She turned and inclined her head haughtily

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[182] 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[183] 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[184] 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.
[185]
“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[186] 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.