It was the face she had seen in the miniature

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.[140] 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.
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.
ello-hdpi-6c4584c5“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[143] 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[144] 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.
“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.