The months flew swiftly past

Jaquelina took the heavy child in her arms and went slowly back to the
orchard.

“That inevitable Dollie,” said Violet, warmly, as she saw her coming.
“It’s a shame that Mrs. Meredith does not hire a nurse for that great,
fat child! I am sure if I were Jaquelina I would not be forced to carry
it round.”

“It _is_ a shame,” echoed Walter. “She is so slender she almost
staggers beneath its weight.”

But it never occurred to him to go and relieve her of the burden. It
would have seemed superlatively ridiculous for him, the gay, handsome
young dandy, to have carried chubby little Dollie Meredith up the hill,
even to save a pretty girl’s arms from aching.

He was surprised and vexed when Ronald Valchester rose and sauntered
down the grassy orchard slope to meet Jaquelina.

“What is Valchester up to now?” he said, gnawing the ends of his fair
mustache, jealously.

“Miss Meredith,” said Valchester, with quiet courtesy, “allow me to
carry the child for you. You are not strong enough for such a burden.”

“No, thank you,” she said, nervously, “I am quite accustomed to it you
see, and—-”

But all further remonstrance was cut short by Mr. Valchester’s decisive
action. He took the child gently but firmly from her arms and walked
up the slope with it, for “all the world,” as Violet rather acidly
remarked to her brother, “like a country booby going to meeting with
his wife and child.”

“Val, I only wish that Millard could get a glimpse of you now!” called
out Walter, laughing.

“Who is Millard?” Violet queried.

“Oh! one of our class-mates–an artist of no mean merit either. How
delightfully he would caricature Valchester’s appearance now.”

Valchester did not seem disturbed by the playful hit. He sat
Dollie down in the long grass and filled her fat little hands
with pink-and-white clover heads. Jaquelina sat down beside her,
apprehensive that she would cram the blossoms into her ever-open mouth
and choke herself.

“And you will spend the two hundred dollars reward you will receive for
the capture of the outlaw chief on your education, Miss Lina?” said
Walter, resuming the conversation where it had been interrupted by the
curt summons of Dollie’s mother.

“Yes,” Jaquelina answered, simply.

“And then?” said Walter Earle.

“Then,” she answered hopefully, and a little eagerly, “I hope I shall
leave the farm and earn my own living somewhere. I am ambitious of
becoming a governess.”

“A vaulting ambition,” said Violet, with a light laugh.

“Not very,” said Lina, with a gentle innocence and gravity that checked
Violet’s delicate sarcasm. “It will be better than the farm, that is
all.”

“Mr. Valchester, here is a four-leaved clover for you,” said Violet.
“Take it and keep it. It may bring you good luck.”

“Thank you,” he said, and took it carelessly and held it between his
long, white fingers. A little later, when no one was looking, he shut
it inside the leaves of Jaquelina’s book.

“You have given the clover to one who could not appreciate good luck if
it came to him,” laughed Walter. “Valchester has known nothing else all
his life. He is fortune’s favorite.”

“I think you are, too, Mr. Earle–you and Violet,” Jaquelina said,
gently.

A faint sigh quivered over her lips as she spoke. She looked at these
three in their costly apparel and with their bright, happy faces, and
it seemed to her as if they belonged to quite a different world from
her own. They were fortune’s favorites, all of them.

“Thank you,” said Walter, smiling, “I hope the fickle goddess will
always be kind to me.”

Then Violet rose, shaking out the apple blossoms that had fallen into
the folds of her dress, and declared it was time to go.

“We came to ask you to go boating with us,” said Walter, “but I
suppose,” with anything but a loving glance at innocent Dollie, “it
would be no use.”

Jaquelina’s eyes brightened, then saddened again almost pathetically.

“No, for Aunt Meredith has gone away,” she said. “I could not go
to-day.”

In her keen disappointment she was quite unconscious how much pathetic
emphasis she laid upon “to-day.”

“To-morrow, then?” said Walter, instantly. “Could you not slip away
from that terrible Dollie to-morrow?”

She looked at him, her eyes shining, her lips trembling with pleasure.

“Yes, if you went at noon,” she said; “if later–no.”

“Why not later?” asked Violet, curiously.

“Because I must help with the milking then,” she answered, simply.

“We will go at noon, then,” said Walter at once. “We will call for you
punctually, and you must be ready.”

“Young ladies are never ready when called for,” said Ronald Valchester,
with his slight smile.

“I will prove the exception to the rule,” Jaquelina answered, brightly,
while Violet said to herself in wonder:

“_What_ in the world will she wear? I _do_ wonder why mamma insists
upon having us patronize Jaquelina Meredith. She is not in our set, and
she hasn’t a decent thing to wear! It is strange she doesn’t have the
good sense to understand it herself and decline our invitations.”

Violet said the same to herself the next day when she went upon the
river.

Violet had on a lovely boating-suit of blue serge, and a leghorn sailor
hat set coquettishly on her golden locks.

Jaquelina wore her simple pink-dotted calico dress, with a white
ruffled apron tied about the slim, round waist, “for all the world,” as
Miss Violet said to herself, pityingly and half-disdainfully, “like a
parlor-maid.”

She had caught up an old straw hat of her uncle’s and fastened it on
her head with a strip of velvet ribbon passed over the top and tied
beneath her chin. It looked quaint and picturesque, and a more charming
face than the one it framed could not have been imagined. The bright,
dark eyes, curtained by such inky, sweeping lashes, would in themselves
alone have made a plain face beautiful, but Jaquelina had delicate,
well-cut features, and lovely scarlet lips, parting over small,
regular, white teeth. No amount of shabby dressing could have made her
a fright or a dowdy with that radiant face. The _brune_ tint, acquired
by the too ardent kisses of the wind and sun, marred it a little, but
the soft, rich color in her cheeks almost atoned for the fault.

It was a lovely day and a lovely river. The bending trees overhung the
green, flowery banks and threw their long, grateful shadows across the
sunny water. It was so clear you could see the pebbles in the bottom
and the silvery little fish darting to and fro.

Walter and Valchester took turns in rowing. Sometimes they would suffer
the boat to drift at its will while they chattered and laughed in the
gay thoughtlessness of youth.

Long afterward, when winter was in the sky and the clouds of sorrow
overhung their lives, they looked back upon these two days–this one
upon the river and yesterday beneath the blossoming apple-boughs–as
golden days that were like beautiful pictures set in their memory.

The next day Walter Earle and his friend went back to the University.

Walter Earle had talked a great deal about Jaquelina Meredith since the
night of the lawn-party. He saw that his mother was not displeased at
his admiration of the lovely orphan girl.

“I admire Miss Meredith very much,” he said, in his frank way. “I think
she is very beautiful–do not you, Val?”

“She is–fascinating,” said Ronald Valchester.

Violet looked up quickly.

“Fascinating,” she said. “What do you mean by that, Mr. Valchester? I
do not exactly comprehend. Is it more–or less–than beauty?”

“I think it is more,” he replied.

“More?” said Violet. “What could be better than beauty, Mr. Valchester.”

“The power to win,” said Valchester. “I have seen some very beautiful
women whom I did not admire. They lacked that _je ne sais quoi_, which
is so strong in Miss Meredith that I could fancy one might even admire
her against his will.”

“You mean the charm of the serpent,” said Violet, innocently.

“No, I did not mean that in the least,” said Valchester.

He bit his lip as if the suggestion did not please him.

“There is nothing serpent-like about Miss Meredith. She seems a gentle,
fresh-hearted girl; but I do not believe I could quite define my
impressions”–abruptly–“will you excuse me from trying?”

“Certainly,” she answered, carelessly, to hide a certain girlish pique,
while Walter said, gaily:

“You are too dignified to get down to the level of Violet’s
understanding, Val. Let me explain. He means, in college parlance, sis,
that Miss Meredith has a taking way with her.”

“Thank you; I quite understand,” said Violet, with dignity.

She went out of the room, and the subject was not resumed.

There had been some talk of their going over to the farm to bid Miss
Meredith adieu, but the project was tacitly dropped.

They returned to college that night, but without seeing Jaquelina.

One week afterward a huge box of books was forwarded to the girl, over
which she went almost wild with joy.

All the best of the poets, ancient and modern, were there, in fine and
elegant bindings, and profusely illustrated. In the first volume she
opened was a card.

“The compliments of Ronald Valchester.”

Jaquelina studied the beautiful chirography of the student admiringly
for awhile; then she laid it away with the withered passion-flowers in
the box with her dead mother’s jewelry.

After several days of passionate delight over the books, Jaquelina
remembered that she had not thanked the sender.

Soon afterward a little white note found its way to the University.

Ronald Valchester read the few lines it contained many times; but he
must have forgotten to show it to Walter Earle, for the latter never
heard of it.

“MR. VALCHESTER:–A thousand thanks for the books. You have made me
very happy.

“JAQUELINA MEREDITH.”

That was all she said, but it pleased Ronald Valchester, though the
University students unanimously agreed that he was hard to please and
fastidious to a fault.

The note was well-written, in a clear, refined hand. It pleased his
whim to put it away carefully.

There was one thing Ronald Valchester did not like. It was to read in
the newspapers the glowing accounts of the outlaw’s capture by a young
girl. The students were all quite wild over it.

Walter Earle had described it to them in the most enthusiastic terms,
and they would have liked nothing so well as to meet the dark-eyed
young heroine. But Ronald Valchester was exceedingly sorry that the
story had gotten into the papers.

After awhile the newspapers chronicled the fact that Gerald Huntington
had been tried and convicted, and that his counsel had obtained a new
hearing in his case; but it was thought that he could not escape being
sent to the penitentiary for a long term of years. It was feared by
many that the hot-headed Virginians would mob him.

* * * * *

The months flew swiftly past. At the close of the college session,
Walter Earle and Ronald Valchester both graduated with distinguished
honors.

After they separated, each to their homes, Walter wrote to his friend
that Jaquelina Meredith had received the reward of two hundred dollars
for Gerald Huntington’s capture, and that she had gone away to enter a
boarding-school at Staunton.

“But I have found out several pretty girls in the neighborhood,” wrote
Walter; “so I am trying to console myself for pretty Lina’s absence. By
the way, Violet is visiting the Claxtons in your city. Give my love to
her if you see her.”

There was another lawn party at Laurel Hill. Again the band was playing
in the summer-house on the lawn; light feet kept time to the merry
dance; lights glimmered in the trees, and the scene was like fairy-land.

More than a year had passed since the last party. The orchards had
bloomed again, and dropped their scented red and white blossoms. The
boughs hung low with gold and crimson globes of fair white fruit. The
timid, tender spring flowers were gone, and summer’s glowing beauties
reigned instead.

Since Walter Earle had graduated he and Violet had been traveling in
the South with a party of friends. They had returned now, and this
reception to their young friends had been planned and carried out with
a great deal of interest and pleasure. It was a far more pretentious
affair than the almost impromptu one of last year. Several persons
had come from a distance to attend it. Among the latter was Ronald
Valchester.

Jaquelina Meredith, fresh from her school at Staunton, was there also.
Violet had feebly opposed an invitation to her at first, but her mother
and Walter had promptly overruled her embarrassed objections.

“My dear,” Mrs. Earle had said in some surprise, “why do you object to
Lina Meredith? Do you not like her?”

Pretty Violet, grown taller and even more stylish than of old, flushed
and looked annoyed.

“Lina is not in our set,” she said, “and she is too poor to get a party
dress; of course she could not come without one.”

“She had the prettiest dress at the party last year,” said Walter,
warmly.

“That is all you know about it,” said Violet, laughingly. “It was her
mother’s wedding-dress. She had not a decent thing of her own.”

“She can wear her mother’s dress again,” said Mrs. Earle and her son
simultaneously, and Mrs. Earle added almost pleadingly: “Do let her
come, Violet, she is so young and pretty, and would enjoy it so much.”

“And she has so few pleasures,” said Walter, with commendable
forethought for such a giddy young man.

“Oh, she can come–certainly,” Violet answered coldly. “Only I thought
she would not care to come unless she could appear as others do. Last
year she was quite ignorant, she did not know anything about society.
But now that she has spent a year at boarding-school, she knows, of
course, that a shabby-looking girl is next to nobody. Invite her if you
like, I only wished to spare her feelings.”

“I think we should spare her feelings better by asking than by leaving
her out,” replied gentle Mrs. Earle.

So the orphan girl was asked, and Mr. Meredith came again and brought
her as before. And Violet was mistaken this time, for Jaquelina had
really something to wear.

This time it was a pretty robe of some soft, thin stuff, silver-gray,
and shining in the moonlight. The neck was cut square, and edged
with some soft, pretty lace. The sleeves were short, and exposed the
perfectly molded arms.

Jaquelina had brightened it here and there with a few vivid scarlet
roses, and the effect was exquisite.

In the flickering light of the lamps, and the softer gleam of the
moonlight, the slight and graceful form seemed to float in a robe of
silvery mist. Violet, in pale blue satin and pearls, felt eclipsed and
resentful again as she had done at the lawn party a year before.

“Lina, where _did_ you get such a pretty dress?” she asked her,
unceremoniously.

“Is it pretty?” asked Jaquelina, pleased. “I bought it at Staunton to
wear at one of our school concerts where I had to sing a part.”

“_Can_ you sing?” asked Violet, incredulous.

“A little,” admitted Jaquelina, modestly.

“And play?” said Violet.

And again Jaquelina answered shyly:

“A little; only the accompaniments to my songs, you know, Violet.”

“Then I shall be certain to call on you to sing and play to-night, and
you must not refuse,” said Violet, smiling to herself at the idea of
the singing and playing Jaquelina could have acquired in a year.

She did not look frightened at Violet’s words. She simply said that she
would do her best. Violet had no idea what that “best” meant.

“Mr. Valchester is here,” she said, after a pause, with a keen glance
at the other. “He came yesterday on purpose to attend our party. But
you have totally forgotten him, I suppose,” turning her head a little
sidewise.

“Oh, no; I remember him perfectly well,” said Jaquelina, unembarrassed.

“Do you? You have a good memory. I believe you only saw him once or
twice.”

“Three times,” Jaquelina answered.

“I do not believe he has remembered _you_ so well,” said Violet,
arranging her bracelets. “When some one named you this morning at
breakfast, he did not speak of you nor ask any questions. He appeared
calm and uninterested as if you were a stranger.”

“He has probably forgotten me,” said Jaquelina, quietly, and Violet
could not see any change in the charming face as she spoke the careless
words.

She had changed somewhat since she had been away, and acquired a touch
more of the grave, pretty dignity that had always seemed so natural to
her.

There was a minute’s pause while they stood together beneath the arched
lattice work of honeysuckle and roses, like a beautiful picture of
night and morning; the one with her fair, blonde beauty and pale blue
robe; the other in her soft gray draperies, and dusky eyes with that
starry gleam in their darkness.

That thought came into the mind of the gentleman who came up to them
from a side-path, almost abruptly. It was Ronald Valchester.

“Miss Earle,” he said, “I think you promised to give me the first
dance.”

“I am ready to keep my word,” answered Violet, with a brilliant smile.

Then she saw that the blue-gray eyes were gazing intently at her silent
companion.

“Oh, Mr. Valchester,” she cried, “I see you have forgotten Lina
Meredith. She was at our party last summer, and went boating on the
river with us one day–don’t you remember?”

Some pretty lines somewhere read rushed into his mind. Jaquelina
embodied the thought:

“Sweet face, swift eyes, and gleaming,
Sun-lifted, mingling hair–
Lips like two rosebuds dreaming
In June’s sweet-scented air.
Life, when her spring days meet her,
Hope, when the angels greet her,
Is not more calm, nor sweeter,
And love is not more fair!”

He drew a long breath and stepped forward with extended hand.

“Miss Meredith, is it really you?” he said. “You must pardon me that I
did not recognize you on the instant. I had not forgotten you, but you
have changed.”

She gave him her slim hand a moment, and would have spoken, but Violet
seemed impatient, and tapped her daintily slippered foot restlessly.

“I hear the first notes of the band,” she said. “If we do not hasten
they will make up the dance without me.”

Valchester bowed and offered her his arm just as Walter Earle came
hurrying up.

“Miss Lina, will you give me the first dance?” he said; “you owe it
to me, indeed, for I taught you your first steps last year. Do you
remember?”

“As though it were yesterday,” she replied, with a smile, as she put
her slight hand on his arm.

In the whirl of the dance Valchester bent his tall head over her a
moment to ask, almost pleadingly:

“Will you give me the next dance, Miss Meredith?”

“Yes,” she answered, as their hands met a moment in the giddy turn.

She did not guess how long it seemed to Valchester before the next
dance came.

Walter Earle took her to her seat and lingered beside her until his
friend availed himself of the first notes of the music to come and lead
her away.

“I hoped she had not a partner for this dance,” cried Walter,
dolorously. “I meant to sit here and talk sentiment to her. I shall
regret that I taught her the steps since you fellows continually take
her away from me.”

“I will sit by you, Walter,” said his sister, coming to his side.

There was a smile on her face, but her voice sounded sad or troubled
somehow.

“What, not dancing?” he said, surprised.

“Not this time. I am tired and would rather rest,” she answered.

She sat down by his side and laid her white, jeweled hand on his arm.

“Walter, are you in love with Lina Meredith?” she asked him, very low.

Walter started and flushed.

“That’s a leading question–rather,” he said. “Well, Violet, I
certainly admire her. I have never seen a more charming little girl in
my life.”

“Is Ronald Valchester in love with her, too?” pursued Violet, looking
away from him that he might not see how much pain the question had
brought into her eyes.

Walter laughed at the question.

“Valchester in love?” he said. “The idea is too supremely ridiculous to
be entertained. What put such an idea in your head, Vi?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Yes, I do, too! Last summer, you know, he
said she was so fascinating.”

“So he did–and so she is,” said her brother. “But in love! Valchester
is too devoted to his books and his esthetic fancies to fall in love
with anything less ethereal than the muse of poetry.”

“If you are in love with Lina Meredith, why don’t you propose to her
and have the matter settled?” she asked, petulantly.

“I didn’t know you were anxious to have Lina Meredith for a sister,”
said Walter, staring.

“I should be very pleased,” said Violet, desperately, and she spoke the
truth.

She knew that Jaquelina was good and pretty. She had nothing against
her except her vague jealousy of Ronald Valchester.

“If you mean to propose for her, pray do so at once, and let us have
the wedding this fall,” said Violet, with feverish impatience.

Meanwhile Jaquelina’s partner, with his tall head bent over her, was
saying:

“I had not forgotten you, Miss Meredith, though I seemed startled for
the moment. Did you think I had?”

The dark eyes looked at him in smiling gratitude.

“I know that you remembered me kindly once, at least,” she replied. “It
was when you sent me the books. Oh, I could not tell you how much I
enjoyed them, Mr. Valchester. You cannot imagine what happiness they
gave me. I could never thank you enough for your kindness.”

“If you remembered me kindly a few times it was quite sufficient,” he
said. “Did you–Lina?”

“Did I _what_?” said the girl, with a keen shiver of some indefinable
emotion as the low name passed his lips.

“Think of me?” he answered, looking straight into her dark, uplifted
eyes.

“Often and often,” she responded, with frank gravity. “You see I had
the beautiful books to recall you to my mind every day. Then one
day when I was looking through the book you read in the orchard, I
found—-”

“What?” he asked, as she paused with a pleased smile on her scarlet
lips.

“I found on one page a pressed four-leaved clover. I remembered that
Violet had given you one that day, and I was so pleased,” she said.

“Pleased–why?” asked Ronald Valchester.

“That you had given it to me,” she answered.

“You are not superstitious enough to believe that the four-leaved
clover brings good luck?” he said, looking at her with a smile in his
twilight-colored eyes.

“Oh, no,” she answered, with frank innocence; “I was pleased because I
thought it seemed a silent message from you to me to say that you wish
me well.”

Ronald Valchester was a fine musician, and had a beautiful voice. No
one would sing or play after him usually.

The contrast was too great. Perhaps it was for that very reason that
Violet asked Jaquelina to play directly after Valchester had vacated
the piano-stool after singing an exquisite air from a favorite opera.

For a moment Jaquelina seemed tempted to refuse. The warm color rose
into her cheek as they all looked at her, her scarlet lips trembled,
but Violet said quickly:

“You must not refuse, Lina. We have all played now but you, and it
would not be fair for you to decline.”

“Allow me,” said Walter Earle, gently leading her to the piano.

Was it any wonder if a faint thrill of pleasure and triumph swelled the
girl’s heart as her white hands fluttered lovingly over the pearl keys?

She remembered last year. How ashamed she had felt that she could not
play; how the young girls had looked at her pityingly and, she vaguely
fancied, disdainfully, because she knew so little.

They did not know how hard she had practiced since. Everyone was
surprised that she should try after Ronald Valchester.

He himself looked at her a little uneasily. Everyone expected a
failure.

Walter Earle opened the portfolio of music and held it open before her,
but she shook her head.

“No, I will play something from memory,” she said.

“Now I know she will make a failure,” Violet said to herself, “for my
music-teacher always told me never to play without my notes before me.”

But Violet made no allowance for genius, which acknowledges no law, and
is sufficient unto itself.

Jaquelina touched a key or two softly so that the sound seemed to be
the answer to a caress, then her hands began to fly across the keys
like white-winged birds.

People looked at each other. The magic power of genius was in those
slender fingers–

“Sweeping the swift and silver chords.”

In a moment she began to sing. She had chosen the pretty, familiar
ballad of Annie Laurie.

Not one in the room but knew that only a powerful and well-trained
voice could do justice to the melodious but difficult strain.

But Jaquelina’s voice–clear and fresh as a nightingale’s–soared
upward without the least apparent effort.

The sweet, pathetic ballad was rendered exquisitely. There was a
perfect hush throughout the room until it ended. Then they crowded
around her.

“Another,” and “another,” and “another,” they pleaded when she would
have risen. It was Violet at last who brought it to an end by saying
carelessly:

“Let us go back to the dancing now. We can have music every day, but
dancing only now and then.”

“Thank you,” said a low voice over Jaquelina’s shoulder as she was
passing out of the door. She looked back and saw Ronald Valchester’s
face looking down at her with bright, shining eyes. “You have given me
a great deal of pleasure,” he said.

“I am very glad,” she replied, and the next moment, she scarcely knew
how it happened, he was walking by her side, and her hand was resting
on his arm.

They went out upon the lawn and down the laurel walk.

“Instead of dancing will you give me this half-hour?” he had said to
her. “I wish to talk to you about this beautiful treasure you have
possessed so long unknown to us all.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, as they wandered along the path beneath
the whispering laurels.

“Your voice,” he said. “Do you know, Miss Meredith, that it is really
marvelous? I cannot tell you how it has surprised and delighted me.”

And again she said, simply as before:

“I am glad.”

He looked at the lovely young face and saw that she was pleased, but
not at all surprised.

“Someone has told you this before,” he said quickly. “I am not the
first to lay a laurel at your feet.”

In the soft light he saw the color deepen in her cheeks and the
long-fringed lashes droop low.

“My teachers have told me that my voice was fine,” she said, quietly,
“and–and I have sung in school-concerts a few times. The people
praised me, then.”

“It is no wonder you were not afraid to sing after me,” he said. “I was
afraid for you at first. You see I have practised for many years and
people think me a better performer than the most. But I own that my
light has paled before a brighter star.”

“You must not say so,” she said quickly. “I have only had a few months’
training. My voice is not at all cultivated.”

“It is naturally superb,” he answered; “I have heard voices in opera
that were no sweeter than yours. And yet they were _prima donnas_ whom
all the world praised. Perhaps you have heard that, too, before.”

“My teacher told me I might successfully choose an operatic career,”
she answered quietly, yet with a sigh whose meaning he did not
understand.

“I hope you will not do so,” he answered quickly. “I have always so
much disliked the idea of a public life for a woman.”

“We talked of that at school,” she replied, “but our singing master
thought quite differently. He declared that a really fine voice
actually belonged to the world.”

“Shall you return to the school this winter?”

“No,” with a quickly suppressed sigh.

“You have wearied of it, perhaps,” he said.

“No,” she said again; then, with a deepening color, “I have spent all
my money, that is the reason. Have you forgotten, Mr. Valchester, that
all the money I had was the reward I received for capturing the outlaw
chief?”

The soft eyes raised to his face saw a shadow fall over its handsome
contour.

“I–I had been trying to forget all about him,” he said, constrainedly.
“What have they done with the fellow, Miss Meredith?”

“He is still confined in the county jail, I believe,” she replied. “His
counsel have been using every possible means to defer the new hearing
of the case which was asked for and promised. Uncle Meredith says they
are waiting for popular indignation to abate in hope of obtaining a
more lenient verdict.”

“Very likely,” said Ronald Valchester, and then there was a constrained
silence.

Jaquelina broke it herself in a voice that was slightly tremulous:

“I–am afraid I did not do right that night, Mr. Valchester. I did not
think–as I have since done–that it was not a fair return for his
kindness to me–for he was kind–kinder than any one knew.”

The pretty penitence in her face touched him, but he did not speak.

“I have puzzled over it often and often,” she went on, slowly and
thoughtfully, “I have asked myself whether my private obligation to him
should have outweighed the good of the country at large. I have never
been able to satisfy myself. Tell me, Mr. Valchester, did I do right or
not?”

“Miss Meredith,” he answered, “many persons have asked me the same
question, but I have never given my opinion to anyone.”

“Then, of course, you will not tell me,” she said, disappointed, yet
far too shy to insist upon it.

“No, I will not now. I may do so at some future time,” evasively.

“Do you think,” she said, just a trifle nervously, “it was worth while
to attach any meaning to his threat of vengeance? Sometimes I have felt
afraid.”

“I should not give it a thought,” he replied. “It is not probable he
will ever have the chance to harm you even if he wished it. No doubt
the best part of his life will be passed in a prison cell.”

“Oh, I hope not,” the girl cried out in irrepressible sorrow; “I
cannot bear to think that I have been the cause of depriving anyone of
liberty. I did not think of all these things in the fatal moment when
I saw him peering at me behind that laurel there. Now I feel as if I
had betrayed a human being to endless pain for a paltry two hundred
dollars.”

Ronald Valchester looked before him silently at the weird, flickering
shadows on the graveled path, and made no reply.

“But I wanted the money so very, very much,” she added, appealingly.

Valchester looked down at the slim, white hand lying on his black coat
sleeve, the taper forefinger sparkling

“With one great gem of globed dew
The moon shot crystal arrows through.”

“Did you never think of parting with your diamond ring?” he said,
abruptly.

Lifting her wondering gaze to his she saw his eyes fixed on her
mother’s ring. She drew her hand from his arm and held it up to the
light. A hundred shimmering rays flashed on the jewel.

“You do not mean that it is really a _diamond_?” she cried, with
sparkling eyes.

“Did you not know it?” he asked, surprised.

“I thought it was only a pretty, shining bit of glass,” she answered.
“Is it really and truly a genuine diamond? and worth–how much?”

He took the warm, pretty hand in his on pretense of examining the ring.
At that touch a quick, electric thrill ran from heart to heart.

“Oh, girls, here she is,” cried Violet Earle’s voice at that moment, in
a tone of apparent gaiety. “What a pretty tableau! Flirting with Mr.
Valchester under the laurels.”

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