good deal, but it turned
after a time and I was the better by a cool hundred and fifty; I
stopped at that--it was too much as it was to win from a youngster, and
he gave me his I O U."

The captain paused and lit another cigarette.

"Next morning, being rather pressed--did I tell you I went home with
Gooch and one or two others and lost the lot?" he broke off, simply.

Jasper smiled.

"No, you did not mention it, but I can quite believe it. Go on."

"Next morning, being rather pressed--I wanted to pay my own I O U's--I
looked him up to collect his."

"And he put you off, and you want me to help you," said Jasper, smiling
behind his white hand.

"No, I don't. I wish you'd hear me out," said the captain, not
unnaturally aggrieved by the repeated interruption.

"I beg your pardon!" said Jasper. "I thought I should help to bring you
to the point. But, there, tell it your own way."

"He didn't refuse; he gave me a bill," said the captain; "said he was
sorry he couldn't manage the cash, but expecting me to call had got a
bill ready."

"Which you naturally declined to accept from a perfect stranger," said
Jasper.

"Which I did nothing of the sort," said the captain, coolly. "It was
backed by Bellamy, and that was good enough for me. Bellamy's name
written across the back, making himself responsible for the money, if
the young fellow didn't pay."

"I understand what a bill is," said Jasper, with a smile.

"Of course," assented the captain, puffing at his cigarette, "Bellamy's
name, mind, which was good enough for me."

"And for most people."

"Well, I meant to get some fellow to discount this, get some money for
it, you know, but happening to meet Bellamy at the club, it occurred to
me that he mightn't like the bill hawked about, so I asked him if he'd
take it up. See?"

"Quite. Whether he'd give you the money for it--the hundred and fifty
pounds. I see," said Jasper. "Well?"

"Well, I put it rather delicately--there was a lot of fellows
about--and he didn't seem to understand me. 'What bill do you mean, old
man?' he said. 'I took an oath not to fly any more paper a year ago,
and I've kept it, by George!'"

Jasper leant forward slightly; the keen, hard look which comes into the
eyes of a hound that suddenly scents game, came into his. But this time
he did not speak; as was usual with him when interested, he remained
silent.

"Well, I flatter myself I played a cool hand," said the captain,
complacently flicking the ash from his cigarette. "I knew the bill was
a--a----"

"Forgery," said Jasper, coldly.

The captain nodded gravely.

"A forgery. But I felt for the poor young beggar, and didn't want to
be hard on him; so I pretended to Bellamy that I'd made a mistake and
meant somebody else, and explained that I'd been at the champagne
rather freely the other night; and--you know Bellamy--he was satisfied."

"Well?" said Jasper, in a low voice.

"Well, then I took a cab, and drove to 22 Percival street----"

He paused abruptly, and bit his lip; but Jasper, though he heard the
address, and had stamped it, as it were, on his memory, showed no sign
of having noticed it, and examined his nails curiously.

"I drove to the young fellow's rooms, and he confessed to it. Poor
young beggar! I pitied him from the bottom of my heart--I did indeed.
Wrong, I know. Justice, and example, and all that, you'll say; but if
you'd seen him, with his head buried in his hands, and his whole frame
shaking like a leaf, why, you'd have pitied him yourself."

Jasper put up his hand to his mouth to hide a sneer.

"Very likely," he said--"most likely. I have a particularly soft heart
for--forgers."

The captain started slightly. It was a horrible word!

"I don't believe the young beggar meant it, not in cold blood, you
know; but he was so knocked of a heap by my dropping down upon him, and
so afraid of looking like a welsher that the idea of the bill struck
him, and he did it. He swears that Bellamy and he are such chums, that
Bellamy wouldn't have minded."

"Ah," said Jasper, with a smile, "the judge and jury will look at that
in a different light."

"The judge and jury! What do you mean?" demanded the captain. "You
don't think I'm going to--what's-its-name--prosecute?"

"Then what are you here for?" Jasper was going to say, but politely
corrected it to "Then what can I do for you?"

"Well, here's the strange part of the story! I went home to find the
bill and tear it up----"

Jasper smiled again, and again hid the delicate sneer.

"But if you'll believe me, I couldn't find it! What do you think I'd
done with it?"

"I don't know," said Jasper. "Lit your cigar with it!"

"No; in a fit of absence of mind--we'll call it champagne cup and
brandy-and-soda!--I'd given it to old Murphy with some other bills in
payment of a debt. Think of that! There's that poor young beggar almost
out of his mind with remorse and terror, and that old wretch, Murphy,
has got that bill! And if it isn't got from him he'll have the law of
young--of the boy as sure as Fate is Fate!"

"Yes; I know Murphy," said Jasper with delicious coolness. "He'd be
so wild that he'd not rest satisfied until he'd sent your fast young
friend across the herring-pond."

"But he mustn't! I should never forgive myself! Think of it, Adelstone!
Quite a young boy--a curly-headed young beggar that ought to be
forgiven a little thing of this sort!"

"A little thing!" and Jasper laughed.

He also rose and looked as if he had already expended as much of his
time as he could afford.

"Well?" he said.

"Well!" echoed the captain. "Now I want you to send for that bill,
Adelstone, and get it at once."

"Certainly," said Jasper. "I may be permitted to mention that you
are doing rather a--well, very injudicious thing? You are losing a
hundred and fifty pounds to save your gentleman from--well, departing
for that bourne to which he will certainly sooner or later wend. He
will get transported sooner or later; a youngster who begins like this
always goes on. Why lose a hundred and fifty pounds? But there," he
added, seeing a look of quiet determination on the captain's honest,
if simple, face, "that is your business; mine is to give you advice,
and I've done it. If you'll write a check for the amount, I'll send
my clerk over to Murphy's. He is out at present, but he'll be back,"
looking at the clock, "before you have written the check," and he
handed the captain a pen, and motioned him politely to the desk.

But the captain changed color, and laughed with some embarrassment.

"Look here," he said, "look here, Adelstone, it isn't quite convenient
to write a check--confound it! You talk as if I had the old balance at
my bankers! I can't do it. I ask you to lend me the money--see?"

Jasper gave a start of surprise though he felt none. He knew what had
been coming.

"I'm very sorry, my dear fellow," he said. "But I'm afraid I can't do
it. I am very short this morning, and have some heavy matters to meet.
I've been buying some shares for a client, and am quite cleared out for
the present."

"But," pleaded the captain, earnestly, more earnestly than he had ever
pleaded for a loan on his own account, "but think of the youngster,
Adelstone."

Then Jasper smiled--a hard, cold smile.

"Excuse me, Halliday," he said, thrusting his hands in his pockets,
"but I have been thinking of him, and I can't see my way to doing this
for a young scoundrel----"

"He's no scoundrel," said the captain, with a flush.

"A young forger, then, if you prefer it, my dear fellow," said Jasper,
with a cold laugh, "who ought to be punished, if anyone deserves
punishment. Why, it is compounding a felony!" he added, virtuously.

"Oh, come!" said the captain, with a troubled smile, "that's nonsense,
you talking like that! I want the matter hushed up, Adelstone."

"Well, though I don't agree with you, I won't argue the matter," said
Jasper, "but I can't lend you the money to hush it up with, Halliday.
If it were for yourself, now----"

There was something in Jasper's cold face, in his compressed, almost
sneering lips, and hard, keen eyes, that convinced the captain any
further time expended in endeavoring to soften Jasper Adelstone's heart
would be time wasted.

"Never mind," he said, "I'm sorry I've taken up your time.
Good-morning. Of course this is quite confidential, you know, eh?"

Jasper raised his eyebrows and smiled pleasantly.

"My dear Halliday, you are in a lawyer's office. Nothing that occurs
within these walls gets out, unless the client wishes it. Your little
story is as safely locked up in my bosom as if you had never told it.
Good-morning."

The captain put on his hat and turned to go, but at that moment the
door opened and Scrivell entered.

"I beg pardon," he said, and drew back, but paused, and, instead of
going out, walked up to Jasper's desk, and laid a piece of paper on it.

Jasper took it up eagerly. There was one line written on it, and it was
this:

"22 Percival street!"

Jasper did not start; he did not even change color, but his lips
tightened, and a gleam of eagerness shot from his eyes.

With the paper in his hand, he looked up carelessly.

"All right, Scrivell. Oh, by the way, just run after Captain Halliday,
and tell him I should like another word with him."

Scrivell disappeared, and in another minute the captain re-entered.

He still looked rather downcast.

"What is it?" he said, with his hand on the door.

Jasper went and closed it; then he laughed in his quiet, noiseless way.

"I'm afraid you'll think me a soft kind of lawyer, Halliday, but this
story of yours has touched me; it has, indeed!"

The captain nodded, and dropped into a chair.

"I thought it had," he said, simply. "Touch anybody, wouldn't it?"

"Yes, yes!" said Jasper, with a sigh. "It's very wrong, you
know--altogether out of the line, but I suppose you've set your heart
on hushing it up, eh?"

"I have, indeed," said the captain, eagerly. "And if you knew all you'd
say the same."

"Haven't you told me all?" said Jasper, quietly. "I don't mean the
boy's name; you can keep that if you like."

"No, I don't mean to conceal anything, if you'll help me," said the
captain ingenuously. "Of course if you had decided not to, I should
have kept dark about his name."

"Of course," said Jasper, with a smile; and he glanced at the slip of
paper. "Well, perhaps you'd better tell me all, hadn't you?"

"I think I had," assented the captain. "Well, the youngster's name
is--Etheridge?"

"Ether--how do you spell it?" asked Jasper, carelessly.

The captain spelt it.

"Not a common name, and he's anything but a common boy; he's a handsome
youngster, and I couldn't help pitying him, because he has been left to
himself so much--no friends, and all that sort of thing."

"How's that?" asked Jasper, with his eyes cast down, a hungry eagerness
eating at his heart. There was some mystery after all, then, about the
old man!

"Well, it is this way. It seems he's the son of an old man--a painter,
or a writer, or something, who lives away in the country, and who can't
bear this boy near him."

"Why?" asked Jasper, examining his nails.

"Because he's like his mother," said the captain, simply.

"And she----?" said Jasper, softly.

"She ran away with another man, and left her boy behind----"

"I understand."

"Yes," resumed the captain. "Usual thing, the husband, this boy's
father, was awfully cut up; left the world and buried himself and sent
the boy away, treated him very well, though, all the same; sent him to
Eton, and to Cambridge, under the care of a tutor, and that sort of
thing, but couldn't bear to see him. He's up now for the holidays--the
boy, I mean!"

"I understand," said Jasper, in a low voice. "Quite a story, isn't it?
And"--he paused to throw the piece of paper on the fire--"do you think
the boy has communicated with the father ever since?"

"Heaven knows--not unlikely. He said something about telegraphing."

"Oh, yes; just so," said Jasper, carelessly. "Well, it will be
inconvenient, but I suppose I must do what you want. The sooner we get
this over the better," and he sat down and drew out his check book.

"Thanks, thanks!" muttered the captain. "I didn't think a good fellow
like you would stand back; I didn't, indeed!"

"I ought not to do it," murmured Jasper, with a shake of the head, as
he rang the bell.

"Take this letter to Murphy, and wait, Scrivell," he said.

Scrivell disappeared noiselessly.

"By the way," said Jasper, "have you mentioned this to any one
excepting me?"

"Not to a soul," replied the captain; "and you bet, I shall not of
course."

"Of course," said Jasper, with a smile; "it wouldn't be worth spending
a hundred and fifty to hush it up if you did. Mention such a thing to
one person--excepting me, of course,"--and he smiled--"and you let the
whole world know. Where did you get all this information?"

"From Bellamy, the boy's chum," said the captain. "He asked me to look
him up occasionally."

"I see," said Jasper. "You won't mind my writing a letter or two, will
you?"

"Go on," said the captain, lighting the fifth cigarette.

Jasper went to a cupboard and brought out a small bottle of champagne
and a couple of glasses.

"The generous glow of so virtuous an action--which by-the-way is
strictly illegal--suggests something to drink," he said, with a smile.

The captain nodded.

"I didn't know you did this sort of thing here," he said, looking round.

"I don't as a rule," said Jasper, with a dry smile. "Will you slip that
bolt into the door?"

The captain, greatly enjoying anything in the shape of an irregularity,
did as he was bidden, and the two sat and sipped their wine, and Jasper
threw off his dry business air and chatted about things in general
until Scrivell knocked. Jasper opened the door for him and took an
envelope from his hand and carried it to the desk.

"Well?" said the captain, eagerly.

"All right," said Jasper, holding up the bill.

The captain drew a long breath of relief.

"I feel as if I had done it myself," he said, with a laugh. "Poor young
beggar, he'll be glad to know he's to get off scot free."

"Ah!" said Jasper. "By-the-way, hadn't you better drop him a line?"

"Right," exclaimed the captain, eagerly; "that's a good idea. May I
write it here?"

Jasper pushed a sheet of plain paper before him and an envelope.

"Don't date it from here," he said; "date it from your lodgings. You
don't want him to know that anybody else knows anything about it, of
course."

"Of course not! How thoughtful you are. That's the best of a
lawyer--always keeps his head cool," and he drew up a chair, and wrote
not in the best of hands or the best of spelling:

 "Dear Mr. Etheridge--I've got--you know what. It is all right. Nothing
 more need be said. Be a good boy for the future."

 "Yours truly,

     "HARRY HALLIDAY."

"How's that?" he asked, handing the note to Jasper.

Jasper looked up; he was bending over his desk, apparently writing a
letter, and looked up with an absent expression.

"Eh?" he said. "Oh, yes; that will do. Stop though, to set his mind
quite at rest, better say that you have destroyed it--as you have,
see!" and he took the envelope and held it over the taper until it
burnt down nearly to his finger, dropping the remaining fragment on the
desk and allowing it to turn and smolder away.

The captain added the line to that effect.

"Now your man can run with it, if you'll be so good."

Jasper smiled.

"No," he said. "I think not. I'll send a commissionaire."

He rang the bell and took up the letter.

"Send this by the commissionaire," he said. "There is no answer. Tell
him to give it in and come away."

"And now I'm off," said the captain. "I'll let you have a check in a
day or two, Adelstone, and I'm very much obliged to you."

"All right," said Jasper, with a slightly absent air as if his mind
was already engaged with other matters. "No hurry; whenever it's
convenient. Good-bye!"

He went back to his desk before the captain had left the room, and
bent over his letter, but as the departing footsteps died away, he
sprang up, locked the door, and drawing a slip of paper from under his
blotting pad, held it before him with both hands and looked down at it
with a smile of eager triumph.

It was the forged bill. Without a word or gesture he looked at it for a
full minute, gloating over it as if it were some live, sentient thing
lying in his path and utterly at his mercy; then at last he raised his
head, and his lips parted with a smile of conscious power.

"So soon!" he muttered; "so soon! Fate is with me! She is mine! My
beautiful Stella! Yes, she is mine, though a hundred Lord Leycesters
stood between us!"



CHAPTER XVIII.


When Stella awoke in the morning it was with a start that she
remembered the scene of last night, and that she was, with the
exception of Mrs. Penfold, alone in the cottage.

While she was dressing she recalled the incidents of the eventful
evening--the party at the Hall, the telegram, and, not least, the
finding of the mysterious miniature. But, above all, there shone out
clear and distinct the all-important fact that Lord Leycester loved
her, and that she had promised to meet him this evening.

But for the present there was much on her mind. She had to meet Mrs.
Penfold, and communicate the information that Mr. Etheridge had
suddenly been called to London on important business.

She could not suppress a smile as she pictured Mrs. Penfold's
astonishment and curiosity, and wondered how she should satisfy the
latter without betraying the small amount of confidence which her uncle
had placed in her.

She went down-stairs to find the breakfast laid, and Mrs. Penfold
hovering about with unconcealed impatience.

"Where's your uncle, Miss Stella?" she asked. "I do hope he hasn't gone
sketching before breakfast, for he is sure to forget all about it, and
won't come back till dinner-time, if he does then."

"Uncle has gone to London," said Stella.

"To--where?" demanded Mrs. Penfold.

Then Stella explained.

"Gone to London last night; hasn't slept in his bed! Why, miss, how
could you let him?"

"But he was obliged to go," said Stella, with a little sigh and a
rueful glance at the empty chair opposite her own.

"Obliged!" exclaimed Mrs. Penfold. "Whatever was the matter? Your uncle
isn't obliged to go anywhere, Miss Stella!" she added with a touch of
pride.

Stella shook her head.

"There was a telegram," she said. "I don't know what the business was,
but he was obliged to go."

Mrs. Penfold stood stock-still in dismay and astonishment.

"It will be the death of him!" she breathed, awe-struck. "He never goes
anywhere any distance, and starting off like that, Miss Stella, in the
dead of night, and after being out at the Hall--why it's enough to kill
a gentleman like him who can't bear any noise or anything sudden like."

"I'm very sorry," said Stella. "He said that he was obliged to go."

"And when is he coming back?" asked Mrs. Penfold.

Stella shook her head.

"I don't know. I hope to-day--I do hope to-day! It all seems so quiet
and lonely without him." And she looked round the room, and sighed.

Mrs. Penfold stood, with the waiter in her hand, staring at the
beautiful face.

"You--you don't know what it is, Miss Stella?" she asked, in a low
voice, and with a certain significance in her tone.

Stella looked up at her.

"No, I don't know--uncle did not tell me," she replied.

Mrs. Penfold looked at her curiously, and seemed lost in thought.

"And you don't know where he's gone, Miss Stella? I don't ask out of
curiosity."

"I'm sure of that," said Stella, warmly. "No, I don't know."

"And you don't guess?"

Stella looked up at her with wide open eyes, and shook her head.

Mrs. Penfold turned the waiter in her hand, then she said suddenly:

"I wish Mr. Adelstone was here."

Stella started.

"Mr. Adelstone!"

Mrs. Penfold nodded.

"Yes, Miss Stella. He is such a clever young gentleman, and he's so
friendly, he'd do anything for your uncle. He always was friendly, but
he's more so than ever now."

"Is he?" said Stella. "Why?"

Mrs. Penfold looked at her with a smile, which died away before
Stella's look of unconsciousness.

"I don't know, Miss Stella; but he is. He is always about the cottage.
Oh, I forgot! he called yesterday, and left something for you."

And she went out, returning presently with a bouquet of flowers.

"I took them in the pantry, to keep cool and fresh. Aren't they
beautiful, miss?"

"Very," said Stella, smelling them and holding them a little way from
her, after the manner of her sex. "Very beautiful. It is very kind of
him. Are they for uncle, or for me?"

Mrs. Penfold smiled.

"For you, Miss Stella. Is it likely he'd leave them for your uncle?"

"I don't know," said Stella; "he is uncle's friend, not mine. Will you
put them in water, please?"

Mrs. Penfold took them with a little air of disappointment. It was not
in this cool manner that she expected Stella to receive the flowers.

"Yes, miss; and there's nothing to be done?"

"No," said Stella; "except to wait for my uncle's return."

Mrs. Penfold hesitated a moment, then she went out.

Stella made an effort to eat some breakfast, but it was a failure; she
felt restless and listless; a spell seemed to have been cast over the
little house--a spell of mystery and secrecy.

After breakfast she took up her hat and wandered about the garden,
communing with herself, and ever watching the path across the meadows,
though she knew that her uncle could not possibly return yet.

The day wore away and the evening came, and as the daylight gave
place to sunset, Stella's heart beat faster. All day she had been
thinking--dreaming of the hour that was now so near at hand, longing
for and yet almost dreading it. This love was so strange, so mysterious
a thing, that it almost frightened her.

Almost for the first time she asked herself whether she was not doing
wrong--whether she had not better stay at home and give up this
precious meeting.

But she mentally pictured Lord Leycester's waiting for her--mentally
called up the tone of his voice welcoming her, and her conscience was
stilled.

"I must go!" she murmured, and as if afraid lest she should change her
mind, she put on her hat, and went down the path with a quick step. But
she turned back at the gate, and called to Mrs. Penfold.

"I am going for a stroll," she said, with a sudden blush. "If uncle
returns while I am away, tell him I shall not be long."

And then she went across the meadows to the river bank.

All was silent save the thrushes in the woods and the nightingale with
its long liquid note and short "jug, jug," and she sank down upon the
grassy bank and waited.

The clock struck the hour of appointment, and her heart beat fast.

Suppose he did not come! Her cheek paled, and a faint sickening feeling
of disappointment crept over her. The minutes passed, hours they
seemed, and then with a sudden resolution she rose.

"He will not come," she murmured. "I will go back; it is better so!"

But even as the words left her lips sadly, a light skiff shot from the
shadow of the opposite bank and flew across the river.

It was Lord Leycester, she knew him though his back was turned toward
her and he was dressed in a suit of boating flannel, and her heart
leapt.

With practiced ease he brought the skiff alongside the bank and sprang
up beside her, both hands outstretched.

"My darling!" he murmured, his eyes shining with a greeting as
passionate as his words--"have you been waiting long? Did you think I
was not coming?"

Stella put her hands in his and glanced up at him for a moment; her
face flushed, then paled.

"I--I--did not know," she said, shyly, but with a little smile lurking
in the corner of her red lips.

"You knew I should come," he went on. "What should, what could, prevent
me? Stella! I was here before you. I have been lying under that tree,
watching you; you looked so beautiful that I lay there feasting my
eyes, and reluctant to move lest I should dispel the beautiful vision."

Stella looked across and her eyes drooped.

"You where there while I--I was thinking that you had
perhaps--forgotten!"

"Forgotten!" and he laughed softly. "I have been looking forward to
this hour; I dreamt of it last night. Can you say the same, Stella?"

She was silent for a moment, then she looked up at him shyly, as a soft
"Yes" dropped from her lips.

He would have drawn her close to him, but she shrank back with a little
frightened gesture.

"Come," he said, and he drew her gently toward the boat.

Stella hesitated.

"Suppose," she said, "someone saw us," and the color flew to her face.

"And if!" he retorted, with a sudden look of defiance, which melted in
a moment. "There is no fear of that, my darling; we will go down the
back water. Come."

There was no resisting that low-voiced mingling of entreaty and loving
command. With the tenderest care he helped her into the boat and
arranged the cushion for her.

"See," he said, "if we meet any boat you must put up your sunshade, but
we shall not where we are going."

Stella leant back and watched him under her lowered lids as he
rowed--every stroke of the strong arm sending the boat along like an
arrow from the bow--and an exquisite happiness fell upon her. She did
not want him to speak; it was enough for her to sit and watch him, to
know that he was within reach of her hand if she bent forward, to feel
that he loved her.

He rowed down stream until they came to an island; then he guided the
boat out of the principal current into a back water, and rested on his
oars.

"Now let me look at you!" he said. "I haven't had an opportunity yet."

Stella put up her sunshade to shield her face, and laughingly he drew
it away.

"That is not fair. I have been thirsting for a glance from those dark
eyes all day. I cannot have them hidden now. And what are you thinking
of?" he asked, smilingly, but with suppressed eagerness, "There is a
serious little look in those eyes of yours--of mine! They are mine, are
they not, Stella? What is it?"

"Shall I tell you?" she answered, in a low voice.

"Yes," he said. "You shall whisper it. Let me come nearer to you," and
he sank down at her feet and put up his hand for hers. "Now then."

Stella hesitated a moment.

"I was thinking and wondering whether this--whether this isn't very
wrong, Le--Leycester."

The name dropped almost inaudibly, but he heard it and put her hand to
his lips.

"Wrong?" he said, as if he were weighing the question most judiciously.
"Yes and no. Yes, if we do not love each other, we two. No, if we do. I
can speak for myself, Stella. My conscience is at rest because I love
you. And you?"

Her hand closed in his.

"No, my darling," he said, "I would not ask you to do anything
wrong. It may be a little unconventional, this stolen half-hour of
ours--perhaps it is; but what do you and I care for the conventional?
It is our happiness we care for," and he smiled up at her.

It was a dangerously subtle argument for a girl of nineteen, and coming
from the man she loved, but it sufficed for Stella, who scarcely knew
the full meaning of the term "conventional," but, nevertheless, she
looked down at him with a serious light in her eye.

"I wonder if Lady Lenore would have done it," she said.

A cloud like a summer fleece swept across his face.

"Lenore?" he said, then he laughed. "Lenore and you are two very
different persons, thank Heaven. Lenore," and he laughed, "worships the
conventional! She would not move a step in any direction excepting that
properly mapped out by Mrs. Grundy."

"You would not ask her, then?" said Stella.

He smiled.

"No, I should not," he said, emphatically and significantly. "I should
not ask anyone but you, my darling. Would you wish me to?"

"No, no," she said hastily, and she laughed.

"Then let us be happy," he said, caressing her hand. "Do you know that
you have made a conquest--I mean in addition to myself?"

"No," she said. "I?"

"Yes, you," he repeated. "I mean my sister Lilian."

"Ah!" said Stella, with a little glad light in her eyes. "How beautiful
and lovable she is!"

He nodded.

"Yes, and she has fallen in love with you. We are very much alike in
our tastes," he said, with a significant smile. "Yes, she thinks _you_
beautiful and lovable."

Stella looked down at the ardent face, so handsome in its passionate
eagerness.

"Did you--did you tell her?" she murmured.

He understood what she meant, and shook his head.

"No; it was to be a secret--our secret for the present, my darling. I
did not tell her."

"She would be sorry," said Stella. "They would all be sorry, would they
not?" she added, sadly.

"Why should you think of that?" he expostulated, gently. "What does it
matter? All will come right in the end. They will not be sorry when you
are my wife. When is it to be, Stella?" and his voice grew thrillingly
soft.

Stella started, and a scarlet blush flushed her face.

"Ah, no!" she said, almost pantingly, "not for very, very long--perhaps
never!"

"It must be very soon," he murmured, putting his arm around her. "I
could not wait long! I could not endure existence if we should chance
to be parted. Stella, I never knew what love meant until now! If you
knew how I have waited for this meeting of ours, how the weary hours
have hung with leaden weight upon my hands, how miserably dull the day
seemed, you would understand."

"Perhaps I do," she said softly, and the dark eyes dwelt upon his
musingly as she recalled her own listlessness and impatience.

"Then you must think as I do!" he said, quick to take advantage. "Say
you do, Stella! Think how very happy we should be."

She did think, and the thought made her tremble with excess of joy.

"We two together in the world! Where we would go and what we would do!
We could go to all the beautiful places--your own Italy, Switzerland!
and always together--think of it."

"I am thinking," she said with a smile.

He drew closer and put her arm around his neck. The very innocence and
purity of her love inflamed his passion and enhanced her charms in his
sight.

He had been loved before, but never like this, with such perfect,
unquestioning love.

"Well, then, my darling, why should we wait? It must be soon, Stella."

"No, no," she said, faintly. "Why should it? I--I am very happy."

"What is it you dread? Is it so dreadful the thought that we should be
alone together--all in all to each other?"

"It is not that," said Stella, her eyes fixed on the line of light that
fell on the water from the rising moon. "It is not that. I am thinking
of others."

"Always of others!" he said, with tender reproach. "Think of me--of
ourselves."

"I wish----" she said.

"Wish," he coaxed her. "See if I cannot gratify it. I will, if it be
possible."

"It is not possible," she said. "I was going to say that I wish you
were not--what you are."

"You said something like that last night," he said. "Darling, I have
wished it often. You wish that I were plain Mr. Brown."

"No, no," she said, with a smile; "not that."

"That I were a Mr. Wyndward----"

"With no castle," she broke in. "Ah, if that could be! If you were
only, say, a workman! How good that would be! Think! you would live in
a little cottage, and you would go to work, and come home at night, and
I should be waiting for you with your tea--do they have tea or dinner?"
she broke off to inquire, with a laugh.

"You see," he said, returning her laugh, "it would not do. Why, Stella,
you were not made for a workman's wife; the sordid cares of poverty
are for different natures to yours. And yet we should be happy, we
two." And he sighed wistfully. "You would be glad to see me come home,
Stella?"

"Yes," she said, half seriously, half archly. "I have seen them in
Italy, the peasants' wives, standing at the cottage doors, the hot
sunset lighting up their faces and their colored kerchiefs, waiting for
their husbands, and watching them as they climbed the hills from the
pastures and the vineyards, and they have looked so happy that I--I
have envied them. I was not happy in Italy, you know."

"My Stella!" he murmured. His love for her was so deep and passionate,
his sympathy so keen that half phrases were as plainly understood by
him as if she had spoken for hours. "And so you would wait for me
at some cottage door?" he said. "Well, it shall be so. I will leave
England, if you like--leave the castle and take some little ivy-green
cottage."

She smiled, and shook her head.

"Then they would have reason to complain," she said; "they would say
'she has dragged him down to her level--she has taught him to forget
all the duties of his rank and high position--she has'--what is it
Tennyson says--'robbed him of all the uses of life, and left him
worthless.'"

Lord Leycester looked up at the exquisite face with a new light of
admiration.

This was no mere pretty doll, no mere bread-and-butter school-girl
to whom he had given his love, but a girl who thought, and who could
express her thoughts.

"Stella!" he murmured, "you almost frighten me with your wisdom.
Where did you learn such experience? Well, it is not to be a cottage,
then; and I am not to work in the fields or tend the sheep. What then
remains? Nothing, save that you take your proper place in the world
as my wife;" the indescribable tenderness with which he whispered the
last word brought the warm blood to her face. "Where should I find a
lovelier face to add to the line of portraits in the old hall? Where
should I find a more graceful form to stand by my side and welcome my
guests? Where a more 'gracious ladye' than the maiden I love?"

"Oh, hush! hush!" whispered Stella, her heart beating beneath the
exquisite pleasure of his words, and the gently passionate voice in
which they were spoken. "I am nothing but a simple, stupid girl, who
knows nothing except----" she stopped.

"Except!" he pressed her.

She looked at the water a moment, then she bent down, and lightly
touched his hand with her lips.

"Except that she loves you!"

It was all summed up in this. He did not attempt to return the caress;
he took it reverentially, half overwhelmed with it. It was as if a
sudden stillness had fallen on nature, as if the night stood still in
awe of her great happiness.

They were silent for a minute, both wrapped in thoughts of the other,
then Stella said suddenly, and with a little not-to-be-suppressed sigh:

"I must go! See, the moon is almost above the trees."

"It rises early to-night, very," he said, eagerly.

"But I must go," she said.

"Wait a moment," he pleaded. "Let us go on shore and walk to the
weir--only to the weir; then we will come back and I will row you over.
It will not take five minutes! Come, I want to show it to you with
the moon on it. It is a favorite spot of mine; I have often stood and
watched it as the water danced over it in the moonlight. I want to do
so this evening, with you by my side. I am selfish, am I not?"

He helped her out of the boat, almost taking her in his arms, and
touching her sleeve with his lips; in his chivalrous mood he would not
so far take advantage of her in her helplessness as to kiss her face,
and they walked hand in hand, as they used to do in the good old days
when men and women were not ashamed of love.

Why is it that they should be now? Why is it that when a pair of lovers
indulge on the stage in the most chaste of embraces, a snigger and a
grin run through the audience? In this age of burlesque and satire, of
sarcasm and cynicism, is there to be no love making? If so, what are
poets and novelists to write about--the electric light and the science
of astronomy?

They walked hand in hand, Leycester Wyndward Viscount Trevor, heir to
Wyndward and an earldom, and Stella, the painter's niece, and threaded
the wood, keeping well under the shadows of the high trees, until they
reached the bank where the weir touched.

Lord Leycester took her to the brink and held her lightly.

"See," he said, pointing to the silver stream of water; "isn't that
beautiful; but it is not for its beauty only that I have brought you to
the river. Stella, I want you to plight your troth to me here."

"Here?" she said, looking up at his eager face.

"Yes; this spot is reported haunted--haunted by good fairies instead of
evil spirits. We will ask them to smile on our betrothal, Stella."

She smiled, and watched his eyes with half-serious amusement; there was
a strange light of earnestness in them.

Stooping down he took up a handful of the foaming water and threw a few
drops on her head and a few on his own.

"That is the old Danish rite, Stella," he said. "Now repeat after me--

    "'Come joy or woe, come pain or pleasure,
    Come poverty or richest treasure,
    I cling to thee, love, heart unto heart,
    Till death us sever, we will not part.'"

Stella repeated the words after him with a faint smile on her lips,
which died away under the glow of his earnest eyes.

Then, as the last words dropt hurriedly from her lips, he took her in
his arms and kissed her.

"Now we are betrothed, Stella, you and I against all the world."

As he spoke a cloud sailed across the moon, and the shadows now at
their feet suddenly changed from silver to dullish lead.

Stella shuddered in his arms, and clung to him with a little convulsive
movement that thrilled him.

"Let us go," she said; "let us go. It seems almost as if there were
spirits here! How dark it is!"

"Only for a moment, darling!" he said. "See?" and he took her face and
turned it to the moonlight again. "One kiss, and we will go."

With no blush on her face, but with a glow of passionate love in her
eyes, she raised her face, looked into his for a moment, then kissed
him.

Then they turned, and went toward the boat; but this time she clung
to his arm, and her head nestled on his shoulder. As they turned,
something white and ghost-like moved from behind the trees, in front of
which they had been standing.

It stood in the moonlight looking after them, itself so white and
eerie that it might have been one of the good fairies; but that in its
face--beautiful enough for any fairy--there glittered the white, angry,
threatening look of an evil spirit.

Was it the nearness of this exquisitely-graceful figure in white which
by some instinct Stella had felt and been alarmed at?

The figure watched them for a moment until they were out of sight, then
it turned and struck into a path leading toward the Hall.

As it did so, another figure--a black one this time--came out of the
shadow, and crossed the path obliquely.

She turned and saw a white, not unhandsome, face, with small keen eyes
bent on her. She, the watcher, had been watched.

For a moment she stood as if half-tempted to speak, but the next drew
the fleecy shawl round her head with a gesture of almost insolent
hauteur.

But she was not to escape so easily; the dark, thin figure slipped
back, and stooping down picked up the handkerchief, which in her
sweeping gesture she had let drop.

"Pardon!" he said.

She looked at him with cool disdain, then took the handkerchief, and
with an inclination of her head that was scarcely a bow would have
passed on again, but he did not move from her path, and hat in hand
stood looking at her.

Proud, fearless, imperiously haughty as she was, she felt constrained
to stop.

He knew by the mere fact of her stopping that he had impressed her, and
he at once followed up the advantage gained.

If she had wanted to pass him without speaking she should have taken
no notice of the handkerchief, and gone on her way. No doubt she now
wished that she had done so, but it was too late now.

"Will you permit me to speak to you?" he said, in a quiet, almost a
constrained voice, every word distinct, every word full of significance.

She looked at him, at the pale face with its thin, resolute lips and
small, keen eyes, and inclined her head.

"If you intend to speak to me, sir, I apprehend that I cannot prevent
it. You will do well to remember that we are not alone here."

Still uncovered, he bowed.

"Your ladyship has no need to remind me of that fact. No deed or word
of mine will cause you to wish for a protector."

"I have yet to learn that," she said. "You appear to know me, sir!"

No words will convey any idea of the haughty scorn expressed by the icy
tone and the cold glance of the violet eyes.

A faint smile, deferential yet self-possessed, swept across his face.

"There are some so well known to the world that their faces are easily
recognized even in the moonlight; such an one is the Lady Len----"

She put up her hand, white and glittering with priceless gems, and at
the commanding gesture he stopped, but the smile swept across his face
again, and he put up his hand to his lips.

"You know my name; you wish to speak to me?"

He inclined his head.

"What have you to say to me?"

She had not asked his name; she had treated him as if he were some
beggar who had crept up to her carriage as it stood at rest, and by a
mixture of bravado and servility gained her ear. There was a fierce,
passionate resentment at this treatment burning in his bosom, but he
kept it down.

"Is it some favor you have to ask?" she said, with cold, pitiless
hauteur, seeing that he hesitated.

"Thanks," he said. "I was waiting for a suggestion--I must put it in
that way. Yes, I have to ask a favor. My lady, I am a stranger to
you----"

She waved her hand as if she did not care so much as a withered blade
of grass for his personal history, and with a little twitch of the lips
he continued:

"I am a stranger to you, but I still venture to ask your assistance."

She looked and smiled like one who has known all along what was coming,
but to please his own whim, had waited quite naturally.

"Exactly," she said. "I have no money----"

Then he started and stood before her, and what there was of manliness
awoke within him.

"Money!" he said. "Are you mad?"

Lady Lenore stared at him haughtily.

"I fear that you are," she said. "Did you not demand--_ask_ is too
commonplace a word to describe a request made by a man of a woman alone
and unprotected--did you not demand money, sir?"

"Money!" he repeated; then he smiled. "You are laboring under a
misapprehension," he said. "I am in no need of money. The assistance I
need is not of a pecuniary kind."

"Then what is it?" she asked, and he detected a touch of curiosity in
the insolently-haughty voice. "Be good enough to state your desire as
briefly as you can, sir, and permit me to go on my way."

Then he played a card.

With a low bow he raised his hat, and drew from the path.

"I beg your ladyship's pardon," he said, respectfully, but with a
scarcely feigned air of disappointment. "I see that I have made a
mistake. I apologize most humbly for having intruded upon your good
nature, and I take my leave. I wish your ladyship good-evening," and he
turned.

Lady Lenore looked after him with cold disdain, then she bit her lip
and her eyes dropped, and suddenly, without raising her voice, she said:

"Wait!"

He turned and stood with his hand thrust in the breast of his coat, his
face calm and self-possessed.

She paused a moment and eyed him, struggling, if the truth were known,
and no doubt he knew it, with her curiosity and her pride, which last
forbade her hold any further converse with him. At last curiosity
conquered.

"I have called you back, sir, to ask the nature of this mistake you
say that you have made. Your conduct, your manner, your words are
inexplicable to me. Be good enough to explain."

It was a command, and he inclined his head in respectful recognition.

"I am a student of nature, my lady," he said, in a low voice, "and I am
fond of rambling in the woods here, especially at moonlight; it is not
a singular fancy."

Her face did not flush, but her eyes gleamed; she saw the sneer in the
words.

"Go on, sir," she said, coldly.

"Chance led me to-night in the direction of the river. I was standing
admiring it when two individuals--the two individuals who have just
left us--approached. Suspecting a love tryst, I was retreating, when
the moon revealed to me that one of the individuals was a person in
whom I take a great interest."

"Which?" she asked, coldly and calmly.

"The young lady," he replied, and his eyes drooped for a moment.

"That interest rather than curiosity,"--her lips curled, and she
looked up at him with infinite scorn--"interest rather than curiosity
prompted me to remain and, an unwilling listener, I heard the strange
engagement--betrothal, call it what you will--that took place."

He paused. She drew the shawl round her head and eyed him askance.

"In what way does this concern me, sir?" she demanded, haughtily.

"Pardon! you perceive my mistake," he said, with a fitting smile. "I
was under the impression that as _interest_ or _curiosity_ prompted you
also to listen, you might be pleased to assist me."

She bit her lip now.

"How did you know that I was listening?" she demanded.

He smiled.

"I saw your ladyship approach; I saw you take up your position behind
the tree, and _I saw your face as they talked_."

As she remembered all that that face must have told him, her heart
throbbed with a wild longing to see him helpless at her feet; her face
went a blood red, and her hands closed tightly on the shawl.

"Well, sir?" she said at last, after a pause, during which he had stood
eying her under his lowered lids. "Granting that you are right in your
surmises, how can I assist you, supposing that I choose to do so?"

He looked at her full in the face.

"By helping me to prevent the fulfillment of the engagement--betrothal,
which you and I have just witnessed," he said, promptly and frankly.

She was silent a moment, her eyes looking beyond him as if she were
considering, then she said:

"Why should I help you? How do you know that I take any interest in--in
these two persons?"

"You forget," he said, softly. "I saw your face."

She started. There was something in the bold audacity of the man that
proved him the master.

"If I admit that I do take some interest, what proof have I that I
shall be following that interest by confiding in you?" she asked,
haughtily, but less haughtily than hitherto.

"I can give you a sufficient proof," he said, quietly. "I--love--her."

She started. There was so calm and cool and yet intense an expression
in his voice.

"You love her?" she repeated. "The girl who has just left us?"

"The young lady," he said, with a slight emphasis, "who has just
plighted her troth to Lord Leycester Wyndward."

There was silence for a moment. His direct statement of the case had
told on her.

"And if I help you--if I consent--what shape is my assistance to take?"

"I leave that to you," he said. "I can answer for her, for Stella
Etheridge--that is her name."

"I do not wish to mention names," she said, coldly.

"Quite right," he said. "Trees have ears, as you and I have just
proved."

She shuddered at the familiar, confident tone in his voice.

"I will not mention names," he repeated, "let us say 'him' and 'her.'
Candidly--and between us, my lady, there should be nothing but
candor--I have sworn that nothing shall come of this betrothal. I love
her, and--I--hate him."

She looked at him. His face was deadly white, and his eyes gleamed, but
a smile still played about his lips.

"You," he continued, "hate her, and--love--him."

Lady Lenore started, and a crimson flush of shame stained her fair face.

"How dare you!" she exclaimed.

He smiled.

"I have shown you my hand, my lady; I know yours. Will you tell me that
I am wrong? Say the word--say that you are indifferent how matters
go--and I will make my bow and leave you."

She stood and looked at him--she could not say the word. He had spoken
the truth; she did love Lord Leycester with a passion that surprised
her, with a passion that had not made itself known to her until
to-night, when she had seen him take into his arms another woman--had
heard his protestations of love for another woman, and seen him kiss
another woman.

Wounded pride, self-love, passionate desire, all fought for mastery
within her bosom, and the man who stood calmly before her knew it.

He read every thought of her heart as it was mirrored on the proud,
beautiful face.

"I do not understand," she said. "You come to me a perfect stranger,
and make these confessions."

He smiled.

"I come to you because you and I desire to accomplish one end--the
separation of these two persons. I come to you because I have already
found some means toward such an end, and I believe you are capable of
devising and carrying out the remainder. Lady Lenore----"

"Do not utter my name," she said, looking round uneasily.

"--You, and you alone, can help me. As I have said, I can influence
the girl, you can influence him. I have worked hard for that
influence--have plotted, and planned, and schemed for it. Cleverness,
ingenuity--call it what you will--has been exerted by me; you have only
to exert your--pardon me--your beauty."

With a gesture, she drew the shawl nearer her face--it was like
profanation to hear him speak of her beauty.

"--Together we conquer; alone, I think, we should fail, for though I
hold her in a cleft stick I cannot answer for him. He is headstrong and
wild, and in a moment might upset my plans. Your task--if you accept
it--is to see that he does not. Will you accept it?"

She paused.

"What is your hold over her?" she asked, curiously.

He smiled.

"Pardon me if I decline to answer. Be assured that I have a hold upon
her. Your hold on him is as strong as that of mine on her. Will you
exert it?"

She was silent.

"Think," he said. "Let me put the case clearly. For his own good
you ought not to hesitate. What good can come of such a marriage--a
viscount, an earl, marry the niece of a painter, an obscure nobody! It
is for his own good--the husband of Stella--I forgot!--no names. As her
husband he sinks into insignificance, as yours he rises to the height
which his position and yours entitle him to. Can you hesitate?"

No tempter since the world began, not even the serpent at the foot
of the apple-tree in Eden, could have put it more ingeniously. She
wavered. Reluctant to make a compact with a man and a stranger, and
such a man! She stood and hesitated.

He drew out his watch.

"It is getting late," he said. "I see your ladyship declines the
alliance I offer you. I wish you 'good-night,'" and he raised his hat.

She put forth her hand; it was as white as her face.

"Stop," she said, "I agree."

"Good," he said, with a smile. "Give me your hand," and he held out his.

She hesitated, but she put her hand in his; the mental strength of the
man overcame her repugnance.

"So we seal our bargain. All I ask your ladyship to do is to watch, and
to strike when the iron is hot. When that time comes I will give you
warning."

And his hand closed over hers.

A shudder ran through her at the contact; his hand was cold as ice.

"There is no chance that these two will keep their compact now," he
said; "you and I will prevent it. Good-night, my lady."

"Stop!" she said, and he turned. "You have not told me your name--you
know mine."

He smiled at her--a smile of victory and self-confidence.

"My name is Jasper Adelstone," he said.

Her lips repeated the name.

"Shall I see you safely into the hall?"

"No, no," she said. "Go, if you please."

He inclined his head and left her, but he did not go until she had
entered the private park by another gate, and her figure was lost to
sight.

Lord Leycester rowed Stella across the river, and parted from her.

"Good-night, my beloved," he whispered. "It is not for long. I shall
see you to-morrow. Good-night! I shall wait here until I see you enter
the lane; you will be safe then."

He held her in his arms for a moment, then he let her go, and stood on
the bank watching her.

She sped across the meadows and entered the lane breathless.

Pausing for a moment to recover her composure, she went on to the gate
and opened it.

As she did so a slight, youthful figure slipped out of the shadow and
confronted her.

She uttered a slight cry and looked up.

At that moment the moonlight fell upon the face in front of her.

It was the same face in the miniature. The same face, though changed
from boyhood to youth.

It was "Frank!"



CHAPTER XIX.


It was the face she had seen in the miniature, changed from childhood
to youth. The same blue eyes, frank, confiding, and womanish--the
same golden hair clustering in short curls, instead of falling on the
shoulders as in the picture--the same smiling mouth, with its little
touch of weakness about the under lip. A taking, a pretty rather than a
handsome face; it ought to have belonged rather to a girl than a boy.

Stella stared, and doubted the evidence of her senses. Her dream
flashed across her mind and made her heart beat with a sudden emotion,
whether of fear or pleasure she could not tell.

Who was this boy, and what was he doing there leaning on the gate as if
the place belonged to him, and he had a right to be there?

She took a step nearer, and he opened the gate for her. Stella
entered, and he raised his hat, allowing the moonbeams to fall on his
yellow hair, and smiled at her, very much as a child might smile, with
grave, open-eyed admiration and greeting.

"Are you--you _are_ Stella!" he said, in a voice that made her
start,--it was so like her uncle's, but softer and brighter.

"My name is Stella!" she said, filled with wonder.

He held out his hand frankly, but with a little timid shyness.

"Then we are cousins," he said.

"Cousins?" exclaimed Stella, but she gave him her hand.

"Yes, cousins," he said. "You are Stella, Uncle Harold's daughter, are
you not? Well, I am Frank."

She had felt it.

"Frank?" she repeated, amazedly.

He nodded.

"Yes, I am your Cousin Frank. I hope"--and a cloud settled on his
face--"I hope you are not sorry?"

"Sorry!" she uttered, feeling stupid and confused. "No, I am not sorry!
I am very glad--of course I am very glad!" and she held out her hand
this time. "But I didn't know!"

"No," he said, with a little sigh. "No, I suppose you did not."

A step was heard behind them, and Mr. Etheridge appeared.

Stella ran to him with a glad cry and put her arms round his neck.

"Uncle!"

He kissed her, and parting the hair from her forehead, looked into her
eyes tenderly.

"Yes, Stella, I am back," he said; there was a sad weariness in his
voice, and he looked haggard and tired. "And"--he hesitated, and put
his hand on the boy's shoulder--"I have brought someone with me.
This--is Frank," he hesitated again, "my son."

Stella suppressed a start, and smiled up at him as if the announcement
were one of the most natural.

"I am so glad," she whispered.

He nodded.

"Yes, yes," and his gaze wandered to the face of the boy who stood
looking at them with a little faint smile, half timid, half uneasy.
"Frank has come to stop with us for a time. He is going to the
university."

"Yes," said Stella, again. She felt that there was some mystery, felt
that the boy was connected in some way with that telegram and the
hurried visit to town, and with her characteristic gentleness and tact
hastened to smooth matters. "I'll go and see if Mrs. Penfold has made
proper arrangements," she said.

Mr. Etheridge looked after her as she went into the house; the boy's
voice startled him.

"How beautiful she is!" he murmured, a faint flush on his cheek, a
light of boyish admiration in his eyes. "I didn't know I had such a
beautiful cousin, so----"

"No," said the old man, warmly. "Go on, Frank. Wait."

The boy paused and Mr. Etheridge put his hand on his shoulder.

"She is as good as she is beautiful. She is an angel, Frank. I need not
say that she knows--nothing."

The boy's face flushed, then went pale, and his eyes drooped.

"Thank you, sir," he said, gratefully. "No," and he shuddered, "I
wouldn't have her know for--for the world."

Then he went in. Stella was flitting about the room seeing the laying
of a cloth for an impromptu meal. He paused at the window as if afraid
to approach or disturb her, but she saw him and came to him with
that peculiar little graceful gait which her uncle had noticed so
particularly on the first night of her coming.

"I am so glad you have come!" she said. "Uncle must be glad, too!"

"Yes," he said, in a low voice. "You are glad, really glad!"

Her beautiful eyes opened, and she smiled.

"Very glad. You must come in and have some supper. It is quite ready,"
and she went and called her uncle.

The old man came in and sat down. The boy waited until she pointed to a
chair, into which he dropped obediently.

Mr. Etheridge offered no explanation of his visit to London, and
she asked for none; but while he sat with his usual silent, dreamy
taciturnity, she talked to him.

Frank sat and listened, scarcely taking his eyes off her.

Presently Mr. Etheridge looked up.

"Where have you been this evening, Stella?" he asked.

A sudden blush covered her face, but though Frank saw it, his father
did not.

"I have been into the woods," she said, "to the river."

He nodded.

"Very beautiful. The witches' trysting-place, they call it," he added,
absently.

Stella's face paled, and she hung her head.

"You were rather late, weren't you?"

"Yes--too late," said Stella, guiltily. If she might only tell him! "I
won't be so late again."

He looked up.

"You will have Frank to keep you company now," he said.

Stella turned to the boy with a smile that was still eloquent of guilt.

"I shall be very glad," she said, feeling dreadfully deceitful. "You
know all the pretty places, no doubt, and must act as _cicerone_."

His eyes dropped.

"No, I don't," he said. "I haven't been here before."

"Frank has been at school," said Mr. Etheridge, quietly. "You will have
to be the _cicerone_," and he rose and wandered to the window.

Stella rang the bell, wheeled up the arm-chair, and got the old man's
pipe, hanging over him with marked tenderness, and the boy watched her
with the same intent look.

Then she came back to her seat, and took out some work.

"You are not going to work to-night?" he said, leaning his elbows on
the table and his head upon his hands--small, white, delicate hands, to
match the face.

"This is only make-believe," she said. "Don't you know the old proverb
about idle hands?" And she laughed.

He started, and his face paled.

Stella wondered what she had said to affect him, and hurried on.

"I can't sit still and do nothing, can you?"

"Yes, for hours," he said, with a smile; "I am awfully idle, but I must
get better habits; I must follow your example. I mean to read while
I'm down here--read hard, don't you know. Shall I begin to-night?" he
asked, his eyes upon her with almost slavish intentness.

"Not to-night," she said, with a laugh; "you must be tired. You have
come from London, haven't you?"

"Yes," he said; "and I am rather tired. I would rather sit and watch
you, if you don't mind."

She shook her head.

"Not in the least. You can tell me about your school."

"I would rather sit and watch you in silence," he said, "unless you
like to talk. I should like that."

He seemed a queer boy; there was something almost sad in his quietness,
but Stella felt that it was only temporary.

"He is tired, poor boy," she thought.

Presently she said:

"How old are you?"

"Seventeen," he said.

She looked at him.

"I did not think you were so old," she said, with a laugh.

He smiled.

"Few persons do. Yes; I am seventeen."

"Why, you are quite a man," she said, with a laugh.

He blushed--proving his boyhood--and shook his head.

"Stella," came the old man's voice, "will you play something?"

She rose instantly, and glided to the organ and began to play.

She had been playing some little time; then she commenced to sing.

Suddenly she heard a sound suspiciously like a sob close to her side,
and looking round saw that the boy had stolen to a low seat near her,
and was leaning his face upon his hands. She stopped, but with a sudden
gesture and a look toward her, the silent, seated figure motioned her
to go on.

She finished--it was the "Ave Maria,"--and then bent down to him.

"You are tired!" she whispered.

The voice was so sweet, so kind, so sisterly, that it went straight to
the bottom of the lad's heart.

He looked up at her, with that expression in his eyes which one sees in
the eyes of a faithful, devoted dog then bent and kissed the sleeve of
her dress.

All the tenderness of Stella's nature welled up at the simple act, and
with a little murmur she bent down and put her lips to his forehead.

His face flushed and he shrank back.

"Don't!" he said, in a strained voice. "I am not worthy!"

For answer she stooped again and kissed him.

He did not shrink this time, but took her hand and held it with a
convulsive grasp, and something trembled on his lip, when he started
and stared toward the window.

Stella turned her head quickly and stared also, for there, standing
with his face turned toward them, with his eyes fixed on them, stood
Jasper Adelstone. She rose, but he came forward with his finger on his
lip.

"He is asleep," he said, glancing at the chair, and he held out his
hand.

Stella took it; it was hot and dry.

"I ought to apologize for coming in so late," he said in a cautious
voice; "but I was passing, and the music proved too great a temptation.
Will you forgive me?"

"Certainly," said Stella. "We are very glad to see you. This is my
Cousin Frank," she added.

The small eyes that had been fixed on her face turned to the boy's, and
a strange look came into them for a second, then, in his usual tone, he
said:

"Indeed! home for a holiday, I suppose? How do you do?" and he held out
his hand.

Frank came out of the shadow and took it, and Jasper held his hand and
looked at him with a strange smile.

"You have not introduced me," he said to Stella.

Stella smiled.

"This is Mr. Adelstone, a friend of uncle's," she said.

Jasper Adelstone looked at her.

"Will you not say a friend of yours also?" he asked, gently.

Stella laughed.

"I beg your pardon; yes, if I may. I'll say a friend of ours."

"And yours too, I hope," said Jasper Adelstone to Frank.

"Yes, thank you," answered the boy; but there was a strange,
ill-concealed shyness and reluctance in his manner.

Stella drew a chair forward.

"Won't you sit down?" she asked.

He sat down.

"I am afraid I have interrupted you," he said. "Will you go on--do,
please?"

Stella glanced at her uncle.

"I am afraid I should wake him," she said.

He looked disappointed.

"Some other time," said Stella.

"Thanks," he said.

"Uncle is very tired to-night; he has just come from London."

"Indeed!" said Jasper, with well-feigned surprise. "I have been to
London also. That reminds me, I have ventured to bring some music for
you--for your uncle!" and he drew a book from his pocket.

Stella took it, and uttered a little exclamation of pleasure. It was a
volume of Italian songs; some of them familiar to her, all of them good.

"How nice, how thoughtful of you!" she said. "Some of them are old
favorites of mine. Uncle will be so pleased. Thank you very much."

He put his hand to his mouth.

"I am glad there are some songs you like," he said. "I thought that
perhaps you would prefer Italian to English?"

"Yes--yes," said Stella, turning over the leaves. "Very much prefer it."

"Perhaps some night you will allow me to hear some of them?"

"Indeed, you shall!" she said, lightly.

"I may have an opportunity," he went on, "for I am afraid I shall be
rather a frequent visitor."

"Yes?" said Stella, interrogatively.

"The fact is," he said, hesitatingly, and he could have cursed himself
for his hesitation and awkwardness--he who was never awkward or
irresolute at other times--he who had faced the proud disdain of Lady
Lenore and conquered it!--"the fact is that I have some business with
your uncle. A client of mine is a patron of the fine arts. He is a very
wealthy man, and he is anxious that Mr. Etheridge, whom he greatly
admires, should paint him a picture on a subject which he has given
to me! It is rather a difficult subject--I mean it will require some
explanation as the picture progresses, and I have promised, if Mr.
Etheridge will permit me, to give the explanation."

Stella nodded. She had taken up her work again, and bent over it, quite
unconscious of the admiration with which the two pair of eyes were
fixed on her--the guarded, passionate, wistful, longing in the man's,
the open awe-felt admiration of the boy's.

"But," she said with a smile, "you know how--I was going to say
obstinate--my uncle is; do you think he will paint it?"

"I hope to be able to persuade him," he said, with a modest smile.
"Perhaps he will do it for me; I am an old friend, you know."

"Is it for you, then?" she asked.

"No, no," he said, quickly; "but this art-patron is a great friend of
mine, and I have pledged myself to persuade Mr. Etheridge."

"I see," said Stella.

Jasper was silent a moment, his eyes wandering round the room in search
of the flowers--_his_ flowers. They were nowhere to be seen; but on her
bosom were the wild blossoms which Lord Leycester had gathered.

A dark shade crossed his face for a moment, and his hands clinched,
but he composed himself. The time would come when she would wear _his_
flowers and his alone--he had sworn it!

He turned to Frank with a smile.

"Are you going to stay at home for long?" he asked.

Frank had withdrawn into the shadow, where he had been watching Stella
and Jasper's faces alternately. He started visibly.

"I don't know," he said.

"I hope we shall see a great deal of each other," he said. "I am
staying at the Rectory, taking holiday also."

"Thank you," said Frank, but not overjoyously.

Jasper rose.

"I must go now," he said, "Good-night." He took Stella's hand and bent
over it; then, turning to the boy, "Good-night. Yes," he added, and he
held the small hands with a tight pressure, "we must see a good deal of
each other, you and I."

Then he stole out noiselessly.

As he disappeared, Frank heaved a sigh of relief, and Stella looked at
him.

He was still standing as he had stood when Jasper held his hand,
looking after him; and there was a strange look on his face which
aroused Stella's attention.

"Well?" she said, with a smile.

Frank started, and looked down at her with a smile.

"Is it true," he asked, "that he is a great friend of my father's?"

Stella nodded.

"I suppose so, yes."

"And of yours?" he said, intently.

Stella hesitated.

"I have known him such a short time," she said, almost apologetically.

"I thought so," he said. "He is not a friend of yours--you don't like
him?"

"But"--said Stella.

"I know it," he said, "as well as if you had told me; and I am glad of
it."

There was a tone of suppressed excitement in his voice--a restless,
uneasy look in his eyes, which astonished Stella.

"Why?" she said.

"Because," he answered, "I do not like him. I"--and a shiver ran
through him--"I hate him."

Stella stared.

"You hate him!" she exclaimed. "You have only seen him for a few
minutes! Ought you to say that?"

"No, I suppose not," he replied; "but I can't help it. I hate him!
There is something about him that--that----"

He hesitated.

"Well?"

"That makes me afraid. I felt while he was talking as if I was being
smothered! Don't you know what I mean?"

"Yes," said Stella, quickly.

It was that she had felt herself sometimes, when Jasper's low, smooth
voice was in her ears. But she felt that it was foolish to encourage
the boy's fancy.

"But that is nonsense!" she said. "He is very kind and considerate. He
has sent me some beautiful flowers----"

"He has?" he said, gloomily.

"And this music."

Frank took up the book and eyed it scornfully, and threw it on the
table as if he were tempted to pitch it out of the window.

"What does he do it for!" he demanded.

"I don't know--only out of kindness."

Frank shook his head.

"I don't believe it! I--I wish he hadn't! I beg your pardon. Have I
offended you?" he added, contritely.

"No," said Stella, laughing. "Not a bit, you foolish boy," and she
leant on her elbows and looked up at him with her dark eyes smiling.

He came nearer and looked down at her.

"I am glad you don't like him."

"I didn't say----"

"But I know it. Because I shouldn't like to hate anyone you liked," he
added.

"Then," said Stella, with her rare, musical laugh, "as it's very wicked
to hate anyone, and I ought to help you to be good, the best thing I
can do is to like Mr. Adelstone."

"Heaven forbid!" he said, so earnestly, so passionately, that Stella
started.

"You are a wicked boy!" she said, with a smile.

"I am," he said, gravely, and his lips quivered. "But if anything could
make me better it would be living near you. You are not offended?"

"Not a bit," laughed Stella; "but I shall be directly, so you had
better go to bed. Your room is quite ready, and you look tired.
Good-night," and she gave him her hand.

He too bent over it, but how differently to Jasper! and he touched it
reverently with his lips.

"Good-night," he said; "say good-night to my father for me," and he
went out.



CHAPTER XX.


One hears of the devotion of a dog to its master, the love of a horse
for its rider; such devotion, such love Stella received from the boy
Frank. He was a very singular boy, and strange; he soon lost the air of
melancholy and sadness which hung about him on the first night of his
arrival, and became happier and sometimes even merry; there was always
a certain kind of reserve about him.

As Stella--knowing nothing of the history of the forged bill--said, he
had his thinking fits, when he used to sit with his head in his hands,
his eyes fixed on vacancy.

But these fits were not of frequent occurrence, and oftener he was
in the best of boyish moods, chatty and cheerful, and "chaffy." His
devotion to Stella, indeed, was extraordinary. It was more than the
love of a brother, it was not the love of a sweetheart, it was a kind
of worship. He would sit for hours by her side, more often at her
feet listening to her singing, or watching her at work. He was never
so happy as when he was with her, walking in the meadows, and he would
gladly lay aside his fishing rod or his book, to hang about with her in
the garden.

There had never been anyone so beautiful as Stella--there had never
been anyone so good. The boy looked up to her with the same admiration
and love with which the devotee might regard his patron saint.

His attachment was so marked that even his father, who noticed so
little, observed it and commented on it.

"Frank follows you like a dog, Stella," he said, the third evening
after the boy's arrival. "Don't let him bother you; he has his reading
to get through, and there's the river and his rod. Send him about his
business if he worries you."

Stella laughed.

"Frank worry me!" she exclaimed lightly. "He is incapable of such a
thing. There never was such a dear considerate boy. Why, I should miss
him dreadfully if he were to go away for an hour or two even. No, he
doesn't bother me in the slightest, and as to his books and his rod, he
shamelessly confessed yesterday, that he didn't care for any of them
half as much as he cared for me."

The old man looked up and sighed.

"It is strange," he said, "you seem to be the only person who ever had
any influence over him."

"I ought to be very proud, then," said Stella, "and I am. No one could
help loving him, he is so irresistible."

The old man went on with his work with a little sigh.

"Then he's so pretty!" continued Stella. "It is a shame to call a boy
pretty, but that is just what he is."

"Yes," said Mr. Etheridge, grimly. "It is the face of a girl, with all
a girl's weakness."

"Hush," said Stella, warningly. "Here he comes. Well, Frank," she said,
as he came in, his slim form dressed in boating flannels, his rod in
his hand. "What have you been doing--fishing?"

"No," he said, his eyes fixed on her face. "I meant to, but you said
that you would come out directly, and so I waited. Are you ready? It
doesn't matter--I'll wait. I suppose it's the pudding, or the custards,
or the canary wants feeding. I wish there were no puddings or canaries."

"What an impatient boy it is," she exclaimed, with a laugh. "Well, now
I'm ready."

"Let's go down to the river," he said. "There's someone fishing
there--at least, he's supposed to be fishing, but he keeps his eyes
fixed in this direction, so that I don't imagine he is getting much
sport."

"What is he like?" said Stella.

"Like?" said Frank. "Oh, a tall, well-made young fellow, in brown
velvet. A man with a yellow mustache."

Stella's face flushed, and she glanced round at her uncle.

"Let us go," she said. "I know who it is. It is Lord Leycester."

"Not Lord Leycester Wyndward," exclaimed Frank. "Not really! I should
like to see him. Do you know him, Stella?"

"Yes--a little," said Stella, shyly. "A little."

"Yes, it is Lord Leycester," said Stella, and the color came to her
face.

"I have heard so much about Lord Leycester," said Frank, eagerly;
"everybody knows him in London. He is an awful swell, isn't he?"

Stella smiled.

"You will teach me the most dreadful slang, Frank," she said. "Is he
such a 'swell,' as you call him?"

"Oh, awful; there isn't anything that he doesn't do. He drives a coach
and four, and he's the owner of two of the best race horses in England,
and he's got a yacht--the 'Gipsy,' you know--and, oh, there's no end to
his swelldom. And you know him?"

"Yes," said Stella, and her heart smote her, that she could not say: "I
know him so well that I am engaged to be married to him." But she could
not; she had promised, and must keep her promise.

Frank could not get over his wonder and admiration.

"Why, he's one of the most popular men in London," he said. "Let me
see! there's something else I heard about him. Oh, yes, he is going to
be married."

"Is he?" said Stella, and a little smile came about her lips.

Frank nodded.

"To a swell as great as himself. To Lady Lenore Beauchamp."

The smile died away from Stella's lips, and her face paled.

It was false and ridiculous, but the mere rumor struck her, not with a
dagger's but a pin's point.

"Is he?" she said, feeling deceitful and guilty, and she walked on in
silence to the river's bank, while Frank ran on telling all he knew of
Lord Leycester's swelldom. According to Frank he was a very great swell
indeed, a sort of prince amongst men, and as Stella listened her heart
went out to the boy in gratitude.

And she was to marry this great man!

They reached the river's bank, and Lord Leycester, who had been
watching them, put down his rod and came across.

Stella held out her hand, her face crimson with a warm blush, her eyes
downcast.

"How do you do, Stel--Miss Etheridge?" he said, pressing her hand; then
he glanced at Frank.

"This is my cousin, Frank," said Stella. "Frank Etheridge."

Frank, with his blue eyes wide open with awe, looked up at the handsome
face of the "awful swell," and bowed respectfully; but Lord Leycester
held out his hand, and smiled at him--the rare sweet smile.

"How do you do, Mr. Etheridge?" he said, warmly, and at the greeting
the boy's heart leaped up and his face flushed. "I am very glad to meet
you," went on Leycester, in his frank way--just the way to enslave a
boy--"very glad, indeed, for I was feeling bored to death with rod and
line. Are you fond of fishing? Will you come for a row? Do you think
you can persuade your cousin to accompany us?"

Frank looked up eagerly at Stella, who stood, her beautiful face
downcast and grave, but for the little tremulous smile of happiness
which shone in the dark eyes and played about the lips.

"Do, Stella!" he said, "do let us go!"

Stella looked up with a smile, and Lord Leycester helped her into the
boat.

"You can row?" he said to Frank.

"Yes," said Frank, eagerly, "I can row."

"You shall pull behind me, then," said Leycester.

They took up sculls, and Lord Leycester, as he leaned forward for the
stroke, spoke in a low tone:

"My darling! Have you wondered where I have been?"

Stella glanced at Frank, pulling away manfully.

"He cannot hear," whispered Leycester; "the noise of the sculls
prevents him. Are you angry with me for being away?"

She shook her head.

"You haven't missed me?"

"I have missed you!" she said, sharply.

His heart leaped at the plain, frank avowal.

"I have been to London," he said. "There has been some trouble about
some foolish, tiresome horses; I was obliged to go. Stella, every hour
seemed an age to me! I dared not write; I could not send a message.
Stella, I want to speak to you very particularly. Will he be offended
if I get rid of him. He seems a nice boy!"

"Frank is the dearest boy in the world," she said, eagerly.

Leycester nodded.

"I did not know Mr. Etheridge had a son--it is his son?"

"Yes," she said; "neither did I know it; but he is the dearest boy."

Leycester looked round.

"Frank," he said--"you don't mind my calling you Frank?"

Frank colored.

"It is very friendly of your lordship."

Leycester smiled.

"I shall think you are offended if you address me in that way," he
said. "My name is Leycester. If you call me 'my lord,' I shall have
to call you 'sir.' I can't help being a lord, you know. It's my
misfortune, not my fault."

Frank laughed.

"I wish it was my misfortune, or my fault," he said.

Leycester smiled.

"There is a jack just opposite where I was fishing; I saw him half an
hour ago. Would you like to try for him?"

Frank put the sculls up at once.

"All right," said Leycester, and he pulled for the shore.

"You'll find my rod quite ready. You'll stay here Stel--Miss Etheridge.
We'll pull about gently till Frank has caught his fish."

Frank sprang to land and ran to the spot where Leycester had left his
rod, and Leycester sculled up stream again for a few strokes, then he
put the sculls down and leant forward, and seized Stella's hand.

"He will see you," said Stella, blushing.

"No, he will not," he retorted, and he bent until his lips touched her
hand. "Stella, I want to speak to you very seriously. You must promise
you will not be angry with me."

Stella looked at him with a smile.

"Is it so serious," she said, in that low, murmuring voice which a
woman uses when she speaks to the man she loves.

"Very," he said, gravely, but with the bold, defiant look in his eyes
which presaged some bold, defiant deed. "Stella, I want you to marry
me."

Stella started, and her hand closed spasmodically on his.

"I want you to marry me soon," he went on--"at once."

"Oh, no, no!" she said, in a whisper, and her hand trembled in his.

Marry him at once! The thought was so full of immensity that it
overwhelmed her.

"But it must be 'Yes! yes! yes!'" he said. "My darling, I find that I
cannot live without you. I cannot! I cannot! You will take pity on me!"

Take pity on him--the great Lord Leycester; the most popular man in
London; the heir to Wyndward; the hero of whom Frank had been speaking
so enthusiastically; while she was but Stella Etheridge, the painter's
penniless niece.

"What am I to say? what can I say?" she said, in a low voice, her eyes
downcast, her heart beating fast.

"I will tell you," he said. "You must say 'Yes,' my darling, to all I
ask you."

There was a moment's pause, in which she felt that indeed she must say
'Yes' to anything he asked her.

"Listen, darling," he went on, caressing her hand, his eyes fixed
on her face wistfully. "I have been thinking of this love of ours,
thinking of it night and day, and I feel that you and I can do no good
by waiting. You are happy--yes, because you are a woman; but I am not
happy, because, perhaps, that I am a man. I shall not be happy until we
are one--until you are my very own. Stella, we must be married at once."

"Not at once," she pleaded.

"At once," he said; and there was a strange, eager, impatient light
in his eyes. "Stella, I can speak to you as I can speak to no one
else--you and I are one in thought--you are my other self. My darling,
I would go through fire to save you a moment's pain, not only pain, but
uneasiness and annoyance."

Her fingers closed on his hand, and her eyes, raised to his face for a
moment, plainly said, "I believe it;" but her lips said nothing.

"Stella, there would be pain and annoyance to you, if--if we were to
make known our love. It is a foolish, stupid, idiotic world; but as the
world is, we must accept it--we cannot alter it. If we were to declare
our love, all sorts of people would be arrayed against us. Do you
think your uncle would consent to it?"

Stella thought a moment.

"I know what you mean," she said, in a low voice. "No, uncle would not
consent. But it is not that only. Lady Wyndward--the earl--no one of
your people would consent."

His lips curled.

"About their consent I care little," he said, in the quiet, defiant
manner peculiar to him. "But I do care for your happiness and peace of
mind, and I fear they might make you unhappy and--uncomfortable. So,
Stella, I think you and I had better walk to church one fine morning,
and say 'nothing to nobody.'"

Stella started.

"Secretly, do you mean? Oh, Leycester!"

"My darling! Is it not best? Then when it is all over, and you are my
very own, nobody will say anything, because it will be no good to say
anything! Stella, it must be so! If we waited until we got everybody's
consent, we might wait until we were as old as Methuselah!"

"But uncle!" murmured Stella. "He has been so good to me."

"And I will be good to you!" he murmured, with such sweet significance
that the beautiful face crimsoned. "He only wants to see you happy, and
I will make you happy, my darling--my own!"

As he spoke he took her hand, and held it to his lips as if he never
meant to part with it, and Stella could not find a word to say. If she
had found a word it would have been 'Yes.'

He was silent a moment--thinking. Then he said--

"Stella, you think I have some plan ready, but I have not. I would
not even think of a plan till I got your consent. Now I have got your
consent--I have, haven't I?"

Stella was silent, but her hand closed over his.

"I will think. I will make a plan. We shall want some one to help us."

He thought a moment, then he looked up with a smile.

"I know! It shall be--Frank!"

"Frank!" exclaimed Stella.

He nodded.

"Yes, I like him. I like him because he likes you. Stella, that boy
adores you."

Stella smiled.

"He is a dear good boy."

"He shall help us. He shall be our Mercury, and carry messages. Do you
know, Stella, that you and I have never written to each other since we
have been engaged? When I was in London, I longed for some memento of
you, some written line, something you had touched. You will write now,
darling, and Frank shall act as messenger. I will think it all out, and
send you word, if I do not see you. Frank and I must be good friends.
It is quite true that the boy adores you. I can see it in his eyes.
That is no wonder--anybody, everybody who knows you must adore you, my
darling."

Something has been said of the infinite charm possessed by Leycester,
a charm quite irresistible when he chose to exert it. This morning he
exerted it to the utmost extent. Stella felt in dreamland and under
a spell. If he had asked her to go to land and marry him there and
then--if he had asked her to follow him to the ends of the world, she
would have felt bound to so follow him. She forgot time and place and
everything as she listened to him, for a time at least, but as the boat
drifted down to the spot where they had left Frank, she remembered the
boy, and looked up with a start.

"Frank is not there," she said. "Where has he gone?"

Leycester looked up smiling.

"You are a sister to him!" he said. "He must have wandered down the
bank. He is all right."

Then he looked down the river, and a sudden light came into his eyes.

"The foolish boy," he said. "He has gone on to the weir."

"The weir!" exclaimed Stella.

"Don't be frightened," he said. "He is all right. He is standing on the
wooden stage over the weir."

Stella looked round.

"He will fall!" she said. "Isn't it very dangerous?"

It did look dangerous. Frank had climbed on to the weir bars and was
standing over a narrow beam, his legs apart, his eyes fixed on the big
float which danced in the foaming water.

"He is all right," said Leycester. "I'll tell him to come off. Don't be
alarmed, my darling. You have gone quite pale!"

"Call to him to come off at once," said Stella.

Leycester rowed to land, and they both walked to the weir, a few paces
only.

"Better come off there, Frank," called out Leycester.

Frank looked round.

"I've just had a touch," he said. "There is a tremendous jack there, or
perhaps it's a trout; he'll come again directly."

"Come off," said Leycester. "You are frightening Stella--your cousin."

"All right," said Frank, but at the moment the fish, jack or trout,
seized the bait, and with an exultant cry, Frank jerked his rod.

"I've got him!" he shouted. "It's a monster! Have you got a net Lord--I
mean Leycester?"

"No, bother the net and the fish too," said Leycester. "Leave the fish
and come off; your cousin is alarmed."

"Oh, very well," said Frank, and he jerked the rod to get clear of the
fish, and at the same moment turned warily toward the shore.

But the fish--jack or trout--had got a firm hold, and was not disposed
to go, and making a turn to the open river, put a strain on the rod
which Frank had not expected.

It was a question whether he should drop the rod or cling on.

He decided on the latter, and the next moment he missed his footing
and fell into the foaming water. Stella did not utter a cry--it was not
her way of expressing her emotion--but she grasped Leycester's arm.

"All right, my darling," he murmured; "it is all right," and as he
spoke, he put her hand from his arm gently and tenderly.

The next moment he had torn off his coat, and springing on the weir
stood for just a second to calculate the distance, and dived off.

Stella, even then, did not shriek, but she sank speechless on the bank,
and with clasped hands and agonized terror, watched the struggle.

Lord Leycester rose to the surface almost instantly. He was a skilled
diver and a powerful swimmer, and he had not lost his presence of mind
for a moment.

It was a terrible place to jump from--a still more terrible place from
which to rescue a drowning person; but Lord Leycester had done the
thing before, and he was not afraid.

He saw the boy's golden head come up a few yards beyond where he, Lord
Leycester, rose, and he struck out for it. A few stokes, and he reached
and grasped him.

"Don't cling to me, my boy" he gasped.

"No fear, Lord Leycester!" gasped Frank, in return.

Then Lord Leycester seized him by the hair, and striking out for the
shore, fought hard.

It was a hard fight. The recoil of the stream, as it fell from the
weir, was tremendous; it was like forcing one's way through liquid
iron. But Lord Leycester did force his way, and still clinging to the
boy's hair, dragged him ashore.

Dripping wet, they stood and looked at each other. Then Lord Leycester
laughed; but Frank, the boy, did not.

"Lord Leycester," he said, speaking pantingly, "you have saved my life."

"Nonsense!" said Leycester, shaking himself; "I have had a pleasant
bath, that's all!"

"You have saved my life," said Frank, solemnly. "I should never have
been able to force my way through that current alone. I know what a
weir stream is."

"Nonsense," said Leycester, again. Then he turned to where Stella
stood, white and trembling. "Don't be frightened, Stella; don't be
frightened, darling!"

The word was said before he could recall it, and he glanced at Frank.

Frank nodded.

"I know," he said with a smile. "I knew it half an hour ago; since you
first spoke to her."

"Frank!" murmured Stella.

"I knew he loved you," said Frank, calmly. "He could not help it; how
could anybody help it who knew you?"

Leycester laid his hand on the boy's arm.

"You must go home at once," he said, gently.

"You have saved my life," said Frank again. "Lord Leycester, I shall
never forget it. Perhaps some day I shall be able to repay you. It
seems unlikely; but remember the story of the lion and the mouse."

"Never mind the lion and the mouse," said Leycester, smiling, as he
wrung the Thames water from his clothes. "You must get home at once."

"But I do remember the lion and the mouse," said Frank, his teeth
chattering. "You have saved my life."

Meanwhile Stella stood wordless and motionless, her eyes wandering from
her lover to Frank.

Wordless, because she could find no words to express her admiration for
her lover's heroism.

At last she spoke.

"Oh, Leycester!" she said, and that was all.

Leycester took her in his arms and kissed her.

"Frank," he said, "you must keep our secret."

"I would lay down my life for either of you," said the boy, looking up
at him.

They went down to the boat in silence, and Leycester rowed them across
in silence; then, as they landed, Frank spoke again, and there was a
strange light in his eyes.

"I know," he said. "I know your secret. I would lay down my life for
you!"



CHAPTER XXI.


Stella hurried Frank across the meadows, a rather difficult task, as
he would insist upon talking, his teeth chattering, and his clothes
dripping.

"What a splendid fellow, Stella! What a happy girl you ought to be--you
are!"

"Perhaps I am," assented Stella, with a little smile; "but do you make
haste, Frank! Can't you run any faster? I'll race you to the lane!"

"No, you won't," he retorted cheerfully. "You run like a greyhound at
the best of times, and now I seem to have got a couple of tons clinging
to me, you'd beat me hollow. But, Stella! think of him plunging off the
beam! Many a man would have been satisfied to jump off the bank; if he
had, he wouldn't have saved me! He knew that; and he made nothing of
it, nothing! And that is the man they call a dandy and a fop!"

"Never mind what they call him, but run!" implored Stella.

"I don't know any other man who could have done it," he went on, his
teeth chattering; "and how friendly and jolly he was, calling me Frank
and telling me to call him Leycester! Stella, what a lucky girl you
are; but he is not a bit too good for you after all! No one is too good
for you! And he does love you, Stella; I could see it by the way he
looked at you, and you thought to hide it, and that I shouldn't see it.
Did you think I was a muff?"

"I think you will be laid up with a bad cold, sir, if you don't run!"
said Stella. "What will uncle say?"

Frank stopped short and his face paled; he seemed to shrink.

"My father must know nothing about it," he said. "Don't tell him,
Stella; I will get in the back way and change. Don't tell him!"

"But----" said Stella.

"No, no," he reiterated; "I don't want him to know. It will only
trouble him, and"--his voice faltered--"I have given him so much
trouble."

"Very well," said Stella. "But come along or you will be ill, and then
he must know."

This appeared to have the desired effect, and he took her hand and set
off at a run. They reached the lane, and were just turning into it,
when the tall, thin figure of Jasper emerged.

Both Stella and Frank stopped, and she felt his hand close in hers
tightly.

"Stella, here's that man Adelstone," he said, in a whisper of aversion.
"Must we stop?"

Jasper settled that question by raising his hat, and coming forward
with outstretched hand.

"Good-evening!" he said, his small, keen eyes glancing from Stella to
the boy, and taking in the fact of the wet clothes in a moment.

"What is the matter?"

"Nothing much," said Stella with a smile, and hurriedly. "My cousin has
fallen into the water. We are hurrying home."

"Fallen in the water!" said Jasper, turning and walking beside them.
"How did he manage that?"

Frank was silent, and Stella, with a little flush, said, gravely:

"We were on the water----"

"I was fishing from the weir," broke in Frank, pressing her hand,
warningly, "and I fell in; that is all."

There was something almost like defiance in the tone and the glance he
gave at the sinister face.

"Into the weir stream!" exclaimed Jasper, "and you got ashore! You must
be a good swimmer, my dear Frank!"

"I am--pretty well," said Frank, almost sullenly.

"Perhaps you had the waterman to help you," said Jasper, looking from
one to the other.

Then Stella, who felt that it would be better to speak out, said,
gravely:

"Lord Leycester was near, and leapt in and saved him."

Jasper's face paled, and an angry light shot from his eyes.

"How fortunate that he should happen to be near!" he said. "It was
brave of him!"

There was a suspicion of a sneer in the thin voice that roused the
spirit of the boy.

"It was brave," he said. "Perhaps you don't know what it is to swim
through a weir current, Mr. Adelstone?"

Jasper smiled down at the flushed, upturned face.

"No, but I think I should have tried if I had been lucky enough to be
in Lord Leycester's place."

"I'm very glad you weren't," said Frank, in a low voice.

"I am sure you would," said Stella, quickly. "Anyone would. Come,
Frank. Good-evening, Mr. Adelstone."

Jasper paused and looked at her. She looked very beautiful with her
flushed face and eager eyes, and his heart was beating rapidly.

"I came out hoping to see you, Miss Etheridge," he said. "May I come
in?"

"Yes, of course; uncle will be very pleased," she said. "But go in the
front way, please; we are going in at the back, because we don't wish
uncle to know. It would only upset him. You will not tell him, please?"

"You may always rely on my discretion," said Jasper.

Stella, still holding Frank's hand, dragged him into the kitchen, and
stopped Mrs. Penfold's exclamation of dismay.

"Frank has had an accident, Mrs. Penfold. Yes, he fell in the river.
I'll tell you all about it afterward; but he must change his things at
once--at once. Run up, Frank, and get into the blanket----"

"All right," he said; then, as he went out of the room, he took her by
the arm.

"Don't let that man stay, Stella. I--hate him."

"My dear Frank!"

"I hate him! What did he mean by sneering at Lord Leycester?"

"He doesn't like Lord Leycester," said Stella.

"Who cares?" exclaimed Frank, indignantly. "Curs are not particularly
fond of lions, but----"

Stella would hear no more, but pushed him up the stairs with anxious
impatience; then she went into the studio. As she neared the door she
could hear Jasper Adelstone's voice. He was talking to her uncle,
and something in the tone struck her as peculiar, and struck her
unpleasantly.

There was a tone of familiarity, almost of covert power in it that
annoyed her.

With her hand on the door she paused, and it seemed to her as if she
heard him speak her name; she was not sure, and she would not wait, but
with a little heightened color she opened the door and entered.

As she did so Jasper laid his hand upon the old man's arm as if to call
his attention to her entrance, and the painter turned round with a
start, and looking at her intently, said, with evident perplexity:

"A mere girl--a mere girl, Jasper!" and shaking his head, resumed his
work.

Jasper stood a moment, a smile on his face, watching Stella from the
corner of his eyes; then he said, suddenly:

"I have been admiring your roses, Miss Stella, and breaking the last
commandment. I have been coveting them."

"Oh!" said Stella. "Pray take any you like, there are such numbers of
them that we can spare them; can we not, uncle?"

As usual, the painter took no notice, and Jasper, in a matter-of-fact
voice, said:

"Do you mind coming out and telling me which I may cut? I only want
one or two to take to London with me, to brighten my dull rooms."

"Certainly," said Stella, moving toward the window. "Are you going to
London?"

He muttered something and followed her out, his eyes taking in the
lithe grace of her figure with a hungry wistfulness.

"Now then," said Stella, standing in the middle of the path and waving
her hand:

"Which shall it be, white rose or red?" and she smiled up at him.

He looked at her for a moment in silence. She had never appeared to
him more beautiful than this morning; there was a subtle light of
hidden joy shining in her eyes, a glow of youthful hope about her face
that set his heart beating with mingled pleasure and pain--delight in
the beauty which he had sworn should be his, pain and torture in the
thought that another--the hated Lord Leycester--had already looked upon
it that morning.

Even as he stood silently regarding her, a bitter suspicion smote
through his heart that the joyousness which shone from the dark eyes
had been set there by Lord Leycester. He bit his lip and his face went
pale, then with a start he came close to her.

"Give me which you please," he said. "Here is a knife."

Stella took the knife heedlessly and carelessly. There was no
significance in the deed; she did not know that he would attach any
importance to the fact that she should cut the rose and give it to him
with her own hand; if she had so understood it she would have dropped
the knife as if it had been an adder.

In simple truth she was not thinking of him--scarcely saw him; she was
thinking of that lover, the god of her heart, and seeing him as he
swam through the river foam. For she was scarcely conscious of Jasper
Adelstone's presence, and in the acuteness of his passion he almost
suspected it.

"White or red?" she said, knife in hand.

He glanced at her.

"Red," he said, and his lips felt hot and dry.

Stella cut a red rose--a dark red rose, and with a little womanly
gesture put it to her face; it was a little girlish trick, all
unthinking, unconsciously done, but it sent the blood to the heart of
the man watching her in a sudden, passionate rush.

"There," she said; "it is a beauty. They speak of the roses of
Florence, but give me an English rose, Florentine roses are fuller than
these, but not so beautiful--oh, not so beautiful! There," and she held
it out to him, without looking at him. If she had done so, she would
have surely read something in the white constrained face, and small,
glittering eyes that would have warned her.

He took it without a word. In simple truth he was trying to restrain
himself. He felt that the time was not ripe for action--that a word
of the devouring passion which consumed him would be dangerous, and
he whispered to himself, "Not yet! not yet!" But her loveliness, that
touch of the rose to his face, overmastered his cool, calculating
spirit.

"Thank you," he said at last; "thank you very much. I shall value it
dearly. I shall put it on my desk in my dark, grim room, and think of
you."

Then Stella looked up and started slightly.

"Oh!" she said, hurriedly. "You would like some more perhaps? Pray take
what you would like," and she held out the knife, and looked upon him
with a sudden coldness in the eyes that should have warned him.

"No, I want no more," he said. "All the roses that ever bloomed would
not add to my pleasure. It is this rose from your hand that I value."

Stella made a slight movement toward the window, but he put out his
hand.

"Stay one moment--only a moment," he said, and in his eagerness he put
out his hand and touched her arm, the arm sacred to Leycester.

Stella shrank back, and a little shudder swept through her.

"What--what is it!" she asked, in a low voice that she tried to make
calm and cold and repressive.

He stood, shutting and opening the knife with a nervous restlessness,
as unlike his calm impassability as the streaming torrent that forces
its way through the mountain gorge is like the lake at their feet; his
eyes fixed on her face with anxious eagerness.

"I want to speak to you," he said. "Only a few words--a very few words.
Will you listen to me? I hope you will listen to me."

Stella stood, her face turned away from him, her heart beating,
but coldly and with fear and repugnance, not as it had beat when
Leycester's low tones first fell upon her ear.

He moistened his lips again, and his hand closed over the shut knife
with a tight clasp, as if he were striving to regain self-command.

"I know it is unwise. I feel that--that you would rather not listen to
me, and that I shall do very little good by speaking, but I cannot.
There are times, Stella----"

Stella moved slightly at the familiar name.

"There are times when a man loses self-control, when he flings prudence
to the winds, or rather, lets it slip from him. This is one of those
moments, Stella--Miss Etheridge; I feel that I must speak, let it cost
me what it may."

Still silent, she stood as if turned to stone. He put his hand to his
brow--his white, thin hand, with its carefully trimmed nails--and wiped
away the perspiration that stood in big beads.

"Miss Etheridge, I think you can guess what it is I want to say, and I
hope that you will not think any the less of me because of my inability
to say it as it should be said, as I would have it said. Stella, if you
look back, if you will recall the times since first we met, you cannot
fail to know my meaning."

She turned her face toward him for a moment, and shook her head.

"You mean that I have no right to think so. Do you think that you, a
woman, have not seen what every woman sees so quickly when it is the
case--that I have learned to love you!"

The word was out at last, and as it left him he trembled.

Stella did not start, but her face went paler than before, and she
shrank slightly.

"Yes," he went on, "I have learned to love you. I think I loved you
the first evening we met; I was not sure then, and--I will tell you
the whole truth, I have sworn to myself that I would do it--I tried to
fight against it. I am not a man easily given to love; no, I am a man
of the world--one who has to make his way in the world, one who has an
ambition; and I tried to put you from my thoughts--I tried hard, but I
failed."

He paused, and eyed her watchfully. Her face was like a mask of stone.

"I grew to love you more day by day--I was not happy away from you.
I carried your image up with me to London--it came between me and my
work; but I was patient--I told myself that I should gain nothing by
being too rash--that I must give you time to know me, and to--to love
me."

He paused and moistened his lips, and looked at her. Why did she not
speak--of what was she thinking?

At that moment, if he could but have known it, she was thinking of her
true lover--of the young lord who had not waited and calculated, but
who had poured the torrent of his passionate love at her feet--had
taken her in his arms and made her love him. And as she thought, how
small, how mean this other man seemed to her!

"I gave you mine--I meant to give you more," he continued; "I want to
do something worthy of your love. I am--I am not a rich man, Stella--I
have no title--as yet----"

Stella's eyes flashed for a moment, and her lips closed. It was an
unlucky speech for him.

"No, not yet; but I shall have riches and title--I have set my mind
on them, and there is nothing that I have set my mind on that I have
not got, or will not get--nothing!" he repeated, with almost fierce
intensity.

Still she did not speak. Like a bird charmed, fascinated by a snake,
she stood, listening though every word was torture to her.

"I have set my mind on winning your love, Stella. I love you as few men
love, with all my heart and soul. There is nothing I would not do to
win you, there is nothing I would--pause at."

A faint shudder stole through her; and he saw it, and added, quickly:

"I would do anything to make you happy--move heaven and earth to see
you always smiling as you smiled this morning. Stella, I love you! What
have you to say to me?"

He stopped, white and seemingly exhausted, his thin lips tightly
compressed, his whole frame quivering.



CHAPTER XXII.


Stella, turned her eyes upon him, and something like pity took
possession of her for a moment. It was a womanly feeling, and it
softened her reply.

"I--am very sorry," she said, in a low voice.

"Sorry!" he repeated, hoarsely, quickly. "Do not say that!"

"Yes--I am very sorry," she repeated. "I--I--did not know----"

"Did not know that I loved you!" he retorted, almost sharply. "Were you
blind? Every word, every look of mine would have told you, if you had
cared to know----"

Her face flushed, and she raised her eyes to his with a flash of
indignation.

"I did not know!" she breathed.

"Forgive me!" he pleaded hoarsely. "I--I am very unfortunate. I offend
and anger you! I told you that I should not be able to say what I had
to say with credit to myself. Pray forgive me. I meant that though I
tried to hide my love, it must have betrayed itself. How could it be
otherwise? Stella, have you no other word for me?"

"None," she said, looking away. "I am very sorry. I did not know. But
it could not have been. Never."

He stood regarding her, his breath coming in long gasps.

"You mean you never can love me?" he asked.

Stella raised her eyes.

"Yes," she said.

His hand closed over the knife until the back of the blade pressed
deeply into the quivering palm.

"Never is--is a long day," he said, hoarsely. "Do not say 'never.' I
will be patient; see, I am patient, I am calm now, and will not offend
you again! I will be patient and wait; I will wait for years, if you
will but give me hope--if you will but try to love me a little!"

Stella's face paled, and her lips quivered.

"I cannot," she said, in a low voice. "You--you do not understand.
One cannot teach oneself to love--cannot _try_. It is impossible.
Besides--you do not know what you ask. You do not understand!"

"Do I not?" he said, and a bitter sneer curled the thin lips. "I do
understand. I know--I have a suspicion of the reason why you answer me
like this."

Stella's face burnt for a moment, then went pale, but her eyes met his
steadily.

"There is something behind your refusal; no girl would speak as you
do unless there was something behind. There is someone else. Am I not
right?"

"You have no right to ask me!" said Stella, firmly.

"My love gives me the right to ask. But I need not put the question,
and there is no necessity for you to answer. If you have been blind, I
have not. I have seen and noted, and I tell you, I tell you plainly,
that what you hope for cannot be. I say cannot--shall not be!" he
added, between his closed teeth.

Stella's eyes flashed as she stood before him glorious in her
loveliness.

"Have you finished?" she asked.

He was silent, regarding her watchfully.

"If you have finished, Mr. Adelstone, I will leave you."

"Stay," he said, and he stood in the path so that she could not pass
him, "Stay one moment. I will not ask you to reconsider your reply.
I will only ask you to forgive me." His voice grew hoarse, and his
eyes drooped. "Yes, I will beg you to forgive me. Think of what I am
suffering, and you will not refuse me that. Forgive me, Stella--Miss
Etheridge! I have been wrong, mad, and brutal; but it has sprung from
the depth of my love; I am not altogether to blame. Will you say that
you will forgive me, and that--that we remain friends?"

Stella paused.

He watched her eagerly.

"If--if," he said quickly, before she could speak--"if you will let
this pass as if it had not been--if you will forget all I have said--I
will promise not to offend again. Do not let us part--do not send me
away never to see you again. I am an old friend of your uncle's; I
should not like to lose his friendship; I think I may say that he would
miss mine. Let us be friends, Miss Etheridge."

Stella inclined her head.

"Thank you, thank you," he said, meekly, tremulously; "I shall be
very grateful for your friendship, Miss Stella. I will keep the rose
to remind me of your forbearance," and he was patting the rose in his
coat, when Stella with a start stretched out her hand.

"No! give it me back, please," she said.

He stood eying her.

"Let me keep it," he said; "it is a little thing."

"No!" she said, firmly, and her face burnt. "You must not keep it. I--I
did not think when I gave it to you! Give it me back, please," and she
held out her hand.

He still hesitated, and Stella, overstrained, made a step toward him.

"Give it me," she said. "I must--I will have it!"

An angry flush came on his face, and he held the rose from her.

"It is mine," he said. "You gave it to me; I cannot give it back."

The words had scarcely left his lips, when the rose was dashed from his
hand, and Frank stood white and panting between them.

"How dare you!" he gasped, passionately, his hands clinched, his eyes
gleaming fiercely upon the white face. "How dare you!" and with a
savage exclamation the boy dashed his foot on the flower, and ground it
under his heel.

The action, so full of scornful defiance, spurred Jasper back to
consciousness. With a smothered oath he grasped the boy's shoulders.

Frank turned upon him with the savage ferocity of a wild animal, with
upraised arm. Then, suddenly, like a lightning flash, Jasper's face
changed and a convulsive smile forced itself upon his lips.

He caught the arm and held it, and smiled down at him.

"My dear Frank," he murmured. "What is the matter?"

So sudden was the change, so unexpected, that Stella, who had caught
the boy's other arm, stood transfixed.

Frank gasped.

"What did you mean by keeping the rose?" he burst out.

Jasper laughed softly.

"Oh, I see!" he said, nodding with amused playfulness. "I see. You
were watching--from the window, perhaps, eh?" and he shook his arm
playfully. "And like a great many other spectators, took jest for
earnest! Impetuous boy!"

Frank looked at the pale, smiling face, and at Stella's downcast one.

"Is it true?" he asked Stella, bluntly.

"Oh, come!" said Jasper, reproachfully. "Isn't that rather rude? But I
must forgive you, and I do it easily, my dear Frank, when I remember
that your sudden onslaught was prompted by a desire to champion Miss
Stella! Now come, you owe me a rose, go and cut me one, and we will be
friends--great friends, will we not?"

Frank slid from his grasp, but stood eying him suspiciously.

"You will not?" said Jasper. "Still uncertain lest it should have been
sober earnest? Then I will cut one for myself. May I?" and he smiled at
Stella.

Stella did not speak, but she inclined her head.

Jasper went to one of the standards and cut a red rose deliberately and
carefully, and placed it in his coat, then he cut another, and with a
smile held it to Stella.

"Will that do instead of the one the stupid boy has spoiled?" he said,
laughing.

Stella would have liked to refuse it, but Frank's eyes were upon her.

Slowly she held out her hand and took the rose.

A smile of triumph glittered for a moment in Jasper's eyes, then he put
his hand on Frank's shoulder.

"My dear Frank," he said, in a soft voice, "you must be careful; you
must repress that impulsive temper of yours, must he not?" and he
turned to Stella and held out his hand. "Good-bye! It is so dangerous,
you know," he murmured, holding Stella's hand, but keeping his smiling
eyes fixed on the boy's face. "Why, some of these days you will be
doing someone an injury and find yourself in prison, doing as they call
it, six months' hard labor, like a common thief--or forger!" and he
laughed, as if it were the best joke in the world.

Not so Frank. As the bantering words left the thin, smiling lips, Frank
recoiled suddenly, and his face went white.

Jasper looked at him.

"And now you are sorry?" he said. "Tell me it was only your fun! Why,
my dear boy, you wear your heart on your sleeve! Well, if you would
really like to beg my pardon, you may do it."

The boy turned his white face toward him.

"I--beg--your--pardon," he said, as if every word cost him an agony,
and then, with a sudden twitch of the face, he turned and went slowly
with bent head toward the house.

Jasper looked after him with a steely, cruel glitter in his eyes, and
he laughed softly.

"Dear boy!" he murmured; "I have taken so fond a liking for him, and
this only deepens it! He did it for your sake. You did not think I
meant to keep the rose! No; I should have given it to you! But I may
keep this! I will! to remind me of your promise that we may still be
friends!"

And he let her hand go, and walked away.



CHAPTER XXIII.


Lord Leycester was on fire as he strode up the hill to the Hall, and
that notwithstanding he was wet to the skin. He was on fire with love.
He swore to himself, as he climbed up the slope, that there was no
one like his Stella, no one so beautiful, so lovable and sweet as the
dark-eyed girl who had stolen his heart from him that moonlight night
in the lane.

And he also vowed that he would wait no longer for the inestimable
treasure, the exquisite happiness that lay within his grasp.

His great wealth, his time honored title seemed as nothing to him
compared with the thought of possessing the first real love of his life.

He smiled rather seriously as he pictured his father's anger, his
mother's dismay and despair, and Lil's, dear Lilian's, grief; but it
was a smile, though a serious one.

"They will get over it when it has once been done. After all, barring
that she has no title and no money--neither of which are wanted, by the
way--she is as delightful a daughter-in-law as any mother or father
could wish for. Yes; I'll do it!"

But how? that was the question.

"There is no Gretna Green nowadays," he pondered, regretfully. "I wish
there were! A ride to the border, with my darling by my side, nestling
close to me all the way with mingled love and alarm, would be worth
taking. A man can't very well put up the banns in any out-of-the-way
place, because there are few out-of-the-way places where they
haven't heard of us Wyndwards. By Jove!" he muttered, with a little
start--"there is a special license. I was almost forgetting that! That
comes of not being used to being married. A special license!" and
pondering deeply he reached the house.

The party at the hall was very small indeed now, but Lady Lenore and
Lord Charles still remained. Lenore had once or twice declared that she
must go, but Lady Wyndward had entreated her to stay.

"Do not go, Lenore," she had said, with gentle significance. "You
know--you must know that we count upon you."

She did not say for what purpose she counted upon her, but Lenore
had understood, and had smiled with that faint, sweet smile which
constituted one of her charms.

Lord Charles stayed because Leycester was still there.

"Of course I ought to go, Lady Wyndward," he said; "you must be
heartily tired of me, but who is to play billiards with Leycester if
I go, or who is to keep him in order, don't you see?" and so he had
stayed, with one or two others who were only too glad to remain at the
Hall out of the London dust and turmoil.

By all it was quite understood that Lord Leycester should be considered
as quite a free agent, free to come and go as he chose, and never to
be counted on; they were as surprised as they were gratified if he
joined them in a drive or a walk, and were never astonished when he
disappeared without furnishing any clew to his intentions.

Lady Wyndward bore it all very patiently; she knew that what Lady
Longford had said was quite true, that it was useless to attempt to
drive him; but she did say a word to the old countess.

"There is something amiss!" she said, with a sigh, and the old countess
had smiled and shown her teeth.

"Of course there is, my dear Ethel," she retorted; "there always is
where he is concerned. He is about some mischief, I am as convinced as
you are. But it does not matter, it will come all right in time."

"But will it?" asked Lady Wyndward with a sigh.

"Yes, I think so," said the old countess, "and Lenore agrees with me,
or she would not stay."

"It is very good of her to stay," said Lady Wyndward, with a sigh.

"Very!" assented the old lady, with a smile. "It is encouraging. I am
sure she would not stay if she did not see excuse. Yes, Ethel it will
all come right; he will marry Lenore, or rather, she will marry him,
and they will settle down, and--I don't know whether you have asked me
to stand god-mother to the first child."

Lady Wyndward tried to feel encouraged and confident, but she felt
uneasy. She was surprised that Lenore still remained. She knew nothing
of that meeting between the proud beauty and Jasper Adelstone.

And Lenore! A great change had come over her. She herself could
scarcely understand it.

At night--as she sat before her glass while her maid brushed out the
long tresses that fell over the white shoulders like a stream of liquid
gold--she asked herself what it meant? Was it really true that she was
in love with Lord Leycester? She had not been in love with him when she
first came to the Hall--she would have smiled away the suggestion if
anyone had made it; but now--how was it with her now? And as she asked
herself the question, a crimson flush would stain the beautiful face,
and the violet eyes would gleam with mingled shame and self-scorn, so
that the maid would eye her wonderingly under respectfully lowered lids.

Yes, she was forced to admit that she did love him--love him with a
passion which was a torture rather than a joy. She had not known the
full extent of that passion until the hour when she had stood concealed
between the trees at the river, and heard Leycester's voice murmuring
words of love to another.

And that other! An unknown, miserable, painter's niece! Often, at
night, when the great Hall was hushed and still, she lay tossing to and
fro with miserable longing and intolerable shame, as she recalled that
hour when she had been discovered by Jasper Adelstone and forced to
become his confederate.

She, the great beauty--before whom princes had bent in homage--to be
love-smitten by a man whose heart was given to another--she to be the
confederate and accomplice of a scheming, under-bred lawyer.

It was intolerable, unbearable, but it was true--it was true; and in
the very keenest paroxysm of her shame she would confess that she would
do all that she had done, would conspire with even a baser one than
Jasper Adelstone to gain her end.

"She!" she would murmur in the still watches of the night--"she to
marry the man to whom I have given my love! It is impossible--it shall
not be! Though I have to move heaven and earth, it shall not be."

And then, after a sleepless night, she would come down to
breakfast--fair, and sweet, and smiling--a little pale, perhaps, but
looking all the lovelier for such paleness, without the shadow of a
care in the deep violet eyes.

Toward Leycester her bearing was simply perfection. She did not wish to
alarm him; she knew that a hint of what she felt would put him on his
guard, and she held herself in severe restraint.

Her manner to him was simply what it was to anyone else--exquisitely
refined and charming. If anything, she adopted a lighter tone, and
sought to and succeeded in calling forth his rare laughter.

She deceived him completely.

"Lenore in love with me!" he said to himself more than once; "the idea
is ridiculous! What could have made the mother imagine such a thing?"

And so they met freely and frankly, and he talked and laughed with her
at his ease, little dreaming that she was watching him as a cat watches
a mouse, and that not a thing he said or did escaped her.

She knew by instinct where he spent the times in which he was missing
from the Hall, and pictured to herself the meetings between him and the
girl who had robbed her of his love. And as the jealousy increased, so
did the love which created it. Day by day she realized still more fully
that he had won her heart--that it was gone to him forever--that her
whole future happiness depended upon him.

The very tone of his voice, so deep and musical--his rare laugh--the
smile that made his face so gay and bright--yes, even the bursts of the
passionate temper which lit up the dark eyes with sudden fire, were
precious to her.

"Yes, I love him," she murmured to herself--"it is all summed up in
that. I love him."

And Leycester, still smiling to himself over his mother's "amusing
mistake," was all unsuspecting. All his thoughts were of Stella.

Now as he came toward the terrace, she stood with Lady Longford and
Lord Charles looking down at him.

She watched him, her cheek resting on her white hand, her face hidden
from the rest by the sunshade, whose lining of hearty blue harmonized
with the golden hair, and "her heart hungered," as Victor Hugo says.

"Here's Leycester," said Lord Charles.

Lady Longford looked over the balustrade.

"What has he been doing? Rowing--fishing?"

"He went out with a fishing rod," said Lord Charles, with a grin, "but
the fish appear to have devoured it; at any rate Leycester hasn't got
it now. Hullo, old man, where have you been? Come up here!"

Leycester sprang up the steps and stood beside Lenore. It was the first
time she had seen him that morning, and she inclined her head and held
out her hand with a smile.

He took her hand; it was warm and soft, his own was still cold from his
bath, and she opened her eyes widely.

"Your hand is quite cold," she said, then she touched his sleeve, "and
you are wet. Where have you been?"

Leycester laughed carelessly.

"I have met with a slight accident, and gained a pleasant bath."

"An accident?" she repeated, not curiously, but with calm, serene
interest.

"Yes," he said, shortly, "a young friend of mine fell into the river,
and I joined company, just for company's sake."

"I understand," she said with a smile, "you went in to save him."

"Well, that's putting rather a fine point to it," he said, smilingly.

"But it's true. May one ask his name?"

Leycester flicked a piece of moss from the stone coping and hesitated
for a moment:

"His name is Frank," he said; "Frank Etheridge."

Lady Lenore nodded.

"A pretty name; I don't remember it. I hope he is grateful."

"I hope so," said Leycester. "I am sure he is more grateful than the
occasion merits."

The old countess looked round at him.

"What is it you say?" she said. "You have been in the river after some
boy, and you stand there lounging about in your wet clothes? Well, the
lad ought to be grateful, for though you will not catch your death,
you will in all probability catch a chronic influenza cold, and that's
worse than death; it's life with a pocket-handkerchief to your nose.
Go and change your things at once."

"I think I had better, after that fearful prognostication," said
Leycester, with a smile, and he sauntered off.

"Etheridge," said Lady Longford, "that is the name of that pretty girl
with the dark eyes who dined here the other night."

"Yes," said Lenore, indifferently, for the old countess looked at her;
she knew that the indifference was assumed.

"If Leycester doesn't take care, he will find himself in danger with
those dark eyes. Girls are apt to be grateful toward men who rescue
their cousins from a watery grave."

Lady Lenore shifted her sunshade and smiled serenely.

"No doubt she is very grateful. Why should she not be? Do you think
Lord Leycester is in danger? I do not." And she strolled away.

The old lady glanced at Lord Charles.

"That is a wonderful girl, Charles," she said, with earnest admiration.

"What, Lenore?" he said. "Rather. Just found it out, Lady Longford?"

"No, Mr. Impertinence. I have known it all along; but she astonishes me
afresh every day. What a great name she would have won on the stage.
But she will do better as Lady Wyndward."

Lord Charles shook his head, and whistled softly.

"Rather premature that, isn't it?" he said. "Leycester doesn't seem
very keen in that quarter, does he?"

Lady Longford smiled at him and showed her teeth.

"What does it matter how he seems?" she said. "It rests with her--with
her. You are a nice boy, Charles, but you are not clever."

"Just exactly what my old schoolmaster used to say before he birched
me," said Lord Charles.

"If you were clever, if you were anything else than unutterably stupid,
you would go and see that Leycester changes his clothes," snapped the
old lady. "I'll be bound he is sitting or lounging about in those wet
things still!"

"A nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse," said Lord Charles,
laughing. "I'll go and do as I am bidden. He will probably tell me to
go and mind my own business, but here goes," and he walked off toward
the house.

He found Leycester in the hands of his valet, being rapidly transferred
from wet flannels to orthodox morning attire, and apparently the valet
was not having a particularly easy time of it.

Lord Charles sank into a chair, and watched the performance with amused
interest.

"What's the matter Ley?" he asked, when the man left the room for a
moment. "You'll drive that poor devil into a lunatic asylum."

"He's so confoundedly slow," answered Leycester, brushing away at his
hair, which the valet had already arranged, and tugging at a refractory
scarf. "I haven't a moment to lose."

"May one ask whence this haste?" said Lord Charles, with a smile.

Leycester colored slightly.

"I've half a mind to tell you, Charlie," he said, "but I can't. I'd
better keep it to myself."

"I'm glad of it," retorted Lord Charles. "I'm sure it's some piece of
madness, and if you told me, you'd want me to take a hand in it."

"But that's just it," said Leycester, with a laugh. "You've got to take
a hand in it, old fellow."

"Oh!"

Leycester nodded and clapped him on the shoulder, with a musical laugh.

"The best of you, Charlie," he said, "is, that one can always rely on
you."

Lord Charles groaned.

"Don't--don't, Ley!" he implored. "I know that phrase so well; you
always were wont to use it when there was some particularly evil
piece of business to be done in the old days. Frankly, I'm a reformed
character, and I decline to aid and abet you in any further madness."

"This isn't madness," said Leycester;--"oh, keep outside a moment,
Oliver, I don't want you;--this is not madness, Charlie; it's the
sanest thing I've ever done in my life."

"I dare say."

"It is indeed. Look here! I am going up to London."

"I guessed that. Poor London!"

"Do stop and listen to me--I haven't a moment to spare. I want you to
do a little delicate service for me."

"I decline. What is it?" retorts Lord Charles, inconsistently.

"It is very simple. I want you to deliver a note for me."

"Oh, come, you know! Won't one of the army of servants, who devour the
land like locusts, serve your turn?"

"No; no none will do but yourself. I want this note delivered, at once.
And I don't want anyone but our two selves to know anything about it; I
don't want it to be carried about in one of the servant's pockets for
an hour or two."

Lord Charles stretched his legs and shook his head.

"Look here, Ley, isn't this rather too 'thin?'" he remonstrated. "Of
course it's to someone of the gentler sex!"

Leycester smiled.

"You are wrong," he said, with a smile. "Where's the Bradshaw, Oliver!"
and he opened the door. "Put out the note-paper, and then tell them to
get a dogcart to take me to the station."

"You will want me, my lord?"

"No, I am going alone. Look sharp!"

Oliver put out the writing materials and departed, and Leycester sat
down and stared for a moment at the crested paper.

"Shall I go?" asked Lord Charles, ironically.

"No, I don't mean to lose sight of you, old fellow," replied Leycester.
"Sit where you are."

"Can I help you? I am rather good at amorous epistles, especially other
people's."

"Be quiet."

Then he seized the pen and wrote:--

 "MY DEAR FRANK--I have inclosed a note for Stella. Will you give it
 to her when she is alone, and with your own hand! She will tell you
 that I have asked her to come with you by the eleven o'clock train
 to-morrow. Will you bring her to 24 Bruton Street? I shall meet
 you there instead of meeting you at the station. You see I put it
 quite simply, and am quite confident that you will help us. You know
 our secret, and will stand by us, will you not? Of course you will
 come without any luggage, and without letting anyone divine your
 intentions."

     "Yours, my dear Frank,

          "LEYCESTER."

This was all very well. It was easy enough to write to the boy, because
he, Leycester, knew that if he had asked Frank to walk through fire,
Frank would do it! But Stella?

A sharp pang of doubt assailed him as he took up the second sheet of
paper. Suppose she should not come!

He got up and strode to and fro the room, his brows knit, the old look
of determination on his face.

"Drop it, Ley," said Lord Charles, quietly.

Leycester stopped, and smiled down at him.

"You don't know what that would mean, Charlie," he said.

"Perhaps I do to--her, whomsoever it should be."

Then Leycester laughed outright.

"You are on the wrong track this time, altogether," he said, "quite
wrong."

And he sat down and plunged into his letter.

Like the first, it was very short.

 "MY DARLING,--Do not be frightened when you read what follows, and do
 not hesitate. Think, as you read, that our happiness depends upon your
 decision. I want you to come, with Frank, by the eleven o'clock train
 to London, whither I am going now. I want you to take a cab and go to
 24 Bruton Street, where I shall be waiting for you. You know what will
 happen, my darling! Before the morrow you and I will have set out on
 that long journey through life, hand-in-hand, man and wife. My pen
 trembles as I write the words. You will come, Stella? Think! I know
 what you will feel--I know as if I were standing beside you, how you
 will tremble, and hesitate, and dread the step; but you must take it,
 dearest! Once we are married all will go well and pleasantly. I cannot
 wait any longer: why should I? I have written to Frank, and confided
 him to your care. Trust yourself to him, throw all your doubts and
 fears to the winds. Think only of my love, and, may I add, your own?"

     "Yours ever,

          "LEYCESTER."

He inclosed Stella's letter in a small envelope, and that, with Frank's
letter, in a larger one, which he addressed to Frank.



CHAPTER XXIV.


"There," he said, balancing it on his finger and smiling, in his eager,
impatient way--"there is the missive, Charlie. Read the superscription
thereof."

Lord Charles took the letter gingerly, and shook his head.

"The lad you picked out of the water," he said. "What does it mean? I
wish you'd drop it, Ley."

Leycester shook his head.

"This is the last time I shall ask you to do me a favor, Charlie----"

"Till the next."

"You mustn't refuse. I want you to give this to the boy. You will find
him down at Etheridge's cottage. You cannot mistake him; he is a fair,
delicate-looking boy, with yellow hair and blue eyes."

Lord Charles hesitated and looked up with a grave light in his eyes and
a faint flush on his face.

"Ley," he said, in a low voice, "she is too good, far too good."

Lord Leycester's face flushed.

"If it were any other man, Charlie," he said, looking him full in the
eyes, "I should cut up rough. I tell you that you misunderstand me--and
you wrong me."

"Then," said Lord Charles, "it is almost a worse case. Ley, Ley, what
are you going to do?"

"I am going to do what no man on earth could prevent me doing," said
Leycester, calmly, but with a fierce light in his eyes. "Not even you,
Charlie."

Lord Charles rose.

"Give me the letter," he said, quietly. "At any rate, I know when
words are useless. Is there anything else? Shall I order a straight
waistcoat? This, mark my words, Ley!--this--if it is what I conjecture
it to be--this is the very maddest thing you have ever done!"

"It is the very wisest and sanest," responded Leycester. "No, there is
nothing else, Charlie. I may wire for you to-morrow. If I do, you will
come?"

"Yes, I will come," said Lord Charles.

Oliver knocked at the moment.

"The dogcart is waiting, my lord, and there is only just time."

Leycester and Lord Charles passed out and down the stairs.

The sound of laughter and music floated faintly through the parted
curtains of the drawing-room.

"What shall I say to them?" asked Lord Charles, nodding toward the room.

Leycester smiled, grimly.

"Tell them," he said, "that I have gone to town _on business_," and he
laughed quietly.

Then suddenly he stopped as if a thought had struck him, and glanced at
his watch.

"One moment," he said, and ran lightly up the stairs to Lilian's room.
Her maid met him at the door.

"Her ladyship is asleep," she said.

Leycester hesitated, then he signed to her to open the door, and
entered.

Lady Lilian lay extended on her couch, her eyes closed, a faint,
painful smile on her face.

He stood and looked at her a moment, then he bent and lightly touched
her lips with his.

"Good-bye, Lil," he murmured. "You at least will understand."

Then he ran down, putting on his gloves, and had one foot on the
dogcart step when Lady Wyndward came into the hall.

"Leycester," she said, "where are you going?"

He turned and looked at her rather wistfully. Lord Charles fingered the
letter in his pocket, and wished himself in Peru.

"To London, mother," he said.

"Why?" she asked.

It was an unusual question for her, who rarely asked him his
intentions, or the why and wherefore, and he hesitated.

"On business," he said.

She looked at the flushed face and the fire smoldering in his eyes, and
then at Lord Charles, who jingled the money in his pocket, and whistled
softly, with an air of pure abstraction.

"What is it?" she asked, and an unusual look of trouble and doubt came
into her eyes.

"Nothing that need trouble you, mother," he said. "I shall be back--"
he stopped; when should he be back?--"soon," he added.

Then he stooped and kissed her.

Lady Wyndward looked up into his eyes.

"Don't go, Leycester," she murmured.

Almost roughly, in his impatience, he put her arm from him.

"You don't know what you ask," he said. Then in a gentle tone he said
"Good-bye," and sprang into the cart.

The horse rose for a moment, then put his fore feet down and went off
like a rocket under the sharp cut of the whip, and Lady Wyndward, with
a sigh of apprehension, turned to where Lord Charles had stood.

Had stood; for he had seized the moment of departure to steal off.

He had helped Leycester in many a mad freak, had stood in with him in
many a wild adventure, which had cost them much after trouble and no
small amount of money, but Lord Charles had a shrewd suspicion that
this which he was asked to assist in was the climax of all that had
gone before. But he felt that he must do it. As we have said, there
were times when words were of as little use as chaff with Leycester,
and this was one of them.

Ruefully, but unshaken in his devotion, he went up-stairs for his hat
and stick, and sauntered down, still wishing that he could have been in
Peru.

"There will be a terrible storm," he muttered. "His people will cut up
rough, and I shall, of course, bear some portion of the blame; but
I don't mind that! It is Ley I am thinking of! Will it turn out all
right?"

He was asking himself the question dolefully and helplessly as he
descended the stairs, when he became conscious of the graceful form of
Lady Lenore standing in the hall and looking up at him.

She had watched Lord Leycester's departure from the window; she knew
that he was going to town suddenly--knew that Lord Charles had been
closeted with him, and now only needed to glance at Lord Charles'
rueful face to be convinced that something had happened. But there was
nothing of this in her smile as she looked up at him, gently fluttering
a Japanese fan, and holding back the trailing skirts with her white,
bejeweled fingers.

Lord Charles started as he saw her.

"By Jove!" he murmured, "if it is as I think, what will she do?" and
with an instinctive dread he felt half inclined to turn and reascend
the stairs, but Lenore was too quick for him.

"We have been looking for you, Lord Charles," she said, languidly.
"Some rash individual has proposed lawn-tennis; we want you to play."

Lord Charles looked confused. The letter burnt his pocket, and he knew
that he should know no peace until he got rid of it.

"Awfully sorry," he said; "going down to the post-office to post a
letter."

Lady Lenore smiled, and glanced archly at the clock.

"No post till seven," she said; "won't it do after our game?"

"No post!" he said, with affected concern. "Better telegraph," he
muttered.

"I'll get you a form!" she said, sweetly; "and you can send it by one
of the pages."

"Eh?" he stammered, blushing like a school-boy. "No, don't trouble;
couldn't think of it. After all it doesn't matter."

Then she knew that Leycester had given him some missive, and she
watched him closely. No poorer hand at deception than poor Charles
could possibly be imagined; he felt as if the softly-smiling velvet
eyes could see into his pocket, and his hand closed over the letter
with a movement that she noted instantly.

"It is a letter," she thought, "and it is for her."

And a pang of jealous fire ran through her, but she still looked up at
him with a languid smile.

"Well, are you coming?"

"Of course," he assented, with too palpably-feigned alacrity. And he
ran down the stairs.

She caught up a sun-hat and put it on, and pointed to the racquets that
stood in their stand in the hall. She would not let him out of her
sight for a moment.

"They are all waiting," she said.

He followed her on to the lawn. The group stood playing with the balls,
and waiting impatiently.

Lord Charles looked round helplessly, but he had no time to think.

"Shall we play together?" said Lenore. "We know each other's play so
well."

Lord Charles nodded, not too gallantly.

"All right," he said; and as he spoke, his hand wandered to his pocket.

The game commenced. They were well matched, and presently Lord Charles,
whose two games were billiards and tennis, got interested. He also got
warm, and taking off his coat, flung it on to the grass.

Lady Lenore glanced at it, and presently, as she changed places with
him, took off her bracelet and threw it on the coat.

"Jewelery is superfluous in tennis," she said, with a soft laugh. "We
mean to win this set, do we not, Lord Charles?"

He laughed.

"If you say so," he replied. "You always win if you mean it."

"Nearly always," she said, with a significant smile.

All the four were enthusiasts, if Lenore could be called enthusiastic
about anything, and the game was hotly contested. The sun poured
down upon their faces, but they played on, pausing occasionally for
the usual squabble over the scoring; the servants brought claret and
champagne cup; Lady Wyndward and the earl came out and sat in the
shade, watching.

"We shall win!" exclaimed Lord Charles, the perspiration running down
his face, his whole soul absorbed in the work, the letter entirely
forgotten.

"I think so," said Lady Lenore, but as she spoke she missed a long ball.

"How did you manage that?" he inquired.

"It is the racquet," she said, apologetically. "It is a little too
heavy. It always gets too heavy when I have been playing a little
while. I wish I had my other one."

"I'll send for it," he said, eagerly.

"No, no," she said. "They won't know which it is--they never do."

"I'll go for it, then," he said, gracefully. "Can't lose the game, you
know."

"Will you?" she said, eagerly. "It stands on the hall table----"

"I know," he said. "Wait a moment!" he called out to the others, and
bolted off.

Lenore looked after him for a moment, then she glanced round. The other
two were standing discussing the game; the on-lookers were gathered
round the champagne cup. Lady Wyndward was lost in thought, with eyes
bent to the ground.

The beauty's eyes flashed, and her face grew slightly pale. Her eyes
wandered to the coat, she hesitated for a moment, then she walked
leisurely toward it and stooped down and picked up the bracelet. As she
did so she turned the coat over with her other hand, and drew the note
from the pocket.

A glance put her in possession of the address, and she returned the
note to its place, and strolled back to the tennis-court with an
unmoved countenance; but her heart beat fast, as her acute brain seized
upon the problem and worked it out.

A note to the boy! A letter which can be confided to no less trusty a
hand than Lord Charles! Leycester's sudden departure for London! Lord
Charles's confusion and embarrassment! Secresy and mystery! What does
it mean?

A presentiment seemed to possess her that a critical moment had
arrived. She seemed to feel, by instinct, that some movement was in
progress by which she should lose all chance of securing Leycester.

Her heart beat fast, so fast that the delicate veins in her white
hands throbbed; but she still smiled, and even glided across to Lady
Wyndward, who sat thoughtfully in the shade, looking at the tennis, but
thinking of Leycester.

She looked up as the tall graceful figure approached.

"You are tiring yourself to death, my dear," she said, with a sigh.

"No, I am enjoying it. What is the matter?"

Lady Wyndward looked at her candidly.

"I am troubled about my only troublous subject. Leycester has gone off
again."

"I know," was the quiet answer.

"Where, I know not; he said London. I don't know why I should feel
particularly uneasy, but I do. There is some plot afoot between Lord
Charles and him."

"I know it," smiled Lenore, "Lord Charles is not good at keeping a
secret. He makes a very bad conspirator."

"He would do anything for Leycester, any mad thing," sighed Lady
Wyndward.

The beautiful face smiled down at her thoughtfully for a moment, then
Lenore said:

"Do you think you could keep Lord Charles on the tennis-lawn, here, for
half-an-hour?"

"Why?" asked Lady Wyndward. "Yes, I think so."

"Do so, then," replied Lady Lenore, "I will tell you why afterward.
Lord Charles is very clever, no doubt, but I think I am cleverer, don't
you?"

"I think you are all that is good and beautiful, my dear," sighed the
anxious mother.

"Dear Lady Wyndward," softly murmured the beauty. "Well, keep him
chained here for half-an-hour, and leave the rest to me. I am not apt
to ask unreasonable requests, dear."

"No. I'll do anything you want or tell me," replied Lady Wyndward. "I
am full of anxious fears, Lenore. Do you know what it means?"

Lady Lenore hesitated.

"No. I do not know, but I think I can guess. See, here he comes."

Lord Charles came striding along, swinging the racquet.

"Here you are, Lady Lenore. Is that the right one?"

"Yes," she said, "but I can't play any longer. I am so sorry, but I
have hurt my hand. No, it's a mere nothing. I am going in to bathe it."

"Oh, it's an awful pity," said Lord Charles. "I am very sorry. Well,
the game is over. We must play it out another day. I'm going down to
the village, and I'll call at the chemist's for a lotion. I expect you
have sprained your hand." And suddenly, reminded of his mission, he was
walking toward his coat, but Lenore glanced at the countess, and Lady
Wyndward stopped him with a word.

"We can't have the game stopped," she said. "Here is Miss Dalton dying
to play, aren't you, dear?" she said, turning to a young girl who had
been watching the game. "Yes, I knew it. You must take her in place of
Lenore. Go on, my dear."

Miss Dalton, or Miss any one else, would as soon have thought of
disobeying Lady Wyndward as jumping off the top story of the Hall, and
the girl rose obediently and took the racquet which Lenore smilingly
held out to her.

Then what did Lenore do? She walked deliberately to Lord Charles'
coat, dropped her bracelet on it, stooped, picked up the bracelet,
and abstracted the letter, and concealing the latter in her sunshade,
glided toward the house.

With fast beating heart she gained her own room and locked the door.

Then she drew the letter from her sunshade and eyed it as a thief might
eye a safe in which lay the treasure he coveted.

Then she rang the bell and ordered some hot water.

"I have sprained my wrist," she said, in explanation, "and I want the
water very hot."

The maid brought the water and offered to bathe the wrist, but Lady
Lenore sent her away, and locked the door again.

Then she held the envelope over the steaming jug and watched the paper
part.

Even then she hesitated, even as the note lay open to her.

This which she contemplated doing was the meanest act a mortal could be
guilty of, and hitherto she had scorned all baseness and meanness. But
love is stronger than a sense of right and wrong in some women, and it
overcame her scruples.

With a sudden compression of the lips she drew out the note and read
it, and as she read it her face paled. Every word of endearment stabbed
her straight to the heart, and made her writhe.

"My darling!" she murmured; "my darling! How he must love her!" and for
a moment she sat with the letter in her hand overcome by jealousy and
misery. Then, with a start, she roused herself. Let come what might,
the thing should not happen. This girl should not be Leycester's wife.

But how to prevent it? She sat and thought as the precious moments
ticked themselves out into eternity, and suddenly she remembered
Jasper Adelstone--remembered him with a scornful contempt, but still
remembered him.

"Any port in a storm," she said; "a drowning man clings to a straw, and
he is no straw."

Then she inclosed the letter in its envelope, and taking out the
writing-case wrote on a scented sheet of paper: "Meet me by the weir
at eight o'clock." This she inclosed in an envelope, and addressed to
Jasper Adelstone, Esq., and with the two notes in her hand returned to
the tennis lawn.

They were still playing--Lord Charles absorbed in the game, and once
more quite oblivious of the letter.

She stood and watched them for a minute; then she went and sank down
beside the jacket, and hiding the movements with her sunshade, restored
Leycester's letter to its place.

A few minutes afterward the single line she had written was on its way
to Jasper.



CHAPTER XXV.


"I am Frank Etheridge," said Frank, looking up at Lord Charles, as
the latter stopped at the little gate in the lane. "Yes, I am Frank
Etheridge." And as he repeated the sentence, a shy, almost a timid,
apprehensive expression came into his eyes.

"All right," said Lord Charles, looking round with a most inconsistent
look of caution on his frank, handsome face. "Then I have a letter for
you."

"For me!" said Frank, and his face paled.

Lord Charles eyed him with astonishment.

"What is the matter?" he said. "What are you alarmed at? I am not a
bailiff--I am only Mercury." And he chuckled at the joke at his own
expense. "I have a letter for you--from my friend Lord Leycester."

Frank's face lit up, and he held out his hand promptly.

Lord Charles took the letter from his pocket and turned it over quickly.

"It's got tumbled and creased," he said. "Fact is, I ought to have
given it to you an hour or two ago, but I was led on to tennis and
forgot it."

"Oh, it's all right," said Frank, eagerly. "I am very much obliged,
sir. Won't you come in? My father and my cousin Stella will be glad to
see you."

But Lord Charles shook his head, and glanced at the pretty cottage,
with its air of peace which surrounded it, with something like a pang
of remorse.

"I do hope this will all turn out right," he thought. "Leycester
means well, but he is as likely as not to bungle it in one of his
mad humors!" Then aloud, he said, "No, I won't come in, but----" he
hesitated a moment, "but will you tell your cousin--Miss Etheridge,
that--that----" Simple Lord Charles hesitated and took off his hat, and
stared at the maker's name for a moment. "Well, look here, you know, if
either you or she want any assistance--want a friend, you know--come
to me. I shall be at the Hall. You understand, don't you? My name is
Guildford."

Frank nodded, and took Lord Charles's extended hand.

"Thank you, very much, Lord Guildford," he said.

And Lord Charles, with another rather rueful glance at the cottage,
retired.

Frank tore open the envelope and devoured the contents of the short
and pregnant note, then he went in search of Stella.

She was sitting at the organ, not playing, but touching the keys with
her fingers, a rapt look of meditation on her face. Mr. Etheridge was
hard at work making the best of the golden evening light.

Stella started as the boy came in, and would have spoken, but he put
his finger to his lips and beckoned her.

They both passed out without attracting the attention of the absorbed
artist, and Frank drew Stella into the garden, and to a small arbor at
the further end. She looked at his flushed, excited face with a smile.

"What does this mysterious conduct mean, Frank?" she asked.

He put his arm round her and drew her to a seat.

"I've got something for you, Stella," he said. "What will you give me
for it? It is worth--well, untold treasure, but I'll be satisfied with
a kiss."

She bent and kissed his forehead.

"Of course it is nothing," she said, with a laugh; but as he took the
letter from his pocket and held it up her face changed. "What is it
Frank?"

He put the letter in her hand, and, with an instinctive delicacy got up
and walked away.

"Read it, Stel," he said. "I'll be back directly."

Stella took the letter and opened it. When Frank came back she was
sitting with the open letter in her hand, her face very pale, her eyes
filled with a strange light.

"Well!" he said.

"Oh Frank," she breathed, "I cannot do it! I cannot!"

"Cannot!" he exclaimed. "You must! Why, Stella, of what are you afraid?
I shall be with you."

She shook her head slowly.

"It is not that. I am not afraid," and there was a touch of pride in
her voice. "Do you think I am afraid of--of Leycester?"

"No!" he retorted. "I should think not! I would trust him, if I were in
your place, to the end of the world. I know what he has asked you to
do, Stel, and you--we--must do it!"

Stella looked at him.

"And uncle!"

The boy colored, but his eyes met hers steadily.

"Well, it will not hurt him! He will not mind. He likes Lord Leycester,
and when we come back and tell him he will be only too grateful that it
is all over without any fuss or trouble. You know that, Stel!"

She did know it, but her heart still misgave her. With a touch of color
in her pale face at the thought of what "it" meant, she said gently.
"He has been a father to me, Frank; ah, you do not know!"

"Yes, I do," he said, shortly; "but a husband is more than a father,
Stella. And my father won't be any the less fond of you because you are
Lady Leycester Wyndward!"

"Oh, hush--hush!" breathed Stella, glancing round as if she feared the
very shrubs and flowers might hear.

Frank threw himself beside her, and laying his hand on her arm, looked
up into her beautiful face with eager entreaty.

"You will go, Stel; you will do what he asks!" and Stella looked down
at him with gentle wonder. Leycester himself could not have pleaded his
own cause more earnestly.

"Don't you see, Stel?" he said, answering her look, for she had not
spoken; "I would do anything for him--anything! He risked his life
for me, but it is not only that; it is because he has treated me
so--so--well, I can't explain; but I would do anything for him, Stella.
I--I love you! you know; but--but I feel as if I should _hate_ you if
you refused to do what he asks!"

Stella's eyes glistened; it made her heart throb to hear the boy's
championship of the man she loved.

"Besides," he continued; "why should you hesitate? For it is for your
own happiness--for the happiness of us all! Think! you will be the
future Countess of Wyndward, the mistress of the Hall."

Stella looked at him reproachfully.

"Frank!"

"Yes, I know you don't care about that, neither do I much, but other
people will. My father will be glad--he could not help being so, and
then you will be safe."

"Safe? What do you mean?" asked Stella.

He hesitated. Then he looked up at her with an angry resentful flash in
his blue eyes.

"Stel! I was thinking of that fellow Adelstone. I don't like him! I
hate him, in fact; and I hate him all the more because he has set his
mind upon having you."

Stella smiled and shook her head.

"Oh, of course you can't see any harm in him. It's quite right you
shouldn't--you are a girl, and don't know the world; but I know
something of men, and I say that Jasper Adelstone is not a man to be
trusted."

"_I_ don't like him," said Stella, in a low tone, "but I am quite
'safe,' as you call it, without marry--without doing what you and
Leycester wish."

"I don't know," he muttered, gloomily. "At any rate, you _would_ be
safe then, and--and, Stella, you _must_ go. See, now, Leycester has
trusted you to me--has placed this in my hands. It is as if he said, 'I
saved your life--you promised to help me. Here is something to do--do
it!' And I will. You will go. Think, Stel!--A few short hours and you
will be Lady Leycester!"

She did think of it, and her heart beat tumultuously.

Yes, she would be safe not only from Jasper Adelstone, but from Lady
Lenore, whom she feared more than she did twenty Jasper Adelstones.
Leycester would be her own, her very own; and though she did not care
much for the Wyndward coronet, she did care for him.

She covered her face with her hands, and sat quite motionless for a few
minutes, the boy watching her eagerly, impatiently; then she dropped
her hands, and looked down at him with the quiet, grave, resolute smile
which he knew so well.

"Yes, Frank, I will do it," was all she said.

He kissed her hand gratefully.

"Think it is Lord Leycester thanking you, Stel," he whispered. "And
now for the preparations. You must pack a small bag, and I will do
the same, and then I must take them down the lane and hide them; it
wouldn't do to go out of the house in the morning with the bags in
our hands--Mrs. Penfold would raise the neighborhood, and we must
stroll out as if we were strolling down to the river. But there!"--he
broke off, for he saw Stella's face, always so eloquent, beginning to
show signs of irresolution--"leave it all to me--I'll see to it! Lord
Leycester knew he could trust me."

Stella sat for a few minutes in silence, thinking of the old man who
had received her in her helplessness, who had loved and treated her as
a daughter, and whom she was about to deceive.

Her heart smote her keenly, but still Frank had spoken the
truth--husband was more than father, and Leycester would be her husband.

She stooped and kissed the boy.

"I must go in now, Frank," she said. "Do not say any more. I will go,
but I cannot talk of it."

She went in; the dusk was falling, and the old man stood beside his
easel eying it wistfully.

She went and drew him away.

"No more to-night, uncle," she said, in tones that quivered
dangerously. "Come and sit down; come and sit and watch the river, as
you sat the day I came; do you remember?"

"Yes--yes, my dear," he murmured, sinking into the chair, and taking
the pipe she filled for him. "I remember the day. It was a happy day
for me; it would be a miserable day the day you left me, Stella!"

Stella hid her face on his shoulder, and her arm went round his neck.

He smoothed her hair in silence.

"Where is Frank?" he asked, dreamily.

"In the garden. Shall I call him? Dear Frank! He is a dear boy, uncle!"

"Yes," he answered, musingly, then he roused slightly. "Yes, Frank is a
good boy. He has changed greatly; I have to thank you for that too, my
dear!"

"Me, uncle?"

The old man nodded, his eyes fixed on the distant lights of the Hall.

"Yes, it is your influence, Stella. I have watched and noticed it.
There is no one in the world who has so much power over him. Yes, he is
a good boy now, thanks to you!"

What could she say? Her heart throbbed quickly. Her influence! and she
was now going to help him to deceive his father--for her sake!

In silence she hid her face, and a tear rolled down her cheek and fell
upon his arm.

"Uncle," she murmured, "you know I love you! You know that! You will
always remember and believe that, whatever--whatever happens."

He nodded all unsuspectingly, and smiled.

"What is going to happen, Stella?" he asked; but even as he asked his
gaze grew dreamy and absent, and she, looking in his face, was silent.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the clock struck the hour Jasper Adelstone threaded his way through
the wood, and stood concealed behind the oak by the weir.

He had not spent a pleasant time since the avowal of his love to
Stella, and her refusal. Most men would have been daunted and
discouraged at such a refusal, so scornfully, so decidedly given, but
Jasper Adelstone was not the sort to be so easily balked. Opposition
only served to whet his appetite and harden his resolution.

He had set his mind upon gaining Stella; he had set his mind upon
balking Lord Leycester, and he was not to be turned from his purpose by
her refusing his addresses or the petulance of the boy who had chosen
to insult and set him at defiance.

But he had passed a bad time of it, and was meditating a renewal of the
attack when Lady Lenore's note was brought to him. Although it bore no
signature, he knew from whence it came, and he knew that something had
happened of importance or she would not have sent for him.

Another man might have vented his spite, and taken revenge for the
haughty insolence displayed by her on their former meeting, by keeping
her waiting, but Jasper Adelstone was not altogether a mean man, and
certainly not such a fool as to risk an advantage for the sake of
gratifying a little private malice.

He was punctual to the minute, and stood watching the weir and the
path by turns, with a face that was naturally calm and self-possessed,
though in reality he was burning with impatience.

Presently he heard the rustle of a dress, and saw her coming swiftly
and gracefully through the trees. She wore a dark dress of some soft
stuff, that clung to her supple figure and awoke for a moment his sense
of admiration, but only for a moment; bad as he was, he was faithful
and of single purpose; he had no thought of anyone but Stella. If Lady
Lenore had laid her rank and her wealth at his feet he would have
turned from them.

Lenore came down the path, neither looking to the right nor the left,
but straight before her, her head held up haughtily and her whole gait
as full of pride and conscious power as if she were treading the floor
of a London ball-room. Even in doing a mean thing, she could not do it
meanly. Arrived at the weir she stood for a moment looking down at the
water, her gloved hand resting on the wooden sill, and Jasper watching
her, could not but wonder at her calm self-possession.

"And yet," he thought, "she has more at stake than I. She has a
coronet--and the man she loves," and the thought gave him courage, as
he came out and stood before her, raising his hat.



CHAPTER XXVI.


She turned and inclined her head haughtily, and waited, as if for him
to speak, but Jasper remained silent. She had sent for him; he was here!

At last she spoke.

"You received my note, Mr. Adelstone?"

"I am here," he said, with a slight smile.

She bit her lip, her pride revolting at his presence, at his very tone.

"I sent for you," she said, after a pause, and in the coldest tone,
"because I have some information which I thought would interest you."

"Your ladyship is very good," he said.

"And because," she went on, scorning to accept his thanks, "I thought
you might be of service."

He inclined his head. He would not meet her half way--would not help
her. Let her tell him why she had sent for him, and he would throw
himself into the case, not till then.

"The last time that we met you said words which I am not likely to have
forgotten."

"I have not forgotten them," he said, "and I am prepared to stand by
them."

"You profess to be willing--to be eager to prevent a certain
occurrence?"

"If you mean the marriage of Lord Leycester and Stel--Miss Etheridge, I
am more than willing; I am determined to prevent it!"

"You speak with great confidence," she said.

"I am always confident, Lady Lenore," he said. "It is by confidence
that great things are achieved; this is only a small one."

"And yet it may be beyond your power to achieve," she said, scornfully.

"I think not," he retorted, quietly and gravely.

"Be that as it may," she said, "I have come here this evening to place
in your hands a piece of information respecting the girl in whom you
profess to take an interest."

The blood came to his pale face, and his eyes gleamed with sudden
resentment.

"By 'the girl,' do you refer to Miss Stella Etheridge?" he said,
quietly. "If so, permit me to remind your ladyship that she is a lady!"

Lady Lenore made a gesture of haughty indifference.

"Call her what you please," she said, coldly, insolently. "I did refer
to her."

"And to the man in whom you take an interest?" he said, with an
insolence that matched her own.

The dark red flamed in her face, and she looked at him.

"That is a side of the question which we will not enter upon, if you
please, Mr. Adelstone," she said.

"I am to understand, then," he said, with quiet scorn, "that you came
here this evening by your own appointment to do me a service. Is that
so?"

He had roused her at last.

"Understand, think what you will," she said, in a low, strange voice;
"let there be no parley between us. I wanted to see you and sent for
you, and you are here, let that suffice. You wish to prevent the
marriage of Lord Leycester and _the lady_ whom we saw him with at this
spot. You speak confidently of your power to do so; you will have a
speedy opportunity of testing that power, for Lord Leycester intends
marrying her to-morrow, or at latest the next day."

He did not start, neither did he turn pale, but he looked at her
calmly, fixedly; she knew that her shaft had told home, and she stood
and watched and enjoyed.

"How do you know this?" he asked, quietly, in a very low voice.

She paused. It was a bitter humiliation to have to admit to this man,
whom she regarded as the dust under her feet, that she, the Lady
Lenore, had stooped so low as to steal and read a letter addressed to
another person, and that person her rival--but it had to be admitted.

"I know it because he wrote and made arrangements for her flight and
their clandestine meeting."

"How do you know it?" he asked, and his voice was dry and harsh.

She paused a moment.

"Because I saw the letter," she said, eying him defiantly.

He smiled--even in his agony and fury he smiled at her humiliation.

"You have indeed done much in my service," he said, with a sneer.

"Yours!" came fiercely to her lips; then she made a gesture of
contempt, as if he were beneath her resentment.

"You saw the letter," he said. "What were the arrangements? When and
where was she to meet him? Curse him!" he ground out between his teeth.

"She is to go to London by the eleven o'clock train to-morrow, and he
will meet her and take her to 24 Bruton Street," she said, curtly.

He choked back the oath that came to his lips.

"Meet him, and alone!" he muttered, the sweat breaking out on his
forehead, his lips writhing.

"No, not alone; a boy, her cousin, is to accompany them."

"Ah!" he said, and a malignant smile curled his lips; "I can scotch
that small snake; but him--Lord Leycester!" and his hands clinched.

He took a turn in the narrow path, and then came back to her.

"And afterward?" he asked. "What is to follow?"

She shook her head with contemptuous indifference, and leant against
the wooden rail, looking down at the bubbling, seething water.

"I do not know. I imagine, as the boy accompanies her, that he will
get a special license, and--marry her. But, perhaps"--and she glanced
round at his white face with a malicious smile--"perhaps the boy is a
mere blind, and Lord Leycester will dispose of him."

"And then?"

"Then," she said, slowly. "Well, Lord Leycester's character is
tolerably well known; in all probability he will not find it necessary
to make the girl--I beg your pardon! the young lady--the future
Countess of Wyndward."

She had gone too far. As the cruel, fearful words left her lips in all
their biting, merciless scorn and contempt, he sprang upon her and
seized her by the arm.

Her feet slipped, and she turned and clung to him, half her body
hanging over the white foaming water.

For a moment they stood there, his gleaming eyes threatening death
into hers, then, with a sudden long breath as if he had mastered his
murderous impulse, he stepped backward, and drew her with him into
safety.

"Take care!" he said, wiping the perspiration from his white forehead
with a trembling hand. "Your ladyship nearly went too far! You forget
that I love this girl, as you call her, though she is an angel of light
and a star of nobility beside you, who stoop to open letters and utter
slander! Take care!"

She eyed him with a cruel scorn in her eyes and on her lips, that were
white and shamed.

"You would murder me," she said.

He laughed a low, dry laugh.

"I would murder anyone who spoke of her as you spoke," he said, with
quiet intensity. "So be warned, my lady. For the future, teach your
proud temper respect when it touches her name. Besides"--and he made
a gesture as of contempt--"it was a foolish lie. You know that he
intended nothing of the kind; you know that she is too pure even for
his dastardly heart to compass her destruction. I imagine it is that
which makes you hate her so. Is it not? No matter. Now that you are
warned, and that you have learnt that I, Jasper Adelstone, am no mere
slave to dance or writhe at your pleasure, we will return to the
purport of the meeting. Will you not sit down?" and he pointed to the
weir stage.

She was trembling from sheer physical weakness, combined with impotent
rage and fury, but she would rather have died than obey him.

"Go on," she said. "What have you to say?"

"This," he returned. "That this marriage must be prevented, and that
Miss Etheridge's good name must be preserved and protected. I can
prevent this marriage even now, at the last hour. I will do so, on the
condition that you give me your promise that you will never while life
lasts speak of this. I have not much fear that you will do so; even you
will hesitate before you proclaim to a third person your capability of
opening another person's letters!"

"I promise," she said, coldly. "And how will you prevent this? You do
not know the man against whom you intend to pit yourself. Beware of
him! Lord Leycester is a man who will not be trifled with."

"Thanks" he retorted. "You are very kind to warn me, especially as you
would very much like to see me at Lord Leycester's feet. But I need no
warning. I deal with her, not with him. How, is my affair."

She rose.

"I will go," she said, coldly.

"Stay," he said; "you have got your part to do!"

She eyed him with haughty surprise.

"I?"

He nodded.

"Let me think for a moment," and he took a turn on the path, then he
came back and stood beside her.

"This is your part," he said, in low, distinct tones, "and remember
that the stake you are playing for is as great and greater than mine.
I am playing for love, you are playing for love, and for wealth, and
rank, and influence, all that makes life worth living for, for such as
you."

"You are insolent!"

"No, I am simply candid. Between us two there can be no further
by-play or concealment. If she obeys this command of his, and--" and
he groaned--"I fear she will obey it! they will start by the eleven
o'clock train, and he will await them at the London terminus. They must
start by that train but they must not reach the terminus."

She started, and eyed him in the dusk.

He smiled sardonically.

"No, I do not take extreme measures until they are absolutely
necessary, Lady Lenore. It is an easy matter to prevent them reaching
the terminus, a very easy one--it is only a matter of a forged note."

Her lips moved.

"A forged note?"

He nodded.

"Yes; having bidden her take a decided course, he must write and alter
his instructions. Do you not understand?"

She was silent, watching him.

"A note must come from him--it will be better to write to the boy,
because he is not familiar with Lord Leycester's hand-writing--telling
them to get out at the station before London, at Vauxhall. They are to
get out and go to the entrance, where they will find a brougham, which
will take them to him. You understand?"

"I understand," she said. "But the note--who is to forge--write it?"

He smiled at her with malignant triumph.

"You."

"I?"

He smiled again.

"Yes, you. Who so well able to do it? You are an adept at manipulating
correspondence, remember, my lady!"

She winced, and her eyes blazed under their lowered lids.

"You know his hand-writing, you can easily obtain access to his writing
materials; the paper and envelope will bear the Wyndward crest. The
note can be delivered by a servant from the Hall."

She was silent, overwhelmed by the power of his cunning, and a
reluctant admiration of his resource and ready ingenuity took
possession of her. As he had said, he was no slave--no puppet to be
worked at will.

"You see," he said, after allowing a moment for his scheme to sink into
her brain, "the note will be delivered almost at the last moment, at
the carriage door, as the train starts. You will do it?"

She turned away with a last effort.

"I will not!"

"Good," he said. "Then I will find some other means. Stella Etheridge
shall never be Lord Leycester's wife; but neither shall a certain Lady
Lenore Beauchamp."

She turned upon him with a scornful smile.

"To-morrow, when he stands balked and discomfited, filled with impotent
rage, and sees me carry her off before his eyes, I will give him
something to console him. This little note to wit, and a full account
of _your_ share in this conspiracy which robs him of his prey."

"You will not dare!" she breathed, her head erect, her eyes blazing.

"Dare!" and he laughed. "What is there to dare? Come, my lady! It is
not my fault if you remain in ignorance of the nature of the man you
are dealing with. Work with me and I will serve you, desert me--for it
would be desertion--and I will thwart you. Which is it to be? You will
write and send the note!"

She moved her hand.

"What else?"

A gleam of triumph shot from his small eyes. He thought for a moment.

"Only this" he said, "and it is your welfare that I am now thinking
of. When Lord Leycester returns from his fruitless errand, he will be
in a fit state for consolation. You can give it to him. I have greatly
over-rated the ingenuity and tact of Lady Lenore Beauchamp if that tact
and ingenuity does not enable her to bring Lord Leycester Wyndward to
her feet before the month has passed."

Pale and humiliated, but still meeting his sneering contemptuous gaze
with steadfast eyes, she inclined her head.

"Is that all?"

"That is all," he said. "I can rely on you. Yes, I think--I am sure I
can. After all, our interests are mutual!"

She gathered her shawl round her, and moved toward the path.

He raised his hat.

"When next we meet, Lady Lenore, it will be as strangers who have
nothing in common. The past will have been wiped out from both our
minds and our lives. I shall be the chosen husband of Stella Etheridge
and you will be the Lady Trevor and future Countess of Wyndward. I
never prophesy in vain, my lady; I never prophesied more confidently
than I do now. Good-night."

She did not return his greeting--scarcely looked at him, but glided
quietly into the darkness.



CHAPTER XXVII.


Sleep kept afar off from Stella's eyelids that night. The momentous
morrow loomed before her, at one moment filling her with a nameless
dread, at another suffusing her whole being with an equally nameless
ecstasy.

Could it be possible that to-morrow--in a few hours--she would be
Leycester's wife? There was enough in the reflection to banish sleep
for a week.

Let us do her justice. Love and not ambition was the sentiment that
moved and agitated her. It was not the thought of the title and the
wealth which awaited her, not the future Wyndward coronet which set her
trembling and her heart throbbing, but the reflection that Leycester,
her lover, her ideal of all that was great and noble, and manfully
beautiful, would be her own, all her own.

At an early hour she heard Frank wandering up and down outside her
door, and at last he knocked.

"Are you getting up, Stel?" he asked, in a whisper.

Stella opened the door and stood before him in her plain stuff dress,
which Frank was wont to declare became her better than the satins and
silks of a duchess, and he looked up at her with an admiring nod.

"That's right!" he said. "I've been up ages. I've taken my bag and
hidden it in the lane. Is yours ready?"

She gave him a small handbag--gave it with a certain reluctance that
hung about her still; but he took it eagerly.

"That's a good girl! It isn't too big! I can carry both of them. Keep
up your spirits, Stel!" he added, smiling encouragingly, as he stole
off with the bag.

The warning was not altogether unnecessary, for Stella, when she came
down stairs and found the old man standing before his easel, his white
locks stirred by the light wind which came through the open window,
felt very near tears.

It was a great blot on her happiness that she could not go to him
and throw her arms round his neck and say, "Uncle, to-day I am to be
married to Lord Leycester; give me your blessing!"

As it was she went up to him and kissed him with more than her usual
caressing tenderness.

"How quietly happy you always are, dear," she said, with a little
tremulous undertone in her voice. "You will always be happy while you
have your art, uncle."

"Eh!" he said, patting her arm, and letting his eye wander over her
face. "Yes, art is long, life is short, Stella. Happy! yes; but I like
to have you as well as my art. Two good things in life should make a
man content."

"You have Frank, too," she said, as she poured out his coffee and drew
him to the table.

Frank came in and breakfast proceeded. They were all very silent; the
old man rapt in dreams, as usual--the two young ones stilled by the
weight of their guilty secret.

Once or twice Frank pressed Stella's feet under the table
encouragingly, and when they rose and Stella went to the window, he
followed her and whispered:

"Good news, Stel!"

She turned her eyes upon him.

"I've just learned that the fellow Adelstone has gone to London. I was
half afraid that he might turn up at the last moment and spoil our
plans; but the groom at the vicarage, whom I just met, told me that
Jasper Adelstone had been summoned to London on business."

Stella felt a sense of relief, though she smiled.

"Mr. Adelstone is your _bête noire_, Frank," she said.

He nodded.

"I'd rather have his room than his company, any day." Then, after a
pause, he added, "I don't think we'd better start together, Stel.
I'll walk on directly, and you can follow. Whatever you do, avoid a
collision with Mrs. Penfold; her eyes are sharp, and there's something
in your face this morning that would set her curiosity on the _qui
vive_."

A few moments afterward he left the room, and Stella was left alone.
Her heart beat fast, and, try as she would, she could not keep her eyes
from the silent, patient figure at the easel, and at last she went up
and stood beside him.

"You seem restless this morning, my child," he said. "Meditating any
secret crime?" And he smiled.

Stella started guiltily.

"I wonder what you would say, what you would think, uncle," she
murmured, with a little laugh that bordered on the hysterical, "if I
were to do anything wrong--if I were to deceive you in anything?"

He stepped back to look at his picture.

"I should say, my dear, that the last shred of faith and trust in women
to which I have clung had given way, and landed me in despair."

"No, no! Don't say that!" she said, quickly.

He looked at her with a sad smile.

"My dear," he answered, "I do not speak without cause. I have reason to
be incredulous as to the faith and honesty of women. But my trust in
you is as limitless as the sky yonder. I don't think you will destroy
it, Stella," and he turned to his picture again.

The tears came into Stella's eyes, and she clung to his arm in silent
remorse.

"Uncle!" she said, brokenly, then she stopped.

The clock chimed the half-hour; it was time that she started, if she
intended to obey Leycester.

Unconsciously the old man helped her.

"You look pale this morning, my dear," he said, patting her shoulder.
"Go and run in the meadows and get some color on your cheeks; I miss
it."

Stella took up her hat, which was generally lying about ready to be
snatched up, and kissed him without a word, and left the room.

Five minutes afterward she passed out into the lane and hurried toward
the road.

Frank was waiting for her with boyish impatience.

"I thought you were never coming!" he exclaimed. "We haven't over much
time," and he slung the two bags together and led the way; but Stella
paused a moment to look back with a pang at her heart, and it was not
until Frank seized her arm that she moved toward the railway station.

But once there, when the tickets were taken, the excitement buoyed her
up. Frank, with the two bags, was perpetually on the alert, watching
for someone they knew, and preparing to meet them with some excuse.

But no one of the village people appeared on the platform, and much to
Frank's relief, the train drew up.

With all the pride of a chief conspirator and guardian, he put Stella
into a carriage and was stepping in after her, when a groom came up to
the door and touched his hat.

"Mr. Etheridge--Mr. Frank Etheridge, sir?" he said, respectfully.

Frank stared, but the man seemed prepared for some little hesitation,
and without waiting for an answer, thrust a note into Frank's hand.

"From Lord Guildford, sir," he said.

The train moved off, and Frank tore open the envelope.

"Why, Stella," he exclaimed, in an excited whisper, though they were
alone in the carriage, "it is from Lord Leycester. Look here! he wants
us to get out at the station before London--at Vauxhall--he has changed
his plans slightly," and he held the note out to her.

Stella took it. It was written on paper bearing the Wyndward crest; the
hand-writing was exactly like that of Lord Leycester. No suspicion of
its genuineness crossed her mind for a moment, but yet she said:

"But--Frank--isn't Lord Leycester in London?"

Frank thought a moment.

"Yes," he said; "but he must have sent this down to Lord Guildford;
sent it down by special messenger--special train perhaps. It wouldn't
matter to him what trouble or expense he took. And yet how careful he
is. He asks us to destroy it at once. Tear it up, Stella, and throw it
out of the window."

Stella read the note again, and then slowly and reluctantly tore it
into small fragments and dropped it out of the window.

"Of course we must stop," said Frank. "I think I know what it is.
Something had prevented him from meeting us, and he thought you would
rather get out at a nearer station than go through the crowd at the
terminus. Isn't it thoughtful and considerate of him?"

"He is always thoughtful and considerate," said Stella, in a low voice.

Then Frank launched forth in a pæan of praise.

There was nobody like Leycester; nobody so handsome and so brave or
noble.

"You'll be the happiest girl in the whole world, Stel," he exclaimed,
his blue eyes alight with excitement. "Think of it. And, Stella, you
will let me see you sometimes; you will let me come and stay with you?"

And Stella, with a moist look about her eyes, put her hand on his arm
and murmured:

"Where my home may be, there will be a sister's welcome for you, Frank."

"Don't be afraid I shall be a nuisance, Stel," he said. "I shan't bore
you for long. I shall only want to come and see you and share your
happiness; and I don't think Lord Leycester will mind."

And Stella smiled as she thought in her innermost heart how sure she
was of Lord Leycester not minding.

The train was an express one, and stopped at very few stations,
but when those stoppages occurred, Frank, in his character of
guardian, always drew the curtains and kept a watch for intruders,
notwithstanding that he had told the guard to lock the door.

"You see, it isn't as if you were an ordinary looking girl," he
explained; "a man wouldn't get a glimpse of you without wanting to take
second, and it's best to be careful. I'm engaged to watch over you, and
I must do it."

He was so happy, so boyishly gratified at his own importance, that
Stella could not help laughing.

"I believe you are thoroughly enjoying the wickedness of the thing,
Frank," she said, with a little sigh that had not much of unhappiness.

"No," he said; "but I want to hear Lord Leycester say, 'Thank you,
Frank,' and to see him smile when he says it. Do you think he will let
me go with you, or will he send me back, Stel?"

Stella shook her head.

"I do not know," she answered; "I feel like a person groping in the
dark. Go with us! Yes, you must go with us!" she added. "Frank, you
must go with me!"

"I'll stay with you till doomsday, and go to the end of the world with
you," he responded, "if he will let me!"

It seemed a long journey to both of them; to Frank, in his impatience;
to Stella, in the whirl of excited and conflicting emotions. But at
last they reached Vauxhall.

Frank got the door unlocked and gave up the tickets; then he stepped
out on to the platform, telling Stella to remain in the carriage for a
moment while he examined the ground.

But there was not much need for caution; as he stepped out, a thin,
strange-looking old man came up to him.

"Mr. Etheridge!" he asked.

Frank replied in the affirmative.

The old man nodded.

"All right, sir; the brougham is waiting;" then he looked round
expectantly, and Frank went and got Stella out.

The old man just glanced at her, not curiously, but in a mechanical
sort of way, as if he were a machine, and he turned toward the carriage
and took up the bags.

Stella laid her hand on Frank's arm with a questioning gesture; it was
not exactly one of fear or of suspicion, but a strange, instinctive
commingling of both sensations.

"Ask him, Frank!" she murmured.

Frank nodded, understanding her in a moment, and stopped the strange
old man.

"Wait a moment," he said; "you come from----"

The man looked round.

"Better not mention names here, sir," he said. "I am obeying my orders.
The brougham is waiting outside."

"It is all right," answered Frank; "he knows my name. He is quite right
to be careful."

They followed the man down the stairs; a brougham was in waiting, as he
had said, and he put the bags inside and held the door open for them to
enter.

Stella paused--even at that moment she paused with the same instinctive
feeling of distrust--but Frank whispered, "Be quick," and she entered.

The old man closed the door.

"You know where to drive," said Frank, in a low voice.

"I know, sir," he said, in the same expressionless, apathetic fashion,
and mounted to the box.

Stella looked at the crowded streets through which they drove at a
rapid pace, and a strange feeling of helplessness took possession
of her. She would not own to herself that she was disappointed at
Leycester's not meeting her, but his absence filled her with a vague
alarm and disquietude, which she mentally assured herself were foolish
and unwoman-like.

But the vastness and strangeness of the great city overwhelmed her.

"Do you know where Bruton street is?" she asked, in a low voice.

"No," said Frank; "but it must be in the West-end somewhere, of course.
He must be going to Leycester's rooms. I wonder what prevented him from
meeting us."

Stella wondered too, little dreaming that Leycester was pacing up and
down the platform at Waterloo at that moment, and impatiently awaiting
the arrival of the train that was, he thought, to bring his love.

"I expect," said Frank, "that something turned up at the last
moment--something to do with the ceremony."

A sudden dash of color came into Stella's face, but it went again the
next moment, and she leant back and watched the people hurrying along
the streets, with eyes that scarcely saw them.

The brougham, a well appointed one, driven by a man in plain livery,
seemed to wind about a great deal and cover a long stretch of ground,
but at last it drove under an archway and into a quiet square, and
stopped before one of a series of tall and dingy-looking houses.

Frank let down the window as the old man opened the door.

"Is this Bruton street?" said Frank.

"Yes, sir," said the man, quietly.

Frank stepped out and looked around.

"These are lawyers' offices," he said.

"Quite right, sir," was the response. "The gentleman is waiting for
you."

"You mean----" said Frank, inquiringly.

"Lord Leycester Wyndward," he replied.

Frank turned to Stella.

"It is all right," he said, in a low voice.

Stella got out and looked round. The air of quietude and gloomy
depression seemed to strike her, but she put her hand on Frank's arm,
and then followed the man into the doorway.

"Come as gently as you can, sir," he muttered. "It's better the young
lady shouldn't be seen."

Frank nodded, and they passed up the stairs. Frank threw a glance at
the numerous doors.

"They are lawyers' chambers," he said, in a low voice. "I think I
understand; it is something--some deed or other--Leycester wants you to
sign."

Stella did not speak. The chill which had fallen on her as she alighted
seemed to grow keener.

Suddenly the man stopped before a door, the name on which had been
covered over with a sheet of paper.

Could they have seen through it, and read the name of Jasper Adelstone,
there would have been time to draw back, but unsuspectingly they
followed the man in, the door closed, and unseen by them, was locked.

"This way, sir," said Scrivell, and he opened the inner door and
ushered them in.

"If you'll take a seat for a moment, sir," he said, putting two chairs
forward, and addressing Frank, "I will tell him you have arrived," and
he went out.

Stella sat down, but Frank went to the window and looked out, then he
came back to her restlessly and excitedly.

"I wonder where he is--why he does not come?" he said, impatiently.

Stella looked up; her lips were trembling.

"There, don't look like that!" he exclaimed, with a smile. "It is all
right!"

As he spoke he drew near the table aimlessly, and as aimlessly glanced
at the piles of papers with which it was strewn.

"I am making you nervous with my excitement----" he stopped suddenly,
and snatched up one of the papers. It was a folded brief, and bore upon
its surface the name of Jasper Adelstone, written in large letters.

He stared at it for a moment as if it had bitten him, then, with an
inarticulate cry, he flung it down and sprang toward her.

"Stella, we have been trapped! Come! quick!"

Stella sprang to her feet, and instinctively moved to the door: but
before she had taken a couple of steps the door opened, and Jasper
Adelstone stood before them.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


Jasper Adelstone closed the door behind him, and stood looking at them.

His face was very pale, his lips were tightly compressed, and there was
that peculiar look of decision and resolution which Stella had often
remarked.

True it struck her as ominous--a chill, cold and awesome, ran through
her--but she stood and confronted him with a face that, though as
pale as his own, showed no sign of fear; her eyes met his own with a
haughty, questioning gaze.

"Mr. Adelstone," she said, in low, clear, indignant tones, "what does
this mean?"

Before he could make any reply, Frank stepped between them, and with
crimson face and flashing eyes confronted him.

"Yes! what does this mean, Mr. Adelstone?" he echoed. "Why have you
brought us here--entrapped us?"

Jasper Adelstone just glanced at him, then looked at Stella--pale,
beautiful and indignant.

"I fear I have offended you," he said, in a low, clear voice, his eyes
fixed with concentrated watchful intentness on her face.

"Offended!" echoed Stella, with mingled surprise and anger. "There is
no question of offense, Mr. Adelstone. This--this that you have done is
an insult!"

And her face flushed hotly.

He shook his head gravely, and his hands clasped themselves behind his
back, where they pecked at each other in his effort to remain calm and
self-possessed under her anger and scorn.

"It is not an insult; it was not intended as an insult. Stella----"

"My name is Etheridge, Mr. Adelstone," Stella broke in, calmly and
proudly. "Be good enough to address me by my title of courtesy and
surname."

"I beg your pardon," he said, in slow tones. "Miss Etheridge, I am
aware that the step I have taken--and I beg you to mark that I do not
attempt to deny that it is through my order that you are here----"

"We know all that!" interrupted Frank, fiercely. "We don't wish for any
verbiage from you; we only want, my cousin and I, a direct answer to
our question, 'Why have you done this?' When you have answered it, we
will leave you as quickly as possible. If you don't choose to answer,
we will leave you without. In fact, Stella"--and he turned with a
glance of contempt and angry scorn at the tall motionless figure with
the pale face and compressed lips--"in fact, Stella, I don't think we
much care to know. We had better go, I think, and leave it to someone
else to demand an explanation and reparation."

Jasper did not look at him, took no notice whatever of the boyish scorn
and indignation: he had borne Stella's; the boy's could not touch him
after hers.

"I am ready to afford you an explanation," he said to Stella, with an
emphasis on the 'you.'

Stella was silent, her eyes turned away from him, as if the very
thought of him were distasteful to her.

"Go on, we are waiting!" exclaimed Frank, with all a boy's directness.

"I said that I would afford 'you,' Miss Etheridge," said Jasper. "I
think it would be better if you were to hear me alone."

"What!" shouted Frank, drawing Stella's arm through his.

"Alone," repeated Jasper. "It would be better for you--for all of us,"
he repeated, with a significance in his voice that sank to Stella's
heart.

"I won't hear of it!" exclaimed Frank. "I am here to protect her. I
would not leave her alone with you a moment. You are quite capable of
murdering her!"

Then, for the first time, Jasper noticed the boy's presence.

"Are you afraid that I shall do you harm?" he said, with a cold smile.

He knew Stella.

The cold sneer stung her.

"I am not afraid of those I despise," she said, hotly. "Go, Frank. You
will come when I call you."

"I shall not move," he responded, earnestly. "This man--this Jasper
Adelstone--has already shown himself capable of an illegal, a criminal
act, for it is illegal and criminal to kidnap anyone, and he has
kidnapped us. I shall not leave you. You know," and he turned his eyes
reproachfully on Stella, "I am responsible for you."

Stella's face flushed, then went pale.

"I know," she said, in a low voice and she pressed his arm.
"But--but--I think it is better that I should listen to him. You
see"--and her voice dropped still lower and grew tremulous, so that
Jasper Adelstone could not hear it--"you see that we are in his power;
we are his prisoners almost; and he will not let us go till I have
heard him. It will be more prudent to yield. Think, Frank, who is
waiting all this time."

Frank started, and appeared suddenly convinced.

"Very well," he whispered. "Call me the moment you want me. And, mind,
if he is impertinent--he can be, you know--call at once."

Then he moved to the door, but paused and looked at Jasper with all the
scorn and contempt he could summon up into his boyish face.

"I am going, Mr. Adelstone; but, remember, it is only because my cousin
wishes me to. You will say what you have to say, quickly, please; and
say it respectfully, too."

Jasper held the door for him calmly and stolidly, and Frank passed out
into the outer office. There he put on his hat and made for the door,
struck by a sudden bright idea. He would drive to Bruton Street and
fetch Lord Leycester. But as he touched the door old Scrivell rose from
his seat and shook his head.

"Door's locked, sir," he said.

Frank turned purple.

"What do you mean?" he exclaimed. "Let me out at once; immediately."

The old man shrugged his shoulders.

"Orders, sir; orders," he said, in his dry voice, and resumed his work,
deaf to all the boy's threats, entreaties, and bribes.

Jasper closed the door and crossing the room laid his hand on a chair
and signed respectfully to Stella to sit down, but without a word she
drew a little away and remained standing, her eyes fixed on his face,
her lips tightly pressed together.

He inclined his head and stood before her, one white hand resting on
the table, the other thrust into his vest.

"Miss Etheridge," he said, slowly, and with intense earnestness, "I beg
you to believe that the course which I have felt bound to adopt has
been productive of as much pain and grief to me as it can possibly have
been to you----"

Stella just moved her hand with scornful impatience.

"Your feelings are a matter of supreme indifference to me, Mr.
Adelstone," she said, icily.

"I regret that, I regret it with pain that amounts to anguish," he
said, and his lips quivered. "The sentiments of--of devotion and
attachment which I entertain for you, are no secret to you----"

"I cannot hear this," she said, impatiently.

"And yet I must urge them," he said, "for I have to urge them as an
excuse for the liberty--the unpardonable liberty as you at present deem
it--which I have taken."

"It is unpardonable!" she echoed, with suppressed passion. "There is no
excuse--absolutely none."

"And yet," he said, still quietly and insistently, "if my devotion were
less ardent, my attachment less sincere and immovable, I should have
allowed you to go on your way to ruin and disaster."

Stella started and looked at him indignantly.

He moved his hand, slightly deprecatory of her wrath.

"I will not conceal from you that I knew of your destination, of your
appointment."

"You acted the spy!" she articulated.

"I acted rather the guardian!" he said. "What kind of love, how poor
and inactive that would be, which could remain quiescent while the
future of its object was at stake!"

Stella put up her hand to silence him.

"I do not care--I will not listen to your fine phrases. They do not
move me, Mr. Adelstone. To your devotion and--and attachment I am
indifferent; I refuse to accept them. I await your explanations. If
you have none to give, I will go," and she made a movement as if to
depart.

"Wait, I implore, I _advise_ you."

Stella stopped.

"Hear me to the end," he said. "You will not permit me to allude to
the passionate love which is my excuse and my warranty for what I have
done. So be it. I will speak of it no more, if I can so control myself
as to refrain from doing so. I will speak of yourself and--and of the
man who plots your ruin."

Stella opened her lips, but refrained from speech, and merely smiled a
smile of pitiless scorn.

"I speak of Lord Leycester Wyndward," said Jasper Adelstone, the name
leaving his lips as if every word tortured them. "It is true, is it
not, that this Lord Leycester has asked you to meet him at a place in
London--at Bruton Street, his lodgings? It is true that he has told you
that he was prepared to make you his wife!"

"And you will say that it is a lie, and ask me to believe you--_you_
against _him_!" she broke in, with a laugh that cut him like a whip.

"No," he said; "I will admit that it may be true--I think that it is
possible that it may be true; and yet, you see, I have braved your
wrath and, far worse, your scorn, and balked him."

"For a time," she said, almost beneath her breath--"for a time, a short
time. I fear, Mr. Adelstone, that he will demand reparation, heavy
reparation at your hands for such 'balking.'"

To save her life she could not have suppressed her threat.

"I do not fear Lord Leycester, or any man," he said. "Where you are
concerned I fear only--yourself."

"Do you intend giving me the explanation, sir?" she demanded,
impetuously.

"I have stepped in between him and his prey," he went on, still
gravely, "because I thought, I hoped, that were time given you, though
it were at the last moment, that you would see the danger which lay
before you, and draw back."

"Thanks!" she said, scornfully--"that is your explanation. Having
afforded it, be kind enough to open that door and let me depart."

"Stay!" he said, and for the first time his voice broke and showed
signs of the storm that was raging within him. "Stay, Stella--I
implore, I beseech of you! Think, consider for one moment to what doom
your feet are carrying you! The man proposes--has the audacity to
propose--a clandestine elopement, a secret marriage; he treats you as
if you were not worthy to be his wife, as if you were the dirt under
his feet! Do you think, dare you, blinded as you are by a momentary
passion, dare you hope that any good can spring from such an union,
that any happiness can follow such a shameful marriage? Dare you hope
that this man's love--love!--which will not brave the temporary anger
and contempt of his relations, can be strong enough to last a lifetime?
Think, Stella! He is ashamed of you already; he, the heir to Wyndward,
is ashamed to make you his bride before the world. He must lower and
degrade you by a secret ceremony. What is his love compared with
mine--with mine?" and in the fierce emotion of the moment he put his
hand upon her arm and held her.

With a fierce, angry scorn, which no one who knew Stella Etheridge
could have thought her capable of, she flung his hand from her and
confronted him, her beautiful face looking lovely in its scorn and
wrath.

"Silence!" she exclaimed, her breast heaving, her eyes darting
lightning. "You--you coward! You dare to speak thus to me, a weak,
defenseless girl, whom you have entrapped into listening to you! I
dare you to utter them to him--him, the man you traduce and slander.
You speak of love; you know not what it is! You speak of shame----"
she paused, the word seemed to overcome her. "Shame," she repeated,
struggling for breath and composure; "you do not know what that is.
Shall I tell you? I have never felt it until now; I feel it now,
because I have been weak enough to remain and listen to you! It is
shameful that your hand should have touched me! It is shameful that I
should have listened to your protestations of love--love! You speak of
the shame which he would bring upon me! Well, then--listen for once
and all!--if such shame were to befall me from his hand, I would go
to meet it, yes, and welcome it, rather than take from yours all the
honor which you could extend to me! You say that I am going to ruin and
unhappiness! So be it; I accept your words--to silence you, learn from
my own lips that I would rather bear such shame and misery with him,
than happiness and honor with you. Have I--have I," she panted, "spoken
plainly enough?" and she looked down at him with passionate scorn. He
was white, white as death, his hands hung at his side clinched and
burning; his tongue seemed to cleave to the roof of his mouth, and
render speech impossible.

Her scorn lashed him; every word fell like the thong of a knout, and
cut into his heart; and all the while his eyes rested on hers with
anguished entreaty.

"Spare me," he cried, hoarsely, at last. "Spare me! I have tried to
spare you!"

"You--spare me!" she retorted, with a short contemptuous laugh.

"Yes," he said, wetting his lips, "I have tried to spare you! I tried
argument, entreaty, all to no purpose! Now--now you compel me to use
force!"

She glanced at the door, though she seemed to know instinctively that
he did not mean physical force.

"I would have saved you without this last step," he said, slowly,
almost inaudibly. "I call upon you to remember this in the after-time.
That not until you had repulsed all my efforts to turn you from your
purpose--not until you had lashed me with your scorn and contempt,
did I take up this last weapon. If in using it--though I use it as
mercifully as I can--it turns and wounds you, bear this in mind, that
not until the last did I direct it against you!"

Stella put her hand to her lips; they were trembling with excitement.

"I will not hear another word," she said. "I care as little for your
threat--this is a threat----"

"It is a threat," he said, with deadly calmness.

"As I do for your entreaties. You cannot harm me."

"No," he said; "but I can harm those you love."

She smiled, and moved to the door.

"Stay," he said. "For their sakes, remain and hear me to the end."

She paused.

"You speak of shame," he said, "and fear it as naught. You do not
know what it means, and--and--I forget the fearful words that stained
your lips. But there are others, those you love, for whom shame means
death--worse than death."

She looked at him with a smile of contemptuous disbelief. She did not
believe one word of the vague threat, not one word.

"Believe me," he said, "there hangs above the heads of those you love
a shame as deadly and awful as that sword which hung above the head of
Damocles. It hangs by a single thread which I, and I alone, can sever.
Say but the word and I can cast aside that shame. Turn from me to
him--to him--and I cut the thread and the sword falls!"

Stella laughed scornfully.

"You have mistaken your vocation," she said. "You were intended for the
stage, Mr. Adelstone. I regret that I have no further time to waste
upon your efforts. Permit me to go."

"Go, then," he said, "and the misery of those dear to you be upon your
hands, for you will have dealt it, not I! Go! But mark me, before you
have reached the man who has ensnared you that shame will have fallen;
a shame so bitter that it will yawn like a gulf between you and him; a
gulf which no time can ever bridge over."

"It--it is a lie!" she breathed, her eyes fixed upon his white face,
but she paused and did not go.

He inclined his head.

"No," he said, "it is true, an awful, shameful truth. You will wait and
listen?"

She looked at him for a moment in silence.

"I will wait five minutes--just five minutes," she said, and she
pointed to the clock. "And I warn you--it is I who warn you now--that
by no word will I attempt to screen you from the punishment which will
meet this lie."

"I am content," he said, and there was something in the cold tone of
assured triumph that struck to her heart.



CHAPTER XXIX.


"Five minutes!" said Stella, warningly; and she turned her face from
him, and kept her eyes fixed on the clock.

"It will suffice," said Jasper. "I have to ask you to bear with me
while I tell you a short history. I will mention no names--you yourself
will be able to supply them. All I have to ask of you further is that
you will hear me to the end. The history is of father and son."

Stella did not move; she thought that he referred to the earl and
Leycester. She had determined to listen calmly until the five minutes
were expired, and then to go--to go without a word.

"The father was an eminent painter"--Stella started slightly, but kept
her eyes fixed on the clock--"a man who was highly gifted, of a rare
and noble mind, and possessed of undeniable genius. Even as a young man
his gifts were meeting with acknowledgment. He married a woman above
him in station, beautiful, and fashionable, but altogether unworthy
of him. As might have been expected, the marriage turned out ill. The
wife, having nothing in common with her high-souled husband, plunged
into the world, and was swallowed up in its vortex. I do not wish to
speak of her further; she brought him shame."

Stella paled to the lips.

"Shame so deep that he cast aside his ambition and left the world.
Casting away his old life, and separating himself entirely from
it--separating himself from the child which the woman who had
betrayed him had born to him--he settled in a remote country village,
forgotten and effaced. The son was brought up by guardians appointed
by the father, who could never bring himself to see him. This boy
went to school, to college, was launched, so to speak, on the world
without a father's care. The evil results which usually follow such a
starting followed here. The boy, left to himself, or at best to the
hired guardianship of a tutor, plunged into life. He was a handsome,
high-spirited boy, and found, as is usual, ready companionship.
Folly--I will not say vice--worked its usual charm; the boy, alone and
uncared for, was led astray. In an unthinking moment he committed a
crime----"

Stella, white and breathless, turned upon him.

"It is false!" she breathed.

He looked at her steadily.

"Committed a crime. It was done unthinkingly, on the spur of the
moment; but it was done irrevocably. The punishment for the crime was
a heavy one--he was doomed to spend the best part of his life as a
convict----"

Stella moaned and put up her hand to her eyes.

"It is not true."

"Doomed to a felon's expiation. Think of it. A handsome, high-born,
high-spirited, perhaps gifted lad, doomed to a felon's, a convict's
fate! Can you not picture him, working in chains, clad in yellow,
branded with shame----"

Stella leaned against the door, and hid her face.

"It is false--false!" she moaned; but she felt that it was true.

"From that doom--one--one whom you have lashed with your scorn--stepped
forward to save him."

"You?"

"I," he said--"even I!"

She turned to him slightly.

"You did this?"

He inclined his head.

"I did it," he repeated. "But for me he would be, at this moment,
working out his sentence, the just sentence of the outraged law."

Stella was silent, regarding him with eyes distended with horror.

"And he--he knew it?" she murmured, brokenly.

"No," he said. "He did not know it; he does not know it even now."

Stella breathed a sigh, then shuddered as she remembered how the boy
Frank had insulted and scorned this silent, inflexible man, who had
saved him from a felon's fate.

"He did not know it!" she said. "Forgive him!"

He smiled a strange smile.

"The lad is nothing to me," he said. "I have nothing to forgive. One
does not feel angered at the attack of a gnat; one brushes the insect
off, or lets it remain as the case may be. This lad is nothing to
me. So far as he is concerned I might have allowed him to take his
punishment. I saved him, not for his sake, but for another's."

Stella leaned against the door. She was beginning to feel the meshes of
the net that was drawing closer and closer around her.

"For another," he continued, "I saved him for your sake."

She moistened her parched lips and raised her eyes.

"I--I am very grateful," she murmured.

His face flushed slightly.

"I did not seek your gratitude; I did not desire that you should even
know that I had done this thing. Neither he nor you would ever have
known it, but--but for this that has happened. It would have gone down
with me into my grave--a secret. It would have done so, although you
had refused me your love, although you should have given your heart to
another. If"--and he paused--"if that other had been a man worthy of
you." Stella's face flushed, and her eyes flashed, but she remembered
all that he had done, and averted her gaze from him. "If that other
had been one likely to have insured your happiness, I would have gone
my way and remained silent; but it is not so. This man, this Lord
Leycester, is one who will effect your ruin, one from whom I must--I
will--save you. It is he who rendered this disclosure necessary."

He was silent, and Stella stood, her eyes bent on the ground. Even yet
she did not realize the power he held over her--over those she loved.

"I am very grateful," she said at last. "I am fully sensible of all
that you have done for us, and I am sorry that--that I should have
spoken as I did, though"--and she raised her eyes with a sudden frank
wistfulness--"I was much provoked."

"What was I to do?" he asked. She shook her head. "Could I stand idle
and see you drift to destruction?"

"I shall not go to destruction," she said, with a troubled look. "You
do not know Lord Leycester--you do not know--but we will not speak
of that," she broke off, suddenly. "I will go now, please. I am very
grateful, and--and--I hope you will forgive all that has passed!"

He looked at her.

"I will forgive all--_all_," he emphasized, "if you will turn back; if
you will go back to your home, and promise that this thing which he has
asked you to do shall not come to pass."

She turned upon him.

"You have no right----" then she stopped, smitten with a sudden fear
by the expression of his face. "I cannot do that," she said, in a
constrained voice.

He closed his hands tightly together.

"Do not force me," he said. "You will not force me to compel you?"

She looked at him tremblingly.

"Force!"

"Yes, force! You speak of gratitude; but I do not rely on that. If you
were really grateful to me you would go back; but you are not. I cannot
trust to gratitude." Then he came closer to her, and his voice dropped.

"Stella, I have sworn that this shall not be--that he shall not have
you! I cannot break my oath. Do you not understand?"

She shook her head.

"No! I know that you cannot prevent me."

"I can," he said. "You do not understand. I saved the boy, but I can
destroy him."

She shrank back.

"With a word!" he said, almost fiercely, his lips trembling. "One word,
and he is destroyed. You doubt? See!" And he drew a paper from his
pocket-book. "The crime he committed was forgery--forgery! Here is the
proof!"

She shrank back still further, and held up her hands as if to shut the
paper from her sight.

"Do not deceive yourself," he said, in his intense voice; "his safety
lies in my hands--I hold the sword. It is for you to say whether I
shall let it fall."

"Spare him!" she breathed, panting--"spare me!"

"I will spare him--I will save both him and you. Stella, say but the
word; say to me here, now, 'Jasper, I will marry you,' and he is safe!"

With a low cry she sank against the door, and looked at him.

"I will not!" she panted, like some wild animal driven to bay.

"I will not."

His face darkened.

"You hate me so much?"

She was silent, regarding him with the same fearful, hunted look.

"You hate me!" he said, between his teeth. "But even that shall not
prevent me from having my way. You will learn to hate me less--in time
to love me."

She shuddered, and he saw the shudder, and it seemed to lash him into
madness.

"I say you shall! Such love as mine cannot exist in vain, cannot be
repelled; it must, it must win love in return. I will chance it. When
you are my wife--do not shrink, mine you must and shall be!--you will
grow to a knowledge of the strength of my devotion, and admit that I
was justified----"

"No, never!" she panted.

He drew back, and let his hand fall on the back of the chair.

"Is that answer final?" he said hoarsely.

"Never!" she reiterated.

"Remember!" he said. "In that word you pronounce the doom of this lad;
by that word you let fall the sword, you darken the few remaining years
of an old man's life with shame!"

White and breathless she sank on to the floor and so knelt--absolutely
knelt--to him, with outstretched hands and imploring eyes.

He looked at her, his heart beating, his lips quivering, and his hand
moved toward the bell.

"If I ring this it is to send for a constable. If I ring this, it is to
give this lad into custody on a charge of forgery. It is impossible for
him to escape, the evidence is complete and damning."

His hand touched the bell, had almost pressed it, when Stella uttered a
word.

"Stay!" she said, and so hoarse, so unnatural was the sound of her
voice, that it went to his heart like a stab.

Slowly, with the movement of a person numbed and almost unconscious,
she rose and came toward him.

Her face was white, white to the lip, her eyes fixed not on him, but
beyond him; she had every appearance of one moving in a dream.

"Stay?" she said. "Do not ring."

His hand fell from the bell, and he stood regarding her with eager,
watchful eyes.

"You--you consent?" he asked hoarsely.

Without moving her eyes, she seemed to look at him.

"Tell me," she said, in slow, mechanical tones, "tell me all--all that
you wish me to do, all that I must do to save them."

Her agony touched him, but he remained inflexible, immovable.

"It is soon told," he said. "Say to me, 'Jasper, I will be your wife!'
and I am content. In return, I promise that on the day, the hour in
which you become my wife, I will give you this paper; upon it the boy's
fate depends. Once this is destroyed he is safe--absolutely."

She held out her hand mechanically.

"Let me look at it."

He glanced at her, scarcely suspiciously but hesitatingly, for a
moment, then placed the paper in her hands.

She took it, shuddering faintly.

"Show me!"

He put his finger on the forged name. Stella's eyes dwelt upon it with
horror for a moment, then she held out the paper to him.

"He--he wrote that?"

"He wrote it," he answered. "It is sufficient to send him----"

She put up her hand to stop him.

"And--and to earn the paper I must--marry you?"

He was silent, but he made a gesture of assent.

She turned her head away for a moment, then she looked him full in the
eyes, a strange, awful look.

"I will do it," she said, every word falling like ice from her white
lips.

A crimson flush stained his face.

"Stella! My Stella!" he cried.

She put up her hand; she did not shrink back, but simply put up her
hand, and it was he who shrank.

"Do not touch me," she said, calmly, "or--or I will not answer for
myself."

He wiped the cold beads from his brow.

"I--I am content!" he said. "I have your promise. I know you too well
to dream that you would break it. I am content. In time--well, I will
say no more."

Then he went to the table and pressed the bell.

She looked up at him with a dull, numbed expression of inquiry which he
understood and answered.

"You will see. I have thought of everything. I foresaw that you would
yield and have planned everything."

The door opened as he spoke, and Scrivell came in followed by
Frank, who hurled Scrivell out of the way and sprang before Jasper,
inarticulate with rage.

But before he could find breath for words, his eyes fell upon Stella's
face, and a change came over him.

"What does this mean?" he stammered. "What do you mean, Mr. Adelstone,
by this outrage? Do you know that I have been kept a prisoner----"

Jasper interrupted him calmly, quietly, with an exasperating smile.

"You are a prisoner no longer, my dear Frank!"

"How dare you!" exclaimed the enraged boy, and he raised his cane.

It would have fallen across Jasper's face, for he made no attempt to
ward it, but Stella sprang between them, and it fell on her shoulder.

"Frank," she moaned rather than cried, "you--you must not."

"Stella," he exclaimed, "stand away from him. I think I shall kill him."

She laid her hand upon his arm and looked up into his face with, ah!
what an anguish of sorrowful pity and love.

"Frank," she breathed, pressing her hand to her bosom, "listen to me.
He--Mr. Adelstone was--was right. He has done all for--for the best.
You--you will beg his pardon."

He stared at her as if he thought that she had taken leave of her
senses.

"What! What do you say!" he cried, below his breath. "Are you mad,
Stella?"

She put her hand to her brow with a strange, weird smile.

"I wish--I almost think I am. No, Frank, not another word. You must not
ask why. I cannot tell you. Only this, that--that Mr. Adelstone has
explained, and that--that"--her voice faltered--"we must go back."

"Go back? Not go to Leycester?" he demanded, incredulous and
astonished. "Do you know what you are saying?"

She smiled, a smile more bitter than tears.

"Yes, I know. Bear with me, Frank."

"Bear with you? What does she mean? Do you mean to say that you have
allowed yourself to be persuaded by this--this hound----?"

"Frank! Frank!"

"Do not stop him," came the quiet, overstrained voice of 'the hound.'

"This hound, I said," repeated the boy, bitterly. "Has he persuaded you
to break faith with Leycester? It is impossible. You would not, _could_
not, be so--so bad."

Stella looked at him, and the tears sprang to her eyes.

"Have pity, and--and--send him away," she said, without turning to
Jasper.

He went up to Frank, who drew back as he approached, as if he were
something loathsome.

"You are making your cousin unhappy by this conduct," he said. "It is
as she says. She has changed her mind."

"It is a lie," retorted Frank, fiercely. "You have frightened her and
tortured her into this. But you shall not succeed. It is easy for you
to frighten a woman, as easily as it is to entrap her; but you will
sing a different tune before a man. Stella, come with me. You must, you
_shall_ come. We will go to Lord Leycester."

"It is unnecessary," cried Jasper, quietly. "His lordship will be here
in a few minutes."

Stella started.

"No, no," she said, and moved to the door. Frank, staring at Jasper,
caught and held her.

"Is that a lie, too?" he demanded. "If not--if it be true--then we
will wait. We shall see how much longer you will be able to crow, Mr.
Adelstone!"

"Let us go, Frank," implored Stella. "You will let me go now?" And she
turned to Jasper.

Frank was almost driven to madness by her tone.

"What has he said and done to change you like this?" he said. "You
speak to him as if you were his slave!"

She looked at him sadly.

Jasper shook his head.

"Wait," he said--"it will be better that you wait. Trust me. I will
spare you as much as possible; but it will be better that he should
learn all that he has to learn from your lips, here and now."

She bowed her head, and still holding Frank's arm sank into a chair.

The boy was about to burst out again, but she stopped him.

"Hush!" she said, "do not speak, every word cuts me to the heart. Not a
word, dear--not another word. Let us wait."

They had not long to wait.

There was a sound of footsteps, hurried and noisy, on the stairs--an
impatient, resolute voice uttering a question--then the door was thrown
open, and Lord Leycester burst in!



CHAPTER XXX.


Leycester looked round for a moment eagerly, then, utterly disregarding
Jasper, he hurried across to Stella, who at his entrance had made an
involuntary movement towards him, but had then recoiled, and stood with
white face and tightly-clasped hands.

"Stella!" he exclaimed, "why are you here? Why did you not come to
Waterloo? Why did you send for me?"

She put her hand in his, and looked him in the face--a look so full of
anguish and sorrow that he stared at her in amazement.

"It was I who sent for you, my lord," said Jasper, coldly.

Leycester just glanced at him, then returned to the study of Stella's
face.

"Why are you here, Stella?"

She did not speak, but drew her hand away and glanced at Jasper.

That glance would have melted a heart of stone, but his was one of fire
and consumed all pity.

"Will you not speak? Great Heaven, what is the matter with you?"
demanded Leycester.

Jasper made a step nearer.

Leycester turned upon him, not fiercely, but with contempt and
amazement, then turned again to Stella.

"Has anything happened at home--to your uncle?"

"Mr. Etheridge is well," said Jasper.

Then Leycester turned and looked at him.

"Why does this man answer for you?" he said. "I did not put any
question to you, sir."

"I am aware of that, my lord," said Jasper, his small eyes glittering
with hate and malice, and smoldering fury. The sight of the handsome
face, the knowledge that Stella loved this man and hated him, Jasper,
maddened and tortured him, even in his hour of triumph. "I am aware
of that, Lord Leycester; but as your questions evidently distress and
embarrass Miss Etheridge, I take upon myself to answer for her."

Leycester smiled as if at some strange conceit.

"You do indeed take upon yourself," he retorted, with great scorn.
"Perhaps you will kindly remain silent."

Jasper's face whitened and winced.

"You are in my apartment, Lord Leycester."

"I regret to admit it. I more deeply regret that this lady should be
here. I await her explanation."

"And what if I say she will not gratify your curiosity?" said Jasper,
with a malignant smile.

"What will happen, do you mean?" asked Leycester, curtly. "Well, I
shall probably throw you out of the window."

Stella uttered a low cry and laid her hand upon his arm; she knew him
so well, and had no difficulty in reading the sudden lightning in the
dark eyes, and the resolute tightening of the lips. She knew that
it was no idle threat, and that a word more from Jasper of the same
kind would rouse the fierce, impetuous anger for which Leycester was
notorious.

In a moment his anger disappeared.

"I beg your pardon," he murmured, with a loving glance, "I was
forgetting myself. I will remember that you are here."

"Now, sir," and he turned to Jasper, "you appear anxious to offer some
explanation. Be as brief and as quick as you can, please," he added
curtly.

Jasper winced at the tone of command.

"I wished to spare Miss Etheridge," he said. "I have only one desire,
and that is to insure her comfort and happiness."

"You are very good," said Leycester, with contemptuous impatience.
"But if that is all you have to say we will rid you of our presence,
which cannot be welcome. I would rather hear an account of these
extraordinary proceedings from this lady's lips, at first, at any rate;
afterwards I may trouble you," and his eyes darkened ominously.

Then he went up to Stella, and his voice dropped to a low whisper.

"Come, Stella. You shall tell me what this all means," and he offered
her his arm.

But Stella shrank back, with a piteous look in her eyes.

"I cannot go with you," she murmured, as if each word cost her an
effort. "Do not ask me!"

"Cannot!" he said, still in the same low voice. "Stella! Why not?"

"I--I cannot tell you! Do not ask me!" was her prayer. "Go now--go and
leave me!"

Lord Leycester looked from her to Frank, who shook his head and glared
at Jasper.

"I don't understand it, Lord Leycester; it is no use looking to me. I
have done as you asked me--at least as far as I was able until I was
prevented. We got out at Vauxhall as you wished us to do----"

"I!" said Leycester, not loudly, but with an intense emphasis. "I! I
did not ask you to do anything of the kind! I have been waiting for you
at Waterloo, and thinking that I had missed you and that you had gone
on to--to the place I asked you to go to, I hurried there. A man--Mr.
Adelstone's servant, I presume--was waiting, and told me Stella was
here waiting for me. I came here--that is all!"

Frank glared at Jasper and raised an accusing finger, which he pointed
threateningly.

"Ask _him_ for an explanation!" he said.

Leicester looked at the white, defiant face.

"What jugglery is this, sir?" he demanded. "Am I to surmise that--that
this lady was entrapped and brought here against her will?"

Jasper inclined his head.

"You are at liberty to surmise what you will," he said. "If you ask me
if it was through my instrumentality that this lady was led to break
the assignation you had arranged for her, I answer that it was!"

"Soh!"

It was all Leycester said, but it spoke volumes.

"That I used some strategy to effect my purpose, I don't for a moment
deny. I used strategy, because it was necessary to defeat your scheme."

He paused. Leycester stood upright watching him.

"Go on," he said, in a hard, metallic voice.

"I brought her here that I, her uncle's and guardian's friend, might
point out to her the danger which lay in the path on which you would
entice her. I have made it clear to her that it is impossible she
should do as you wish."

He paused again, and Leycester removed his eyes from the pale face and
looked at Stella.

"Is what this man says true?" he asked, in a low voice. "Has he
persuaded you to break faith with me?"

Stella looked at him, and her hands closed over each other.

"Don't ask her," broke in Frank. "She is not in a fit state to answer.
This fellow, this Jasper Adelstone, has bewitched her! I think he has
frightened her out of her senses by some threat----"

"Frank! Hush! Oh, hush!" broke from Stella.

Lord Leycester started and eyed her scrutinizingly, but he saw only
anguish and pity and sorrow--not guilt--in her face.

"It is true," declared Frank. "This is what she has said, and this only
since I came back into the room, and I can't get any more out of her. I
think, Lord Leycester, you had better throw him out of the window."

Leycester looked from one to the other. There was evidently more in the
case than could be met by following Frank's advice.

He put his hand to his head for a moment.

"I don't understand," he said, almost to himself.

"It is not difficult to understand," said Jasper, with an ill-concealed
sneer. "The lady absolutely refuses to keep the appointment you
made--you forced upon her. She declines to accompany you. She----"

"Silence," said Leycester, in a low voice that was more terrible than
shouting. Then he turned to Stella.

"Is it so?" he asked.

She raised her eyes, and her lips moved.

"Yes," she said.

He looked as if he could not believe the evidence of his senses. The
perspiration broke out on his forehead, and his lips trembled, but he
made an effort to control himself, and succeeded.

"Is what this man says true, Stella?"

"I--I cannot go with you," she trembled, with downcast eyes.

Leycester looked round the room as if he suspected he must be dreaming.

"What does it mean?" he murmured. "Stella;" and now he addressed her as
if he were oblivious of the presence of others. "Stella, I implore, I
command you to tell me. Consider what my position is. I--who have been
expecting you as--as you know well--find you here, and here you, with
your own lips, tell me that all is altered between us; so suddenly, so
unreasonably."

"It must be so," she breathed. "If you would only go and leave me!"

He put his hand on the back of a chair to steady himself, and the chair
shook.

Jasper stood gloating over his emotion.

"Great Heaven!" he exclaimed, "can I believe my ears? Is this
you, Stella--speaking to me in these words and in this fashion?
Why!--why!--why!"

And the questions burst forth from him passionately.

She clasped her hands, and looked up at him.

"Do not ask me--I cannot tell. Spare me!"

Leycester turned to Frank.

"Will you--will you leave us, my dear Frank?" he said, hoarsely.

Frank went out slowly, then Leycester turned to Jasper.

"Hear me," he said. "You have given me to understand that the key of
this enigma is in your possession; you will be good enough to furnish
me with it. There must be no more mystery. Understand once for all, and
at once, that I will have no trifling."

"Leycester!"

He put up his hand to her, gently, reassuringly,

"Do not fear; this gentleman has no need to tremble. This matter
lies between us three--at present, rather, it lies between you two.
I want to be placed on an equality, that is all." And he smiled a
fiercely-bitter smile. "Now, sir!"

Jasper bit his lips.

"I have few words to add to what I have already said. I will say them,
and I leave it to Miss Etheridge to corroborate them. You wish to know
the reason why she did not meet you as you expected, and why she is
here instead, and under my protection?"

Leycester moved his hand impatiently.

"The question is easily answered. It is because she is my affianced
wife!" said Jasper quietly.

Leycester looked at him steadily, but did not show by a sign that he
had been smitten as his adversary had hoped to smite him. Instead, he
seemed to recover coolness.

"I have been told," he said, quietly and incisively, "that you are
a clever man, Mr. Adelstone. I did not doubt it until this moment.
I feel that you must be a fool to hope that I should accept that
statement."

Jasper's face grew red under the bitter scorn; he raised his hand and
pointed tremblingly to Stella.

"Ask her," he said, hoarsely.

Leycester turned to her with a start.

"For form's sake," he said, almost apologetically, "I will ask you,
Stella. Is this true?"

She raised her eyes.

"It is true," she breathed.

Leycester turned white for the first time, and seemed unable to
withdraw his eyes from hers for a moment, then he walked up to her and
took her hands.

"Look at me!" he said, in a low, constrained voice. "Do you know that I
am here?--I--am--here!--that I came here to protect you? That whatever
this man has said to force this mad avowal from your lips I will make
him answer for! Stella! Stella! If you do not wish to drive me mad,
look at me and tell me that this is a lie!"

She looked at him sadly, sorrowfully.

"It is true--true," she said.

"Of your own free will?--you hesitate! Ah!"

She flung her hands before her eyes for a moment to gain strength to
deal him the blow, then with white constrained face she said--

"Of my own free will!"

He dropped her hands, but stood looking at her.

Jasper's voice aroused him from the stupor which fell upon him.

"Come, my lord," he said, in a dry, cold voice, "you have received
your answer. Let me suggest that you have inflicted more than enough
pain upon this lady, and let me remind you that as I am her affianced
husband I have the right to request you to leave her in peace."

Leycester turned to him slowly, but without speaking to him went up to
Stella.

"Stella," he said, and his voice was harsh and hoarse. "For the last
time I ask you--for the last time!--is this true? Have you betrayed me
for this man? Have you promised to be--his wife?"

The answer came in a low clear voice:

"It is true. I shall be his wife."

He staggered slightly, but recovered himself, and stood upright, his
hands clasped, the veins on his forehead swelling.

"It is enough," he said. "You tell me that it is of your own free will.
I do not believe that. I know that this man has some hold upon you.
What it is I cannot guess. I feel that you will not tell me, and that
he would only lie if I asked him. But it is enough for me. Stella--I
call you so for the last time--you have deceived me; you have kept this
thing hidden from me. May Heaven forgive you, I cannot!"

Then he took his hat and turned to leave the room.

As he did so she swayed toward him, and almost fell at his feet, but
Jasper glided toward her and held her, and, as Leycester turned, he saw
her leaning on Jasper, her arm linked in his.

Without a word Leycester opened the door and went out.

Frank sprang toward him, but Leycester put him back with a firm grasp.

"Oh, Lord Leycester!" he cried.

Leycester paused for a moment, his hand on the boy's arm.

"Go to her," he said. "She has lied to me. There is something between
her and that man. I have seen her for the last time," and before the
boy could find a word of expostulation or entreaty, Leycester pushed
him aside and went out.



CHAPTER XXXI.


Leycester went down the stairs with the uncertain gait of a drunken
man, and having reached the open air stood for a moment staring round
him as if he were bereft of his senses; as indeed he almost was.

The shock had come so suddenly that it had deprived him of the power
of reasoning, of following the thing out to its logical conclusion.
As he walked on, threading his way along the crowded thoroughfare,
and exciting no little attention and remark by his wild, distraught
appearance, he realized that he had lost Stella.

He realized that he had lost the beautiful girl who had stolen into
his heart and absorbed his love. And the manner of his losing her made
the loss so bitter! That a man, that such a creature as this Jasper
Adelstone, should come between them was terrible. If it had been any
other, who was in some fashion his own equal--Charlie Guildford, for
instance, a gentleman and a nobleman--it would have been bad enough,
but he could have understood it. He would have felt that he had been
fairly beaten; but Jasper Adelstone!

Then it was so evident that love was not altogether the reason of her
treachery and desertion; there was something else; some secret which
gave that man a hold over her. He stopped short in the most crowded
part of the Strand, and put his hand to his brow and groaned.

To think that his Stella, his beautiful child-love, whom he had deemed
an angel for innocence, should share a secret with such a man. And
what was it? Was there shame connected with it? He shuddered as the
suspicion crossed his mind and smote upon his heart. What had she done
to place her so utterly in Jasper Adelstone's hands? What was it? The
question harassed and worried him to the exclusion of all other sides
of the case.

Was it something that had occurred before he, Leycester, had met her?
She had known this Jasper Adelstone before she knew Leycester; but he
remembered her speaking of him as a conceited, self-opinioned young
man; he remembered the light scorn with which she had described him.

No, it could not have happened thus early. When then? and where was
it? He could find no solution to the question; but the terrible result
remained, that she had delivered herself, body and soul, into the
hands of Jasper Adelstone, and was lost to him, Leycester!

Striking along, careless of where he was going, he found himself
at last in Pall Mall. He entered one of his clubs, and went to the
smoking-room. There he lit a cigar, and took out the marriage license
and looked at it long and absently. If all had gone right, Stella would
have been his, if not by this time, a very little later, and they would
have gone to Italy, they two, together and alone--with happiness.

But now it was all changed--the cup had been dashed from his lips at
the last moment, and by--Jasper Adelstone!

He sat, with the unsmoked cigar in his fingers, his head drooped
upon his breast, the nightmare of the secret mystery pressing on his
shoulders. It was not only the loss of Stella, it was the feeling that
she had deceived him that was so bitter to bear; it was the existence
of the secret understanding between the two that so utterly overwhelmed
him. He could have married Stella though she had been a beggar in the
streets, but he could have no part or lot in the woman who shared a
secret with such a one as Jasper Adelstone.

The smoking-room footman hovered about, glancing covertly and curiously
at the motionless figure in the deep arm-chair; acquaintances sauntered
in and gave him good-bye; but Leycester sat brooding over his sorrow
and disappointment, and made no response.

A more miserable young man it would have been impossible to find in all
London than this viscount and heir to an earldom, with all his immense
wealth and proud hereditary titles.

The afternoon came, hot and sultry, and to him suffocating. The
footman, beginning to be seriously alarmed by the quiescence of the
silent figure, was just considering whether it was not his duty to
bring him some refreshment, or rouse him by offering him the paper,
when Leycester rose, much to the man's relief, and walked out.

Within the last few minutes he had decided upon some course of action.
He could not stay in London, he could not remain in England; he would
go abroad--go right out of the way, and try and forget. He smiled to
himself at the word, as if he should ever forget the beautiful face
that had lain upon his breast, the exquisite eyes that had poured the
lovelight into his, the sweet girl-voice that had murmured its maiden
confession in his ear!

He called a cab, and told the man to drive to Waterloo; caught a train,
threw himself into a corner of the carriage, and gave himself up to the
bitterness of despair.

Dinner was just over when his tall figure passed along the terrace, and
the ladies were standing under the drawing-room veranda enjoying the
sunset. A little apart from the rest stood Lenore. She was leaning
against one of the iron columns, her dress of white cashmere and satin
trimmed with pearls standing out daintily and fairy-like against the
mass of ferns and flowers behind her.

She was leaning in the most graceful air of abandon, her sunshade
lying at her feet, her hands folded with an indolent air of rest on
her lap; there was a serene smile upon her lips, a delicate languor in
her violet eyes, an altogether at-peace-with-all-the-world expression
which was in direct contrast with the faint expression of anxiety which
rested on the handsome face of the countess.

Every now and then, as the proud and haughty woman, but anxious mother,
chatted and laughed with the women around her, her gaze wandered to the
open country with an absent, almost fearful expression, and once, as
the sound of a carriage was heard on the drive, she was actually guilty
of a start.

But the carriage was only that of one of the guests, and the countess
sighed and turned to her duties again. Lenore, with head thrown back,
watched her with a lazy smile. She was suffering likewise, but she had
something tangible to fear, something definite to hope; the mother knew
nothing, but feared all things.

Presently Lady Wyndward happened to come within the scope of Lenore's
voice.

"You look tired to-night, dear," she said.

The countess smiled, wearily.

"I will admit a little headache," she said; then she looked at the
lovely indolent face. "You look well enough, Lenore!"

Lady Lenore smiled, curiously.

"Do you think so!" she answered. "Suppose I also confessed a headache!"

"I should outdo you even then," said the countess, with a sigh, "for I
have a heartache!"

Lenore put out her hand, white and glittering with pearls and diamonds,
and laid it on the elder woman's arm with a little caressing gesture
peculiar to her.

"Tell me dear," she whispered.

The countess shook her head.

"I cannot," she said, with a sigh. "I scarcely know myself. I am quite
in the dark, but I know that something has happened or is happening.
You know that Leycester went suddenly yesterday?"

Lady Lenore moved her head in assent.

The countess sighed.

"I am always fearful of him."

Lenore laughed, softly.

"So am I. But I am not fearful on this occasion. Wait until he comes
back."

The countess shook her head.

"When will that be? I am afraid not for some time!"

"I think he will come back to-night," said Lenore, with a smile that
was too placid to be confident or boastful.

The countess smiled and looked at her.

"You are a strange girl, Lenore," she said. "What makes you think that?"

Lenore turned the bracelet on her arm.

"Something seems to whisper to me that he will come," she said. "Look!"
And she just moved her hand toward the terrace. Leycester was coming
slowly up the broad stone steps.

Lady Wyndward made a move forward, but Lenore's hand closed over her
arm, and she stopped and looked at her.

Lenore shook her head, smiling softly.

"Better not," she murmured, scarcely above her breath. "Not yet. Leave
him alone. Something has happened as you surmised. I have such keen
eyes, you know, and can see his face."

So could Lady Wyndward by this time, and her own turned white at sight
of the pale, haggard face.

"Do not go to him," whispered Lenore, "do not stop him. Leave him
alone; it is good advice."

Lady Wyndward felt instinctively that it was, and so that she might not
be tempted to disregard it, she turned away and went into the house.

Leycester came along the terrace, and raising his eyes, heavy and
clouded, saw the ladies, but he only raised his hat and passed on.
Then he came to where the figure in white, glimmering with pearls and
diamonds, leaned against the column and he hesitated a moment, but
there was no look of invitation in her eyes, only a faint smile, and he
merely raised his hat again and passed on; but, half unconsciously, he
had taken in the loveliness and grace of the picture that she made, and
that was all that she desired for the present.

With heavy steps he crossed the hall, climbed the stairs, and entered
his own room.

His man Oliver, who had been waiting for him and hanging about, came in
softly, but stole out again at sight of the dusky figure lying wearily
on the chair; but presently Leycester called him and he went back.

"Get a bath ready, Oliver," he said, "and pack a portmanteau; we shall
leave to-night."

"Very good, my lord," was the quiet response, and then he went to
prepare the bath.

Leycester got up and strode to and fro. Though she had never entered
his rooms, the apartments seemed full of her; from the easel stared the
disfigured Venus which he had daubed out on the first night he had seen
her. On the table, in an Etruscan vase of crystal, were some of the
wild flowers which her hand had plucked, her lips had pressed. These he
took--not fiercely but solemnly--and threw out of the window.

Suddenly there floated upon the air the strains of solemn music. He
started. He had almost forgotten Lilian; the great sorrow and misery
had almost driven her from his memory. He sat the vase down upon the
table, and went to her room; she knew his knock, and bade him come in,
still playing.

But as he entered, she stopped suddenly, and the smile which had flown
to her face to welcome him disappeared.

"Ley!" she breathed, looking up at his pale, haggard face and
dark-rimmed eyes; "what has happened? What is the matter?"

He stood beside her, and bent and kissed her; his lips were dry and
burning.

"Ley! Ley!" she murmured, and put her white arm round his neck to draw
him down to her, "what is it?"

Then she scanned him with loving anxiety.

"How tired you look, Ley! Where have you been? Sit down!"

He sank into a low seat at her feet, and motioned to the piano.

"Go on playing," he said.

She started at his hoarse, dry voice, but turned to the piano, and
played softly, and presently she knew, rather than saw, that he had
hidden his face in his hands.

Then she stopped and bent over him.

"Now tell me, Ley!" she murmured.

He looked up with a bitter smile that cut her to the heart.

"It is soon told, Lil," he said, in a low voice, "and it is only an
old, old story!"

"Ley!"

"I can tell you--I could tell only you, Lil--in a very few words. I
have loved--and been deceived."

She did not speak, but she put her hand on his head where it lay like a
peaceful benediction.

"I have staked my all, all my happiness and peace, upon a cast and have
lost. I am very badly hit, and naturally I feel it very badly for a
time!"

"Ley!" she murmured, reproachfully, "you must not talk to _me_ like
this; speak from your heart."

"I haven't any left, Lil!" he said; "there is only an aching void where
my heart used to be. I lost it weeks ago--or was it months or years? I
can't tell which now!--and she to whom I gave it, she whom I thought
an angel of purity, a dove of innocence, has thrown it in the dirt and
trampled upon it!"

"Ley, Ley, you torture me! Of whom are you speaking?"

"Of whom should I be speaking but the one woman the world holds for me?"

"Lenore!" she murmured, incredulously.

"Lenore!" and he laughed bitterly. "No; she did not pronounce her name
so. I am speaking and thinking of Stella Etheridge."

Her hand trembled, but she did not withdraw it.

"Stella?"

"Yes," he said, and his lips twitched. "A star. A star that will shine
in another man's bosom, not in mine as I, fool that I was, dreamed
that it would. Lil, I believe that there is only one good woman in the
world, and she sits near me now."

"Oh, Ley, Ley--but tell me!"

"There is so little to tell," he said, wearily. "I cannot tell you all.
This will suffice, that to-night I expected and hoped to have been able
to call her my wife, instead--well, you see, I am sitting here!"

"Your wife?" she murmured. "Stella Etheridge your wife. Was that--that
wise, Ley?"

"Wise! What have I to do with wisdom?" he retorted. "I loved her--loved
her passionately, madly, as I never, nor shall ever, love another
woman! Heaven help me, I love her now! Don't you see that is the worst
part of it. I know, as surely as I am sitting here, that my life has
gone. It has gone to pieces on the rocks like a goodly ship, and there
is an end of it!"

There was silence for a moment, then she spoke, and, woman-like, her
thoughts were of the woman.

"But she, Ley? How is it with her?"

He laughed again, and the gentle girl shuddered.

"Don't Ley," she murmured.

"She will be all right," he said. "Women are made like that--all
excepting one," and he touched her dress.

"And yet--and yet," she murmured, troubled and sorrowful, "now I look
back I am sure that she loved you, Ley! I remember her face, the look
of her eyes, the way she spoke your name. Oh, Ley, she loved you!"

"She did--perhaps. She loves me now so well, that on our
wedding-day--wedding-day!--she allows a man to step in between us and
claim her as his own!"

Maddened by the memory which her words had called up he would have
risen, but she held him down with a gentle hand.

"A man! What man, Ley?"

"One called Jasper Adelstone, a lawyer; a man it would be gross
flattery to call even a gentleman! Think of it, Lil. Picture it! I wait
to receive my bride, and instead of it happening so, I am sent for to
meet her at this man's chambers. There I am informed that all is over
between us, and that she is the affianced wife of Mr. Jasper Adelstone."

"But the reason--the reason?"

"There is none!" he exclaimed, rising and pacing the room, "I am
vouchsafed no reason. The bare facts are deemed sufficient for me. I am
cast adrift, as something no longer necessary or needful, without word
of reason or even of rhyme!" and he laughed.

She was silent for a moment, then a murmur broke from her lips.

"Poor girl!"

He stooped and looked down at her.

"Do not waste your pity, Lil," he said, with a grim smile. "With her
own lips she declared that what she did she did of her own free will!"

"With this man standing by her side?"

He started, then he shook his head.

"I know what you mean!" he said, hoarsely. "And do you not see that
that is the worst of it. She is in his power; there is some secret
understanding between them. Can I marry a woman who is in another man's
power so completely that she is forced to break her word to me, to jilt
me for him!--can I?"

His voice was so hoarse and harsh as to be almost inarticulate, and he
stood with outstretched, appealing hands, as if demanding an answer.

What could she say? For a moment she was silent, then she put out her
hand to him.

"And you have left her with him, Ley?"

The question sent all the blood from his face.

"Yes," he said, wearily, "I have left her with her future husband.
Possibly, probably, by this time she has become his wife. One man can
procure a marriage license as easily as another."

"You did that! What would papa and my mother have said?" she murmured.

He laughed.

"What did, what should I care? I tell you I loved her madly; you do not
know, cannot understand what such love means! Know, then, Lil, that I
would rather have died than lose her--that, having lost her, life has
become void and barren for me--that the days and hours until I forget
her will be so much time of torture and regret, and vain, useless
longing. I shall see her face, hear her voice, wherever I may be, in
the day or in the night; and no pleasure, no pain will efface her from
my memory or my heart."

"Oh, Ley!--my poor Ley!"

"Thus it is with me. And now I have come to say 'good-bye.'"

"Good-bye. You are going--where?"

"Where?" he echoed, with the same discordant laugh. "I neither know nor
care. I am afraid all places will be alike for awhile. The whole earth
is full of her; there is not a wild flower that will not remind me of
her, not a sound of music that will not recall her voice. If I meet
a woman I shall compare her with my Stella--_my_ Stella! no, Jasper
Adelstone's! Oh, Heaven! I could bear all but that. If she were dead, I
should have at least one comfort--the consolation of knowing that she
had belonged to no other man--that in some other remote world we might
meet again, and I might claim her as mine! But that is denied to me. My
white angel is stained and besmirched, and is mine no longer!"

Worn out by the passion of his grief, he dropped on the seat at her
feet, and hid his face in his hands.

She put her arm round his neck, but spoke no word. Words at such
moments are like gnats round a wound--they can only irritate, they
cannot heal.

They sat thus motionless for some minutes, then he rose, calmer but
very white and worn.

"This is weak of me, worse than weak, inconsiderate, Lil," he said,
with a wan smile. "You have so much of your own sorrows that you should
be spared the recital of other people's woes. I will go now. Good-bye,
Lil!"

"Oh, what can I do for you?" she murmured. "My dear! My dear!"

He stooped and kissed her, and looked down at her pale face so full of
sorrow for his sorrow, and his heart grew calmer and more resigned.

"Nothing, Lil," he said.

"Yes," she said in a low voice; "if I can do nothing else I can pray
for you, Ley!"

He smiled and stroked her hair.

"You are an angel, Lil," he said, softly. "If all women were made like
you, there would be no sin and little sorrow in the world. In the
future that lies black and drear before me I shall think of you. Yes,
pray for me, Lil. Good-bye!" and he kissed her again.

She held him to the last, then when he had gone she buried her face in
her hands and cried. But suddenly she sat up and touched the bell that
stood near her.

"Crying will do no good for my Ley," she murmured. "I must do more
than that. Oh, if I could be strong and hale like other girls for an
hour, one short hour! But I will, I must do something! I cannot see him
suffer so and do nothing!"

Her one special maid, a girl who had been with her since her childhood
and knew every mood and change in her, came in and hurried to her side
at the sight of her tear-dimmed eyes.

"Oh, Lady Lilian, what is the matter? You have been crying!"

"A little, Jeanette," she said, smiling through her tears. "I am in
great trouble--Lord Leycester is in great trouble----"

"I have just met him, my lady, looking so ill and worried."

"Yes, Jeanette; he is in great trouble, and I want to help him," and
then, with fear and trembling, she announced an intention she had
suddenly formed. Jeanette was aghast for a time, but at last she
yielded, and hurried away to make the preparation for the execution of
her beloved mistress's wishes.



CHAPTER XXXII.


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."

"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 your 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."

"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.

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 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.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


"Oh, my love, my love!"

She stood with her arms outstretched toward the white walls of the
Hall, the moon shining over meadow and river, the night jay creaking in
silence.

In all her anguish and misery, in all her passionate longing and
sorrow, these were the only words that her lips could frame. All was
still in the house behind her. Frank, worn out with excitement, had
gone to his own room. The old man sat smoking, dreaming and thinking
of his little girl's betrothal. Jasper had gone--he was too wise to
prolong the strain which he knew she was enduring--and she had crept
out into the little garden and stood leaning against the gate, her
eyes fixed on the great house, which at that moment perhaps held
him--Leycester--who, a few short hours ago, was hers, and in a low
voice the cry broke from her lips:

"Oh, my love, my love!"

It was a benediction, a farewell, a prayer, in one; all her soul seemed
melting and flowing toward him in the wail. All the intense longing
of her passionate nature to fly to his protecting arms and tell him
all--to tell him that she still loved him as the flowers love the sun,
the hart the waterbrook--was expressed in the words; then, as she
remembered he could not hear them--that it would avail nothing if he
could hear them, her face dropped into her hands, and she shut out the
Hall from her hot, burning eyes. She had not yet shed one tear; if she
could but have wept, the awful tightening round her brain, the burning
fire in her eyes, would have been assuaged; but she could not weep, she
was held in thrall, benumbed by the calamity that had befallen her.

She, who was to have been Leycester's bride, was now the betrothed
of--Jasper Adelstone.

And yet, as she stood there, alone in her misery, she knew that were it
to be done again she would do it. To keep shame and disgrace from the
old man who loved her as a father--the boy who loved her as a brother,
she would have laid down her life; but this was more than life. The
sacrifice demanded of her, and which she had yielded, was worse than
death.

Death! She looked up at the blue vault of heaven with aching, longing
eyes. If she could but die--die there and then, before Jasper could lay
his hand upon her! If she could but die, so that he, Leycester, might
come and see her lying cold and white, but still his--his! He would
know then that she loved him, that without him she would not accept
even life. He would look down at her with the odd light in his dark
eyes, perhaps stoop and kiss her--and now he would never kiss her again!

How often have blind mortals clamored to the gods for this one boon
which they will not yield. When sorrow comes, the cry goes up--"Give us
death!" but the gods turn a deaf ear to the prayer. "Live," they say,
"the cup is not yet drained; the task is not yet done."

And she was young, she thought, with a sigh, "so young, and so strong,"
she might live for--for years! Oh, the long, dreary vista of years
that stretched before her, down which she would drag with tired feet
as Jasper Adelstone's wife. No thought of appealing to him, to his
mercy, ever occurred to her; she had learned to know him, during that
short hour in London, so well as to know that any such appeal would be
useless. The sphinx rearing its immovable head above the dreary desert
could not be more steadfast, more unyielding than this man who held her
in his grasp.

"No," she murmured, "I have taken up this burden; I must carry it to
the end. Would to Heaven that end were nigh."

She turned with dragging step toward the house, scarcely hearing,
utterly heedless of the sound of approaching wheels; even when they
stopped outside the gate she did not notice; but suddenly a voice
cried, in low and tremulous accents, "Stella!" and she turned, with her
hand pressed to her bosom. She knew the voice, and it went to her heart
like a knife. It was not _his_, but so like, so like.

She turned and started, for there, standing in the moonlight, leaning
on the arm of her maid, was Lady Lilian.

The two stood for a moment regarding each other in silence, then Stella
came nearer.

Lady Lilian held out her hand, and Stella came and took her by her arm.

"Wait for me in the lane, Jeanette," said Lady Lilian. "You will let me
lean on you, Stella," she added, softly.

Stella took her and led her to a seat, and the two sat in silence.
Stella with her eyes on the ground, Lilian with hers fixed on the pale,
lovely face--more lovely even than when she had last seen it, flushed
with happiness and love's anticipation. A pang shot through the tender
heart of the sick girl as she noted the dark rings under the beautiful
eyes, the tightly drawn lips, the wan, weary face.

"Stella," she murmured, and put her arm round her.

Stella turned her face; it was almost hard in her effort at
self-control.

"Lady Lilian----"

"Lilian--only Lilian."

"You have come here--so late!"

"Yes, I have come, Stella," she murmured, and the tears sprang to her
eyes, drawn thither by the sound of the other voice, so sad and so
hopeless. "I could not rest, dear. You would have come to me, Stella,
if I had--if it had happened to me!"

Stella's lips moved.

"Perhaps."

Lilian took her hand--hot and feverish and restless.

"Stella, you must not be angry with me----"

A wan smile flickered on the pale face.

"Angry! Look at me. There is nothing that could happen to-night that
would rouse me to anger."

"Oh, my dear, my dear! you frighten me!"

Stella looked at her with awful calm.

"Do I?" Then her voice dropped. "I am almost frightened at myself. Why
have you come?" she asked almost sharply.

"Because I thought you needed me--some one, some girl young like
yourself. Do not send me away, Stella. You will hear what I have come
to say?"

"Yes, I will hear," said Stella, wearily, "though no words that can be
spoken will help me, none."

"Stella, I--I have heard----"

Stella looked at her, and her lips quivered.

"You have seen him--he has told you?" she breathed.

Lilian bent her head.

"Yes, dear, I have seen him. Oh, Stella, if you had seen him as I have
done!--if you had heard him speak! His voice----"

Stella put up her hand.

"Don't!--Spare me!" she uttered, hoarsely.

"But why--why should it be?" murmured Lilian, clinging to her hand.
"Why, Stella, you cannot guess how he loves you? There never was love
so deep, so pure, so true as his!"

A faint flush broke over the pale face.

"I know it," she breathed. Then, with a sharp, almost fierce energy,
"Have you come to tell me that--me who know him so well? Was it worth
while? Do you think I do not know what I have lost?"

"You promised not to be angry with me, Stella."

"Forgive me--I--I scarcely know what I am saying! You did not come for
that; what then?"

"To hear from your own lips, Stella, the reason for this. Bear with me,
dear! Remember that I am his sister, that I love him with a love only
second to yours! That all my life I have loved him, and that my heart
is breaking at the sight of his unhappiness. I have come to tell you
this--to plead for him--to plead with you for yourself! Do not turn a
deaf ear, a cold heart to me, Stella! Do not, do not!" and she clung to
the hot hands, and looked up at the white face with tearful, imploring
eyes.

"You say you know him; you may do so; but not so well as I, his sister.
I know every turn of his nature--am I not of the same flesh and blood?
Stella, he is not like other men--quick to change and forget. He will
never bend and turn as other men. Stella, you will break his heart!"

Stella turned on her like some tortured animal driven to bay.

"Do I not know it! Is it not this knowledge that is breaking my
heart--that has already broken it?" she retorted wildly. "Do you think
I am sorrowing for myself alone? Do you think me so mean, so selfish?
Listen, Lady Lilian, if--if this separation were to bring him happiness
I could have borne it with a smile. If you could come to me and say,
'He will forget you and his love in a week--a month--a year!' I would
welcome you as one who brings me consolation and hope. Who am I that
I should think of myself alone?--I, the miserable, insignificant girl
whom he condescended to bless with his love! I am--nothing! Nothing
save what his love made me. If my life could have purchased his
happiness I would have given it. Lady Lilian you do not know me----"

The tempest of her passion overawed the other weak and trembling girl.

"You love him so!" she murmured.

Stella looked at her with a smile.

"I love him," she said, slowly. "I will never say it again, never! I
say it to you that you may know and understand how deep and wide is the
gulf which stretches between us--so wide that it can never, never be
overpassed."

"No, no, you shall not say it."

Stella smiled bitterly.

"I think I know why you have come, Lilian. You think this a mere
lovers' quarrel, that a word will set straight. Quarrel! How little you
know either him or me. There never could have been a quarrel between
us--one cannot quarrel with oneself! His word, his wish were law to
me. If he had said 'do this,' I should have done it--if he had said
'go thither,' I should have gone; but once he laid his command on me,
and I obeyed. There is nothing I would not have done--nothing, if he
had bidden me. I know it now--I know now that I was like a reed in his
hands now that I have lost him."

Lilian put her hand upon her lips.

"You shall not say it!" she murmured, hoarsely. "Nothing can part
you--nothing can stand against such love! You are right. I never knew
what it meant until to-night. Stella, you cannot mean to send him
away--you will not let anything save death come between you?"

Stella looked at her with aching eyes that, unlike Lilian's, were dry
and tearless.

"Death!" she said, "there are things worse than death----"

"Stella!"

"Words one cannot mention, lest the winds should catch them up and
spread them far and wide. Not even death could have divided us more
effectually than we are divided."

Lilian shrank back appalled.

"What is it you say?" she breathed. "Stella, look at me! You will, you
must tell me what you mean."

Stella did look at her, with a look that was awful in its calm despair.

"I was silent when _he_ bade me speak; do you think that I can open my
lips to you?"

Lilian hid her face in her hand, tremblingly.

"Oh, what is it?--what is it?" she murmured.

There was silence for a moment, then Stella laid her hand on Lilian's
arm.

"Listen," she said, solemnly. "I will tell you this much, that you may
understand how hopeless is the task which you have undertaken. If--if
I were to yield, if I were to say to him 'Come back! I am yours, take
me!' you--_you_, who plead so that my heart aches at your words--would,
in the coming time, when the storm broke and the cost of my yielding
had to be paid--you would be the first to say that I had done wrong,
weakly, selfishly. You would be the first, because you are a woman,
and know that it is a woman's duty to sacrifice herself for those she
loves! Have I made it plain?"

Lilian raised her head and looked at her, and her face went white.

"Is--is that true?"

"It is so true, that if I were to tell you what separates us, you would
go without a word; no! you would utter that word in a prayer that I
might remain as firm and unyielding as I am!"

So utterly hopeless were the words, the voice, that they smote on the
gentle heart with the force of conviction. She was silent for a moment,
then, with a sob, she held out her arms.

"Oh, my dear, my dear! Stella, Stella!" she sobbed.

Stella looked at her for a moment, then she bent and kissed her.

"Do not cry," she murmured, no tear in her own eye. "I can not cry, I
feel as if I shall never shed another tear! Go now go!" and she put her
arm round her.

Lilian rose trembling, and leant upon her, looking up into her face.

"My poor Stella!" she murmured. "He--he called you noble; I know now
what he meant! I think I understand--I am not sure, even now; but I
think, and--and, yes, I will say it, I feel that you are right. But,
oh, my dear, my dear!"

"Hush! hush!" breathed Stella, painfully. "Do not pity me----"

"Pity! It is a poor, a miserable word between us. I love, I honor you,
Stella!" and she put her arm round Stella's neck. "Kiss me, dear, once!"

Stella bent and kissed her.

"Once--and for the last time," she said, in a low voice. "Henceforth we
must be strangers."

"Not that, Stella; that is impossible, knowing what we do!"

"Yes, it must be," was the low, calm response. "I could not bear it.
There must be nothing to remind me of--him," and her lips quivered.

Lilian's head drooped.

"Oh, my poor boy!" she moaned. "Stella," she said, in a pleading
whisper, "give me one word to comfort him--one word?"

Stella turned her eyes upon her; they had reached the gate, the
carriage was in sight.

"There is no word that I can send," she said, almost inaudibly. "No
word but this--that nothing he can do can save us, that any effort will
but add to my misery, and that I pray we may never meet again."

"I cannot tell him that! Not that, Stella!"

"It is the best wish I can have," said Stella, "I do wish it--for
myself, and for him. I pray that we never meet again."

Lilian clung to her to the last, even when she had entered the
carriage, and to the last there was no tear in the dark sorrowful
eyes. White and weary she stood, looking out into the night, worn out
and exhausted by the struggle and the storm of pent-up emotion, but
fixed and immovable as only a woman can be when she has resolved on
self-sacrifice.

A few minutes later, Lilian stood on the threshold of Leycester's room.
She had knocked twice, scarcely daring to use her voice, but at last
she spoke his name, and he opened the door.

"Lilian!" he said, and he took her in his arms.

"Shut the door," she breathed.

Then she sank on to his breast and looked up at him, all her love and
devotion in her sorrowful eyes.

"Oh, my poor darling," she murmured.

He started and drew her to the light.

"What is it! Where have you been?" he asked, and there was a faint
sound of hope in his voice, a faint light in his haggard face, as she
whispered--

"I have seen her!"

"Seen her--Stella?"

And his voice quivered on the name.

"Yes. Oh, Ley! Ley!"

His face blanched.

"Well!" he said, hoarsely.

"Ley, my poor Ley! there is no hope."

His grasp tightened on her arm.

"No hope!" he echoed wearily.

She shook her head.

"Ley, I do not wonder at you loving her! She is the type of all that is
beautiful and noble----"

"You--you torture me!" he said, brokenly.

"So good and true and noble," she continued, sobbing; "and because she
is all this and more you must learn to bear it, Ley!"

He smiled bitterly.

"You must bear it, Ley; even as she bears it----"

"Tell me what it is," he broke in, hoarsely. "Give me something
tangible to grapple with, and--well, then talk to me of bearing it!"

"I cannot--she cannot," she replied, earnestly, solemnly. "Even to
me, heart to heart, she could not open her lips. Ley! Fate is against
you--you and her. There is no hope, no hope! I feel it; I who would not
have believed it, did not believe it even from you! There is no hope,
Ley!"

He let her sink into a chair and stood beside her, a look on his face
that was not good to see.

"Is there not?" he said, in a low voice. "You have appealed to her.
There is still one other to appeal to; I shall seek him."

She looked up, not with alarm but with solemn conviction.

"Do not," she said, "unless you wish to add to her sorrow! No, Ley, if
you strike at him, the blow must reach her."

"She told you that?"

"Yes; by word, by look. No, Ley, there is no hope there. You cannot
reach him except through her, and you will spare her that. 'Tell him,'
she said, 'that any effort he makes will add to my misery. Tell him
that I pray we may never meet again.'" She paused a moment. "Ley, I
know no more of the cause than you, but I know this, that she is right."

He stood looking down at her, his face working, then at last he
answered:

"You are a brave girl, Lil," he said. "You must go now; even you cannot
help me to bear this. 'Pray that we may never meet again,' and this was
to have been our marriage day!"



CHAPTER XXXIV.


I have carefully avoided describing Lord Leycester Wyndward as a
"good" man. If to be generous, single-minded, impatient of wrong and
pitiful of the wronged; if to be blessed, cursed with the capacity for
loving madly and passionately; if to be without fear, either moral or
physical, be heroic, then he was a hero; but I am afraid it cannot be
said that he was "good."

Before many weeks had elapsed since his parting with Stella, the world
had decided that he was indeed very bad. It is scarcely too much to say
that his name was the red rag which was flourished in the eyes of those
righteous, indignant bulls whose mission in life it is to talk over
their fellow-creatures' ill deeds and worry them.

One mad exploit after another was connected with his name, and it soon
came to pass that no desperate thing was done within the circle of the
higher class, but he was credited with being the ringleader, or at
least with having a hand in it.

It was said that at that select and notorious club, "The Rookery,"
Lord Leycester was the most desperate of gamblers and persistent of
losers. Rumor went so far as to declare that even the Wyndward estates
could not stand the inroads which his losses at the gaming table were
making. It was rumored, and not contradicted, that he had "plunged" on
the turf, and that his stud was one of the largest and most expensive
in England.

The society papers were full of insinuating paragraphs hinting at the
wildness of his career, and prophesying its speedy and disastrous
termination. He was compared with the lost characters of past
generations--likened to Lord Norbury, the Marquis of Waterford, and
similar dissipated individuals. His handsome face and tall, thin, but
still stalwart figure, had become famous, and people nudged each other
and pointed him out when he passed along the fashionably-frequented
thoroughfares.

His rare appearance in the haunts of society occasioned the deepest
interest and curiosity.

One enterprising photographer had managed, by the exercise of vast
ingenuity, to procure his likeness, and displayed copies in his window;
but they were speedily and promptly withdrawn.

There was no reckless hardihood with which he was not credited. Men
were proud of possessing a horse that he had ridden, because their
capability of riding it proved their courage.

Scandal seized upon his name and made a hearty and never-ending meal
of it; and yet, by some strange phenomenal chance, no one heard it
connected with that of a woman.

Some said that he drank hard, rode hard, and played hard, and that he
was fast rushing headlong to ruin, but no one ever hinted that he was
dragging a member of the fair sex with him.

He was seen occasionally in drags bound to Richmond, or at Bohemian
parties in St. John's Wood, but no woman could boast that he was her
special conquest.

It was even said that he had suddenly acquired a distinct distaste for
female society, and that he had been heard to declare that, but for the
women, the world would still be worth living in.

It was very sad; society was shocked as well as curious, dismayed as
well as intensely interested. Mothers with marriageable daughters
openly declared that something ought to be done, that it was impossible
that such a man, the heir to such a title and estates should be
allowed to throw himself away. The deepest pity was expressed for Lady
Wyndward, and one or two of the aforesaid mammas had ventured, with
some tremors, to mention his case to that august lady. But they got
little for their pains, save a calm, dignified, and haughty rebuff.
Never, by word, look, or sign did the countess display the sorrow which
was imbittering her life.

The stories of his ill-doings could not fail to reach her ears, seeing
that they were common talk, but she never flushed or even winced. She
knew when she entered a crowded room, and a sudden silence fell, to be
followed by a spasmodic attempt at conversation, that those assembled
were speaking of her son, but by no look or word did she confess to
that knowledge.

Only in the secrecy of her own chamber did she let loose the floodgates
of her sorrow and admit her despair. The time had come when she felt
almost tempted to regret that he had not married "the little girl---the
painter's niece," and settled down in his own way.

She knew that it was broken off; she knew, or divined that some plot
had brought about the separation, but she had asked no questions, not
even of Lenore, who was now her constant companion and chosen friend.

Between them Leycester's name was rarely mentioned. Not even from her
husband would she hear aught of accusation against the boy who had ever
been the one darling of her life.

Once old Lady Longford had pronounced his name, had spoken a couple
of words or so, but even she could not get the mother to unburden her
heart.

"What is to be done?" the old lady had asked, one morning when the
papers had appeared with an account of a mad exploit in which the
well-known initials Lord Y---- W---- had clearly indicated his
complicity.

"I do not know," she had replied. "I do not think there is anything to
be done."

"Do you mean that he is to be allowed to go on like this, to drift
to ruin without a hand to stay him?" demanded the old lady almost
wrathfully; and the countess had turned on her angrily.

"Who can do anything to stay him? Have you yourself not said that it is
impossible, that he must be left alone?"

"I did, yes, I did," admitted the old countess, "but things were not so
bad then, not nearly. All this is different. There is a woman in the
case, Ethel!"

"Yes," said the countess, bitterly, "there is," and she felt tempted to
echo the assertion which Leycester had been reputed to utter, "that if
there had been no women the world would have been worth living in."

Then Lady Longford had attempted to "get at" Leycester through his
companion Lord Charles, but Lord Charles had plainly intimated his
helplessness.

"Going wrong," he said, shaking his head. "If Leycester's going wrong,
so am I, because, don't you see, I'm bound to go with him. Always did,
you know, and can't leave him now; too late in the day."

"And so you'll let your bosom friend go to the dogs"--the old lady had
almost used a stronger word--"rather than say a word to stop him?"

"Say a word!" retorted Lord Charles, ruefully. "I've said twenty. Only
yesterday I told him the pace couldn't last; but he only laughed and
told me that was his business, and that it would last long enough for
him."

"Lord Charles, you are a fool!" exclaimed the old lady.

And Lord Charles had shook his head.

"I daresay I am," he said, not a whit offended. "I always was where
Leycester was concerned."

The one creature in the world--excepting Stella--who could have
influenced him, knew nothing of what was going on.

The excitement of her visit to Stella, and her terrible interview
during it, had utterly prostrated the delicate girl, and Lilian lay
in her room in the mansion in Grosvenor Square, looking more like the
flower namesake than ever.

The doctor had insisted that no excitement of any kind was to be
permitted to approach her, and they had kept the rumors and stories of
Leycester's doings from her knowledge.

He came to see her sometimes, and even in the darkened room she could
see the ravages which the last few months had made with him; but he was
always gentle and considerate toward her, and in response to her loving
inquiries always declared that he was well--quite well. Stella's name,
by mutual consent, was never mentioned between them. It was understood
that that page of his life was closed for ever; but after every visit,
when he had left her, she lay and wept over the knowledge that he had
not forgotten her. She could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice.
As Stella had said, Leycester was not one to love and unlove in a
day--in a week--in a month!

So the Summer had crept on to the Autumn. Not one word has he heard of
Stella. Though she was in his thoughts day and night, alike in the hour
of the wildest dissipation, and in the silent watches of the night,
he had heard no word of her. All his efforts were directed towards
forgetting her. And yet if he picked up a paper or a book and chanced
to come upon her name--Stella!--a pang shot through his heart, and the
blood fled from his face.

The Autumn had come, and London was almost deserted, but there were
some who clung on still. There are some to whom the shady side of Pall
Mall and their clubs are the only Paradise; and the card-rooms of the
Rookery are by no means empty.

In the middle of September, when half "the town" was in the country
popping at the birds, Leycester and Lord Charles were still haunting
Pall Mall.

"Better go down and look at the birds," said Lord Charles one night,
morning rather, for it was in the small hours. "What do you say to
running down to my place, Ley?"

"My place" was Vernon Grange, a noble Elizabethan mansion, standing
right in the center of one of the finest shooting districts. The grange
was at present shut up, the birds running wild, the keepers in despair,
all because Lord Leycester could not forget Stella, and his friend
would not desert him!

"Suppose we start to-morrow morning," went on Lord Charles, struggling
into his light over-coat and yawning. "We can take some fellows
down!--plenty of birds, you know. Had a letter from the head keeper
yesterday; fellow quite broken-hearted, give you my word! Come on,
Ley! I'm sick of this, I am, indeed. I hate the place," and he glanced
sleepily at the dimly lit hall of the Rookery. "What's the use of
playing ecarte and baccarat night after night; it doesn't amuse you
even if you win!"

Leycester was striding on, scarcely appearing to hear, but the word
"amuse" roused him.

"Nothing 'amuses,' Charles," he said, quietly. "Nothing. Everything is
a bore. The only thing is to forget, and the cards help me to do that,
for a little while, at least--a little while."

Lord Charles nearly groaned.

"They'll make you forget you've anything to lose shortly," he said.
"We've been going it like the very deuce, lately, Ley!"

Leycester stopped and looked at him, wearily, absently.

"I suppose we have, Charles," he said; "why don't you cut it? I don't
mind it; it is a matter of indifference to me. But you! you can cut it.
You shall go down to-morrow morning, and I'll stay."

"Thanks," said the constant friend. "I'm in the same boat, Ley, and
I'll pull while you do. When you are tired of this foolery, we'll come
to shore and be sensible human beings again. I shan't leave the boat
till you do."

"You'll wait till it goes down?"

"Yes, I suppose I shall," was the quiet response, "if down it must go."

Leycester walked on in silence for a minute.

"What a mockery it all is!" he said, with a half smile.

"Yes," assented Lord Charles, slowly; "some people would call it by a
stronger name, I suppose. I don't see the use of it. The use--why it's
the very ruination. Ley, you are killing yourself."

"And you."

"No," said Lord Charles, coolly, "I'm all right--I've got nothing on my
mind. I'm bored and used-up while it lasts, but when it's over I can
turn in and get to sleep. You can't--or you don't."

Leycester thrust his hands in his pockets in silence, he could not deny
it.

"I don't believe you sleep one night out of three," said Lord Charles.
"You've got the mad fever, Ley. I wish it could be altered."

Leycester walked on still more quickly.

"You shall go down to-morrow, Charles," he said. "I don't think I'll
come."

"Why not?"

Leycester stopped and put his hand on his arm, and looked at him with a
feverish smile on his face.

"Simply because I cannot--I cannot. I hate the sight of a green field.
I hate the country. Heaven! go down there! Charlie, you know dogs can't
bear the sight of water when they are queer. You've got a river down
there, haven't you? Well, the sight of that river, the sound of that
stream, would drive me mad! I cannot go, but you shall."

Lord Charles shook his head.

"Very well. Where now! Let us go home."

Leycester stopped short.

"Good-night," he said. "Go home. Don't be foolish, Charlie--go home."

"And you!"

Leycester put his hand on his arm slowly, and looked round.

"Not home," he said--"not yet. I'm wakeful to-night."

And he smiled grimly.

"The thought of the meadow and the river has set me thinking. I'll go
back to the 'Rookery.'"

Lord Charles turned without a word, and they went back.

The tables were still occupied, and the entrance of the two men was
noticed and greeted with a word here and there. Lord Charles dropped on
to a chair and called for some coffee--a great deal of coffee was drank
at the "Rookery"--but Leycester wandered about from table to table.

Presently he paused beside some men who were playing baccarat.

They had been playing since midnight, and piles of notes, and gold, and
I O U's told pretty plainly of the size of the stakes.

Leycester stood leaning on the back of a chair, absently watching the
play, but his thoughts were wandering back to the meadows of Wyndward,
and he stood once more beside the weir stream, with the lovely face
upon his breast.

But suddenly a movement of one of the players opposite him attracted
his attention, and he came back to the present with a start.

A young fellow--a mere boy--the heir to a marquisate, Lord Bellamy--the
reader will not have forgotten him--had dropped suddenly across the
table, his outstretched hands still clutching the cards. There was an
instant stir, the men started to their feet, the servants crowded up;
all stood aghast.

Leycester was the first to recover presence of mind, and, hurrying
round the table, picked the boy up in his strong arms.

"What's the matter, Bell?" he said; then, as he glanced at the white
face, with the dark lines round the eyes, he said in his quiet,
composed voice: "He has fainted; fetch a doctor, some of you."

And lifting him easily in his arms, he carried him in to an adjoining
room.

Lord Charles followed with a glass of water, but Leycester put it aside
with the one word--

"Brandy."

Lord Charles brought some brandy and closed the door, the others
standing outside aghast and frightened. Leycester poured some of the
spirit through his closed teeth, and the boy came back to life--to what
was left for him of life--and smiled up at him.

"The room was hot, Bell," said Leycester, in his gentle way; he could
be gentle even now. "I wanted you to go home two--three--hours ago! Why
didn't you go?"

"You--stayed----" gasped the boy.

Leicester's lips twitched.

"I!" he said. "That is a different matter."

The boy's head drooped, and fell back on Leycester's arm.

"Tell them not to stop the game," he said; "let somebody play for me!"
then he went off again.

The doctor came, a fashionable, hardworked man, a friend both of
Leycester's and Guildford's, and bent over the lad as he lay.

"It's a faint," said Lord Charles, nervously; "nothing else, eh,
doctor?"

The doctor looked up.

"My brougham is outside," he said. "I will take him home."

Leycester nodded, and carried the slight frame through the hall and
placed it in the brougham. The doctor followed. The cool air revived
the boy, and he made an effort to sit up, looking round as if in search
of something; at last his wandering sight fell on Leycester's, and he
smiled.

"That's right, Bell!" said Leycester; "you will be well to-morrow; but
mind, no more of this!" and he took the small white hand.

The heir to a marquisate clung to the hand, and smiled again.

"No, there will be no more of it, Leycester," he breathed, painfully.
"There will be no more of anything for me; I have seen the last of the
Rookery--and of you all. Leycester, I am dying!"

Leycester forced a smile to his white face.

"Nonsense, Bell," he said.

The boy raised a weak, trembling finger, and pointed to the doctor's
face.

"Look at him," he said. "He never told a lie in his--life. Ask him."

"Tell them to drive on, my lord," said the doctor.

The boy laughed, an awful laugh; then his face changed, and even as the
brougham moved on, he clung to Leycester's hand, and bending forward,
panted:

"Leycester--good-bye!"

Leycester stood, white and motionless as a statue, for the space of a
minute; then he turned to Lord Charles, who stood biting his pale lips
and looking after the brougham.

"I will go with you to-morrow," he said, hoarsely.



CHAPTER XXXV.


Time--which Lord Leycester had been so recklessly wasting in "riotous
living"--passed very quiet indeed in the Thames valley, beneath the
white walls of Wyndward Hall.

During the months which elapsed since that fearful parting between the
two lovers, life had gone on at the cottage just as before, with the
one great exception that Jasper Adelstone had become almost a daily
visitor, and that Stella was engaged to him.

That was all the difference, but what a difference it was!

Lord Leycester gone--her tried, her first lover, the man who had won
her maiden heart--and in his place this man whom she--hated.

But yet she fought the battle womanfully. She had made a bargain--she
had sacrificed herself for her two loved ones, had given herself freely
and unreservedly, and she strove to carry out her part of the compact.

She looked a little pale, a little graver than of old, but there was no
querulous tone of complaint about her; if she did not laugh the frank,
light-hearted laugh that her uncle used to declare was like the "voice
of sunlight," she smiled sometimes; and if the smile was rather sad
than mirthful, it was very sweet.

The old man noticed nothing amiss; he thought she had grown quieter,
but set the change down to her betrothal; he went on painting, absorbed
in his work, scarcely heeding the world that ran by him so merrily, so
sadly, and was quite content. Jasper's quiet, low-toned voice did not
disturb him, and he would go on painting while they were talking near
him, dead to their presence. Since that last blow his boy's crime had
struck him, he had lived more entirely and completely in his art than
ever.

Of the two, Frank and Stella, perhaps it was Frank who seemed the
most changed. He had grown thinner and paler, and more girlish and
delicate-looking than ever.

It had been arranged that he should go up to the university for the
next term, but Mr. Hamilton, the old doctor, who had been called in to
see to a slight cough which the boy had started, had hummed and hawed,
and advised that the 'varsity should be shelved for the present.

"Was he ill?" Stella had asked, anxiously--very anxiously, for,
woman-like, she had grown to love with a passionate devotion the boy
for whom she had sacrificed herself.

"N--o; not ill," the old doctor had said. "Certainly not ill," and he
went on to explain that Frank was delicate--that all boys with fair
hair and fair complexions were more or less delicate.

"But he has such a beautiful color," said Stella, nervously.

"Y--es; a nice color," said the old man, and that was all she could get
out of him.

But the cough did not go; and as the Autumn mists stole up from the
river and covered the meadows with a filmy veil, beautiful to behold,
the cough got worse; but the beautiful color did not go either, and so
Stella was not very anxious.

As for Frank himself, he treated his ailments with supreme indifference.

"Do I take any medicine?" he said, in answer to Stella's questioning.
"Yes, I take all the old woman--I beg his pardon!--the doctor sends.
It isn't very unpleasant, and though it doesn't do me much good
apparently, it seems to afford you and the aforesaid old woman some
satisfaction, and so we are pleased all round."

"You don't seem to take any interest in things, Frank," said Stella,
one morning, when she had come into the garden to look at the trees
that drew a long line of gold and brown and yellow along the river
bank, and had found him leaning on the gate, his hands clasped before
him, his eyes fixed on the Hall, very much as she had first seen him,
the night he had come home.

He looked round at her and smiled faintly.

"Why don't you go and try the fish?" she said. "Or--or--go for a ride?
You only wander about the gardens or in the meadows."

He looked at her curiously.

"Why do not you?" he said, slowly, his large blue eyes fixed on her
face, which grew slowly blush-red under his regard. "You do not seem to
take much interest in things, Stel. You don't go and fish, or--or--take
a drive, or anything. You only wander about the garden, or in the
meadows."

The long lashes swept her cheeks, and she struggled with a sigh. His
words had told home.

"But--but," she said falteringly, "I am not a boy. Girls should stay at
home and attend to their duties."

"And walk and move as if they were in a dream--as if their hearts and
souls were divorced from their bodies--and miles, miles away," he said,
waving his thin white hand in the air slowly.

Her lips quivered, and she turned her face away, but only for a moment;
it was back upon him with a smile again.

"You are a foolish, fanciful boy!" she said, putting her hand on his
shoulder and caressing his cheek.

"Perhaps so," he said. "'My fancies are more than all the world to me,'
says the poet, you know," he added, bitterly.

Stella's heart ached.

"Are you angry with me, Frank?" she said. "Don't be!"

He shook his head.

"No, not angry," he said, looking out at the mist that was rising.

She smothered a sigh; she understood his reproach; not a moment of the
day but he accused her in his heart of betraying Lord Leycester; if he
could but have known why she had done it; but that he never would know!

"You are a fanciful boy," she said, with a forced lightness. "What are
you dreaming about now, I wonder?"

"I was wondering too," he answered, without looking at her, "I was
wondering--shall I tell you----"

She answered "yes," with her hand against his cheek.

"I was wondering where Lord Leycester was, and how----"

Her hand dropped to her side and pressed her heart; the sudden mention
of the name had struck her like a blow.

He glanced round.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "I forgot; his name was never to be
mentioned, was it? I will not sin again--in word. In thought--one can't
help one's thoughts, Stel!"

"No," she murmured, almost inaudibly.

"Thoughts are free," he said; "mine are not, however; they are always
flying after him--after him, the best and noblest of men, the man who
saved my life. You see, though I may not speak of him, it would be
ungrateful to forget him!"

"Frank!"

At her tone of piteous supplication and almost reproach, he turned and
put his hand on her arm.

"Forgive me, Stel! I didn't mean to hurt you, but--but--well it is
so hard to understand, so hard to bear! To feel, to know that he is
far away and suffering, while that man, Jasper Adelstone--I beg your
pardon, Stel! There! I will say no more!"

"Do not," she murmured, her face white and strained, but resigned--"do
not. Besides, you are wrong; he has forgotten by this time."

He turned and looked at her with a sudden anger; then he smiled as the
exquisite beauty of her face smote him.

"You wrong him and yourself. No, Stel, men do not forget such a girl as
you----"

"No more!" she said, almost in a tone of command.

He shook his head, and the cough came on and silenced him.

She put her arm round his neck.

"That cough," she said. "You must go in, dear! Look at the mist. Come,
come in!"

He turned in silence and walked beside her for a few steps. Then he
said tremulously:

"Stella, let me ask one question, and then I will be silent--for
always."

"Well?" she said.

"Have you heard from him?--do you know where he is?"

She paused a moment to control her voice, then she said:

"I have heard no word; I do not know whether he is alive or dead."

He sighed and his head dropped upon his breast.

"Let us go in," he said, then he started, for his ears, particularly
sharp, had caught the sound of a well-known footstep.

"There is--Jasper," he said, with a pause before the name, and he drew
his arm away and walked away from her. Stella turned with a strange set
smile on her face, the set smile which she had learnt to greet him with.

He came up the path with his quick and peculiar suppressed step, his
hand outstretched. He would have taken her in his arms and kissed
her--if he had dared. But he could not. With all his determination and
resolution he dared not. There was something, some mysterious halo
about his victim which kept him almost at arm's length; it was as if
she had surrounded herself by a magic circle which he could not pass.

He took her hand and raised it to his lips and kissed it, his eyes
drinking in her beauty and grace with a thirsty wistfulness.

"My darling," he murmured, in his soft, low voice, "out so late. Will
you not catch cold?"

"No," she said, and like her smile her voice seemed set and tutored.
"I shall not catch cold, I never do under any circumstance. But I have
just sent Frank in, he has been coughing terribly--he does not seem at
all strong."

He frowned with swift impatience.

"Frank is all right," he said, and there was a touch of jealousy in his
voice. "Are you not unduly anxious about the boy--you alarm yourself
without cause."

"Alarm myself," she repeated, ready to be alarmed at the suggestion.
"I--don't think, I hope I am not alarmed. Why should I be?" she said,
anxiously.

The jealousy grew more pronounced.

"There is no reason whatever," he said, shortly. "The boy is all
right. He has been getting his feet wet and caught cold, that is all."

Stella smiled.

"Yes, that is all," she said, "of course. But it is strange Dr.
Hamilton doesn't get rid of it for him."

"Perhaps he doesn't help the doctor," he retorted. "Boys always
are careless about themselves. But don't let Frank absorb all the
conversation," he said. "Let us talk of ourselves," and he kissed her
hand again.

"Yes," said Stella, obediently.

He kept her hand in his and pressed it.

"I have come to speak to you to-night, Stella, about ourselves,
darling. I want you to be very good to me!"

She looked forward at the lighted room with the same set expression,
waiting patiently, obediently, for him to proceed. There was no
response in her touch or in her face. He noticed it--he never failed to
notice it, and it maddened him. He set his teeth hard.

"Stella, I have been waiting month after month to say what I am going
to say now; but I couldn't wait any longer, my darling, my own, I wish
the marriage to take place."

She did not start, but she turned and looked at him, and her face
shone whitely in the darkness, and he felt a faint shudder in the hand
imprisoned in his.

"Will you not speak?" he said, after a moment, almost angry, because
of the tempest of passion and breathed tenderness that possessed him.
"Have you nothing to say, or will you say 'no?' I almost expect it."

"I will not say no," she said, at last, and her voice was cold and
strained. "You have a right--the right I have given you--to demand the
fulfillment of our bargain."

"Good Heaven!" he broke in, passionately. "Why do you talk like this?
Shall I never, never win you to love me? Will you never forget how we
came together?"

"Do not ask me," she said, almost pleaded, and her face quivered.
"Indeed--indeed, I try, try--try hard to forget the past, and to please
you!"

It was piteous to hear and see her, and his heart ached; but it was for
himself as well as for her.

"Do you doubt my love?" he said, hoarsely. "Do you think any man could
love you better than I do? Does that count as nothing with you?"

"Yes, yes," she said, slowly, sadly. "It does count. I--I----" then she
looked down. "Why will you speak of love between us?" she said. "Ask
me--tell me to do anything, and I will do it, but do not speak of love!"

He bit his lip.

"Well," he said, with an effort, "I will not. I see I cannot touch your
heart yet. But the time will come. You cannot stand against a love like
mine. And you will let our marriage be soon?"

"Yes," she said, simply.

He raised her hand to his lips, and kissed it, hungrily, and she forced
back the shudder which threatened to overmaster her.

"By soon," he murmured, as they walked toward the house, "I mean quite
soon--before the winter."

Stella did not speak.

"Let it be next month, darling," he murmured. "I shall not feel sure
of you until you are my very own. Once you are mine beyond question, I
will teach you to love me."

Stella looked at him, and a strange, despairing smile, more bitter and
sad than tears, shone on her pale lips. Teach her to love him! As if
love could be taught!

"I am not afraid," he said, answering her smile; "no one could
withstand it--not even you, though your heart were adamant."

"It is not that," she said, in a low voice, as she thought of the dull
aching which was its pittance by day and night.

They went into the house. Mr. Etheridge was wandering about the
room, smoking his pipe, his head upon his breast, buried in thought,
as usual. Frank was lying back in the old arm-chair; he looked
wearily-fragile and delicate, but the beautiful color shone in his face.

He looked up and nodded as Jasper entered, but Jasper was not satisfied
with the nod, and went over to him and laid a hand upon his shoulder,
at which the boy winced and shrank faintly; he never could bear Jasper
to touch him, and always resented it.

"Well, Frank," he said, with his faint smile, "how's the cold to-night?"

Frank murmured something indistinctly, and shifted in his seat.

"Not so well, eh?" said Jasper. "It seems to me that a change would do
you good. What do you say to going away for a little while?"

The boy looked up at Stella with a glance of alarm. Leave Stella!

"I don't want to go away," he said, shortly. "I am quite well. I hate a
change."

Stella came up to his chair, and knelt beside him.

"It would do you good, dear," she said, in her low, musical voice.

He bent near her.

"Do you mean--alone?" he asked. "I don't want to go alone--I won't, in
fact."

"No, not alone, certainly," said Jasper, with his smile. "I think some
one else wants a change too."

And he looked at Stella tenderly.

"I'll go if Stella goes," said Frank, curtly.

"What do you say, sir?" said Jasper to the old man.

He stared, and the proposal had to be put to him _in extenso_; he had
not heard a word of what had been said.

"Go away! yes, if you like. But why? Frank's cold? I don't suppose any
other place is better for a cold is it? It is? Very well then. You
don't want me to come, I suppose?"

"Well----" said Jasper.

"I couldn't do it!" exclaimed the old man, almost with alarm. "I should
be like a fish out of water. I couldn't paint away from the river and
the meadows. Oh, it's impossible! Besides, you don't want an old man
pottering about," and he looked at Stella and smiled grimly.

"I couldn't go without you," said Stella, quietly.

"Nonsense," he said; "there's the other old woman, Mrs. Penfold, take
her; she can go. It will do her good, though she hasn't a cold."

Then he stopped in front of the boy and looked at him, with the strange
reserved, almost sad, expression which always came upon his race when
he regarded him.

"Yes," he said, in a low voice; "he wants a change. I haven't noticed;
he looks thin and unwell. Yes, you had better go! Where will you go?"

Stella shook her head with a smile, but Jasper was ready.

"Let me see," he said, thoughtfully. "We don't want a cold place, the
change would be too great; and we don't want too hot a place. What do
you say to Cornwall?"

The old man nodded.

Stella smiled again.

"I haven't anything to say," she said. "Would you like Cornwall, Frank?"

He looked from one to the other.

"What made you think of Cornwall?" he asked Jasper, suspiciously.

Jasper laughed softly.

"It seemed to me just the place to suit you. It is mild and clear, and
just what you want. Besides, I remember a little place near the sea, a
sheltered village in a bay--Carlyon they call it--that would just do
for us. What do you say? Let me see, where is the map?"

He went and got a map and spreading it out on the table, called to
Stella.

"This is it," he said, then in a low voice he whispered: "There is a
pretty, secluded little church there, Stella. Why should we not be
married there?"

She started, and her hand fell on the map.

"I am thinking of you, my darling," he said. "For my part I should like
to be married here----"

"No, not here," she faltered, as she thought of standing before the
altar in the Wyndward Church and seeing the white walls of the Hall as
she uttered her marriage vow. "Not here."

"I understand," he said. "Then why not there? Your uncle could come
down for that, I think."

She did not speak, and with a smile of satisfaction he folded the map.

"It is all settled," he said. "We go to Carlyon. You will come down for
a little while, I hope, sir. We shall want you."

The old man pushed the white hair off his forehead.

"Eh?" he asked. "What for?"

"To give Stella away," replied Jasper. "She has promised to marry me
there."

The old man looked at her.

"Why not here?" he asked, naturally, but Stella shook her head.

"Very well," he said. "It is a strange fancy, but girls are fanciful.
Off you go, then, and don't make more fuss than you can help."

So Stella's fate was settled, and the day, the fatal day, loomed darkly
before her.



CHAPTER XXXVI.


Lord Charles was too glad to gain Leycester's consent to leave town to
care where they went, and to prevent all chance of Leycester's changing
his mind, this stanch and constant friend went with him to his rooms
and interviewed the patient Oliver.

"Go away, sir?" said that faithful and long-suffering individual.
"I'm glad of it! His lordship--and you too, begging your pardon, my
lord--ought to have gone long ago. It's been terrible hot work these
last few weeks. I never knew his lordship so wild. And where are we
going, my lord?"

That was the question. Leycester rendered no assistance whatever,
beyond declaring that he would not go where there was a houseful of
people. He had thrown himself into a chair, and sat moodily regarding
the floor. Bellamy's sudden illness and prophetic words had given him
a shock. He was quite ready to go anywhere, so that it was away from
London, which had become hateful to him since the last hour.

Lord Charles lit a pipe, and Oliver mixed a soda-and-brandy for him,
and they two talked it over in an undertone.

"I've got a little place in the Doone Valley, Devonshire, you know,"
said Lord Charles, talking to Oliver quite confidentially. "It's a mere
box--just enough for ourselves, and we should have to rough it, rough
it awfully. But there's plenty of game, and some fishing, and it's as
wild as a March hare!"

"That's just what his lordship wants," said Oliver. "I know him so
well, you see, my lord. I must say that I've taken the way we've been
going on lately very serious; it isn't the money, that don't matter, my
lord; and it isn't altogether the wildness, we've been wild before, my
lord, you know."

Lord Charles grunted.

"But that was only in play like, and there is no harm in it; but this
sort of thing that's being going on hasn't been play, and it ain't
amused his lordship a bit; why he's more down than when we came up."

"That's so, Oliver," assented Lord Charles, gloomily.

"I don't know what it was, and it isn't for me to be curious, my lord,"
continued the faithful fellow, "but it's my opinion that something went
wrong down at the Hall, and that his lordship cut up rough about it."

Lord Charles, remembering that letter and the beautiful girl at the
cottage, nodded.

"Perhaps so," he said. "Well, we'll go down to the Doone Valley.
Better pack up to-night, or rather this morning. I'll go home and get a
bath, and we'll be off at once. Fish out the train, will you?"

Oliver, who was a perfect master of "Bradshaw," turned over the leaves
of that valuable compilation, and discovered a train that left in the
afternoon, and Lord Charles "broke it" to Leycester.

Leycester accepted their decision with perfect indifference.

"I shall be ready," he said, in a dispassionate, indifferent way. "Tell
Oliver what you want."

"It's a mere box in a jungle," said Lord Charles.

"A jungle is what I want," said Leycester, grimly.

With the same grim indifference he started by that afternoon train,
smoking in silence nearly all the way down to Barnstaple, and showing
no interest in anything.

Oliver had telegraphed to secure seats in the coach that leaves that
ancient town for the nearest point to the Valley, and early the next
morning they arrived.

A couple of horses and a dogcart had been sent on--how Oliver managed
to get them off was a mystery, but his command of resources at most
times amounted to the magical--and they drove from Teignmouth to the
Valley, and reached the "Hut," as it was called.

It was in very truth a mere box, but it was a box set in the center of
a sportsman's paradise. Lonely and solitary it stood on the edge of the
deer forest, within sound of a babbling trout-stream, and in the center
of the best shooting in Devonshire.

Oliver, with the aforesaid magic, procured a couple of servants, and
soon got the little place in order; and here the two friends lived,
like hermits in a dell.

They fished and shot and rode all day, returning at night to a plain,
late dinner; and altogether led a life so different to that which they
had been leading as it was possible to imagine.

Lord Charles enjoyed it. He got brown, and as fit and "as hard as
nails," as he described it, but Leycester took things differently. The
gloom which had settled upon him would not be dispelled by the mountain
air and the beauty of the exquisite valley.

Always and ever there seemed some cloud hanging over him, spoiling his
enjoyment and witching the charm from his efforts at amusement. While
Charles was killing trout in the stream, or dropping the pheasants in
the moors, Leycester would wander up and down the valley, gun or rod
in hand, using neither, his head drooping, his eyes fixed in gloomy
retrospection.

In simple truth he was haunted by a spirit which clung to him now as it
had clung to him in those days of feverish gayety and dissipation.

The vision of the slim, beautiful girl whom he loved was ever before
him, her face floated between him and the mountains, her voice mingled
with the stream. He saw her by day, he dreamed of her by night.
Sometimes he would wake with a start, and fancy that she was still
his own, and that they were standing by the weir, her hand in his,
her voice whispering, "Leycester, I love you!" Distance only lent
enchantment to her beauty and her grace. In a word, he could not forget
her!

Sometimes he wondered whether he had been right in yielding her up
to Jasper Adelstone so quietly; but as he recalled that morning, and
Stella's face and words, he felt that he could not have done otherwise.
Yes, he had lost her, she had gone forever, yet he could not forget
her. It seemed very strange, even to himself. After all, there were so
many beautiful women he could have chosen; some he had been almost in
love with, and yet he had forgotten them. What was there about Stella
to cling to him so persistently? He remembered every little unconscious
trick of voice and manner, the faint little smile that curved her lip,
the deep light in the dark eyes as they lifted to his, asking, taking
his love. There was a special little trick or mannerism she had, a way
of bending her head and looking at him half over her shoulder, that
simply haunted him; she came--the vision of her--to the side of his
chair and his bed, and looked at him so, and he could see the graceful
curve of the delicate neck. Ah, me! ah, me! It was very weak and
foolish, perhaps, that a strong man of the world should be held in such
thrall by a simple girl, just a girl; but men are made so, and will so
be held, when they are strong and true, till the world ends.

It was very slow for Charlie--very slow and very rough, but he was
one of those rare friends who stick close in such a time. He fished,
and shot, and rode, and walked, and was always cheerful and never
obtrusive; but though he never made any remark, he could not but notice
that Leycester was in a bad way. He was getting thinner and older
looking, and the haggard lines, which the wild town life had begun to
draw, deepened.

Lord Charles was beginning to be afraid that the Doone Valley also
would fail.

"Ever hear anything of your people, Ley?" he asked one night, as they
sat in the living room of the hut. The night was warm for the time of
year, and they sat by the open window smoking their pipes, and clad in
their shooting suits of woolen mixture.

Leycester was leaning back, his head resting on his hand, his eyes
fixed on the starlit sky, his long knickerbockered legs outstretched.

"My people?" he replied, with a little movement as of one waking from a
dream. "No. I believe they are in the country somewhere."

"Didn't leave any address for them?"

Leycester shook his head.

"No. I have no doubt they know it, however; Oliver is engaged to
Lilian's maid, Jeanette, and doubtless writes to her."

Charles looked at him.

"Getting tired of this, old man?" he asked, quietly.

"No," said Leycester. "Not at all. I can keep it up as long as you
like. If you are tired, we will go. Don't imagine that I am insensible
to the boredom you are undergoing, Charlie. But I advised you to let me
go my way alone, did I not?"

"That's so," was the cheerful response. "But I didn't choose, did I?
And I don't now. But all the same, I should like to see you look a
little more chippy, Ley."

Leycester looked up at him and smiled, grimly.

"I wonder whether you were ever in any trouble in your life, Charlie,"
he said.

Lord Charles drained the glass of whisky and water that stood beside
him.

"Yes," he said; "but I'm like a duck, it pours off my back, and there I
am again."

"I wish I were like a duck!" said Leycester, with bitter self-scorn.
"Charlie, you have the misfortune to be tied to a haunted man. I am
haunted by the ghost of an old and lost happiness, and I can't get rid
of it."

Charlie looked at him and then away.

"I know," he said; "I haven't said anything, but I know. Well, I am not
surprised; she is a beautiful creature, and one of the sort to stick in
a man's mind. I'm very sorry, old man. There isn't any chance of its
coming right?"

"None whatever," said Leycester, "and that is why I am a great fool in
clinging to it."

He got up and began to pace the room, and the color mounted to his
haggard face.

"I cannot--I cannot shake it off. Charlie, I despise myself; and yet,
no, no, to love her once was to love her for always--to the end."

"There's another man, of course," said Lord Charles. "Didn't it occur
to you to--well, to break his neck, or put a bullet through him, or get
him appointed governor of the Cannibal Islands, Ley? That used to be
your style."

Leycester smiled grimly.

"This man cannot be dealt with in any one of those excellent ways,
Charlie," he said.

"If it's the man I suppose, that fellow Jasper Addled egg--no,
Adelstone, I should have tried the first at any rate," said Lord
Charles, emphatically.

Leycester shook his head.

"It's a bad business," he said, curtly, "and there is no way of making
it a good one. I will go to bed. What shall we do to-morrow?" and he
sighed.

Lord Charles laid his hand on his arm and kept him for a moment.

"You want rousing, Ley," he said. "Rousing, that's it! Let's have the
horses to-morrow and take a big spin; anywhere, nowhere, it doesn't
matter. We'll go while they can."

Ley nodded.

"Anything you like," he said, and went out.

Lord Charles called to Oliver, who was standing outside smoking a
cigar--he was quite as particular about the brand as his master:

"Where did you say the earl and countess were, Oliver?" he asked.

"At Darlingford Court, my lord."

"How far is it from here? Can we do it to-morrow with the nags?"

Oliver thought a moment.

"If they are taken steadily, my lord; not as his lordship has been
riding lately; as if the horse were cast iron and his own neck too."

Lord Charles nodded.

"All right," he said, "we'll do it. Lord Leycester wants a change
again, Oliver."

Oliver nodded.

"We'll run over there. Needn't say anything to his lordship--you
understand."

Oliver quite understood, and went off to the small stable to see about
the horses, and Lord Charles went to bed chuckling over his little plot.

When they started in the morning, Leycester asked no questions and
displayed the supremest indifference to the route, and Lord Charles,
affecting a little indecision, made for the road to which Oliver had
directed him.

The two friends rode almost in silence as was their wont, Leycester
paying very little attention to anything excepting his horse, and
scarcely noticing the fact that Lord Charles seemed very decided about
the route.

Once he asked a question; it was when the evening was drawing in, and
they were still riding, as to their destination, but Lord Charles
evaded it:

"We shall get somewhere, I expect," he said quietly. "There is sure to
be an inn--or something."

And Leycester was content.

About dusk they reached the entrance to Darlingford. There was no
village, no inn. Leycester pulled up and waited indifferently.

"What do we do now?" he asked.

Lord Charles laughed, but rather consciously.

"Look here," he said: "I know some people who have got this place. We'd
better ride up and get a night's lodging."

Leycester looked at him, and smiled suddenly.

"Isn't this rather transparent, Charlie?" he said, calmly. "Of course
you intended to come here from the very start, very well."

"Well, I suspect I did," said Lord Charles. "You don't mind?"

Leycester shook his head.

"Not at all. They will let us go to bed, I suppose. You can tell them
that you are traveling keeper to a melancholy monomaniac, and they'll
leave me alone. Mind, we start in the morning."

"All right," said Lord Charles, chuckling inwardly--"of course; quite
so. Come on."

They rode up the avenue, and to the front of a straggling stone
mansion, and a groom came forward and took their horses. Lord Charles
drew Leycester's arm within his.

"We shall be sure of a welcome."

And he walked up a broad flight of steps.

But Leycester stopped suddenly; for a figure came out of one of the
windows, and stood looking down at them.

It was a woman, gracefully and beautifully dressed in some softly-hued
evening robe. He could not see her face, but he knew her, and turned
almost angrily to Lord Charles. But Lord Charles had slipped away,
muttering something about the horses, and Leycester went slowly up.

Lenore--it was she--awaited his approach all unconsciously. She could
not see him as plainly as he saw her, and she took him for some strange
chance visitor.

But as he came up and stood in front of her she recognized him, and,
with a low cry, she moved toward him, her lovely face suddenly smitten
pale, her violet eyes fixed on him yearningly.

"Leycester!" she said, and overcome for the moment by the suddenness of
his presence, she staggered slightly.

He could do no less than put his arm round her, for he thought she
would have fallen, and as he did so his heart reproached him, for the
one word "Leycester," and the tone told her story. His mother was
right. She loved him.

"Lenore," he said, and his deep, grave, musical voice trembled
slightly. She lay back in his arms for a moment, looking up at him with
an expression of helpless resignation in her eyes, her lovely face
revealed in the light which poured from the window full upon her.

"Lenore," he said, huskily, "what--what is this?"

Her eyes closed for a moment, and a faint thrill ran through her,
then she regained her composure, and putting him gently from her, she
laughed softly.

"It was your fault," she said, the exquisite voice tremulous with
emotion. "Why do you steal upon us like a thief in the night, or--like
a ghost? You frightened me."

He stood and looked at her, and put his hand to his brow. He was but
mortal, was but a man with a man's passions, a man's susceptibility to
woman's loveliness, and he knew that she loved him.

"I----" he said, then stopped. "I did not know. Charlie brought me
here. Who are here?"

"They are all here," she said, her eyes downcast. "I will go and tell
them lest you frighten them as you frightened me," and she stole away
from him like a shadow.

He stood, his hands thrust in his pockets, his eyes fixed on the ground.

She was very beautiful, and she loved him. Why should he not make her
happy? make one person happy at least? Not only one person, but his
mother, and Lilian--all of them. As for himself, well! one woman was as
good as another, seeing that he had lost his darling! And this other
was the best and rarest of all that were left.

"Leycester!"

It was his mother's voice. He turned and kissed her; she was not
frightened, she did not even kiss him, but she put her hand on his
arm, and he felt it tremble, and the way she spoke the word told of all
her past sorrow at his absence, and her joy at his return.

"You have come back to us!" she said, and that was all.

"Yes, I have come back!" he said, with something like a sigh.

She looked at him, and the mother's heart was wrung.

"Have you been ill, Leycester?" she asked, quietly.

"Ill, no," he said, then he laughed a strange laugh. "Do I look so
seedy, my lady?"

"You look----" she began, with sad bitterness, then she stopped. "Come
in."

He followed her in, but at the door he paused and looked out at the
night. As he did so, the vision of the slim, graceful girl, of his
lost darling, seemed to float before him, with pale face, and wistful,
reproachful eyes. He put up his hand with a strange, despairing
gesture, and his lips moved.

"Good-bye!" he murmured. "Oh, my lost love, good-bye!"



CHAPTER XXXVII.


Lord Charles' little plot had succeeded beyond his expectation. He had
restored the prodigal and shared the fatted calf, as he deserved to do.
Although it was known all over the house, in five minutes, that Lord
Leycester, the heir, had returned, there was no fuss, only a pleasant
little simmer of welcome and satisfaction.

The countess had gone to the earl, who was dressing for dinner, to tell
him the news.

"Leycester has returned," she said.

The earl started and sent his valet away.

"What!"

"Yes, he has come back to us," she said, sinking into a seat.

"Where from?" he demanded.

She shook her head.

"I don't know. I don't want to know. He must be asked no questions.
Lord Charles brought him. I always loved Charles Guildford."

"So you ought, out of pity," said the earl, grimly, "seeing that your
son has almost led him to ruin."

Then the countess fired up.

"There must be no talk of that kind," she said. "You do not want to see
him go again? No word must be said unless you want to drive him away.
He has been ill."

"I am not surprised," said the earl, still a little grimly, "a man
can't lead the life he has been leading and keep his health, moral or
physical."

"But that is all past," said the countess confidently. "I feel that is
all past. If you do not worry him he will stay, and all will go well."

"Oh, I won't worry his Imperial Highness," said the earl, with a smile,
"that is what you want me to say, I suppose. And the girl--what about
her?"

"I don't know," said the countess with all a mother's supreme
indifference for the fate of any other than her son. "She is past, too.
I am sure of that. How thankful I am that Lenore is here."

"Ah," said the earl who could be sarcastic when he liked. "So she is to
be sacrificed as a thank-offering for the prodigal's return, is she?
Poor Lenore, I am almost sorry for her. She is too good for him."

"For shame," exclaimed the countess, flushing; "no one is too good for
him. And--and she will not deem it a sacrifice."

"No, I suppose not," he said, fumbling at his necktie. "It is well to
be born with a handsome face, and a dare-devil temper, because all
women love you then, and the best and fairest think it worth while to
offer themselves up. Poor Lenore! Well, I'll be civil to his Highness,
notwithstanding that he has spent a small fortune in two months,
and declined to honor my house with his presence. There," he added,
touching her cheek and smiling, "don't be alarmed. We will kill the
fatted calf and make merry--till he goes off again."

The countess was satisfied with this, and went down to find Leycester
and Lord Charles standing near the fire. Though they had only rented
the place for a month, curtains were up on all the doors, and there was
a fire in all the sitting-rooms, and in the earl's apartments.

The countess held out her hand to Lord Charles.

"I am very glad to see you, Charlie," she said, with her rare smile.
"You can give me a kiss if you like," and Charlie, as he blushed and
kissed the white forehead, knew that she was thanking him for bringing
her son back to her.

"But we've got to go back at once," he said, with a laugh.

"We can't sit down in this rig out," and he looked ruefully at his
riding suit.

The countess shook her head.

"You shall sit down in a smock frock if you like," she said. "But there
is no occasion. I have brought Leycester's things down, and--it's not
the first time you have borrowed suits from each other, I expect."

"Not by a many!" laughed Lord Charles. "I'll go and dress. Where is
Ley?"

Leycester had gone out of the room quietly, and was then sitting beside
Lilian, his hand in hers, her head upon his breast.

"You have come back to us, Ley?" she said, caressing his hand. "It has
been so long and weary waiting! You will not go again?"

He paused a moment, then he looked at her.

"No," he said, in a low voice. "No, Lil, I shall not go again."

She kissed him, and as she did so, whispered, anxiously:

"And--and--Stella, Ley?"

His face contracted with a frown of pain and trouble.

"That is all past," he said, using his mother's words; and she kissed
him again.

"How thin and worn you look. Oh, Ley!" she murmured, with sorrowful,
loving reproach.

He smiled with a touch of bitterness.

"Do I? Well, I will wax fat and grow mirthful for the future," he said,
rising. "There is the dinner bell."

"Come to me afterward, Ley," she pleaded, as she let him go, and he
promised.

There was to be no fuss, but it was noteworthy that several of
Leycester's favorite dishes figured in the menu, and that there was a
special Indian curry for Lord Charles.

Leycester did not descend to the dining-room till ten minutes after the
time, and the greeting between father and son was characteristic of the
two men. The earl put out his thin, white hand, and smiled gravely.

"How do you do, Leycester," he said. "Will you have the Lafitte or the
Chateau Margaux? The weather is fine for the time of year."

And Leycester said, quietly:

"I hope you are well, sir. The Margaux, I suppose, Charles? Yes, we
have had some good weather."

That was all.

He went to his place and sat down quietly and composedly, as if he had
dined with them for months without a break, and as if the papers had
not been chronicling his awful doings.

The earl could not suppress a pang of pity as he glanced across at the
handsome face and saw how worn and haggard it looked, and he bent his
head over his soup with a sigh.

Leycester looked round the table presently, and then turned to the
countess.

"Where is Lenore?" he asked.

The countess paused a moment.

"She has rather a bad headache, and begged to be excused," she said.

Leycester bent his head.

"I am sorry," he remarked.

Then the countess talked, and Lord Charles helped her. He was in the
best of spirits. The dinner was excellent, and the curry admirable,
considering the short notice; and he was delighted with the success of
his maneuver. He rattled on in his humorous style, told them all about
the hut, and represented that they lived somewhat after the manner of
savages.

"Eat our meals with a hunting knife, don't we, Leycester? I hope you'll
excuse us if we don't hold our forks properly. I daresay we shall soon
get into the way of it again."

All this was very well, and the earl smiled and grew cheerful; but the
countess, watching the haggard, handsome face beside her, saw that
Leycester was absorbed and pre-occupied. He passed dish after dish, and
the Margaux stood beside him almost untouched. She was still anxious
and fearful, and as she rose she threw a glance at the earl, half of
entreaty, half of command, that he would not "say anything."

"It is nice to get back to the old wine," said Charlie, leaning back
in his chair, and eying his glass with complacent approval. "Whisky
and water is a fine drink, but one tires of it; now this----" and he
reached the claret jug expressively.

The earl talked of politics and the coming hunting season, and still
Leycester was silent, eying the white cloth and fingering the stem of
his wine glass.

"Will you hunt this year, Leycester?" said the earl, addressing him at
last.

He looked up gravely.

"I don't know, sir; only a day a week if I do."

"We shall go to Leicestershire, of course," said the earl. "I shall
have to be up for the season, but you can take charge if you will."

Leycester inclined his head.

"Will you see to the horses?" asked the earl.

Leycester thought a moment.

"I shall only want two," he said; "the rest will be sold."

"Do you mean the stud?" asked the earl, with a faint air of surprise.

"Yes," said Leycester, quietly. "I shall sell them all. I shall not
race again."

The earl understood him; the old wild life was to come to an end. But
he put in a word.

"Is that wise?" he said.

"I think so," said Leycester. "Quite enough money has been spent. Yes,
I shall sell."

"Very well," assented the earl, who could not but agree with the remark
respecting money. "After all, I imagine one tires of the turf. I always
thought it a great bore."

"So it is--so it is," said Lord Charles, cheerfully. "Everything is a
bore."

The earl smiled.

"Not everything," he said. "Leycester, you are not touching the wine,"
he added, graciously.

Leycester filled his glass and drank it, and then, to Charles' surprise,
refilled it, not once only, but twice and thrice, as if he had suddenly
become thirsty.

Presently the earl, after vainly pushing the decanter to them, rose,
and they followed him into the drawing-room.

The countess sat at her tea-table, and beside her was Lenore. She was
rather paler than usual, and the beautiful eyes were of a deep violet
under the long sweeping lashes. She was exquisitely dressed, but there
was not a single jewel about her; a spray of white orchid nestled on
her bosom and shone in her golden hair, showing the exquisite delicacy
of the fair face and throat. Leycester glanced at her, but took his cup
of tea without a word, and Lord Charles made all the conversation, as
at the dinner-table.

Presently Leycester put down his cup and walked to the window, and
drawing the curtain aside, stood looking out at the night. There was a
flush of color in his face, owing perhaps to the Margaux, and a strange
light in his eyes. What did he see in the darkness? Was it the spirit
of Stella to whom he had said farewell? He stood wrapt in thought, the
buzz of conversation and the occasional laugh of Charlie behind him;
then suddenly he turned and went up to the silent figure with the while
flower in its bosom and its hair, and sat down beside her.

"Are you better?" he asked.

She just glanced at him, and smiled slowly.

"Yes, I am quite well. It was only a headache."

"Are you well enough to come on to the terrace--there is a terrace, is
there not?"

"A balcony."

"Will you come? It is quite warm."

She rose at once, and he took up a shawl and put it round her, and
offered her his arm.

She just laid her finger-tips on it, and he led her to the window. She
drew back, and smiled over her shoulder.

"It is a capital offence to open a window at night."

"I forgot," he said. "You see, I am so great a stranger, that I fail to
remember the habits of my own people. Will you show me the way round?"

"This way," she said; and opening a small door, she took him into a
conservatory, and thence to the balcony.

They were silent for a moment or two--he looking at the stars, she
with eyes bent to the ground. He was fighting for resolution and
determination, she was silently waiting, knowing what was passing in
his heart, and wondering, with a throbbing heart, whether her hour of
triumph had come.

She had stooped to the very dust to win him, to snatch him from that
other girl who had ensnared him; but as she stood now and glanced at
him--at the tall, graceful figure, and the handsome face, all the
handsomer in her eyes for its haggardness--she felt that she could
have stooped still lower if it had been possible. Her heart beat with
expectant passion--she longed for the moment when she could rest upon
his breast and confess her love. Why did he not speak?

He turned to her at last, and spoke.

"Lenore," he said, and his voice was deep and earnest, almost solemn,
"I want to ask you a question. Will you answer me?"

"Ask it," she said, and she raised her eyes to his with a sudden flash.

"When you saw me to-night, when I came in unexpectedly, you
were--moved. Was it because you were glad to see me?"

She was silent a moment.

"Is that a fair question?" she murmured.

"Yes," he said. "Yes, Lenore; we will not trifle with each other, you
and I. If you were glad to see me, do not hesitate to say so; it is not
idle vanity that prompts the question."

She faltered and turned her head away.

"Why will you press me?" she murmured in a low, tremulous voice. "Do
you wish to see me ashamed?" Then she turned to him suddenly, and the
violet eyes met his with a light of passionate love in their depths.
"But I will answer it," she said. "Yes, I was glad."

He was silent for a moment, then he drew closer to her and bent over
her.

"Lenore, will you be my wife?"

She did not speak, but looked at him.

"Will you be my wife?" he repeated, almost fiercely; her supreme
loveliness was telling upon him; the light in her eyes was sinking to
his heart and stirring his pulses. "Tell me, Lenore, do you love me?"

Her head drooped, then she sighed.

"Yes, I love you," she said, and almost imperceptibly swayed toward him.

He took her in his arms, his heart beating, his brain whirling, for the
memory of that other love seemed to haunt him even at that moment.

"You love me!" he murmured, hoarsely, looking back on the night of the
past. "Can it be true, Lenore? You!"

She nestled on his breast and looked up at him, and from the pale face
the dark eyes gleamed passionately.

"Leycester," she breathed, "you know I love you! You know it!"

He pressed her closer to him, then a hoarse cry broke from him.

"God forgive me!"

It was a strange response at such a moment.

"Why do you say that?" she asked, looking up at him; his face was
haggard and remorseful, anything but as a lover's face should be, but
he smiled gravely and kissed her.

"It is strange!" he said, as if in explanation--"strange that I should
have won your love, I who am so unworthy, while you are so peerless!"

She trembled a little with a sudden qualm of fear. If he could but know
of what she had been guilty to win him! It was she who was unworthy!
But she put the fear from her. She had got him, and she did not doubt
her power to hold him.

"Do not speak of unworthiness," she murmured, lovingly. "We have both
passed through the world, Leycester, and have learned to value true
love. You have always had mine," she added, in a faint whisper.

What could he do but kiss her? But even as he took her in his arms and
laid his hand on the shapely head with its golden wealth, a subtle
pain thrilled at his heart, and he felt as if he were guilty of some
treachery.

They stood for some time almost in silence--she was too wise to disturb
his mood--side by side; then he put her arm in his.

"Let us go in," he said. "Shall I tell my mother to-night, Lenore?"

"Why not," she murmured, leaning against him, and with the upturned
eyes glowing into his with suppressed passion and devotion. "Why not?
Will they not be glad, do you think?"

"Yes," he said, and he remembered how differently Stella had spoken.
"After all," he thought with a sigh, "I shall make a great many
persons happy and comfortable. Very well," he said, "I will see them."

He stooped to kiss her before they passed into the light, and she did
not shrink from his kiss; but put up her lips and met it with one in
return.

There were men, and not a few, who would have given some years of their
life for such a kiss from the beautiful Lenore, but he, Leycester, took
it without a thrill, without an extra heartbeat.

There was not much need to tell them what had happened; the countess
knew in a moment by Lenore's face--pale, but with a light of triumph
glowing in it--that the hour had come, and that she had won.

In her graceful manner, she went up to the countess, and bent over to
kiss her.

"I am going up now, dear," she said, in a whisper. "I am rather tired."

The countess embraced her.

"Not too tired to see me if I come?" she said, in a whisper, and Lady
Lenore shook her head.

She put her hand in Leycester's for a moment, as he opened the door for
her, and looked into his face; but he would not let her go so coldly,
and raising her hand to his lips, said--

"Good-night, Lenore."

The earl started and stared at this familiar salutation, and Lord
Charles raised his eyebrows; but Leycester came to the fire, and stood
looking into it for a minute in silence.

Then he turned to them and said, in his quiet way--

"Lenore has promised to be my wife. Have you any objection, sir?"

The earl started and looked at him, and then held out his hand with an
emphatic nod.

"Objection! It is about the wisest thing you ever did, Leycester."

Leycester smiled at him strangely, and turned to his mother. She did
not speak, but her eyes filled, and she put her hand on his shoulder
and kissed him.

"My dear Leycester, I congratulate you!" exclaimed Charlie, wringing
his hand and beaming joyously. "'Pon my word, this is the--the happiest
thing we've come across for many a day! By George!"

And having dropped Leycester's hand, he seized that of the earl, and
wrung that, and would in turn have seized the countess's, had she not
given it to him of her own free will.

"We have to thank you in some measure for this, Charles," she said, in
a low voice, and with a grateful smile.

Leycester leant against the mantel-shelf, his hands behind him, his
face set and thoughtful, almost absent, indeed. He had the appearance
of a man in a dream.

The earl roused him with a word or two.

"This is very good news, Leycester."

"I am very glad you are pleased, sir," said Leycester, quietly.

"I am more than pleased, I am delighted," responded the earl, in his
quiet way. "I may say that it is the fulfillment of a hope I have
cherished for some time. I trust, more, I believe, you will be happy.
If you are not," he added, with a smile, "it will be your own fault."

Leycester smiled grimly.

"No doubt, sir," he said.

The old earl passed his white hands over each other--just as he did in
the House when he was about to make a speech.

"Lenore is one of the most beautiful and charming women it has been my
fate to meet; she has been regarded by your mother, and I may say by
myself, as a daughter. The prospect of receiving her at your hands as
one in very truth affords me the most intense pleasure."

"Thank you, sir," said Leycester.

The earl coughed behind his hand.

"I suppose," he said, with a glance at the haggard face, "there will be
no delay in making your happiness complete?"

Leycester almost started.

"You mean----?"

"I mean your marriage," said the earl, staring at him, and wondering
why he should be so dense and altogether grim, "of course, of course,
your marriage. The sooner the better, my dear Leycester. There will
be preparations to make, and they always take time. I think, if you
can persuade Lenore to fix an early date, I would see Harbor and
Harbor"--the family solicitors--"at once. I need hardly say that
anything I can do to expedite matters I will do gladly. I think you
always had a fancy for the place in Scotland--you shall have that;
and as to the house in town, well if you haven't already thought of a
place, there is the house in the square----"

Leycester's face flushed for a moment.

"You are very good to me, sir," he said; and for the first time his
voice showed some feeling.

"Nonsense!" said the earl cordially. "You know that I would do
anything, everything to make your future a happy one. Talk it over with
Lenore!"

"I will, sir," said Leycester. "I think I will go up to Lilian now, she
expects me."

The earl took his hand and shook it as he had not shaken it for many a
day, and Leycester went up-stairs.

The countess had left the room, but he found her waiting for him.

"Good-night, mother," he said.

"Oh, Leycester, you have made me--all of us--so happy!"

"Ay," he said, and he smiled at her. "I am very glad. Heaven knows I
have often enough made you unhappy, mother."

"No, no," she said, kissing him; "this makes up for all--for all!"

Leycester watched her as she went down-stairs, and a sigh broke from
him.

"Not one of them understands, not one," he murmured.

But there was one watching for him who understood.

"Leycester," she said, holding out her hands to him and almost rising.

He sat on the head of the couch and put his hand on her head.

"Mamma has just told me, Ley," she murmured. "I am so glad, so glad. I
have never been so happy."

He was silent, his fingers caressing her cheek.

"It is what we have all been hoping and praying for, Ley! She is so
good and sweet, and so true."

"Yes," he said, little guessing at her falsity.

"And, Ley--she loves you so dearly."

"Aye," he said, with almost a groan.

She looked up at him and saw his face, and her own changed color; her
hand stole up to his.

"Oh, Ley, Ley," she murmured, piteously. "You have forgotten all that?"

He smiled, not bitterly but sadly.

"Forgotten? No," he said; "such things are not easily forgotten. But it
is past, and I am going to forget now, Lil."

Even as he spoke he seemed to see the loving face, with its trusting
smile, floating before him.

"Yes, Ley, dear Ley, for her sake. For Lenore's sake."

"Yes," he said, grimly, "for hers and for my own."

"You will be so happy; I know it, I feel it. No one could help loving
her, and every day you will learn to love her more dearly, and the past
will fade away and be forgotten, Ley."

"Yes," he said, in a low, absent voice.

She said no more, and they sat hand in hand wrapped in thought. Even
when he got up to go he said nothing, and his hand as it held hers was
as cold as ice.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


It had come so suddenly as to almost overwhelm her; the great gift of
the gods that she had been waiting, aye, and plotting for, had fallen
to her at last, and her cup of triumph was full to overbrimming, but at
the same time she, as Lord Charles would have put it, "kept her head."
She thoroughly understood how and why she had gained her will. She
could read Leycester as if he were a book, and she knew that, although
he had asked her to be his wife, he had not forgotten that other girl
with the brown hair and dark eyes--that "Stella," the painter's niece.

This was a bitter pang to her, a drop of gall to her cup, but she
accepted it.

Just as Jasper said of Stella, so she said of Leycester.

"I will make him love me!" she thought. "The time shall come when he
will wonder how he came to think of that other, and be filled with
self-contempt for having so thought of her." And she set about her work
well. Some women in the hour of their triumph, would have shown their
delight, and so worried, or perhaps disgusted, their lover; but not so
did Lady Lenore.

She took matters with an ineffable calm and serenity, and never for
one moment allowed it to be seen how much she had gained on that
eventful evening.

To Leycester her manner was simply charming. She exerted herself to win
him without permitting the effort to be even guessed at.

Her very beauty seemed to grow more brilliant and bewitching. She moved
about the place "like a poem," as Lord Charles declared. Her voice,
always soft and musical, with unexpected harmonies, that charmed by
their very surprises, was like music; and, more important still, it was
seldom heard. She exacted none of the privileges of an engaged woman;
she did not expect Leycester to sit with her by the hour, or walk about
with her all day, or to whisper tender speeches, and lavish secret
caresses. Indeed, she almost seemed to avoid being alone with him; in
fact she humored him to the top of his bent, so that he did not even
feel the chain with which he had bound himself.

And he was grateful to her; gradually the charm of her presence, the
music of her voice, the feeling that she belonged to him told upon him,
and he found himself at times sitting, watching, and listening to her
with a strange feeling of pleasure. He was only mortal and she was not
only supremely beautiful, but supremely clever. She had set herself to
charm him, and he would have been less, or more than man, if he had
been able to resist her.

So it happened that he was left much to himself, for Charlie, thinking
himself rather _de trop_ and in the way, had taken himself off to join
his shooting party, and Leycester spent most of his time wandering
about the coast or riding over the hills, generally returning at
dinner-time tired and thoughtful, and very often expecting some word or
look of complaint from his beautiful betrothed.

But they never came. Exquisitely dressed, she always met him with the
same serene smile, in which there was just a suggestion of tenderness
she could not express, and never a question as to where he had been.

After dinner he would come and sit beside her, leaning back and
watching her, too often absently, and listening to her as she talked
to the others. To him she very seldom said much, but if he chanced to
ask her for anything--to play or to sing--she obeyed instantly, as if
he were already her lord and master. It touched him, her simple-minded
devotion and thorough comprehension of him--touched him as no display
of affection on her part would have done.

"Heaven help her, she loves me!" he thought, often and often. "And I!"

One evening they chanced to be alone together--he had come in after
dinner, having eaten some sort of meal at a shooting lodge on the
adjoining estate--and found her seated by the window, her white hands
in her lap, a rapt look on her face.

She looked so supremely lovely, so rapt and solitary that his heart
smote him, and he went up to her, his step making no sound on the thick
carpet, and kissed her.

She started and looked up with a burning blush which transfigured her
for a moment, then she said, quietly:

"Is that you, Leycester? Have you dined?"

"Yes," he said, with a pang of self-reproach. "Why should you think of
that? I do not deserve that you should care whether I dine or not."

She smiled up at him; her eyebrows arched themselves.

"Should it not? But I do care, very much. Have you?"

He nodded impatiently.

"Yes. You do not even ask me where I have been?"

"No," she murmured, softly. "I can wait until you tell me; it is for
you to tell me, and for me to wait."

Such submission, such meekness from her who was pride and hauteur
personified to others, amazed him.

"By Heaven, Lenore!" he exclaimed, in a low voice, "there never was a
woman like you."

"No?" she said. "I am glad you will have something that is unique then."

"Yes," he said, "I shall." Then he said, suddenly, "When am I to
possess my gem, Lenore?"

She started, and turned her face from him.

He looked down at her, and put his hand on her shoulder, white and warm
and responsive to his touch.

"Lenore, let it be soon. We will not wait. Why should we? Let us make
ourselves and all the rest of them happy."

"Will it make you happy?" she asked.

It was a dangerous question, but the impulse was too strong.

"Yes," he said, and indeed he thought so. "Can you say the same,
Lenore?"

She did not answer, but she took his hand and laid it against
her cheek. It was the action of a slave--a beautiful and
exquisitely-graceful woman, but a slave.

He drew his hand away and winced with remorse.

"Come," he said, bending over her, "let me tell them that it shall be
next month."

"So soon?" she murmured.

"Yes," he said, almost impatiently. "Why should we wait? They are all
impatient. I am impatient, naturally, but they all wish it. Let it be
next month, Lenore."

She looked up at him.

"Very well," she said, in a low voice.

He bent over her, and put his arm round her, and there was something
almost desperate in his face as he looked up at her.

"Lenore," he said, in a low voice, "I wish, to Heaven I wish I were
worthy of you!"

"Hush!" she whispered, "you are too good to me. I am quite content,
Leycester--quite content."

Then, as her head rested on his shoulder, she whispered, "There is only
one thing, Leycester, I should like----"

She paused.

"What is it, Lenore?"

"It is about the place," she said. "You will not mind where it takes
place, will you? I do not want to be married at Wyndward."

This was so exactly in accordance with his own wishes that he started.

"Not at Wyndward!" he said, hesitating. "Why?"

She was silent a moment.

"Fancy," she said, with a little rippling laugh. "Fancies are permitted
one at such times, you know."

"Yes, yes," he said. "I know my mother and father would wish it to be
there--or in London."

"Nor in London," she said, almost quickly. "Leycester, why should it
not be here?"

He was silent. This again would be in accordance with his own desire.

"I should like a quiet wedding," she said. "Oh! very quiet."

"You!" he exclaimed, incredulously. "You, whose marriage would at
any time have so much interest for the world in which you have
moved--reigned, rather!"

She laughed again.

"It has always been one of my day-dreams to steal away to church with
the man I loved, and be married without the usual fuss and formality."

He looked at her with a gleam of pleasure and relief in his eyes,
little dreaming that it was for his sake she had made the proposal.

"How strange!" he muttered. "It--well, it is unlike what one fancies of
you, Lenore."

"Perhaps," she said, with a smile, "but it is true, nevertheless. If I
may choose, I would like to go down to the little church there, and be
married like a farmer's daughter, or, if not that exactly, as quietly
as possible."

He rose and stood looking out of the window, thoughtfully.

"I shall never understand you, Lenore." he said; "but this pleases me
very much indeed. It has always been my day-dream, as you call it,"--he
smothered a sigh. "Certainly it shall be as you wish! Why should it not
be?"

"Very well," she said; "then that is agreed. No announcements, no fuss,
no St. George's, Hanover Square, and no bishop!" and she rose and
laughed softly.

He looked at her, and smiled.

"You appear in a new light every day, Lenore," he said. "If you had
expressed my own thoughts and desires, you could not have hit them off
more exactly; what will the mother say?"

The countess had a great deal to say about the matter. She declared
that it was absurd, that it was worse than absurd; it was preposterous.

"It is all very well to talk of a farmer's daughter, my dear, but you
are not a farmer's daughter; you are Lady Lenore Beauchamp, and he is
the next earl. The world will say you have both taken leave of your
senses."

Lenore looked at her with a sudden gleam in her violet eyes.

"Do you think I care?" she said, in a low voice--Leycester was not
present. "I would not care whether we were married in Westminster
Abbey, by the archbishop himself, with all the Court in attendance, or
in a village chapel. It is not I, though I say so. It is for him. Say
no more about it, dear Lady Wyndward; his lightest wish is law to me."

And the countess obeyed. The passionate devotion of the haughty beauty
astonished even her, who knew something of what a woman's love can be
capable of.

"My dear," she murmured, "do not give way too much."

The beauty smiled a strange smile.

"It is not a question of giving way," she retorted, with suppressed
emotion. "It is simply that his wish is my law; I have but to obey--it
will always be so, always." Then she slipped down beside the countess,
and looked up with a sudden pallor.

"Do you not understand yet how I love him?" she said, with a smile.
"No, I do not think anyone can understand but myself--but myself!"

The earl offered no remonstrance or objection.

"What does it matter!" he said. "The place is of no consequence. The
marriage is the thing. The day Leycester is married, a heavy load of
care and apprehension and I shall be divorced. Let them be married
where they like, in Heaven's name."

So Harbor and Harbor were set to work, and the principal of that
old-established and aristocratic firm came all the way down to
Devonshire, and was closeted with the earl for a couple of hours, and
the settlement deeds were put in hand.

Lady Lenore's fortune, which was a large one, was to be settled upon
herself, supplemented by another large fortune from the hand of the
earl. So large, that the lawyer ventured on a word of remonstrance, but
the earl put it aside with a wave of the hand.

"It is the same amount as that which was settled upon the countess," he
said. "Why should my son's wife have less?"

Quiet as the betrothal had been, and quietly as the nuptials were to
be, rumors had spread, and presents were arriving daily. If Lenore
could have found any particular pleasure in precious gems, and
gold-fitted dressing-bags, and ivory prayer-books, there they were in
endless variety for her delight, but they afforded her none beyond the
fact of their being evidence of her coming happiness.

One present alone brought her joy, and that was Leycester's, and that
not because the diamonds of which the necklet was composed were large
and almost priceless, but for the fact that he fastened the jewels
round her neck with his own hands.

"These are my necklets," she murmured, taking his hands as they touched
her neck and pressing them.

How could he resist her?

And yet as the time moved on with that dogged obstinacy which it
assumes for us while we would rather have it pause awhile, something
of the old moodiness seemed to take possession of him. The long walks
and rides grew longer, and often he would not return until late in the
night, and then weary and listless. At such times it was Lenore who
made excuses for him, if by chance the countess uttered a word of
comment or complaint.

"Why should he not do as he likes?" she said, with a smile. "It is I
who am the slave, not he."

But alone in her chamber, where already the signs of the approaching
wedding were showing themselves in the shape of new dresses and wedding
_trousseau_, the anguish of unrequited love overmastered her. Pacing
to and fro, with clasped hands and pale face, she would utter the old
moan, the old prayer, which the gods have heard since the world was
young:

"Give me his love--give me his love! Take all else but let his heart
turn to me, and to me only!"

If Stella could have known it, she was justly avenged already. Not even
the anguish she had endured surpassed that of the proud beauty who had
helped to rob her, and who had given her own heart to the man who had
none to give her in return.



CHAPTER XXXIX.


"It certainly must have been made a hundred years after the rest of
the world," said Mr. Etheridge. "Where on earth did you hear of it,
Jasper?"

They were standing, the painter, Jasper, and Stella, on the little
stretch of beach that fronted the tiny village of Carlyon, with its
cluster of rough-stone cottages and weather-beaten church, the whole
nestling under the shadow of the Cornish cliffs that kept the east
winds at bay and offered a stern face to the wild seas which so often
roared and raged at its base.

Jasper smiled.

"I can't exactly say, sir," he answered. "I met with it by chance, and
it seemed to me just the place for our young invalid. You like it,
Stella, I hope?" and he turned to Stella with a softened smile.

Stella was leaning on the old man's arm, looking out to sea, with a
far-away expression in her dark eyes.

"Yes," she said, quietly; "I like it."

"Stella likes any place that is far from the madding crowd," remarked
Mr. Etheridge, gazing at her affectionately. "You don't appear to have
got back your roses yet, my child, however."

"I am quite well," she said, not so wearily as indifferently. "I am
always well. It is Frank who is ill, you know, uncle."

"Ay, ay," he said, with the expression of gravity which always came
upon him when the boy was mentioned. "He looks very pale and thin, poor
boy."

Stella sighed, but Jasper broke in cheerfully--

"Better than when he first came," he said. "I noticed the difference
directly I saw him. He will pick up his strength famously, you will
see."

Stella sighed again.

"You must make sketches of this coast," said Jasper, as if anxious to
get away from the subject. "It is particularly picturesque, especially
about the cliffs. There is one view in particular which you should not
fail to take; you get it from the top of the cliff there."

"Rather a dangerous perch," said Mr. Etheridge, shading his eyes and
looking up.

"Yes, it is," assented Jasper. "I have been trying to impress the fact
upon Stella. It is her favorite haunt, she tells me, and I am always in
fear and trembling when I see her mounting up to it."

The old man smiled.

"You will soon have the right to protect her," he said, glancing at the
church. "Have you made all the arrangements?"

Jasper's face flushed as he answered, but Stella's remained pale and
set.

"Yes, everything is ready. The clergyman is a charming old gentleman,
and the church is a picture inside. I tell Stella that one could not
have chosen a more picturesque spot."

And he glanced toward her with the watchful smile.

Stella turned her face away.

"It is very pretty," she said, simply. "Shall we go in now? Frank will
be expecting us."

"You must know," said Jasper, "that we are leading the most rustic of
lives--dinner in the middle of the day, tea at five o'clock."

"I see," said Mr. Etheridge. "Quite a foretaste of Arcadia! But, after
all," he added, perhaps remembering the long journey which he had been
compelled to take, and which he disliked, "I can't see why you should
not have been married at Wyndward."

Jasper smiled.

"And risk the chance of Lord Leycester turning up at the last moment
and making a scene," he might have answered, if he had replied
candidly; but instead, he said, lightly:

"Oh, that would have been too commonplace for such a romantic man as
your humble servant, sir."

Mr. Etheridge eyed him in his usual grave, abstracted way.

"You are the last person I should have accused of a love of the
romantic," he said.

"Then there was Frank," added Jasper, in a lower voice, but not too
low to reach Stella, for whom the addition was intended; "he wanted a
change, and he would not have come without Stella."

They entered the cottage, in the tiny sitting-room of which Mrs.
Penfold had already set the tea.

Frank was lying on a sofa whose metallic hardness had been mitigated by
cushions and pillows; and certainly if he was pulling up his strength,
as Jasper asserted, it was at a very slow rate.

He looked thinner than ever, and there was a dark ring under his eyes
which made the hectic flush still more beautiful by contrast than when
we saw him last. He greeted their entrance with a smile at Stella, and
a cold evasive glance at Jasper. She went and smoothed the pillow at
his head; but, as if ashamed that the other should see his weakness, he
rose and walked to the door.

The old man eyed him sadly, but smiled with affected cheerfulness.

"Well, Frank, how do you feel to-night? You must be well to the front
to-morrow, you know, or you will not be the best man!"

Frank looked up with a sudden flush, then set down without a word.

"I shall be very well to-morrow," he said. "There is nothing the matter
with me."

Jasper, as usual, cut in with some remark to change the subject, and,
as usual, did all the talking; Stella sat silent, her eyes fixed on the
distant sun sinking slowly to rest. The word "to-morrow" rang in her
ears; this was the last day she could call her own; to-morrow, and all
after to-morrows would be Jasper's. All the past, full of its sweet
hopes and its passionate love, had gone by and vanished, and to-morrow
she would stand at the altar as Jasper Adelstone's bride. It seemed
so great a mockery as to be unreal, and at times she found herself
regarding herself as another person, in whom she took the merest
interest as a spectator.

It could not be that she, whom Leycester Wyndward had loved, should be
going to marry Jasper Adelstone! Then she would look at the boy, so
thin, and wan, and fading, and love would give her strength to carry
out her sacrifice.

To-night he was very dear to her, and she sat holding his hand under
the table; the thin, frail hand that closed with a spasmodic gesture of
aversion when Jasper's smirkish voice broke in on the conversation. It
was wonderful how the boy hated him.

Presently she whispered--"You must go and lie down again, Frank."

"No, not here," he said. "Let me go outside."

And she drew his hand through her arm and went out with him.

Jasper looked after them with a smile.

"Quite touching to see Frank's devotion to Stella," he said.

The old man nodded.

"Poor boy!" he said--"poor boy!"

Jasper cleared his throat.

"I think he had better come with us on our wedding trip," he said. "It
will give Stella pleasure, I know, and be a comfort to Frank."

The old man nodded.

"You are very kind and considerate," he said.

"Not at all," responded Jasper. "I would do anything to insure Stella's
happiness. By-the-way, speaking of arrangements, I have executed a
little deed of settlement----"

"Was that necessary?" asked Mr. Etheridge. "She comes to you penniless."

"I am not a rich man," said Jasper, meekly, "but I have secured a
sufficient sum upon her to render her independent."

The old man nodded, gratefully.

"You have behaved admirably," he said; "I have no doubt Stella will be
happy. You will bear with her, I hope, Jasper, and not forget that she
is but a girl--but a girl."

Jasper inclined his head for a moment in silence. Bear! Little did the
old man know how much he, Jasper, had to bear.

They sat talking for some little time, Jasper listening, as he talked,
to the two voices outside--the clear, low, musical tones of Stella, the
thin weak voice of the boy. Presently the voices ceased, and after a
time he went out. Frank was sitting in the sunset light, his head on
his hands.

"Where is Stella?" asked Jasper, almost sharply.

Frank looked up at him.

"She has escaped," he said, sardonically.

Jasper started.

"What do you mean?"

"She has gone on the cliffs for a stroll," said Frank, with a little
smile at the alarm he had created and intended to create.

Jasper turned upon him with a suppressed snarl. He was battling with
suppressed excitement to-night.

"What do you mean by escaped?" he demanded.

The hollow sunken eyes glared up at him.

"What did you think I meant?" he retorted. "You need not be frightened,
she will come back," and he laughed bitterly.

Jasper glanced at him again, and after a moment of hesitation turned
and went into the house.

Meanwhile Stella was climbing the steep ascent to the bit of table-land
on the cliff. She felt suffocated and overwhelmed. "To-morrow!
to-morrow!" seemed to ring in her ears. Was there no escape? As she
looked down at the waves rolling in beneath her, and beating their
crested heads against the rocks, she almost felt as if she could drop
down to them and so find escape and rest. So strong was the feeling,
the temptation, that she shrank back against the cliff, and sank down
on dry and chalky turf, trembling and confused. Suddenly, as she thus
sat, she heard a man's step coming up the cliff, and thinking it was
Jasper, rose and pushed the hair from her face with an effort at
self-command.

But it was not Jasper, it was a straighter, more stalwart figure, and
in a moment, as he stood to look at the sea, she knew him. It was
Leycester, and with a low, inarticulate cry, she shrank back against
the cliff and watched him. He stood for a while motionless, leaning
on his stick, his back turned from her, then he took up a pebble and
dropped it down into the depths beneath, sighed, and to her intense
relief, went down again.

But though he had not spoken, the sight of him, his dearly-loved
presence so near her, shook her to her center. White and breathless
she leaned against the hard rock, her eyes strained to catch the last
glimpse of him; then she sank on to the ground and hiding her face in
her hands burst into tears.

They were the first tears that she had shed since that awful day, and
every drop seemed of molten fire that scorched her heart as it flowed
from it.

If ever she had persuaded herself that the time might come when she
would cease to love him, she knew, now that she had seen him again,
that she could not so hope again. Never while life was left to her
should she cease to love him. And to-morrow, to-morrow.

"Oh, my love, my love!" she murmured, stretching out her hands as she
had done that night in the garden, "come back to me! I cannot let you
go! I cannot do it! I cannot!"

Nerved by the intensity of her grief she sprang to her feet, and
swiftly descended the cliff. Near the bottom there were two paths,
one leading to the village, the other to the open country beyond.
Instinctively she took the one leading to the village, and so missed
Leycester, for he had gone down the other.

Had she but made a different choice, had she turned to the right
instead of the left, how much would have been averted; but she sped,
almost breathlessly to the left, and instead of Leycester found Jasper
waiting for her.

With a low cry she stopped short.

"Where is he?" she asked, almost unconsciously. "Let me go to him!"

Jasper stared at her, then he grasped her arm.

"You have seen him!" he said, not roughly, not fiercely, but with a
suppressed fury.

There was a rough seat cut out of the stone beside her, and she sank
into it, shrinking away from his eager watching in quest of that other.

"You have seen him!" he repeated, hoarsely. "Do not deny it!"

The insult conveyed in the words recalled her to herself.

"Yes!" she said, meeting his gaze steadily; "I have seen him. Why
should I deny it?"

"No," he said; "and you will not deny that you were running after him
when I--I stopped you. You will admit that, I suppose?"

"Yes," she answered, with a deadly calm, "I was following him."

He dropped her arm which he had held, and pressed his hand to his heart
to still the pang of its throbbing.

"You--you are shameless!" he said at last, hoarsely.

She did not speak.

"Do you realize what to-night is?" he said, glaring down at her. "This
is our marriage eve; do you hear--our marriage eve?"

She shuddered, and put up her hands to her face.

"Did you plan this meeting?" he demanded, with a fierce sneer. "You
will admit that, I suppose? It is only a mere chance that I did not
find you in his arms; is that so? Curse him! I wish I had killed him
when I met him just now!"

Then the old spirit roused itself in her bosom, and she looked up at
him with a scornful smile on her beautiful, wasting face.

"You!" she said.

That was all, but it seemed to drive him mad. For a moment he stood
breathless and panting.

The sight of his fury and suffering--for the suffering was
palpable--smote her.

Her mood changed suddenly; with a cry she caught his arm.

"Oh, Jasper, Jasper! Have pity on me!" she cried; "have pity. You wrong
me, you wrong him. He did not come to see me; he did not know I was
here! We have not spoken--not a word, not a word!" and she moaned; "but
as I stood and watched him, and saw how changed he was, and heard him
sigh, I knew that he had not forgotten, and--and my heart went out to
him. I--I did not mean to speak, to follow him, but I could not help
it. Jasper, you see--you see, it is impossible--our marriage, I mean.
Have pity on me and let me go! For your own sake let me go! Think,
think! What satisfaction, what joy can you hope for? I--I have tried to
love you, Jasper, but--but I cannot! All my life is his! Let me go!"

He almost flung her from him, then caught her again with an oath.

"By Heaven, I will not!" he cried, fiercely. "Once for all, I will not!
Take care, you have made me desperate! It is your fault if I were to
take you at your word."

He paused for breath; then his rage broke out again, more deadly for
its sudden, unnatural quietude.

"Do you think I am blind and bereft of my senses not to see and
understand what this means? Do you think you are dealing with a child?
You have waited your time, and bided your chance, and you think it has
come. Would you have dared to do this a month ago? No, there was no
certainty of the boy's death then; but now--now that you see he will
die, you think my power is at an end----"

With a cry she sprang to her feet and confronted him, terror in her
face, an awful fear and sorrow in her eyes. As the cry left her lips,
it seemed to be echoed by another close behind them, but neither of
them noticed it.

"Frank--die!" she gasped. "No, no; not that! Tell me that you did not
mean it, that you said it only to frighten me."

He put her imploring hand away with a bitter sneer.

"You would make a good actress," he said, "do you mean to tell me that
you were not counting on his death? Do you mean to tell me that you
would not have wound up the scene by begging for more time--time to
allow you to escape, as you would call it! You think that once the
boy is dead you can slip from your bargain and laugh at me! You are
mistaken; since the bargain was struck, I have strove, as no man ever
strove, to make it easy for you, to win your love, because I loved you.
I love you no longer, but I will not let you go. Love you! As there is
a Heaven above us, I hate you to-night, but you shall not go."

She shrank from him cowering, as he towered above her, like some
beautiful maiden in the old myths shrinking from some devouring monster.

"Listen to me," he said, hoarsely, "to-morrow I either give this
paper"--and he snatched the forged bill from his breast pocket and
struck it viciously with his quivering hand--"I either give it into
your hands as my wife, or I give it to the nearest magistrate. The boy
will die! It rests with you whether he dies at peace or in a jail."

White and trembling she sat and looked at him.

"This is my answer to your pretty prayer," he said, with a bitterness
incredible. "It is for you to decide--I use no further argument. Soft
speeches and loving words are thrown away upon you; besides, the time
has passed for them. There is no love, no particle of love, in my heart
for you to-night--I simply stand by my bond."

She did not answer him, she scarcely heard him; she was thinking of
that sad face that had appeared to her for a moment as if in reproach,
and vanished ghost-like; and it was to it that she murmured:

"Oh, my love--my love!"

He heard her; and his face quivered with speechless rage; then he
laughed.

"You made a great mistake," he said, with a sneer--"a very great
mistake, if you are invoking Lord Leycester Wyndward. He may be your
love, but you are not his! It is a matter of small moment--it does not
weigh a feather in the balance between us--but the truth is, 'your
love' is now Lady Lenore Beauchamp's!"

Stella looked up at him, and smiled wearily.

"A lie? No," he said, shaking his head tauntingly. "I have known it for
weeks past. It is in every London paper. But that is nothing as between
you and me--I stand by my bond. To-morrow the boy's fate lies in your
hands or in that of the police. I have no more to say--I await your
answer. I do not even demand it to-night--no doubt you would be----"

She arose, white and calm, her eyes fixed on him.

"--I say I await your answer till to-morrow. Acts, not words, I
require. Fulfill your part of the bargain, and I will fulfill mine."

As he spoke he folded the forged bill which, in his excitement, had
blown open, and put it slowly into his pocket again; then he wiped his
brow and looked at her, biting his lip moodily.

"Will you come with me now," he said, "or will you wait and consider
your course of action?"

His question seemed to rouse her; she raised her head, and disregarding
his proffered arm, went slowly past him to the house.

He followed her for a few steps, then stopped, and with his head on
his breast, went toward the cliffs. His fury had expended itself, and
left a confused, bewildering sensation behind. For the time it really
seemed, as he said, that his baffled love had turned to hate. But as he
thought of her, recalling her beauty, his hate shrank back and returned
to its old object.

"Curse him!" he hissed, "it is he who has done this! If he had not come
to-night this would not have happened. Curse him! From the first he has
stood in my path. Let her go! To him! Never! No, to-morrow she shall be
mine in spite of him, she cannot draw back, she will not!"

Then his brain cleared; he began to upbraid himself for his violence.
"Fool, fool!" he muttered, hoarsely, as he climbed the path, scarcely
heeding where he went. "I have lost her love forever! Why did I not
bear with her a few hours longer? I have borne with her so long that
I should have borne with her to the end! It was that cry of hers that
maddened me! Heaven! to think that she should love him so; that she
should have clung to him so persistently, him whom she had not seen for
months, and keep her heart steeled against me who have hung about her
like a slave! But I will be her slave no longer, to-morrow makes me her
master."

As he muttered this sinister threat, he found that he had reached
the end of the cutting that had been made in the cliff, and turned
mechanically. The wind was blowing from the sea, and the sound of the
waves rose from the depths beneath, crying hoarsely and complainingly
as if in harmony with his mood. He paused a moment and looked down
abstractedly.

"I would rather have her lying dead there," he muttered, "than that
there should be a chance of her going back to him. No! he shall never
have her. To-morrow shall set that fear at rest forever. To-morrow!"
With a long breath he turned from the edge of the cliff, to descend,
but as he did so he felt a hand on his arm, and looking up he saw the
thin, frail figure of the boy standing in the path.

He was so wrapt in his own thoughts that he was startled, and made a
movement to throw the hand off roughly, but it stuck fast, and with an
effort to command himself, he said:

"Well, what are you doing up here?"

As he put the question, he saw by the fading light that the boy's face
was deathly white--that for once the beautiful, fatal flush of red was
absent.

"You are not fit to be out at this time of night," he said, harshly.
"What are you doing up here?"

The boy looked at him, still retaining his hold, and standing in his
path.

"I have come to speak to you, Jasper," he said, and his thin voice was
strangely set and earnest.

Jasper looked down at him impatiently.

"Well," he said, roughly, "what is it? Couldn't you wait until I came
in."

The boy shook his head.

"No," he said, and there was a strange light in his eyes, which never
for a moment left the other's face. "I wanted to see you alone."

"Well, I am alone--or I wish I were," retorted Jasper, brutally. "What
is it?" then he put his hand on the boy's shoulder and looked at him
more closely. "Oh, I see!" he said, with a sneer. "You've been playing
eavesdropper! Well," and he laughed cruelly, "listeners hear no good of
themselves, though you heard no news."

A slight contraction of the thin lips was the only sign that the fell
shaft had sped home.

"Yes," he said, calmly and sternly; "I have been eavesdropping; I have
heard every word, Jasper."

Jasper nodded.

"Then you can indorse the truth of what I said, my dear Frank," and he
smiled, evilly. "I have no doubt you have not forgotten your little
escapade."

"I have not forgotten," was the response.

"Very good. Then I should advise you, if you care for your own safety
and your cousin's welfare, to say nothing of the family honor, to
advise her to come to terms--my terms. You have heard them, no doubt!"

"I have heard about them," said the boy. "I have--" he stopped a second
to cough, but his hold on Jasper's sleeve did not relax even during
the paroxysm--"I have heard them. I know what a devil you are, Jasper
Adelstone. I have long guessed it, but I know now."

Jasper laughed.

"Thanks! and now you have discharged yourself of your venom, my young
asp, we will go down. Take your hand from my coat, if you please."

"Wait," said the boy, and his voice seemed to have grown stronger; "I
have not done yet. I have followed you here, Jasper, for a purpose; I
have come to ask you for--for that paper."

Calmly and dispassionately the request was made, as if it were the
most natural in the world. To say that Jasper was astonished does not
describe his feelings.

"You--must be mad!" he exclaimed; then he laughed.

"You will not give it to me?" was the quiet demand.

Jasper laughed again.

"Do you know what that precious piece of hand-writing of yours cost
me, my dear Frank? One hundred and fifty pounds that I shall never see
again, unless your friend Holiday takes to paying his debts."

"I see," said the boy, slowly, and his voice grew reflective; "you
bought it from him? No!"--with a sudden flash of inspiration--"he was a
gentleman! By hook or by crook you stole it!"

Jasper nodded.

"Never mind how I got it, I have got it," and he struck his breast
softly.

The sunken eyes followed the gesture, as if they would penetrate to the
hidden paper itself.

"I know," he said, in a low voice; "I saw you put it there."

"And you will not see it again until I hand it to Stella, to-morrow,
or give it to the magistrate before whom you will stand, my dear lad,
charged with forgery."

The word had scarcely left his lips, but the boy was upon him, his
long, thin arms--endued for a moment, as it seemed, with a madman's
strength--encircling Jasper's neck. Not a word was uttered, but the
thin, white face, lit up by the gleaming eyes, spoke volumes.

Jasper was staggered, not frightened, but simply surprised and
infuriated.

"You--you young fool!" he hissed. "Take your arms off me."

"Give it to me! Give it to me!" panted the boy, in a frenzy. "Give it
to me! The paper! The paper!" and his clutch tightened like a band of
steel.

Jasper smothered an oath. The path was narrow; unconsciously, or
intentionally, the frenzied lad had edged them both, while talking, to
the brink, and Jasper was standing with his back to it. In an instant
he realized his danger; yes, danger! For, absurd as it seemed, the
grasp of the weak, dying boy could not be shaken off; there was danger.

"Frank!" he cried.

"Give it me!" broke in the wild cry, and he pressed closer.

With an awful imprecation, Jasper seized him and bore him backward, but
as he did so his foot slipped, and the boy, falling upon him, thrust a
hand into Jasper's breast and snatched the paper.

Jasper was on his feet in a moment, and flying at him tore the paper
from his grasp. The boy uttered a wild cry of despair, crouched down
for a moment, and then with that one wild prayer upon his lips: "Give
it me!" hurled himself upon his foe. For quite a minute the struggle,
so awful in its inequality, raged between them. His opponent's strength
so amazed Jasper that he was lost to all sense of the place in which
they stood; in his wild effort to shake the boy off he unconsciously
approached the edge of the cliff. Unconsciously on his part, but the
other noticed it, even in his frenzy, and suddenly, as if inspired, he
shrieked out--

"Look! Leycester! He is there behind you!"

Jasper started and turned his head; the boy seized the moment, and the
next the narrow platform on which they had stood was empty. A wild
hoarse shriek rose up, and mingled with the dull roar of the waves
beneath, and then all was still!



CHAPTER XL.


Leycester had reached Carlyon on foot. He had left the house in the
morning, simply saying that he was going for a walk, and that they
were not to wait any meal for him. During the last few days he had
wandered in this way, seemingly desirous of being alone, and showing no
inclination toward even Charlie's society. Lady Wyndward half feared
that the old black fits was coming on him; but Lenore displayed no
anxiety; she even made excuses for him.

"When a man feels the last hour of his liberty approaching, he
naturally likes to use his wings a little," she said, and the countess
had smiled approvingly.

"My dear, you will make a model wife; just the wife that Leycester
needs."

"I think so; I do, indeed," responded Lenore, with her frank, charming
smile.

So Leycester was left alone to his own wild will during those last
few days, while the dressmakers and upholsterers were hard at work
preparing for "the" day.

He could not have told why he came to Carlyon. He did not even know
the name of the little village in which he found himself. With his
handsome face rather grave and weary-looking, he had tramped into the
inn, and sunk down into the seat which had supported many a generation
of Carlyon fisherman and many sea-coast travelers.

"This is Carlyon, sir," said the landlord, in answer to Leycester's
question, eying the tall figure in its knee breeches and shooting
jacket. "Yes, sir, this is Carlyon; have you come from St. Michael's,
sir?"

Leycester shook his head; he scarcely heard the old man.

"No," he answered; "but I have walked some distance," and he mentioned
the place.

The old man stared.

"Phew! that's a long walk, sir; a main long walk. And what can I get
you to eat, sir?"

Leycester smiled rather wearily. He had heard the question so often in
his travels, and knew the results so perfectly.

"Anything you like," he said.

The landlord nodded in approval at so sensible an answer, and went out
to consult his wife, who had been staring at the handsome traveler from
behind the half-open door of the common living room. Presently he came
out with the result. The gentleman could have a bit of fish and a chop,
and some Falmouth potatoes.

Leycester nodded indifferently--anything would do.

Both the fish and the chop were excellent, but Leycester did anything
but justice to them. A strange feeling of restlessness seemed to have
taken possession of him, and when he had lit his cigar, instead of
sitting down and taking it comfortably, he felt compelled to get up and
wander to the door. The evening was drawing in; there were a fairish
number of miles between him and home--it was time for him to start, but
still he leant against the door and looked at the sea and cliffs that
rose in a line with the house.

At last he paid his reckoning, supplemented it with a half-crown for
the landlord in his capacity of waiter, and started. But not homeward;
the cliff seemed to exercise a strange fascination for him, and obeying
the impulse which was almost irresistible, he set off for the path that
ascended to the summit, and strode upward.

A great peace was upon the scene, a great unrest and unsatisfied desire
was in his heart. All the air seemed full of Stella; her voice mingled,
for him, in the plash of the waves. Thinking of her with a deep,
sorrowful wistfulness, he climbed on and--passed her.

Stood within reach of her as she cowered and shrank against the wall of
chalk, and all unconscious of her nearness he turned and came down. The
evening had grown chilly and keen, but his walk had made him hot, and
he turned into the inn to get a glass of ale.

The landlord was surprised to see him again, and said so, and Leycester
stood, with the glass in his hand, explaining that he had been up the
cliff to look at the view.

"Aye, sir, and a grand view it is," said the old man, with pardonable
pride. "Man and boy I've growed under the shadow of that cliff, and
I know every inch of it, top and bottom. Mighty dangerous it is too,
sir," he added, reflectively. "It's not one or two, but nigh upon a
score o' accidents as I've known on that cliff."

"The path is none too wide," said Leycester.

"No, sir, and in the dark----" he stopped suddenly, and started. "What
was that?" he exclaimed.

"What is the matter?" Leycester asked.

The old man caught his arm suddenly, and pointed to the cliff.
Leycester looked up, and the glass fell from his hand. There, on the
giddy height, clearly defined against the sky, were two figures, locked
together in what appeared a deadly embrace.

"Look!" exclaimed the old man. "The glass--give me the glass!"

Leycester caught up a telescope that stood on a seat beside them and
gave it to him; he himself did not need a glass to see the dark,
struggling figures, they were all too plain. For one second they stood
as if benumbed, and then the echo of the shriek smote upon their ears,
and the cliff was bare. The old man dropped the telescope and caught
Leycester's arm as he made a bound toward the path.

"No, no, sir!" he exclaimed. "No use to go up there, the boat! the
boat!" and he ran to the beach. Leycester followed him like a man in a
dream, and tearing off his coat, seized an oar mechanically.

There was not a soul in sight, the peace of the Autumn evening rested
on sea and shore, but in Leycester's ears the echo of that awful
death-shriek rung as plainly as when he had first heard it. The
landlord of the inn, an old sailor, rowed like a young man, and the
boat rose over the waves and cleaved its way round the bay as if a
dozen men were pulling.

Not a word was spoken, the great beads of sweat stood on their
foreheads, their hearts throbbed in unison with every stroke. Presently
Leycester saw the old man relax his stroke and bend peering over the
boat, and suddenly he dropped his oar and sprang up, pointing to a dark
object floating on the top of the waves. Leycester rose too, calm and
acute enough now, and in another minute Jasper Adelstone was lying at
their feet.

Leycester uttered no cry as his eyes fell upon the pale, set face, but
he sank down in the boat and put his hands to his eyes.

When he looked up he saw the old man quietly putting his oar into its
place.

"Yes, sir," he said, gravely answering Leycester's glance, "he is dead,
stone dead; row back, sir."

"But the other!" said Leycester, in a whisper.

The old man shook his head and glanced upward at the cliff.

"He is up there, sir. Alive or dead, he is up there. He didn't fall
into the sea or we should have met him."

"Then--then," said Leycester, his voice struggling for calm, "he may be
alive!"

"We shall soon see, sir; row for life or death."

Leycester needed no further prompting, and the boat sped back. By the
time they had gained the shore a crowd had collected, and Leycester
felt, rather than saw, that the motionless, lifeless form that had
haunted him from its place at the bottom of the boat was carried
off--felt, rather than was conscious, that he was speeding up the cliff
followed by the landlord and half-a-dozen fishermen.

Silent and breathless they gained the top, and stood for a moment
uncertain; then Leycester saw one of them step forward with a rope.

"Now, mates," the old man said, "which of us goes down?"

There was a moment's silence, then Leycester stepped forward and took
up the rope.

"I," he said.

It was but a word, but no one ventured to dispute his decision.

Quietly and calmly they fastened the rope round his waist, leaving a
loop lower down. He had left his coat in the boat, and stood bareheaded
for a moment. The old man stood beside him, calm and grave.

"Hold tight, sir," he said; "and if--if--you find him, sling the rope
round him and give the word."

Leycester nodded, held up his hand, and the next moment was swinging in
the air. Slowly and steadily, inch by inch, they lowered him down the
awful depths amidst a death-like silence. Suddenly his voice broke it,
coming up to them in one word--

"Stop!"

Breathless they waited, then they felt the rope jerk and they pulled
up. A great sob of relief rather than a cheer rose as he appeared,
bearing on his arm the slight figure of poor Frank.

Gently but swiftly they unwound the ropes and laid him down at
Leycester's feet, and the old man knelt beside him.

Leycester did not speak, but stood panting and pale. The old man looked
up.

"Give me a hand, boys," he said, slowly and sternly. "He is alive!"

"Alive!" said Leycester, hoarsely.

"Alive," repeated the old man. "Yes, sir, you have saved him, but----"

Leycester followed them down the cliff, followed them to the inn. Then,
as the thin, wasted figure disappeared within the house, he sank on to
the bench at the door, and covered his face with his hands.

Was it an awful dream?--would he awake presently and find himself at
home, and this dreadful nightmare vanished?

Suddenly he felt a hand upon his arm, and looking up, saw a staid,
elderly man, with "doctor" written plainly on his face.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said. "You know this poor lad?"

Leycester nodded.

"So I understood from a word you let drop on the cliff. As that is the
case, perhaps you would not mind breaking it to his friends?"

"His friends?" asked Leycester, mechanically.

The doctor nodded.

"They are staying at that cottage," he said, pointing. "They should be
here at once."

Leycester rose, dazed for a moment; then he said, in a low voice:

"I understand. Yes, I will do it."

Without another word, he strode off. It was no great distance, but
he had not to traverse it, short as it was. At the turn of the road
a slight, girlish figure came flitting toward him. It was Stella. He
stopped irresolute, but at that moment she had no thought even for
him. Without hesitating, she came toward him, her face pale, her hands
outstretched.

"Leycester! where is he?"

Without thinking he put his arm round her and she rested on his breast
for a moment.

"Stella, my Stella! be brave."

She uttered a little inarticulate cry, and hid her face for a moment,
then she raised her head, and looked at him.

"Take me to him!" she moaned, "take me to him. Oh my poor boy! my poor
boy!"

In silence he led her to the inn, and she passed up the stairs. The
fishermen gathered round the door drew back and turned their eyes from
him with respectful sympathy, and he stood looking out at the sea. The
minutes passed, years they seemed to him, then he heard the doctor's
voice.

"Will you go up-stairs, my lord?"

Leycester started, and slowly ascended the stairs.

Stretched on a small bed lay the poor erring boy, white and death-like,
already in the shadow of death. Beside him knelt Stella, her hand
clasping his, her face lying beside his.

He looked up as Leycester entered, and raised a thin white hand to
beckon him near. Instinctively Leycester knelt beside him.

"You want to see me, Frank?"

The boy raised his eyelids heavily, and seemed to make a great struggle
for strength.

"Leycester," he said, "I--I have something to give you. You--you will
understand what it means. It was the charm that bound her to him. I
have broken it--broken it! It was for my sake she did it, for mine! I
did not know it till to-night. Take it, Leycester," and slowly he drew
from his breast the forged paper.

Leycester took it, deeming the boy delirious, and Frank seemed to read
his thought.

"You will understand," he panted. "I--I--forged it, and he knew it,
and held the knowledge and the paper over her head. You saved my life,
Leycester: I give you something better than life, Leycester; I give
you--her--Stella!"

His lips quivered, and he seemed sinking; but he made a last effort.

"I--I am dying, Leycester. I am glad, very, very glad. I don't wish to
live. It is better that I should die!"

"Frank!" broke from Stella's white lips.

"Don't cry, Stella. While I lived he--he would have held you bound. Now
I am dying----" Then his voice failed and his eyes closed, but they saw
his lips move, and Stella, bending over him, heard the words--"Forgive,
forgive!"

With a loud cry she caught him in her arms, but he had passed away,
even beyond her love, and the next moment she fell fainting, still
holding him to her bosom, as a mother holds her child.

An hour afterward Leycester was pacing the beach, his arms folded
across his breast, his head bent, a storm of conflicting emotions
raging within. The boy had spoken truly. The time had come when he
understood fully the lad's words. He had gleaned much from the forged
bill, which, all torn and stained, lay hidden in his pocket; but the
full meaning of the mystery had been conveyed to him by the delirious
words of Stella, who lay in a high fever.

He had just left her, and was now waiting for the doctor, waiting for
his verdict--life or death. Life or death! He had often heard, often
used the words, but never until this moment knew their import.

Presently the doctor joined him, and Leycester uttered the one word:

"Well?"

"She will live," he said.

Leycester raised his head and drew a long breath. The doctor continued:

"Yes, I think I may say she will pull through. I shall know more
to-morrow. You see, she has undergone a severe strain; I do not allude
to the tragic incidents of the evening; those in themselves are
sufficient to try a young girl; but she has been laboring under extreme
nervous pressure for months past."

Leycester groaned.

"Come, come, my lord," said the doctor, cheerfully. "You may depend
upon me. I should not hold out hope unless I had good reason for so
doing. We shall save her, I trust and believe."

Leycester inclined his head; he could not speak. The doctor looked at
him gravely.

"If you will permit me, my lord," he said, "I would suggest that you
should now take some rest. You are far from strong yourself."

Leycester smiled grimly.

"Far from strong," repeated the doctor, emphatically. "And there is a
great deal more endurance before you. Be advised and take some rest, my
lord.

"The landlord has been speaking to me, sir, about the unfortunate man
you found. It seems that there are papers and valuables--jewelry, and
such like. Will your lordship take charge of them until the police
arrive? I understand that you knew him."

"Yes, I knew him," said Leycester. He had, in truth, almost forgotten
Jasper Adelstone. "I will take charge of the things, if you wish it."

"Follow me, then," said the doctor.

They went to the inn, and up the stairs, with that quiet, subdued step
with which men approach the presence of grim death, and stood beside
the bed upon which lay all that remained of the man who had so nearly
wrecked two lives.

Leycester looked down at the white face, calm and
expressionless--looked down with a solemn feeling at his heart, and the
doctor drew some papers from the coat.

"These are them," he said, "if your lordship will take charge of them."

Leycester took them, and as he did so, he glanced mechanically at them
as they lay in his hand, and uttered an exclamation.

There in his hand lay the note which Lenore had written, bidding Jasper
Adelstone meet her in the wood. He knew the writing in a moment, and
before he had time to prevent it, had read the few pregnant words.

The doctor turned round.

"What is the matter?"

Leycester stood, and for the first time that awful night trembled.
The idea of treachery and deceit so connected with Lenore utterly
unnerved him. He knew, he felt as if by instinct, that he held in his
hand a link in the chain of cunning and chicanery which had so nearly
entangled him, and the thought that her name would become the prey of
the newspapers was torture.

"Doctor," he said, and his voice trembled, "I have seen by accident
a letter written to this unfortunate man. It consists of a few lines
only. It will compromise a lady whose good name is in my keeping----"

The doctor held up his hand.

"Your lordship will be guided by your sense of honor," he said.

Leycester inclined his head and put the note in his pocket.

Then they went down, and the doctor strode off to the cottage and left
Leycester still pacing the beach.

Yes, the boy had spoken truly. He saw it all now. He knew how it had
been brought to pass that Stella had been entrapped into Jasper's
chambers; he saw the unscrupulous hand of a woman weaving the threads
of the net in which they had been entangled. Minute details were not
necessary, that little note in the dainty hand-writing told its own
story; Jasper Adelstone and Lady Lenore Beauchamp had been in league
together; death had squared the reckoning between him and the man, but
he had still to settle the tragic account with the woman.

The night passed, and the dawn broke, and the little doctor returning,
weary and exhausted, found the tall figure still pacing the beach.



CHAPTER XLI.


Lenore sat in her dainty room, her long golden hair flooding her
white shoulders, her fair face reflected in the Venetian mirror with
its edging of antique work and trimming of lace. Not even a Venetian
mirror could have desired to hold a fairer picture; youth, beauty, and
happiness, smiled from its surface. The rich, delicately curved lips
smiled to-night, with an ineffable content, and serene satisfaction.

There was a latent gleam of triumph in the violet eyes, eloquent
of triumph and victory. She had conquered; the desire of her life
was nearly within her grasp; two days--forty-eight hours--more and
Leycester Wyndward would be hers. An ancient name, an historic title,
an immense estate were to be hers. To do her justice at this moment,
she thought neither of the title nor the estate; it was of the man, of
the man with his handsome face, and musical voice, and _debonnaire_
manner that she thought. If they had come and told her, there where she
sat, that it had been discovered that he was neither noble nor rich,
she would not have cared, it would not have mattered. It was the man,
it was Leycester himself, for whom she had plotted and schemed, and she
would have been content with him alone.

Even now, as she looked at the beautiful reflection in the mirror, it
was with no thought of her own beauty, all her thoughts were of him;
and the smile that crossed the red lips was called up by no spirit of
vanity, but by the thought that in forty-eight hours, the wish and the
desire of her life would be gratified.

In silence the maid brushed out the wealth of golden tresses, of which
she was almost as proud as the owner herself; she had heard a whisper
in the servants' hall, but it was not for her to speak. It was a rumor
that something had happened to Lord Leycester, that he had not returned
yet, and that one of the wild fits, with which all the household were
familiar, had seized him, and that he was off no one knew where.

It was not for her to speak, but she watched her beautiful mistress
covertly, and thought how quickly she could dispel the smile of
serenity which sat upon the fair face.

Quiet as the wedding was intended to be, there was necessarily some
stir; the society papers had got hold of it, and dilated upon it in
paragraphs, in which Lenore was spoken of as "our reigning beauty,"
and Leycester described as the son of a well-known peer, and a man of
fashion. Quite an army of upholsterers had been at work at the house
in Grosvenor Square, and another army of milliners and dressmakers
had been preparing the bride's _trousseau_. A pile of imperials and
portmanteaus stood in the dressing-room, each bearing the initials "I,"
with the coronet.

One or two of the Beauchamps, the present earl and a brother--together
with three young lady cousins, who were to act as bridesmaids--had been
invited, and were to arrive the following evening. Certainly there
must be some slight fuss, and Lenore, as she thought of Leycester's
absence, ascribed it to his dislike to the aforesaid fuss, and his
desire to escape from it.

The maid went at last, and Lenore, with a happy sigh, went to sleep.
At that time Leycester was pacing the beach at Carlyon, and Jasper
and poor Frank were lying dead. Surely if dreams come to warn one of
impending trouble, Lady Lenore should have dreamed to-night; but she
did not. She slept the night through without a break, and rose fresh
and beautiful, with only twenty-four hours between her and happiness.

But when she entered the breakfast-room, and met the pale, anxious face
of the countess, and the grave one of the earl, a sudden spasm of fear,
scarcely fear, but apprehension, fell upon her.

"What is the matter?" she asked, gliding to the countess, and kissing
her.

"Nothing--really nothing, dear," she said, attempting to speak lightly.

"Where is Leycester?" she asked.

"That is it," replied the countess, pouring out the coffee, and keeping
her eye fixed on the cup. "The foolish boy hasn't returned yet."

"Not returned?" echoed Lenore, and a faint flush came into her face.
"Where did he go?"

"I don't know, my dear Lenore, and I cannot find out. He didn't tell
you?"

Lenore shook her head, and fastened a flower in her dress with a hand
that quivered faintly.

"No. I did not ask him. I saw him go."

"Was he on foot, or riding?" asked the earl.

"On foot," said Lenore. "He was in his shooting clothes, and I thought
he was going for a walk on the hills."

The earl broke his piece of toast with a little irritable jerk.

"It is annoying," he said. "It is extremely inconsiderate of him,
extremely. To-day, of all others, he should have remained at home."

"He will be here presently," said Lenore, calmly.

The countess sighed.

"Nothing--of course nothing could have happened to him."

She merely made the suggestion in a suppressed, hushed, anxious voice.

Lenore laughed--actually laughed.

"Happened to him, to Leycester!" she said, with proud contempt. "What
could have happened to him? Leycester is not the sort of man to meet
with accidents. Pray do not be uneasy, dear; he will come in directly,
very tired, and very hungry, and laugh at us."

"I give him credit for better manners," said the earl, curtly.

He was angry and annoyed. As he had said to the countess before Lenore
came in, he had hoped and believed that Leycester had given up this
sort of boyish nonsense, and intended to act sensibly, as became a man
who had settled to marry.

There was a moment's pause while the earl buttered his toast, still
irritably; then Lady Wyndward said almost to herself--

"Perhaps Lilian knows?"

"No," said Lenore, quickly, "she does not, or she would have told me. I
saw her last night the last thing, and she did not know he was out. Do
not tell her."

The countess glanced at her gratefully.

"She would only be anxious and fret," said Lenore. "While I am not, and
shall not be," she added, with a smile. "I am not afraid that Leycester
has run away from me."

She looked up as she spoke, and flashed her beauty upon them, as it
were, and smiled, and the mother felt reassured. Certainly it did not
seem probable that any man would run away from her.

She herself felt no fear, not even when the morning grew to noon and
the noon to evening. She went about the house superintending the
packing of the multitudinous things, arranging the epergnes, playing
the piano even, and more than once the light air from the French opera
floated through the room.

Lord Beauchamp and the rest of the visitors were to arrive about seven,
just in time to dress for dinner, and the stir that had reigned in the
house grew accentuated as the time approached. Lenore went to her room
at six to dress; she meant to look her best to-night, as well indeed
as she meant to look on the following day; and her maid knew by the
attention which her mistress had paid to the wardrobe that every care
would be expected from her ministering hands. Just before she went to
her room she met the countess on the stairs; they had not seen very
much of each other during the day; there was a great deal to do, and
the countess, notwithstanding her rank, was a housekeeper in something
more than name.

"Lenore," she said, then stopped.

The beauty bent over from her position on a higher step and kissed her.

"I know, dear--he has not come yet. Well, he will be here by
dinner-time. Why are you so anxious? I am not."

And she laughed.

It certainly encouraged the countess, and she even called up a smile.

"What a strange girl you are, Lenore," she said. "One would have
thought that you, before all of us, would have been uneasy."

Lenore shook her head.

"No, dear; I feel--I feel that he will come. Now see if my prophecy
comes true."

And she went up the stairs, casting a serene and confident smile over
her shoulder.

"I will wear that last blue dress of Worth's, and the pearls," she said
to her maid, and the girl started. The dress had just arrived, and was
supposed to be reserved for future London triumphs.

"The last, my lady?"

Lenore nodded.

"Yes; I want to look my best to-night; and if I were not afraid of
being thought too pronounced, I would wear my diamonds."

The girl arranged the beautiful hair in its close curls of gold, and
fastened the famous pearls upon the white wrists and round the dainty
throat; and Lenore surveyed herself in the Venetian mirror. A smile of
satisfaction slowly lit up her face.

"Well?" she said, over her shoulder.

"Beautiful," breathed the girl, who was proud of her mistress's
loveliness. "Oh, beautiful, my lady! but isn't it a pity to wear it
to-night?"

Lenore shook her head.

"I would wear a better if I had it," she said, softly. "Now go
down-stairs, and tell me when Lord Leycester returns."

The girl stared and then smiled. After all then they had been worrying
themselves about nothing; her ladyship had received a message from him
and knew when to expect him! She went down and crowed over them in the
servants' hall, and watched for Lord Leycester.

Seven o'clock chimed from the stables, and the carriage that had been
sent to meet the guests returned. Lord Beauchamp was a tall, stately
old gentleman who hated traveling as he hated anything else that gave
him any trouble or inconvenience, and the rest were tired and dusty,
and generally pining for soap and water. The earl and countess met them
in the hall, and in the bustle and fuss Leycester was not missed.

"Do not hurry, Lord Beauchamp," said the poor countess. "We will make
the dinner half-past eight," and she wished in her heart that she could
postpone it altogether; for Leycester had not come.

"What shall we do--what shall we do?" she exclaimed, as the earl stood
at her dressing-room door with his coat in his hand.

"Do!" he retorted. "Go on without him. This comes of humoring an only
son till he develops into a lunatic. Poor Lenore! I pity her!" and he
went out frowning.

"He has not come, my lady!" murmured the maid, entering Lenore's room a
few minutes afterwards. "Lord Beauchamp's party have arrived, but Lord
Leycester has not come."

Lenore was standing by the open window, and she turned with a sudden
smile. The sound of horse's feet had struck upon her ear.

"Yes, he has," she said. "He is here now," and she closed the window
and sat down calmly.

Leycester rode into the courtyard on the horse that he had borrowed
from the doctor, and, throwing the bridle to a groom, ascended the
stone steps and made his way through the hall.

Excepting some of the servants, there was no one about, they had all
gone to their dressing-rooms, and he went up the stairs in silence and
uninterrupted. With bent head and dragging step, for the long vigil and
hours of excitement had told upon him, he stood before Lilian's room.
It was worthy of notice that in this awful coming back of his he went
to her first, as a matter of course, and knocking gently, went in.

It was dark, and the lamp was burning softly, but she, accustomed to
the dim light, saw plainly that something had happened.

"Leycester!" she exclaimed. "Why--how is this, dear? Where have you
been all day and all last night? You did not come to me and----" she
stopped as he sat down beside her and put his hand upon her head. The
hand was burning hot, his face was white and haggard and worn, and yet
in some way strangely peaceful, with a far-away, dreamy expression upon
it--"Leycester, where have you been?"

He bent and kissed her.

"Lil," he said, and there was a great peace in his voice though it was
weary and husky, "you will be a brave good girl while I tell you!"

"Ah, Leycester!" was all she murmured.

"Well, Lil, I have found her--I have got her back--my poor Stella."

Her hand closed on his, and her delicate face went white as ivory.

"Got her back!"

"Yes," he said, in low tones. "I have found out the mystery--no, not I.
It was solved for me by a mightier hand than any human one--by Death,
Lil."

"Death, Leycester! She is not dead! Oh, Stella--Stella!"

"Heaven forbid," he breathed. "No, no; she is alive, though fearfully
near death still. I left her lying white and still and weak as a broken
lily--my poor, sweet darling!--but she is alive, thank Heaven!--she is
alive! And now can you bear to hear what separated us, Lil?"

"Tell me," she said.

Sitting there, with her loving, sympathizing heart beating against
his, he told her the strange story. Sobs, low and moving, broke from
her as he told of the boy's death, and an awful chill fell on her as
he spoke as shortly as he could of the fate that had befallen Jasper
Adelstone; but when he came to speak of that short damning note that he
had found--that note in the hand-writing of Lenore, and hinted at her
share in the conspiracy--the gentle heart grew cold and terrified, and
she hid her face for a moment, then she looked up and clasped her hands
round his neck.

"Oh, Ley, Ley! deal gently with her! Forgive her! We all need
forgiveness! Forgive her; she did it out of her love for you, and has
suffered, and will suffer! Deal gently with her!"

He bit his lip, and his brow darkened.

"Ley, Ley!" the gentle creature pleaded, "think of her now waiting for
you, think of her who was to be your wife. She loved you. Ley, she
loves you still; and that will be her punishment! Ley, you will not be
hard with her!"

Her prayer prevailed; he drew a long breath.

"No, Lil," he said, in a low voice, "I will not be hard with her. But
as for love! True love does not stand by and see its beloved suffer
as I have suffered; not true love. There is a passion which men libel
by calling love--that is what she has borne for me. Love! Think of
her? Yes; I will think of her; but how am I to forget my beautiful,
suffering darling, lying so white and wan and broken," and he hid his
face in his hands. Presently he rose and kissed her.

"I am going to her," he said. "Do not fear! I have given you my word; I
will deal gently with her."

She let him go without another word, and he went straight to Lenore's
sitting-room, travel-stained and haggard, and unrefreshed.

The maid heard his knock, and opened the door, and passed out as he
entered and stood in the middle of the room. There was a faint rustle
in the adjoining room, and then she came floating toward him in all her
loveliness, the faint, ethereal blue making her white skin to shame the
rare and costly pearls. She was dazzling in her supreme loveliness,
and at any other time he would have been moved, but now it was as if
a deadly, venomous serpent, glorious in its scaly beauty, lay coiled
before him.

She came forward, her hands outstretched, her eyes glowing with a
passionate welcome, and then stopped. Not a word passed for a moment;
the two, she in all her costly attire and loveliness, he in his stained
cord suit and with his haggard face, confronted each other. She read
her doom at a glance, but the proud, haughty spirit did not quail.

"Well?" she said at last.

Chivalrous to the last, even in this moment, he pointed to a seat,
but she made a gesture of refusal and stood, her white hands clasped
tightly, her head erect, her eyes glowing. "Well? You have come back?"

"Yes, I have come back, Lady Lenore," he said, his voice dry and hoarse.

She smiled bitterly at the "lady."

"You are late," she said. "Was it worth while coming back?"

It was a proud and insolent question, but he bore with her.

"I came back for your sake," he said.

"For mine!" and she smiled incredulously. She could smile still, though
an icy hand was closing round her heart, and wringing the life blood
out of it.

"For yours. It was not fitting that you should hear from other lips
than mine that from this hour you and I are as far apart as pole from
pole."

She inclined her head.

"So be it. There is no appeal from such a sentence. But may I ask you
to explain; dare I venture so far?" and her lip curled.

"Do you think you dare?" he said, sternly.

She inclined her head, his sternness struck her like a blow.

"You have come to tell me, have you not?" she said. "Where have you
been?"

"I have come from Carlyon," he said.

"From whom?"

"From the girl from whom your base scheming separated me," he said,
sternly.

"Ah," she breathed, but her eyes opened with a wild stare. "You--you
have gone back to her?"

He waved his hand.

"Let there be no word of her between us," he said; "your lips shall not
profane her name."

She turned white and her hand went to her heart.

"Forgive me," he said, hoarsely. Had he not promised to deal gently
with her? "I have not come to utter reproaches--I came to shield you,
if that were possible."

"To shield!--from what?" she demanded, in a low murmur.

"From the consequences of your crime," he said. "What that is, I have
only learnt to-night; but for a chance accident the world would know
to-morrow that Lady Lenore Beauchamp had stooped so low as to become
the accomplice of Jasper Adelstone in a vile conspiracy."

She waved her hand.

"He dare not speak. I defy him!"

Leycester held up his hand.

"He is beyond your defiance," he said--"Jasper Adelstone is dead!"

She made a gesture of contemptuous indifference.

"What is that to me?" she said, hoarsely. "Why do you speak to me of
him or any other man? Is it not enough that I have failed? Have you
come to gloat over me? What is it that you want?"

He thrust his hand in his breast, and drew forth the note.

"I have come to restore this to you," he said. "I took it from the dead
man's bosom--took it to save your reputation. The story it told me I
have heard in fact from the lips of the girl you have plotted against
and wronged. It is at her bidding that I am here--here to save you from
scandal, and to cover if possible your retreat."

"At her's--at Stella Etheridge's?" she breathed, as though the name
would choke her.

He waved his hand.

"You will leave this house to-night. I have made all arrangements
necessary, and you will start in an hour's time."

She laughed discordantly.

"And if I say I will not?"

He looked at her sternly.

"Then I will tell the story to my mother and you shall hear your
dismissal from her lips. Choose!"

She dropped into a chair, and made a gesture of scorn.

"Tell whom you please," she said. "I am your affianced wife, my people
are under your roof at this moment; go to them and tell them that you
have deserted me for a low-born girl!"

He turned and strode to the door; but ere he had reached it the
reaction had come. With a low cry, she flew to him and sank at his
feet, her hands clasped on his arm, her face upturned with an awful
imploration.

"Leycester, Leycester! Do not leave me! Do not go! Leycester, I was
wrong, wicked, base, vile; but it was all for you--for you! Leycester,
listen to me! You will not go! Do not fling me from you! Look at me,
Leycester!"

He did look at her, lovely in her abandon and despair, and then averted
his eyes; it horrified him to see her so low and degraded.

"You will not look at me!" she wailed; "you will not! Oh, Heaven! am
I so changed? am I old, ugly, hideous? Leycester, you have called
me beautiful a hundred--a thousand times; and now you will not look
at me! You will leave me! You shall not; I will hold you like this
forever--forever! Ah!"--for he had made a movement to disengage
himself--"you will not hurt me! Yes; kill me, kill me here at your
feet! I would rather die so than live without you. I cannot, Leycester!
Listen, I love you; I love you twenty thousand times better than that
wretched girl can do! Leycester, I will give my life for you! See, I am
kneeling here at your feet! You will not spurn me, you cannot repel me!
Leycester! oh, my darling, my love! do what you will with me, but do
not spurn me! Oh, my love, my love!"

It was piteous, it was awful, to see and hear her, and the strong man
trembled and turned pale, but his heart was stone and ice toward her;
the white, wan face of his darling came between them, and made the
flushed, passion-distorted face at his feet seem hideous and repellant.

"Rise!" he said, sternly.

"No, no; I will not," she moaned. "I will die at your feet! Leycester,
you will kill me! I have lost all for your sake, pride and honor, and
now my fair name, for you cannot shield me; and you will thrust me
aside. Leycester, you cannot! you cannot! Oh, my love, my love, do not
spurn me from you!" and still on her knees, she bent her head upon his
arm, and poured a storm of passionate, broken kisses upon his hand.

That roused him. With an exclamation of abhorrence, he threw her grasp
off, and stood with his hand on the door.

She sprang to her feet, and, white and breathless, looked at him as if
she would read his soul; then throwing her hands above her head, she
fell to the ground.

He stood for a moment or two bending over her, thinking her senseless,
but it was simply mental and physical exhaustion, and when he strode to
the bell, she opened her eyes and held up her hand to stop him.

"No," she murmured. "Let no one see me. Go now. Go!"

He went to the door, and she rose and supported herself against a chair.

"Good-bye, Leycester," she said. "I have lost you--and all! All!"

It was the last words he heard her utter for many and many a year.



CHAPTER XLII.


"After all, there is nothing like English scenery; this is very
beautiful. I don't suppose you could get a greater variety of opal
tints in one view than lies before us now, but there is something
missing. It is all too beautiful, too rich, too gorgeous; one finds
one's breath coming too quickly, and one longs for just a dash of
English gloom to tone down the brilliant colors and give a relief."

It was Mr. Etheridge who spoke. He was standing beside a low rustic
seat which fronted the world-famous view from the Piazza at Nice. The
sun was dropping into the horizon like a huge ball of crimson fire,
the opal tints of the sky stretched far above their heads and even
behind them. It was one blaze of glory in which a slim, girlish figure,
leaning far back in the seat, seemed bathed.

She was pale still, was this Stella, this little girl heroine of
ours, but the dark look of trouble and leaden sorrow had gone, and
the light of youth and youthful joy had come back to the dark eyes;
the faint, ever ready smile hovered again about the red, mobile lips.
"Sorrow" says Goethe, "is the refining touch to a woman's beauty,"
and it refined Stella's. She was lovely now, with that soft, ethereal
loveliness which poets sing of, and artists paint, and we poor penman
so vainly strive to describe.

She looked up with a smile.

"Homesick, uncle?" she murmurs.

The old man strokes his beard, and glances at her.

"I plead guilty," he says. "You cannot make a hermit crab happy if you
take him out of his shell, and the cottage is my shell, Stella."

She sighed softly, not with unhappiness, but with that tender
reflectiveness which women alone possess.

"I will go back when you please, dear," she says.

"Hem!" he grunts. "There is someone else to consult, mademoiselle;
that someone else seems particularly satisfied to remain where we are;
but then I suppose he would be contented to remain anywhere so that a
certain pale-faced, insignificant chit of a girl were near him."

A faint blush, a happy flush spreads over the pale face, and the long
lashes droop over the dark eyes.

"At any rate we must ask him," says the old man; "we owe him that
little attention at least, seeing how much long-suffering patience he
has and continues to display."

"Don't, uncle," murmurs the half-parted lips.

"It is all very well to say 'don't,'" retorts the old man with a grim
smile. "Seriously, don't you think that you are, to use an Americanism,
playing it rather low down on the poor fellow?"

"I--I--don't know what you mean," she falters.

"Permit me to explain then," he says, ironically.

"I--I don't want to hear, dear."

"It is fitting that girls should be made to hear sometimes," he
says, with a smile. "What I mean is simply this, that, as a man with
something approaching a conscience and a fellow feeling for my kind, I
feel it my duty to point out to you that, perhaps unconsciously, you
are leading Leycester the sort of life that the bear who dances on hot
bricks--if any bear ever does--is supposed to lead. Here for months,
after no end of suffering----"

"I have suffered too," she murmurs.

"Exactly," he assents, in his gently-grim way; "but that only makes
it worse. After months of suffering, you allow him to dangle at
your heels, you drag him at your chariot wheels, tied him at your
apron strings from France to Italy, from Italy to Switzerland, from
Switzerland back to France again, and gave him no more encouragement
than a cat does a dog."

The faint flush is a burning crimson now.

"He--he need not come," she murmurs, panting. "He is not obliged."

"The moth--the infuriated moth, is not obliged to hover about the
candle, but he does hover, and generally winds up by scorching his
wings. I admit that it is foolish and unreasonable, but it is none the
less true that Leycester is simply incapable, apparently, of resting
outside the radius of your presence, and therefore I say hadn't you
better give him the right to remain within that radius and----"

She put up her hand to stop him, her face a deeper crimson still.

"Permit me," he says, obstinately, and puffing at his pipe to
emphasize. "Once more the unfortunate wretch is on tenterhooks; he is
dying to take possession of you, and afraid to speak up like a man
because, possibly, you have had a little illness----"

"Oh, uncle, and you said yourself that you thought I should have died."

He coughs.

"Ahem! One is inclined to exaggerate sometimes. He is afraid to speak
because in his utter sensitiveness he will insist upon considering you
an invalid still, whereas you are about as strong and healthy now as,
to use another Americanism, 'they make 'em.' Now, Stella, if you mean
to marry him, say so; if you don't mean to, say so, and for goodness
sake let the unfortunate monomaniac go."

"Leycester is not a monomaniac, uncle," she retorts, in a low,
indignant voice.

"Yes, he is," he says, "he is possessed by a mania for a little chit
of a girl with a pale face and dark eyes and a nose that is nothing to
speak of. If he wasn't an utterly lost maniac he would have refused
to dangle at your heels any longer, and gone off to someone with some
pretension to a regular facial outline." He stops, for there comes the
sound of a firm, manly tread upon the smooth gravel path, and the next
instant Leycester's tall figure is beside them.

He bends over the slight, slim, graceful figure, a loving, reverential
devotion in his handsome face, a faint anxiety in his eyes and in his
voice as he says, in that low, musical undertone which has charmed so
many women's ears:

"Have you no wrap on, Stella? These evenings are very beautiful but
treacherous."

"There isn't a breath of air," says Stella, with a little laugh.

"Yes, yes!" he says, and puts his hand on the arm that rests on the
seat, "you must be careful, indeed you must, my darling, I will go and
get you a----"

"Blanket and a suit of sables," broke in the old man, with good
humorous banter. "Allow me, I am young and full of energy, and you are
old and wasted and wearied, watching over a sick and perhaps dying
girl, who eats three huge meals a day, and can outwalk Weston. I will
go," and he goes and leaves them, Stella's soft laughter following him
like music.

Leycester stands beside her looking down at her in silence. For him
that rustic seat holds all that is good and worth having in life, and
as he looks, the passionate love that burns so steadily in his heart
glows in his eyes.

For weeks, for months he has watched her--watched her patiently as
now--watched her from the shadow of death, into the world of life;
and though his eyes and the tone of his voice have spoken love often
and often, he has so tutored his lips as to refrain from open speech.
He knows the full measure of the shock which had struck her down,
and in his great reverence and unfathomable love for her, he has
restrained himself, fearing that a word might bring back that terrible
past. But now, to-night, as he sees the faint color tinting the clear
cheeks--sees the sunset light reflected in her bright eyes--his heart
begins to beat with that throb which tells of long-suppressed passion
clamoring for expression.

Maiden-like, she feels something of what is passing through his mind,
and a great shyness falls upon her. She can almost hear her heart beat.

"Won't you sit down?" she says, at last, in that little, low, murmuring
voice, which is such sweet music in his ears. And she moves her dress
to make room for him.

He comes round, and sinks in the seat beside her.

"Can you not feel the breeze now?" he asks. "I wish I had brought a
wrap with me, on the chance of your having forgotten it."

She looks round at him, with laughter in her eyes and on her lips.

"Did you not hear what uncle said?" She asks. "Don't you know that
he was laughing, actually laughing at me? When will you _begin_ to
believe that I am well and strong and ridiculously robust? Don't you
see that the people at the hotel are quite amused with your solicitude
respecting my delicate state of health?"

"I don't care anything about the people at the hotel," he says, in that
frank, simple way which speaks so plainly of his love. "I know that I
don't mean you to catch cold if I can help it!"

"You--you are very good to me," she says, and there is a slight tremor
in her voice.

He laughs his old short, curt laugh, softened in a singular way.

"Am I? You might say that a man was particularly 'good' because he
showed some concern for the safety of a particularly precious stone!"

Her eyes droop, and, perhaps unconsciously, her arm draws a little
nearer to him.

"You are good," she says, "but I am not a precious stone, by any means."

"You are all that is rare and precious to me, my darling," he says;
"you are all the world to me. Stella!----" he stops, alarmed lest he
should be alarming her, but his arm slides round her, and he ventures
to draw her nearer to him.

It is the only embrace he has ventured to give her since that night
when she fell into his arms at the cottage door at Carlyon, and he half
fears that she will shrink from him in the new strange shyness that
has fallen upon her; but she does not, instead she lets her head droop
until it rests upon his breast, and the strong man's passion leaps full
force and masterful in a moment.

"Stella!" he murmurs, his lips pressed to hers, which do not swerve,
"may I speak? Will you let me? You will not be angry?"

She does not look angry; her eyes fixed on his have nothing but
submissive love in them.

"I have waited,--it seems so long--because I was afraid to trouble you,
but I may speak now, Stella?" and he draws her closer to him. "Will you
be my wife--soon--soon?"

He waits, his handsome face eloquent in its entreaty and anxiety, and
she leans back and looks up at him, then her gaze falters. A little
quiver hovers on her lips, and the dark eyes droop.

Is it "Yes"? If so, he alone could have heard it.

"My poor darling!" he murmurs, and he takes her face in his hands and
turns it up to him. "Oh, my darling, If you knew how I loved you--how
anxiously I have waited! And it shall be soon, Stella! My little wife!
My very own!"

"Yes!" she said, and, as in the old time, she raises herself in his
arms and kisses him.

       *       *       *       *       *

"And--and the countess, and all of them!" she murmurs, but with a
little quaint smile.

He smiles calmly. "Not to-night, darling, do not let us talk of the
outside world to-night. But see if 'all of them,' as you put it, are
not exactly of one mind; one of them is," and he takes out a letter
from his pocket.

"From Lilian!" she says, guessing instinctively.

Leycester nods.

"Yes, take it and read; you will find your name in every line. Stella,
it was this letter that gave me courage to speak to you to-night. A
woman knows a woman after all--you will read what she says. 'Are you
still afraid, Ley,' she writes, 'ask her!' and I have asked. And now
all the past will be buried and we shall be happy at last. At last,
Stella, where--where shall it be?"

She is silent, but she lifts the letter to her lips and kisses it.

"What do you say to Paris?" he asks.

"Paris!" she echoes, flushing.

"Yes," he says, "I have been talking to the old doctor, and he thinks
you are strong enough to have a little excitement now, and thinks that
a tour in Paris would be the very thing to complete things. What do
you say," he goes on, trying to speak in a matter-of-fact voice, but
watching her with eager eyes, "if we start at the end of the week, that
will give you time to make your preparations, won't it?"

"Oh, no, no----!"

"Then say the beginning of next," he returns, magnanimously, "and we
will be married about Wednesday"--she utters a faint exclamation, and
turns pale and red by turns, but he is steadfast--"and then we can have
a gay time of it before we settle down."

"Settle down," she says, with a little longing sigh. "How sweet it
sounds--but next week!"

"It is a cruel time to wait," he declares, drawing her nearer to him,
"cruel--next week! It is months, years, ages----"

"Hush!" she says, struggling gently away from him, "here is uncle."

It is uncle, but he is innocent of wraps.

"Going to stay out all night?" he asks, with fine irony.

"Why, where are the wraps?" demands Leycester.

"Eh? Oh, nonsense!" says the old man. "Do you want to commit suicide
together by suffocation? It's as warm as an oven. Oh, for my little
garden, and the cool room."

"You shall have it in a week or two," says Leycester, with a smile of
ineffable satisfaction. "We are going to take you to Paris, and then
will come and stay with you----"

"Oh, will you? and who asked you, Mr. Jackanapes?"

"Why, you wouldn't refuse shelter to your niece's husband?" retorts
Leycester, laughing.

"Oh, that's it!" says the old man. "Allow me to wish you good-night.
I'll leave you to your Midsummer madness--no, to your Autumn wisdom,
for, upon my word, it's the most sensible word I've heard you utter for
months past!"

And he goes; but before he goes he lays his hand upon the sleek head
and whispers:

"That's a good girl! Now be happy."

       *       *       *       *       *

They were married in Paris, very quietly, very happily. Lord Charles
came over from Scotland, leaving the grouse and the salmon, to act
as best man, and it was an open question which of the two men looked
happiest--he or the bridegroom. Lord Charles had never heard of that
forged note and his inadvertent share in the plot that had worked so
much harm, and he never would hear of it; and furthermore he never
quite understood how it was that Stella Etheridge and not Lady Lenore
became Leycester's wife; but he was quite satisfied and quite assured
that it was the best of all possible arrangements.

"Leycester's the happiest man in the world, and he used to be the most
wretched, and so there's an end of it," he declared, whenever he spoke
of the match. "And," he would add, "the man who could have the moral
cheek to be anything but absurdly happy with such an angel as Lady
Stella wouldn't be fit to be anywhere out of a lunatic asylum."

They were married, and Charlie went back to the grouse, and the painter
went back to the cottage and Mrs. Penfold, leaving the young couple to
have their gay time of it in the gayest city of the world. It was not
particularly gay after all, but it was ecstatically joyous. They went
to the theaters and concerts and enjoyed themselves like boy and girl,
and Leycester found himself continually amazed at the youthfulness
which remained in him.

"I have begun to live for the first time," he declared one day. "I only
existed before."

As for Stella, the days went by in a sort of ecstatic dream, and only a
little cloud lined the golden sky--the earl and countess still hardened
their hearts.

Though not a week passed without bringing a letter full of love
and longing from Lilian, the old people made no sign. In the proud
countess' eyes her son's wife was still Stella Etheridge, the painter's
niece, and she could not forgive her for--making Leycester happy. It
would have made Stella miserable if anything could have done so, but
Leycester's love and watchful care often kept the cloud back--for a
time.

They stayed in Paris until a little bijou place in Park Lane was ready,
then they went home and took quiet possession.

It was the most charming of little nests--Leycester had given Jackson
and Graham _carte blanche_--and formed a fitting casket for the
beautiful young viscountess.

"After all, Ley," she said, as she sat upon his knee on their first
evening and looked round her exquisite room, "it is almost as good as
the little laborer's cottage I used to picture for myself."

"Yes, it only needs that I should sit in my shirt sleeves and smoke a
long pipe, doesn't it?" he said, laughing.

For some weeks they did almost lead an isolated life; they were always
together, never tired or wearied of each other. Of Stella, with her
exquisite variety, with her ever changing mirth and rare, delicate
wit, it would certainly have been difficult for any man to tire, and
what woman would have wearied of the devoted attention of such a man
as Leycester! They lived quietly for a little time, but as the season
commenced people got scent of them, and soon the world swooped down
upon them.

Stella protested at first, but she was powerless to resist, and
soon the names of Lord and Lady Trevor appeared in the fashionable
lists. Then came a surprise. Like Lord Byron, she woke one morning to
find herself famous; the world had pronounced her a beauty, and had
elected her to one of its thrones. Men almost fought for the honor of
inserting their names upon her ball-cards; women copied her dress,
and envied her; the photographers would have hung her portraits in
their windows if she had not been too wary to have one taken. She had
become a reigning queen. Leycester did not mind; he knew her too well
to be afraid that it would spoil her, and it amused him to find that
the world was rowing in the same boat with him--had gone mad over his
little Stella.

Now it was a gay time, but still the countess made no sign. The
Wyndwards were away on the continent in the winter, and in the spring
they went down to the Hall. Letters came from Lilian regularly, and she
grew more pathetic as time rolled on, she was pining for Leycester.
Stella urged him to sink his pride and go down to the Hall, but he
would not.

"Where I go I take my wife," he said, in his quiet way, and Stella knew
that it was useless to urge him.

But one day when it chanced that Stella was at home resting after a
grand ball at which she had reigned supreme, a brougham drove up to
the door, and while she was just preparing to say "not at home," the
servant opened the door of the boudoir, and there stood the tall,
graceful, lady-like figure of Lilian.

Stella sprang forward and caught her in her arms, with a cry that
brought Leycester bounding up-stairs.

The two girls clung to each other for at least five minutes, crying
softly, and uttering little piteous monosyllables, after the manner of
their kind; then Lilian turned to Leycester.

"Oh, Ley, don't be angry. I've come!" she cried.

"So I see, Lil," he said, kissing her. "And how glad we are I need not
say."

"And she shall never go again, shall she?" exclaimed Stella, with her
arm round the fragile form.

"Why, I don't mean to!" said Lilian, piteously. "You won't send me
away, will you, Stella? I can't live without him, I can't indeed. You
will let me stay, won't you? I shan't be in the way. I'll creep into a
corner, and efface myself; and I shan't be very much trouble, because I
am so much stronger now, and--oh, you will let me stay?"

There is no need to set down in hard, cold, black letters their answer.

"There is only one thing more I want to make my happiness complete,"
said Stella; and they knew that she meant the reconciliation of
Leycester with the old people.

So Lilian stayed, and made an additional sunshine and joy in the little
house; and it amused Leycester to see how soon she too fell at the feet
of the new beauty and worshipped her.

"If any one could be too good for you, Ley," she said, "Stella would be
that one."

Well, time passed; the season was at its height, and the countess came
to town. The earl had been in his place in the Upper House from the
beginning of the season, of course; but the countess had remained at
the Hall nursing her disappointment. She came up in time for one of
the State balls, at which her presence was indispensable. It was the
great official ball of the season, and crowded to excess. The countess
arrived with the earl just before the small hours, and after the usual
ceremonies and exchanges of salutations with the great world which she
had left for so many months, she had time to look round the room. She
did so with a little inward tremor, for she knew that Leycester and
"his wife" were to be present. To her relief--and disappointment--they
had not arrived. For all her pride and hauteur the mother's heart ached.

But if they were not there, their reputation had preceded them. She
heard Stella's name every five minutes, heard the greatest in the land
regretting her absence, and wondering what kept her away.

Presently, toward two o'clock, there was a perceptible stir in the
magnificent salon, and the murmur went up:

"Lord and Lady Trevor!"

The countess turned pale for a moment, then looked toward the door
and saw a beautiful woman--or a girl still--entering, leaning upon
Leycester's arm. Society does for a man or woman what a lapidary does
for a precious stone. It was precious when it first came into his
hands, but when it leaves them it is polished! Stella had become, if
the word is allowable when applied to her, the pink of refinement and
delicacy, "polished." She had learnt, unconsciously, to wear diamonds,
and that with princes. As she came in now, a crowd of "the best" people
came round her and did homage, and the countess, looking on, saw with
her own eyes, what she had heard rumored, that this daughter-in-law of
hers, this penniless niece, had become a power in the land. It amazed
her at first, but as she watched she lost her wonder. It was only
natural and reasonable; there was no more beautiful or noble looking
woman in the room.

The band began to play a waltz, the crowds began to move, dancing and
promenading. The countess sat amongst the dowagers, pale and smiling,
but with an aching heart. Where was Leycester? Presently four persons
approached her. Charlie, with Stella on his arm, Leycester with another
lady. Suddenly, not seeing her, Charlie stopped, and Stella turning,
found herself face to face with the countess.

For a moment the proud woman melted, then she hardened her heart and
turned her head aside.

Leycester, who been been watching, passed in front of her, and he put
his hand out.

"Leycester!"

But he drew Stella's arm within his--she was white and trembling--and
looking his mother in the face sternly, passed on with Stella.

"Take me home, Leycester," she moaned. "Oh, take me home! How can she
be so cruel?"

But he would not.

"No," he said. "This is your place as much as hers. My poor mother, I
pity her. Oh, pride, pride! You must stay."

Of course the incident had been noticed and remarked, and, amongst the
persons who had seen it was a prince of the blood.

This distinguished individual was not only a prince but a
gentle-hearted man, and as princes can take things as they please, he
disregarded the best name on his ball programme and walking straight up
to Stella, begged with that grand humility which distinguishes him, for
the honor of her hand.

Stella, pale and beautifully pathetic in her trouble, faltered an
excuse, an excuse to a royal command.

But he would not take it.

"A few turns only, Lady Trevor, I implore. I will take care of her,
Leycester," he added in a murmur, and he led Stella away.

They took a few turns, then he stopped.

"You are tired," he said: "will you let me take you into the cool?"

He drew her arm through his, but instead of "taking her into the cool,"
as he phrased it, in his genial way, he marched straight up to the
countess.

"Lady Wyndward," he said; and his clear, musical voice was just audible
to those around, "your daughter has been too gracious to her devoted
adherents, and tired herself in the mazy dance. I resign her to your
maternal care."

Stella would have shrunk back, but the countess, who knew what was due
to royalty, rose and took the fair, round arm in her matronly one.

"Come," she said, "his royal highness is right--you must rest."

All in a dream, Stella allowed herself to be led into a shaded recess,
all fresh with ferns and exotica. Then she woke, and murmuring--

"Thank you," was for flying; but the countess held out her arms
suddenly, and for the first time--well, for many years--burst into
tears, not noisy sobbing, but quiet, flooding tears.

"Oh, my dear!" she murmured, brokenly. "Forgive me! I am only a proud,
wicked old woman!"

Stella was in her arms in an instant, and thus Leycester found them.

When old Lady Longford heard of this scene, she was immensely amused in
her cynical way.

"It would have served you right my dear," she told the countess, "if
she had turned round and said, 'Yes, you are a very wicked old woman,'
and walked off."

So Stella's cup of happiness was full to the brim.

It is not empty yet, and will not be while Love stands with upraised
hand to replenish it.

She is a girl still, even now that there is a young Leycester to run
about the old man's studio and upset the pictures and add to the
litter, and it is the old painter's oft expressed opinion that she will
be a girl to the end of the chapter.

"Stella, you see," he is fond of remarking, whenever he hears her
sweet voice carolling about the little cottage--and it is as often
heard there as at the Hall--"Stella, you see, was born in Italy, and
Italians--good Italians--never grow old. They manage to keep a heart
alive in their bosoms and laughter on their lips at a period when
people of colder climes are gloomy and morosely composing their own
epitaphs. There is one comfort for you, Leycester, you have got a wife
who will never grow old."


[THE END.]



Great Stories by a Great Author

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   1--The Desert Argonaut.
   2--A Quarter to Four.
   3--Thorndyke, of the "Bonita."
   4--A Round Trip of the Year 2000.
   5--The Gold Gleaners.
   6--The Spur of Necessity.
   7--The Mysterious Mission.
   8--The Goal of a Million.
   9--Marooned in 1492.
  10--Running the Signal.
  11--His Friend, the Enemy.
  12--In the Web.
  13--A Deep Sea Game.
  14--The Paymaster's Special.
  15--Adrift in the Unknown.
  16--Jim Dexter, Cattleman.
  17--Juggling With Liberty.
  18--Back From Bedlam.
  19--A River Tangle.
  20--An Innocent Outlaw.
  21--Billionaire Pro Tem and the Trail of the Billy Doo.
  22--Rogers of Butte.
  23--In the Wake of the "Simitar."
  24--His Audacious Highness.
  25--At Daggers Drawn.
  26--The Eighth Wonder.
  27--The Catspaw.
  28--The Cotton Bag.
  29--Little Miss Vassar.
  30--Cast Away at the Pole.
  31--The Testing of Noyes.
  32--The Fateful Seventh.
  33--Montana.
  34--The Deserter.
  35--The Sheriff of Broken Bow.
  36--Wanted--A Highwayman.
  37--Frisbie, of San Antone.
  38--His Last Dollar. Published during Jan., 1913.
  39--Fools for Luck. Published during March, 1913.
  40--Dare, of Darling & Co. Published during May, 1913
  41--Trailing the "Josephine."



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    1--A Bitter Atonement.
    2--Dora Thorne.
    3--A Golden Heart.
    4--Lord Lisle's Daughter.
    5--The Mystery of Colde Fell; or, "Not Proven."
    6--Diana's Discipline; or, Sunshine and Roses.
    7--A Dark Marriage Morn.
    8--Hilda's Lover; or, The False Vow; or, Lady Hutton's Ward.
    9--Her Mother's Sin; or, A Bright Wedding Day.
   10--One Against Many.
   11--For Another's Sin; or, A Struggle for Love.
   12--At War With Herself.
   13--Evelyn's Folly.
   14--A Haunted Life.
   15--Lady Damer's Secret.
   16--His Wife's Judgment.
   17--Lady Castlemaine's Divorce; or, Put Asunder.
   19--Two Fair Women; or, Which Loved Him Best?
   21--Wife In Name Only.
   22--The Sin of a Lifetime.
   23--The World Between Them.
   24--Prince Charlie's Daughter.
   25--A Thorn in Her Heart.
   26--A Struggle for a Ring.
   27--The Shadow of a Sin.
   28--A Rose In Thorns.
   29--A Woman's Love Story.
   30--The Romance of a Black Veil.
   31--Redeemed by Love; or, Love's Conflict; or, Love Works Wonders.
   32--Lord Lynne's Choice.
   33--Set in Diamonds.
   34--The Romance of a Young Girl; or, The Heiress of Hill-drop.
   35--A Woman's War.
   36--On Her Wedding Morn, and Her Only Sin.
   37--Weaker Than a Woman.
   38--Love's Warfare.
   40--A Nameless Sin.
   41--A Mad Love.
   42--Hilary's Folly; or, Her Marriage Vow.
   43--Madolin's Lover.
   44--The Belle of Lynn; or, The Miller's Daughter.
   45--Lover and Husband.
   46--Beauty's Marriage, and Between Two Sins.
   47--The Duke's Secret.
   48--Her Second Love.
   49--Addie's Husband, and Arnold's Promise.
   50--A True Magdalen; or, One False Step.
   51--For a Woman's Honor.
   52--Claribel's Love Story; or, Love's Hidden Depths.
   53--A Fiery Ordeal.
   54--The Gipsy's Daughter.
   55--Golden Gates.
   56--The Squire's Darling, and Walter's Wooing.
   57--Violet Lisle.
   58--Griselda.
   59--One False Step.
   60--A Heart's Idol.
   61--The Earl's Error, and Letty Leigh.
   63--Another Woman's Husband.
   64--Wedded and Parted, and Fair But False.
   65--His Perfect Trust.
   66--Gladys Greye.
   67--In Love's Crucible.
   68--'Twixt Love and Hate.
   69--Fair But Faithless.
   70--A Heart's Bitterness.
   71--Marjorie Dean.
   72--Between Two Hearts.
   73--Her Martyrdom.
   74--Thorns and Orange Blossoms.
   75--A Bitter Bondage.
   76--A Guiding Star.
   77--A Fair Mystery.
   78--Another Man's Wife.
   79--An Ideal Love.
   80--The Earl's Atonement.
   81--Between Two Loves.
   82--A Dead Heart, and Love for a Day.
   83--A Fatal Dower.
   84--Lady Latimer's Escape, and Other Stories.
   85--A Woman's Error.
   86--Guelda.
   87--Beyond Pardon.
   88--If Love Be Love.
   89--A Coquette's Conquest.
   90--In Cupid's Net, and So Near and Yet So Far.
   91--Under a Shadow.
   92--At Any Cost, and A Modern Cinderella.
   94--Margery Daw.
   95--A Woman's Temptation.
   96--The Actor's Ward.
   97--Repented at Leisure.
   98--James Gordon's Wife.
   99--For Life and Love, and More Bitter Than Death.
  100--In Shallow Waters.
  101--A Broken Wedding Ring.
  102--Dream Faces.
  103--Two Kisses, and The Fatal Lilies.
  105--A Hidden Terror.
  106--Wedded Hands.
  107--From Out the Gloom.
  108--Her First Love.
  109--A Bitter Reckoning.
  110--Thrown on the World.
  111--Irene's Vow.
  112--His Wedded Wife.
  113--Lord Elesmere's Wife.
  114--A Woman's Vengeance.
  115--A Queen Amongst Women, and An Unnatural Bondage.
  116--The Queen of the County.
  117--A Struggle for the Right.
  118--The Paths of Love.
  119--Blossom and Fruit.
  120--The Story of an Error.
  121--The White Witch.
  123--Lady Muriel's Secret.
  124--The Hidden Sin.
  125--For a Dream's Sake.
  126--The Gambler's Wife.
  127--A Great Mistake.
  128--Society's Verdict.
  129--Lady Gwendoline's Dream.
  130--The Rival Heiresses.
  131--A Bride from the Sea, and Other Stories.
  132--A Woman's Trust.
  133--A Dream of Love.
  134--The Sins of the Father.
  135--For Love of Her.
  136--A Loving Maid.
  137--A Heart of Gold.
  138--The Price of a Bride.
  139--Love in a Mask.
  140--A Woman's Witchery.
  141--The Burden of a Secret.
  142--One Woman's Sin.
  143--How Will It End?
  144--The Hand Without a Wedding Ring.
  145--A Sinful Secret.
  146--Lady Marchmont's Widowhood.
  147--The Broken Trust.
  148--Lady Ethel's Whim.
  149--A Wife's Peril.
  150--The Tragedy of Lime Hall.
  151--Lady Ona's Sin.
  152--A Bitter Courtship.
  153--A Tragedy of Love and Hate.
  154--A Stolen Heart.
  155--Every Inch a Queen.
  156--A Maid's Misery.
  157--Love's Redemption.
  158--The Sunshine of His Life.
  159--The Lost Lady of Haddon.
  160--The Love of Lady Aurelia.
  161--His Great Temptation.
  162--An Evil Heart.
  163--Gladys' Wedding Day.
  164--Lost for Love.
  165--On With the New Love.
  168--A Fateful Passion.
  169--A Captive Heart.
  170--A Deceptive Lover.
  171--An Untold Passion.
  172--A Purchased Love.
  173--The Queen of His Soul.
  174--A Pilgrim of Love.
  175--The Girl of His Heart.
  176--A Wife's Devotion.
  177--The Price of Love.
  178--When Love and Hate Conflict.
  180--A Misguided Love.
  181--The Chains of Jealousy.
  182--A Loveless Engagement.
  183--A Heart's Worship.
  184--A Queen Triumphant.
  185--Between Love and Ambition.
  186--True Love's Reward.
  187--A Poisoned Heart.
  188--What It Cost Her.
  189--Paying the Penalty.
  190--The Old Love or the New?
  191--Her Honored Name.
  192--A Coquette's Victim.
  193--An Ocean of Love.
  194--Sweeter Than Life.
  195--For Her Heart's Sake.
  196--Her Beautiful Foe.
  197--A Soul Ensnared.
  198--A Heart Forlorn.
  199--Strong in Her Love.
  200--Fair as a Lily.
  205--Her Bitter Sorrow.
  210--Hester's Husband.
  215--An Artful Plotter.
  228--A Vixen's Love.
  232--The Dawn of Love.
  236--Love's Coronet.
  237--The Unbroken Vow.
  238--Her Heart's Hero.
  239--An Exacting Love.
  240--A Wild Rose.
  241--In Defiance of Fate.
  242--Lack of Gold.
  244--Two True Hearts.
  245--Baffled by Fate.
  246--Two Men and a Maid.
  247--A Cruel Revenge.
  248--The Flower of Love.
  249--Mistress of Her Fate.
  250--The Wooing of a Maid.
  251--A Blighted Blossom.
  252--Love's Conquest.
  253--For Old Love's Sake.
  254--Love's Debt.
  255--Her Heart's Victory.
  256--Tender and True.
  257--The Love He Spurned.
  258--Withered Flowers.
  259--When Woman Wills.
  260--Love's Twilight.
  261--True to His First Love.
  262--Suffered in Silence.
  263--A Modest Passion.
  264--Beyond All Dreams.
  265--Loved and Lost.
  266--The Bride of the Manor.
  267--Love, the Avenger.
  268--Wedded at Dawn.
  269--A Shattered Romance.
  270--With Love at the Helm.
  271--Her Faith Rewarded.
  272--Love Finds a Way.
  273--An Ardent Wooing.
  274--Love Grown Cold.
  275--Love Hath Wings.
  276--When Hot Tears Flow.
  277--The Wages of Deceit.
  278--Love and the World.
  279--Love's Sweet Hour.
  280--Faithful and True.
  281--Sunshine and Shadow.
  282--For Love or Wealth?
  283--A Crown of Faith.
  284--The Harvest of Sin.
  285--A Secret Sorrow.
  286--In Quest of Love.
  287--Beyond Atonement.
  288--A Girl's Awakening.
  289--The Hero of Her Dreams.
  290--Love's Burden.
  291--Only a Flirt.
  292--When Love is Kind.
  293--An Elusive Lover.
  294--The Hour of Temptation.
  295--Where Love Leads.
  296--Her Struggle With Love.
  297--In Spite of Fate.
  298--Can This Be Love?
  299--The Love of His Youth.
  300--Enchained by Passion.
  301--The New Love or the Old?
  302--At Her Heart's Command.
  303--Cast Upon His Care.
  304--All Else Forgot.
  305--Sinner or Victim?
  307--Answered in Jest.
  308--Her Heart's Problem.
  309--Rich in His Love.
  310--For Better, For Worse.
  311--Love's Caprice.
  312--When Hearts Are Young.
  314--In the Golden City.
  315--A Love Victorious.
  316--Her Heart's Delight.
  317--The Heart of His Heart.
  318--Even This Sacrifice.
  319--Love's Crown Jewel.
  320--Suffered in Vain.
  321--In Love's Bondage.
  322--Lady Viola's Secret.
  323--Adrift on Love's Tide.
  324--The Quest of His Heart.
  325--Under Cupid's Seal.
  326--Earlescourt's Love.
  327--Dearer Than Life.
  328--Toward Love's Goal.
  329--Her Heart's Surrender.
  330--Tempted to Forget.
  331--The Love That Blinds.
  332--A Daughter of Misfortune.
  333--When False Tongues Speak.
  334--A Tempting Offer.
  335--With Love's Strong Bonds.
  336--That Plain Little Girl.
  337--And This is Love!
  338--The Secret of Estcourt.
  339--For His Love's Sake.
  340--Outside Love's Door.
  341--At Love's Fountain.
  342--A Lucky Girl.
  343--A Dream Come True.
  344--By Love's Order.
  345--Fettered for Life.
  346--Beyond the Shadow.
  347--The Love That Won.
  348--Fair to Look Upon.
  349--A Daughter of Eve.
  350--When Cupid Frowns.
  351--The Wiles of Love.
  352--What the World Said.
  353--Mabel and May.
  354--Her Love and His.
  355--A Captive Fairy.
  356--Her Sacred Trust.
  357--A Child of Caprice.
  358--He Dared to Love.
  359--While the World Scoffed.
  360--On Love's Highway.
  361--One of Love's Slaves.
  362--The Lure of the Flame.
  363--A Love in the Balance.
  364--A Woman of Whims.
  365--In a Siren's Web.
  366--The Tie That Binds.
  367--Love's Harsh Mandate.
  368--Love's Carnival.
  369--With Heart and Voice.
  370--In Love's Hands.
  371--Hearts of Oak.
  372--A Garland of Love.
  373--Among Love's Briers.
  374--Love Never Fails.
  375--The Other Man's Choice.
  376--A Lady of Quality.
  377--On Love's Demand.
  378--A Fugitive from Love.
  379--His Sweetheart's Promise
  380--The Schoolgirl Bride.
  381--Her One Ambition.
  382--Love for Love.
  383--His Fault or Hers?
  384--New Loves for Old.
  385--Her Proudest Possession.
  386--Cupid Always Wins.
  387--Love is Life Indeed.
  388--When Scorn Greets Love.
  389--Love's Potent Charm.
  390--By Love Alone.
  391--When Love Conspires.
  392--No Thought of Harm.
  393--Cupid's Prank.
  394--A Sad Awakening.
  395--What Could She Do?
  396--Sharing His Burden.
  397--Steadfast in Her Love.
  398--A Love Despised.
  399--One Life, One Love.
  400--When Hope is Lost.
  401--A Heart Unclaimed.
  402--His Dearest Wish.
  403--Her Cup of Sorrow.
  404--When Love is Curbed.
  405--A Pitiful Mistake.
  406--A Love Profound.
  407--A Bitter Sacrifice.
  408--What Love is Worth.
  409--When Life's Roses Bloom.
  410--Her Only Choice.
  411--Forged on Love's Anvil.
  412--She Hated Him!
  413--When Love's Charm is Broken.
  414--Led by Destiny.

  Published during January, 1913.

  415--When Others Sneered.
  416--Golden Fetters.


  Published during February, 1913.

  417--The Love That Prospered.
  418--The Song of the Siren.


  Published during March, 1913.

  419--Love's Gentle Whisper.
  420--The Girl Who Won.


  Published during April, 1913.

  421--The Love That Was Stifled.
  422--The Love of a Lifetime.


  Published during May, 1913.

  423--Her One Mistake.
  424--At War With Fate.


  Published during June, 1913.

  425--When Love Lures.
  426--'Twixt Wealth and Want.


  Published during July, 1913

  427--Love's Pleasant Dreams.

In order that there may be no confusion, we desire to say that the
books listed above will be issued, during the respective months, in New
York City and vicinity. They may not reach the readers, at a distance,
promptly, on account of delays in transportation.



BEST COPYRIGHTS

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right books at the right price," and the term still applies to all of
the 3000 titles in the S. & S. lines.

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Transcriber's note:

Numerous printer errors have been corrected. There were so many printer
errors that these have been corrected without being documented. The
author's original spelling, punctuation and hyphenation have been left
intact.





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