She looked down at the book in her hand

Three years; again the autumn leaves lay on the grass; again the roses
shed their leaves and left the thorns; again the golden sunlight lay
over the earth as it did that autumn three years gone when the tragedy
of sorrow fell between Ronald Valchester and the dawning happiness of
his life.

* * * * *

In one of the most palatial hotels of New York a lady sat in her
luxurious parlor a lovely morning in that sunny autumn. She was young
and beautiful–so beautiful that the eye never wearied of gazing on
the light of the large, dark eyes, the dainty contour of the cheek and
throat, and the delicate, lovely coloring of the scarlet lips curved
like Cupid’s bow. That rich tinting of the lips was all the color in
her face. The cheek was pale and clear, the brow was creamy-fair,
and so transparent you could see the blue veins outlined clearly in
the temples. The abundant chestnut hair, with a glint of gold in its
brownness was drawn back in waving masses from the thoughtful brow
and arranged in rich confusion of braids and ringlets fastened with
a comb of gold and pearl. She wore a morning gown of royal purple
velvet trimmed with snowy swansdown, and lingered near the fire as if
the chill in the autumn air made itself felt even amid the luxurious
comfort of her surroundings.

The door opened and an old gentleman entered with an arm-full of
papers. The lady looked up with a gentle smile.

“Ah! professor,” she cried, “you have not turned newsboy, I hope?”

The handsome old gentleman, with his gray hair and slightly foreign
face, laughed genially as he laid his burden down on the small reading
table and wheeled it to her side.

“Ah, my dear, only read these!” he exclaimed, enthusiastically. “Your
first appearance was a perfect success. All New York is at your feet.”

A slight, sad smile came over the beautiful face with its subtle touch
of melancholy.

“So they praise me,” she said, carelessly. “Tell me what they say,
professor.”

“_Parblieu!_ I could not begin to tell you,” said the old gentleman.
“You must read the papers.”

She glanced at the formidable heap with an expression of dismay.

“I really have not the time,” she said. “I have to study my part for
to-night. I will just look at one, however. I suppose one will be a
fair epitome of all the rest.”

“Yes, about that,” he replied. “They are all unanimous in praising you.
They declare that Madam Dolores is the queen of the lyric stage.”

“They are very kind,” replied Madam Dolores, carelessly, with the
languid air of one who is accustomed to praise, and almost indifferent
to it.

She took up at random a morning paper, smelling freshly of printer’s
ink, and ran her eyes over its columns. Several columns were devoted to
a description of the brilliant first appearance and splendid success of
the lovely _prima donna_ who had just come to New York from Europe with
all the _prestige_ of a brilliant foreign reputation fresh upon her.

The professor sat down and dived eagerly into the papers, while Madam
Dolores rapidly gleaned the contents of the one she held. Presently she
looked around at her companion with an eager light in her dark eyes and
a sudden flush on her dark cheeks.

“Professor,” she said, pointing one taper finger to a paragraph, “here
is a book I should like to read. Will you send out and get it for me?”

The professor looked at the words under her finger.

“Poems by R. V.,” he read; “certainly, my dear,” rising, then at the
door he turned and said, “who _is_ R. V., my child?”

“Some American poet,” said Madam Dolores, carelessly, with her head
turned away.

The door closed between them and a long, long sigh quivered over the
lips of the beautiful _prima donna_ with the sorrowful name, _Dolores_.
She hid her face in her beautiful hands.

“_His_ poems,” she murmured, almost inaudibly. “It will be almost like
meeting him face to face. Oh, Ronald, Ronald!”

You would not have thought, to see that slender figure bowed so
sorrowfully there, that all New York was raving over her beauty and her
genius. But it was true. Madam Dolores, as she called herself, had been
induced to come to America by a New York manager who wished to bring
out an opera by an author who desired to remain unknown for the present.

It was rumored that the gentleman had already achieved fame as a poet,
but beyond that fact, which the manager did not deny, no one even
remotely guessed the name. Neither money nor pains had been spared to
bring the opera out successfully. Madam Dolores, who had just completed
a successful starring tour abroad, was engaged at immense expense to
bring it out. The result was–success! Laurels for the brow of the
composer, and new laurels for the brow of the singer.

Yet no smile of triumph touched the fair face of the lovely queen of
song as she sat there waiting. It was full of a wistful pathos that
sometime deepened into pain. It was full of poetry and passion and
sorrow. There was no light of gladness in the large and bright dark
eyes, yet they were both brave and tender. It was only when she was
singing that any brightness came into the grave, sad face.

Then she lost herself like a true _artiste_ in the part she sang.

She looked up quickly as the professor entered with the book for which
she had sent him, her white hand trembled as she took the beautiful,
richly-bound volume.

“Thank you,” she said, and her voice was so husky and low that the
professor, her teacher and adviser, looked at her anxiously.

“Dolores, your voice sounds hoarse,” he said. “I fear you will not be
in voice for to-night.”

“Never fear,” she replied in a clearer tone, and then she turned away
from him, and while he pored over the papers, glorying in the praises
they showered on his gifted ward, she sat silent in the great velvet
arm-chair with the beautiful volume shut tightly between her folded
hands. She was not quite strong enough to open it yet. It seemed
like a message from the dead. Ronald Valchester was as one dead to
her forever, yet the best part of her lost lover, the heart’s deep
tenderness, the imperishable, proud, poetic soul seemed throbbing
beneath the warm clasp of her hand.

It was several minutes before she could open the book. She, who had
always loved music and poetry so dearly, sat trembling with her lover’s
poems in her hands and could not read them. She was dizzy–there was
a mist before her eyes. The luxurious room seemed to fade before her,
giving place to the green hills and dales of her old Virginia home.

She felt the cold winds whispering among the trees and lifting the
careless curls from her brow, she smelt the “violets hidden in the
green,” she recalled the old, simple, lonely life which had been
glorified for a little while by Ronald Valchester’s love. Then with
a start she came back to the present. Of that life and of that lover
there remained to her only a memory now.

“And this,” she said, opening the beautiful book and trembling all over
as she read the dainty verses into which her lost lover had poured all
the poetry and passion of a gifted mind and tender heart.

She read on and on. They touched her strangely, these gems of thought
and feeling.

Some were very sad and tender–some seemed to have poured straight from
Ronald’s heart into her own. It seemed as if he had written them for
her–for her only.

She became quite lost in them, and oblivious to everything else; she
did not hear the professor steal out and close the door gently behind
him. The outer world had no place in her thoughts for awhile.

She started when a hand was laid upon her head, and looked up with a
cry, but it was only the old professor’s wife, who was like a mother to
her.

“Oh, forgive me, darling,” said the sweet old lady; “I did not mean to
startle you. But only look at these flowers!”

She put a bouquet into the _prima donna’s_ hand–an exquisite
collection of rare and odorous flowers. There was not a scentless
leaf or flower in the bouquet. The delicate, living fragrance floated
deliciously through the room.

“_He_ sent them–the author of the opera himself,” cried Mrs.
Professor, delightedly. “He is coming with the manager to call on you
this afternoon.”

“Very well,” said Madam Dolores, resignedly. “_Chere maman_, please
tell my maid to put the flowers in water, and call me when it’s time to
dress.”

“Why, my dear, it’s time now, this minute. You have been lost in that
book for hours! Twice I looked into the room, and went out again
because you were so absorbed I hadn’t the heart to disturb you. But
now, really, there isn’t another minute to lose. I’ve told Fanchette
to lay out a handsome dress for you–and, dear, I think it would be a
graceful compliment to the author to wear a few of these flowers in
your hair.”

“Very well,” said Madam Dolores again, as she rose and passed into the
dressing-room, still clasping the precious book in her hand.

“What will madame wear?” inquired the trim French maid.

“Anything; it does not matter,” was the careless reply, as Madam
Dolores threw herself into a chair to have her hair rearranged, and
opened her book again.

She could not bear to lose a minute from its pages.

Fanchette had the true French taste for style and elegance. She
selected a robe of black lace and black satin, embroidered with jet.
Then she took some fragrant white rose-buds from the author’s bouquet
and fastened them at the front of the square corsage, and tied a black
velvet ribbon around the slender column of the white throat. She wore
no ornament except the pearl cross that swung from the velvet ribbon,
and a diamond on her finger. No costume could have enhanced the
star-like beauty of the queen of song more superbly. The lustrous satin
set off the creamy fairness of cheek and throat and brow exquisitely,
and made the soft darkness of eyes and hair more lovely by the contrast.

But Madam Dolores was so impatient she forgot to glance into the long,
swinging mirror when Fanchette said she was “finished.”

She took up R. V.’s poems and went back to the parlor, hoping to get a
minute more for reading before her visitors came.

So when Professor Larue ushered Manager Verne and the author into the
room, Madam Dolores had utterly forgotten their existence.

She was half-buried in a great, velvet chair, her cheek in the hollow
of one small hand, the dark, fringed lashes almost sweeping her cheek
as she pored over the blue-and-gold volume that lay open on her knee.

They were fairly in the house before she heard them; then she rose,
with a deep, beautiful blush that faded instantly into marble pallor;
for, glancing instinctively past the manager, she saw a tall, handsome
man with blue-gray eyes like twilight skies, and dark hair thrown
carelessly back from a high, white brow. She heard the manager say,
courteously:

“Madam Dolores, allow me to present to you Mr. Valchester, the composer
of the opera over which all New York has gone wild with delight.”

Madam Dolores murmured some indistinct words in reply, and made a low
bow to the author, but she did not offer him her hand. It hung at her
side, still mechanically grasping the book of poems.

Mr. Valchester complimented and congratulated her on her successful
appearance last night, and then thanked her in eloquent, well-chosen
terms for the part she had taken in making his venture such a signal
success.

Both were grave and courteous, and calm. No one who witnessed the
meeting would have suspected that they had parted only three years ago,
broken-hearted and longing for death.

In that moment of quiet recognition each believed that the other had
outlived the passion which a little while ago had seemed the all in all
of life.

Then the manager excused himself and went out with the professor.

The author and the singer were left alone in the luxurious parlor to
entertain each other. They sat silently a moment; then Mr. Valchester
said, calmly:

“You were reading, Madam Dolores?”

She looked down at the book in her hand, and the color rushed into her
cheeks as she answered:

“Yes.”

“Will you permit me to see what author engages your attention?” said
Ronald Valchester; and the singer quietly laid the book in his hand.

He opened it, and she smiled very faintly as she saw the sensitive
color mount to his cheeks.

“I presume they are your own poems, Mr. Valchester?” she said; and he
shivered at the sweetness of her low voice.

The rushing tide of memory poured over his soul overwhelmingly. He
lifted his eyes and looked fully at the beautiful woman.

“Yes, they are mine,” he answered, trembling as the beautiful dark eyes
met his own.

As they held his glance a moment he saw how grave and sad they were,
and the white brow suggested lines he had somewhere read:

“How noble and calm was that forehead
‘Neath its tresses of dark, waving hair;
The sadness of thought slept upon it,
And a look that a seraph might wear.”

“Ah, Mr. Valchester,” she said, lightly, it seemed to him, “I told you
long ago that you were a poet, and you denied it.”

He bent toward her eagerly, his blue-gray eyes growing bright and dark
with excitement.

“Then it really _is_ you, Lina?” he cried. “I thought–I believed it
was so, but I was afraid to speak.”

His deep voice quivered with emotion.

Of the two she seemed much the calmer.

Only the marble pallor of her cheek showed her intense repressed
agitation.

“Yes, it is Lina,” she said, with apparent calmness. “Are you
surprised, Mr. Valchester?”

“Lina, we have mourned you as dead,” he said, unsteadily.

“There were few to mourn me,” she replied, and there was a note of
bitterness in the musical voice.

There was a moment’s embarrassed silence. Valchester twirled the leaves
of the book in his hand. Jaquelina looked at the floor.

“Tell me something of the Earles–and my uncle,” she said. “It is so
long–three years–since I have heard.”

“The Earles are in New York–they came expressly to hear you sing last
night,” he replied.

“They did not know—-” she said, then paused, abruptly.

“That Madam Dolores was little Lina?” he said; “no, but in the first
moment when you came upon the stage we were struck by the resemblance.
Violet was positively agitated, yet she refused to entertain the idea
that it could really be you. You see she had always felt convinced that
you were dead, or that”–he paused, and she could see the shudder that
shook the strong, handsome form–“you had met a more terrible fate.”

“And you–did you believe in my identity?” she asked, calmly, and a
little curiously.

“Yes,” he answered, unfalteringly. “I knew there was no other face or
voice on earth like yours.”

“You must have been surprised?” she said.

“I was,” he answered. “Only think how strange it is, Lina. We who
parted under such sad and terrible circumstances three years ago, to
meet again in this way. To think that you of all others should be the
one to bring out the opera on which I have labored so long.”

“I did not know that you were the author–you must believe that, Mr.
Valchester! I should not have undertaken it had I only known!” she
exclaimed, hurriedly and earnestly.

He looked at her, the heavy sadness on his face deepening as he saw the
lines of pain drawn around the delicate, scarlet lips.

“Lina, were you so proud?” he asked.

“I did not know it was pride,” she said, simply. “I was only thinking
that–that it were so much better if we had never met again.”

She did not know what a pathetic heart-cry there was in the words, but
Ronald understood. He rose from his seat and before she could prevent
him knelt humbly at her feet.

“Lina, you are quite right,” he said, “I tried to keep myself from
coming, but I could not. Can you forgive me for inflicting this pain
upon you?”

She did not answer, and he took the white hand that hung listless by
her side and pressed it to his lips.

“I could not keep myself from coming,” he repeated; “I could not still
the fever and thirst of my heart. Last night I did not sleep one hour.
The knowledge that you were alive and so near me almost maddened me
with mingled joy and pain. Ah! Lina, my lost love, you must forgive me
for coming this once. I meant to be brave and calm. I thought it might
not pain you as it did me. I thought you might have learned not to
care.”

The hot, passionate tears he could not repress, fell on her white hand,
but she did not speak one word. There was nothing she could say. She
had not “learned not to care.”

She knew that her heart was beating with a fierce, wild joy because she
had met him again, but she knew and faced the knowledge with brave,
uncomplaining silence, that when he passed out of her life again the
unhealed wound in her heart would only bleed anew.

“I thought you might have forgotten,” he went on, out of his bitter
anguish, “but I see now that you still remember.”

“I remember–all,” she said, through white lips. “It was such a happy
summer–it would not be easy to forget.”

“And it pains you to remember it,” he said, reading her heart by the
light of his own.

She did not answer, but there came into her mind those sad words of
Tennyson:

“This is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.”

She drew her hand from his clasp, and rose, pallid, beautiful,
mournful, her rich and somber draperies rustling as she moved away from
him.

“Mr. Valchester, do not be angry, but it would be better for you if you
would go,” she said, bravely.

“Better–for me?” he said, rising, and looking at her with haggard,
weary eyes.

“For us both, then,” she answered with patient truthfulness, though the
color rose for a moment to her cheek.

“Not to see you again?” he said, questioningly.

“It would be better so,” she answered, “unless you have changed your
convictions,” and he could not help seeing the trembling hope that came
into her eyes. “Oh! Ronald, have you never changed in all these years?
Do you still hold me bound to that terrible man by a law man cannot
repeal?”

Her calmness had broken down. The anguish of that wild and sudden
appeal thrilled through his heart. He had no words to answer her.

He saw the dark eyes gazing at him through a mist of tears, the white
roses trembled on her breast with the quick beating of her heart. He
could not answer the question.

With a stifled moan he turned from the sight of her sorrowful beauty,
and rushed from the room, while the beautiful singer fell like a broken
lily to the floor and prayed to die.

Ronald Valchester thought after he had left the presence of his lost
love that day that he would not attend the opera again at night.

But he had promised his mother, who had just arrived in New York that
morning, to accompany her, and he had also engaged the same box with
Walter and Violet Earle, so it was almost impossible for him to remain
away.

When the vast theater rang with the wild plaudits that greeted the
queen of song, he was in his place by his mother’s side, and his eyes
saw nothing clearly but the one face that had filled his heart for
years–his ears heard nothing but the silvery voice that carolled its
songs to the world now, but which long ago–it seemed years and years,
measured by his pain–had sung to him alone beneath the blossoming
apple boughs, while her heart had thrilled within him at the sweetness
of the strain.

How like and how unlike was the brilliant _prima donna_ of to-night,
to the pretty, simple girl of three years ago. The love-light that
had beamed in those dark eyes then was so different from their quiet
sadness now. As she stood there in her costly robes and gleaming
jewels, while fragrant flowers rained at her feet, and the rapturous
applause thundered over her head, her beauty was peerless.

Yet no smile curved the rich, red lips as she bent her graceful head,
though the lashes swept low on the cheek that for a moment wore a
crimson flush like the sunset glow.

There was no gladness on the beautiful face, and yet it was not cold or
indifferent.

It was only touched on the fair, low brow, in “the dark–dark eyes,”
and on the arched, crimson lips with “the sadness of thought.”

Walter Earle gazed on the singer, too, with his heart in his eyes. He
believed that Madame Dolores was Jaquelina Meredith. The conviction
grew upon him.

And Violet, sitting by her brother’s side, a fair and graceful figure
in blue velvet and pearls, on which many eyes gazed admiringly, watched
that slender, stately figure, and listened to the musical voice with
untold feelings of horror and despair.

When the curtain was rung down on the first act, stately Mrs.
Valchester leaned over to murmur to Violet:

“My love,” she said, “the _prima donna_ reminds me of some one I have
seen before; but I cannot exactly recollect where.”

“Really?” said Violet, with an air of languid interest, but she
fluttered her fan nervously and did not try to enlighten the lady.

But Walter Earle had heard the whisper, too. He spoke impulsively:

“Mrs. Valchester, I will tell you of whom she reminds you. She is
like–Miss Meredith.”

“Oh, yes–yes,” Mrs. Valchester assented, quickly, “but it cannot be
that–that—-” she stopped and looked at Walter, startled out of her
usual quiet self-possession.

Walter answered, readily:

“The resemblance struck us all, Mrs. Valchester. I, for one, believe
that it is little Lina herself. She had a wonderful voice.”

“I thought–thought every one believed that she was dead, or that
Gerald Huntington had carried her off again,” stammered the lady.

“Every one must have been mistaken,” said Walter. “I think there can
scarcely be a doubt that Madame Dolores is only the stage name of
Jaquelina Meredith.”

“Ronald, what do you think?” the lady asked, looking up half timidly
into the face of her son.

He had stood by her chair, pale and silent as a statue, hearing every
word but taking no part in the conversation. He looked down at her now
and answered in a low, quiet voice:

“It is Lina herself.”

“Are you sure?” cried Walter.

“I am quite sure,” Ronald answered.

Then he saw that they were all looking at him inquiringly, and nerved
himself to explain.

“I called on Dolores to-day,” he said, “and she frankly admitted her
identity.”

He did not notice the white anguish that came over Violet’s face. He
was startled by the gladness that shone in her brother’s eyes. It was
a revelation to him. But the next moment he heard the sound of a fall.
They all turned and saw that Violet had slipped out of her chair and
lay on the floor with closed eyelids and a deathly face.

“Violet has fainted,” cried Mrs. Valchester.

She had fainted, and when she regained consciousness, it was only to
bury her face on Walter’s breast, and whisper sadly:

“Take me away.”

He carried her home, and when they were gone, Mrs. Valchester looked at
her son.

“Ronald, do you know what Violet’s fainting meant? she asked, gravely.

“It was too warm, I think,” said the unconscious poet.

“Oh, how blind you are, Ronald!” exclaimed his mother.

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