Stella, turned her eyes upon him, and something like pity took possession of her for a moment

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.
ello-hdpi-b340f29e“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.
[161]
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[162] 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[163] 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.