One hears of the devotion of a dog to its master

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[147] 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.
[148]
“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?[149] 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[150] 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[151] 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.
ello-hdpi-8e1ab246“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[152] 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[153] 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[154] 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!”