Two weeks longer

Violet Earle was not surprised at her brother’s action. She was
rather relieved by it. The first shock over, she was rather glad that
Jaquelina had lost all her charms. Ronald Valchester had nothing to
regret now. The beauty he had loved was lost forever.

The day before she returned home, she went to see Jaquelina. She was
curious to know what her generous rival proposed to do with her blank
and ruined life.

“Do you really intend to return to Europe as you said you would?” she
asked her.

“Yes, I am going back after awhile,” Jaquelina answered, “but first, I
am going to pay a visit to Virginia. I have had a letter from my Uncle
Meredith, and he has invited me to pay him a visit.”

“I do not believe you would enjoy a visit to Meredith Farm,” said
Violet, quickly. “Mr. Meredith has become involved in debt, somehow,
and there is a mortgage on the whole estate. His wife is crosser than
ever, and she has two more children.”

“Yes, I know, Uncle Charlie wrote me about all his troubles,” Jaquelina
answered, simply, “and I will tell you what I mean to do, Violet. I
shall pay off the mortgage on the farm, and settle twenty-five thousand
dollars on Uncle Meredith, so that he may get a new start in life.”

Pretty Violet, rustling in her silks and furs, looked at her with
incredulous surprise.

“Lina, you are not in earnest?” she said.

“Yes, I am quite in earnest. I have more money than I know what to do
with, and I am going to help Uncle Charlie out of his difficulty.”

“They have not been so kind to you, Lina, that you need trouble
yourself over them,” said Violet, her mind going back to the old days
when Jaquelina had been the patient nurse and drudge, neglected and
uncared for.

“I know,” said Lina. “I have not forgotten the past, but I am sorry
for them all the same. And then, too, Violet, you must remember,” her
voice sank slightly lower, “I can never have any more happiness in life
except what I can make for others.”

Violet and her brother returned south the next day. Violet had promised
Mrs. Valchester to spend a few days with her in Richmond before she
went to Laurel Hill. She felt quite sure of having Ronald all to
herself then. What was her dismay to find him preparing to leave for
New York again the very day she arrived in Richmond?

“Were you growing impatient at my lengthened stay?” she asked him,
fondly. “It was Walter that kept me. I was very anxious to get back to
you.”

“I thought Walter intended to have brought back a bride with him,”
ignoring her first question.

“Oh! did not Walter tell you?” she cried out, carelessly. “The
engagement is off.”

“I do not think I understand you,” Ronald replied.

“The engagement is broken–they are not to be married,” she explained.

“Why not?” gravely.

“Oh, Mr. Valchester, she is so changed, you know,” said Violet, a
little disconcerted by his grave eyes. “She has lost her voice and
her beauty. She offered Walter his freedom, and he was glad enough to
accept it.”

“I could not have believed it of Walter!” said Ronald Valchester,
sturdily.

“Oh, Mr. Valchester, she is a perfect fright! You would not blame
Walter if you could see how she looks!” cried Violet, warmly defending
Walter’s course.

Ronald said no more. He had turned to go.

“You are not going to New York now! What is the use, when I am already
here?” she cried, in dismay.

Then Ronald answered, with a slight flush:

“Excuse me, Violet. At the risk of seeming rude, I must tell you I was
not going after you exactly. I am publishing another volume of poetry,
and I was going to New York on urgent business.”

“You were going to see Jaquelina!” Violet broke out, in a sudden
passion of anger and jealousy. And then she threw herself on a sofa and
burst into bitter weeping.

Ronald stood looking at her in amazement. He did not kneel down by her
and kiss away the tears, as she expected him to do. He said, sadly and
gravely:

“Violet, this is quite unworthy of you. You must remember that Lina
herself gave me to you.”

“I have small pleasure in the gift,” she retorted. “I but seldom see
you.”

The passionate complaint opened Ronald’s eyes. He bent down and touched
his affianced’s cheek with his lips while he said, quietly:

“Violet, when I return from New York I shall ask you to name our
wedding day. You must think about it while I am gone.”

“When–when will you return?” sobbed Violet, with a smile struggling
through her tears.

“In about two weeks, I think,” said Ronald.

“Two weeks longer; I shall be gone to Laurel Hill before that time,”
she said, disappointed.

“I do not think I can get back any sooner than that,” he answered, “but
I will come to Laurel Hill as soon as I return.”

“You promise,” she said, “faithfully?”

“I promise faithfully,” he replied, with a slight smile at her anxiety.

He went away and Violet was obliged to content herself with the thought
of seeing him again in two weeks. She returned to her mountain home
where she found her father very glad to see her again. In a week’s time
she heard that Jaquelina Meredith had returned to the farm on a visit
to her uncle.

“May I see you for a little while, Lina? I have important news for you.”

It was two weeks after Jaquelina had come to the farm-house that she
stood holding Ronald Valchester’s card in her trembling hand and
reading the few lines scribbled upon it. Her uncle Charlie had brought
it to her. He told her that Mr. Valchester was waiting outside.

She started up nervously when Mr. Meredith gave her Ronald’s card, and
told her that he was waiting to see her. An impulse came over her to
decline to grant him the interview he asked.

“He has come to tell me when he will be married to Violet,” she said to
her wildly beating heart. “I–I am not so strong as I thought I was–I
do not believe I could bear it. It was cruel to come. I should not have
thought it of Ronald. He must have known how it would hurt me. Oh! I
should not have come here–so near to the sight of Violet’s happiness.”

Then it crossed her mind that she was weak and selfish. She had begged
him to marry Violet. She must be brave enough to bear what she had
caused.

“Uncle Charlie, you may tell him to come in,” she said, with lips that
trembled strangely.

Then when he had gone out and closed the door she drooped into a chair
and hid her poor, marred face in her hands. She could not bear for
Ronald Valchester to behold it in its changed and altered guise.

She heard the door open softly, then Ronald’s unforgotten step as he
crossed the floor. She could not look up. He knelt down beside her and
took one of the hands that hid her face and held it tightly in his own.

“Lina, look at me,” he said, in a voice that was as tender as a caress.
“Do not be afraid to show me your sad affliction.”

Jaquelina looked up with something like a sob into the handsome,
thoughtful face of her lost lover. It was beaming with an eager joy
and tenderness that was like the expression she remembered on it in
the brief, happy summer of their betrothal. Even when he saw the face
that had frightened Walter Earle’s love away, no change came into the
blue-gray eyes fixed on her with such adoring love blent with such
sweet seriousness.

“Lina, do not grieve for the beauty you have lost,” he said. “I am so
thankful that your life is spared that all else is of little account.”

The sad dark eyes regarded him in wonder.

“Yes, darling,” he said, with a smile into the wondering eyes; “all
that you have suffered only makes you dearer to my heart.”

She pulled her small hand from his clasp and tried to rise.

“Mr. Valchester, you must not speak to me so,” she cried. “You forget
Violet–you forget everything.”

“I forget nothing,” he returned. “Listen, Lina, I did not come here
simply to pain you. I have news for you. Gerald Huntington is dead.”

At those words from her lover’s lips Jaquelina gasped for breath like
one dying. Her head fell heavily back against her chair, and her
eyelids closed. Ronald bent over her in surprise and alarm.

“Lina, did I tell you too suddenly?” he exclaimed, chafing the limp and
nerveless hands. “Forgive me, I forgot how weak and nervous you must be
yet.”

It was a shock to her, there could be no doubt of that. She lay silent
several minutes, her heart throbbing quick and fast. It was some little
while before she could speak. When she did, she uttered only one word
through pale lips:

“When?”

“Almost a week ago now,” he replied. “Are you strong enough for me to
tell you about it, Lina?”

“Yes,” she replied, and he drew a chair to her side.

“Will you suffer me to hold your hand while I am telling you, Lina?” he
inquired, fondly.

She seemed to be lost in thought for a moment, then she answered, with
a slight flush:

“No; I would rather you should not do so.”

A troubled look came into the blue-gray eyes a moment as they rested on
the leaping flames of the fire; then he said, with apparent composure:

“You knew I had been in New York for two weeks, Lina?”

“No, I did not know it,” she replied, surprised.

“True, how should you know it?” he said, half to himself. “Well, I was,
and last week Professor Larue called on me at my hotel.”

“The dear old soul! I hope he was well,” exclaimed Jaquelina, warmly.

“Yes, he was well,” said Ronald Valchester, “and very impatient for
your return to New York. A dying man had sent for you, and when he
found that you were out of reach he called for me.”

“You went?” said Lina, looking at him with wide, dark eyes.

“Yes, Lina. Judge of my surprise when, in an obscure and comfortless
abode in the suburbs of Brooklyn, I found the handsome outlaw, Gerald
Huntington, stretched upon his dying bed.”

“Dying!” Jaquelina repeated after him, with something like awe in her
low voice.

“Yes, dying, but dying ashamed and repentant. There was a priest with
him. He passed away peacefully.”

“And he sent for me?” the girl said, wonderingly.

“Yes, he sent for you, and he was very much disappointed and grieved
that you were too far away to come in time. He wished to ask your
forgiveness for the cowardly revenge he took upon you for the ill-turn
you did him once.”

“I have been so sorry for it,” she said, weakly, and blushing crimson.
“I was so young and untutored I did not think. It was all because I
needed the money so much. If I could have seen him on his dying bed I
would have asked him to forgive me my sin of ingratitude, and I must
have forgiven him for the revenge he took. I could not have refused to
forgive him when he was dying.”

“Yes, I told him that,” said Ronald. “I understood you so well, Lina,
I knew just what you would say and feel. I told him to rest quite easy
about that.”

Lina thanked him with a grateful glance, quickly withdrawn.

“He had sinned against you, too,” she said, tremulously. “That dreadful
wound! You forgave him, Ronald?”

“Freely,” he replied; and then they were silent a moment, and Lina
looked at the softly falling snow through the windows, and Ronald
looked at her steadily and gravely.

He did not flinch as his eyes marked the scarred, discolored skin that
covered the once delicately lovely face.

After a pause Ronald said, gravely:

“Huntington had a confession to make to you, Lina.”

“A confession?” she repeated, turning her dark eyes from the window to
look at him with grave surprise.

“Yes,” he said. “You must have wondered, Lina, often and often, what
mysterious discovery caused him to give you up in the very moment when,
by violence he had made you his bride.”

“I have wondered over it often. It was the happy cause that delivered
me from a life more bitter than death,” she replied, with a shudder.

“He explained it to me, Lina, and perhaps I should leave the story
untold to you. Are you willing for me to do so?” he inquired.

Lina meditated a moment, then replied:

“I would prefer to hear it.”

“Spoken like a true daughter of Eve,” said her companion, with a slight
smile. “Very well, Lina, I will do as you say, but I fear it will pain
you to hear my story. And there is one thing you must promise me. You
will tell no one else?”

“Yes, I will promise that,” she replied.

“Listen to a bit of the outlaw’s history, then,” he said. “In the first
place, his true name was not Gerald Huntington at all.”

“Then what—-” said Lina, and paused abruptly.

“It was an _alias_ he adopted when he fell into evil and wicked
courses. He belonged to a well-born family in France. He was not an
American, Lina–he was French.”

Lina’s eyes were a little startled as she looked up at him; a sight
pallor crept about her lips.

“He was the younger son of a man who was so severely just, Lina, and so
proud and passionate, withal, that his children feared him instead of
loving him. His eldest daughter ran away with a young American artist,
and died under Virginian skies in only a few brief months. His younger
son, maddened by the sternness and harshness of his only parent, also
ran away to America. He fell into temptation, yielded blindly to evil,
and cast aside forever, the noble name he had disgraced.”

He paused, and Jaquelina regarded him with wild, wondering eyes.

“Lina, I need not tell you more,” he said. “You can guess.”

She lifted her small hands dizzily to her brow.

“Tell me yourself,” she said. “I am so dazed it seems to me I cannot
understand unless I hear the very words.”

He said them over, reluctantly enough:

“Gerald Huntington’s true name is Ardelle. Your mother, little Lina,
was his elder sister. He was your own uncle. Your mother’s jewelry
revealed your true identity to him that night.”

A moan of pain came from the girl’s white lips as she pressed her hand
to her brow.

“My own uncle!” she cried. “Oh, the shame and disgrace of it!”

“It is a buried secret,” he replied. “No one will ever know! I promised
him that myself, Lina. He died repentant. I believe that a noble nature
was marred when Gerald Ardelle, with his princely beauty and glorious
intellect, fell into evil ways.”

“But he died repentant,” she murmured, hopefully.

“Yes, he was very sorry for his sins,” replied Ronald. “He regretted
his sin against you the most of all.”

After a moment he added, gently:

“His dearest wish, Lina, was that you and I might be re-united.”

She put up her hands as if she could not bear the words.

“He was full of life and strength,” she said. “Why did he die? What
killed him, Ronald?”

“You will not be shocked if I tell you?” he said, hesitatingly.

“I wish to know,” she answered.

“He was in the theater the night you were burned,” he answered in a low
voice. “He tried to save your life, dear. He leaped from the upper tier
into the parquette–fell, and was almost trampled to death beneath the
feet of the maddened multitude. He died a slow and painful death from
internal injuries.”

“He died for me,” Jaquelina cried in a voice of pain, and the tears
fell from her eyes for the man who had wrecked her life and given his
own so freely at last for her sake.

Ronald wiped those tears away, and when she could speak she said,
looking gravely at him:

“Ronald, who was it that saved my life? Tell me.”

“No one knows,” he replied, uneasily.

“Yes, Ronald, _I_ know–I have always known,” she replied. “Ah, do not
blush. I have never breathed it to anyone, but I know that it was you
that saved me from death that night.”

“I thought you insensible,” he exclaimed, unconsciously admitting the
truth of her words.

“Ah, Ronald!” she cried, with sudden uncontrollable pain and passion.
“I was almost dead, but I knew whose arms held me, and whose lips
kissed me. It seems to me if I were dead and you touched me, even, I
should surely know it.”

“Ah, Lina, my darling,” he cried, “there are no barriers between us
now. All are broken. You will be my own at last!”

She looked at her lover with dark, despairing eyes and a death-white
face.

“You forget–Violet,” she said, in a desolate whisper.

She saw a dark shadow come over the handsome, love-lighted face.

“Lina, I have not told you all that Gerald Huntington told me yet,” he
said. “Do you remember that it was a disguised woman who liberated him
from prison?”

“Yes,” she replied, wonderingly.

“It was Violet who connived at his escape, and furnished him the means
to get away safely. The price of her aid was that he should kidnap you
and prevent our marriage.”

“I can scarcely believe it,” cried the girl.

“It is quite true,” he answered. “Gerald swore to it. Violet does not
deny it.”

“You did not charge her with it?” the girl cried, in breathless dismay.

“Yes,” he replied, firmly. “She was very angry at first, but when I
had talked to her awhile, she owned the truth. She had visited the
prisoner, and they had concocted their diabolical plan of revenge
together. She hated you, dear, because–she loved me.”

“And she gave you back your freedom?” Lina said, with unconscious
hopefulness.

“Yes, when I had asked her,” he answered, with a slight flush. “Her
offense had been too great for me to marry her. Do you blame me, Lina?”

She would not say, only asked him, anxiously:

“Was Violet repentant?”

“She was sorry she had been found out, and very angry with Gerald
Huntington for betraying the secret. I do not believe she has reached
the verge of repentance just yet.”

“Poor Violet!” the girl said, with infinite compassion. “You will not
tell anyone about it, Ronald?”

“No, darling, I promised her I would not. Many people have secrets
hidden in their lives. This will be one in Violet’s, and Gerald
Huntington’s near kinship to you, will be one in yours. I did not even
tell Walter her story. I gave her the privilege of saying she had
jilted me. You will not mind taking a man who has been jilted, will
you, Lina?”

She looked at the handsome, happy face, with the eager light of hope
shining in the blue-gray eyes, and her lips quivered. Years had
passed since she had seen the light of happiness shining on Ronald
Valchester’s face.

“Ronald, I must not take you now,” she said, “I am not the Lina you
loved years ago. I have lost my beauty.”

“You will always be beautiful to me,” he answered, loyally. “Lina,
my love was no weak, shallow passion for a fair face such as Walter
Earle cherished for you. It was not altogether your beauty that won me
first. There was about you a singular unconscious fascination–a luring
charm–sweet and subtle as the fragrance of a flower, that won me even
against my will. That nameless charm lingers about you still, though
your wondrous fairness has faded like a flower. You remember–

“‘You may break–you may shatter
The vase if you will,
But the scent of the roses
Will cling round it still.’

So, although you have lost your beauty, Lina, the real, undefinable
charm that held me, holds me still.”

Lina looked at him with dewy eyes. His whole, handsome, eager face was
lighted with the tenderness of his heart.

He took her small hands and held them fondly in his own.

“Lina, we were made for each other,” he pleaded; “we both love poetry,
music, and everything beautiful. Fate has been hard and unkind to us,
but she has relented at last. You are going to be my wife.”

Lina could not resist his pleading, and the gentle arm that stole
around her. She hid her face on his breast and wept the happiest tears
that ever rained from a happy woman’s eyes. She had loved Ronald so
long and so well, and she was going to be his wife at last.

* * * * *

Only one month later they were happily married amid the rejoicings of
all the neighborhood. General and Mrs. Valchester were present and
seemed very happy in the happiness of their idolized son. Mr. Earle was
also present, but Walter and Violet sent regrets. Their father said
that they were very busy making arrangements for a long projected tour
abroad.

Mrs. Meredith’s wedding-gift to her husband’s niece was a mysterious
box swathed around with silver paper.

Ronald was quite mystified to hear her say, gratefully, when she
received it:

“A thousand thanks, Aunt Meredith. I would rather have this box than
CrÅ“sus’ fortune!”

It has been frequently said that women have all the curiosity in the
world and men none at all, but Ronald Valchester was exceedingly
curious over his wife’s bridal gift. He thought over it several times,
and at last he said to her:

“Lina, my darling, what precious gift was that which your uncle’s wife
gave you on your wedding-day?”

They were in Richmond then, spending the honey-moon very quietly at
General Valchester’s splendid residence at the West End. Lina was too
sensitive over her marred beauty to allow them to persuade her into
society and gayety. She took Ronald’s white fingers now, and passed
them gently over her cheeks.

“Ronald,” she said, “do you perceive that my skin is becoming softer
and smoother?”

“Yes, and fairer, too,” he replied. “The discolorations are
disappearing very fast. What does it mean, Lina?”

“It means that Aunt Meredith was wiser than the New York doctors,” she
laughed. “She has prepared a salve for me from various woodland roots
and herbs that is slowly obliterating every scar and discoloration from
my face. She declares that in a year I shall be as pretty as I ever
was.”

“Then I shall bless the kind soul forever!” he cried out joyfully, and
Lina knew then for the first time how silently and sadly Ronald had
sorrowed for the loss of her wondrous beauty.

It was two years later when the two were traveling, that they met
Walter Earle.

He had attended morning service at a pretty English church, and he
heard a grand, glorious, triumphant voice, rising, as it were, to
Heaven on the wings of the _Gloria in Excelsis_. He looked around and
saw Ronald Valchester sitting by his wife’s side.

Jaquelina had grown more beautiful than ever. Every trace of her
accident had disappeared. The dark eyes were radiant with youth and
health, the long lashes rested on a rose-flushed cheek, the scarlet
mouth smiled as she chanted:

“Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will to men.”

Walter covered his face with his hands, and gave one sigh, deep and
bitter, to the memory of what he had lost through his weakness.

When they came out of the church he was strong enough to meet them and
speak to them.

They were glad and surprised in a breath. They asked him if he was
married yet, and if Violet was with him.

“No, I am not married yet, and my sister is dead,” he answered sadly,
and then he showed them her grave. It was right in the churchyard
there, and just a little way from the path.

The low, green mound was covered with white and blue violets, and
there was a broken marble shaft at the head, twined about with passion
flowers.

“She has been dead six months,” he said, tremulously, and then he saw
the husband and wife look at each other with a shade of remorse and
pain in their speaking eyes.

“She had quite gotten over her trouble,” he said, quickly. “She seemed
perfectly well and happy. She talked of you, Ronald, and you, Mrs.
Valchester, kindly and often. But she inherited her mother’s disease.
She died very suddenly and painlessly one evening while sitting in her
chair and watching a beautiful sunset.”

Jaquelina shed some quiet and sorrowful tears over Violet’s early doom.
They were the first tears that had dimmed her lovely eyes since she had
married Ronald Valchester. He made her very happy.

In the beautiful, calm years of wedded happiness that flowed serenely
over their future lives, the few years of passionate sorrow she had
known were forgotten wholly, or remembered only as a haunting dream.

Continue Reading

It was not easy to find Gerald Huntington

“Ronald, there is something I should like to tell you,” Walter Earle
said to his friend, with a hesitating air, when they found themselves
alone a little while that evening.

Ronald Valchester looked at the handsome face lying on the lace-trimmed
pillow. Despite its pallor it wore a look of triumphant happiness.

“Walter, you need not tell me,” he said, with outward calmness. “I have
heard. Allow me to congratulate you.”

“Thank you,” Walter replied; then he looked at the calm, inscrutable
face.

“Ronald, I hope you do not blame me,” the wounded man went on,
anxiously; “I have always loved her, but I would not have taken her
from you, only you know you never could have married her with your
views of divorce. But as I think differently from you I cannot believe
I am wrong to marry her when I am better, and she is free.”

“I do not blame you in the least,” answered Ronald Valchester. “If I
had known all the time how well you loved her, Walter, I must have
marveled at your persistent efforts to convert me to your own belief
that a legal divorce makes men and women free to marry again.”

“If I could convert you even now,” said Walter, earnestly, “I would
resign her to you the very moment in which she is free.”

“You cannot convert me, Walter,” Ronald answered with a sad smile. “God
only knows what I have suffered through this belief of mine, but I
cannot change it, nor act inconsistently with it. Yet I could not ask
Lina to remain alone all her life because my own views are at variance
with the rest of the world, or a majority of it, at least. I hope that
you may make her very happy.”

“I shall try, certainly,” Walter said, earnestly. “If I recover, and
I feel as if I cannot die now, with this prospect of happiness in the
future, I shall marry Lina as soon as Professor Larue has secured a
divorce for her. I shall take her back to Laurel Hill, and spend my
life in trying to win her heart and make her happy.”

“And I,” said Ronald, with brave composure, “shall marry Violet as soon
as you are well enough to go to church with us. Then we shall make our
home across the sea in sunny Italy.”

Walter Earle rose feebly on his elbow and stared at his friend.

“Marry Violet–marry Violet,” he cried, incredulously.

“Yes–I asked her to-day, and she said she would be my wife.”

“You do not love her?” Walter exclaimed, bewildered.

“Not yet,” the poet confessed, flushing slightly, at Walter’s surprised
gaze.

“Why marry her then?”

“Lina wished me to do so,” Ronald replied, with gentle frankness.

“Lina wished it–I do not understand–explain yourself.”

They looked at each other in silence a moment, then Ronald answered
gravely and gently:

“I will tell you, Walter. Lina had found out a fact which I–foolish
dreamer that I am–had never suspected. Pretty Violet cared for me a
little, and could only be happy as my wife.”

“Dear little Lina; and she asked you to sacrifice yourself for Violet’s
happiness,” said Walter, deeply moved.

“She wished me to marry Violet; perhaps she thought in making another’s
happiness I might find my own,” Ronald answered, in the same gentle
tone.

Walter’s face brightened.

“Who knows but that you will,” he exclaimed. “My sister has loved you
deeply for years, Ronald. God grant that she may win your heart and
make you happy in spite of yourself. How strange! You are to marry
Violet, I am to marry Lina. And yet in this way the tangled web of our
destinies may be straightened out at last.”

After the first day or two of terrible suspense and anxiety, no
one doubted in the least that Walter would recover from his wound.
Happiness had a magical effect upon him. He mended rapidly.

The weeks waned, and the _prima donna’s_ engagement with Manager Verne
was drawing to its close. She refused to renew it, although he offered
her a prince’s ransom for another month. Walter had begged her to
give up a public life, and she had assented wearily and listlessly.
Professor Larue had been shocked and disconcerted at her resolve, but
she had told him for the first time all her sad story, and begged him
to forgive her for disappointing his hopes. The end of it all was that
Professor Larue espoused her cause, heart and soul. In the heat of his
indignation he vowed that he would shoot Gerald Huntington, if he could
find the villain.

It was not easy to find Gerald Huntington, however. Professor Larue
speedily found that out for himself. As the next best thing, he set
himself to work to secure a divorce for his beloved ward. He found
it even easier than he had expected. That bond forged by fraud and
violence, was held of little account in the eyes of the law. The day
came speedily when Professor Larue and his lawyer came smiling into the
_prima donna’s_ presence to congratulate her and tell her that she was
free.

She was free! Walter Earle had convalesced so fast that he was well
enough to go to church now, and he pressed for an early marriage.
Jaquelina yielded hesitatingly, and the happy day was named for one
week after. Wednesday was to behold her last triumphant appearance upon
the stage. Thursday she was to breathe the solemn vows that would make
her the wife of Walter Earle. Ronald Valchester and his mother had
returned to Richmond. The date of his return to New York and the time
for his marriage were unfixed as yet, though Mrs. Valchester and Violet
secretly hoped it would not be long delayed.

It was Wednesday night. Madame Dolores stood bowing before the eager,
admiring throng that greeted her farewell appearance. Some of her
romantic story had been noised abroad. It was rumored that the morrow
would behold her a bride, and there were not a few who envied the
fortunate bride-groom.

Walter Earle and his sister occupied a private box as usual. He looked
pale and thin still, but very handsome and happy, and his blue eyes
dwelt adoringly on the brilliant beauty of his promised bride. Violet,
sitting beside him in rich and costly attire, had never looked more
lovely.

“How perfectly beautiful Lina looks to-night,” she whispered to her
brother. “To look at her now, she does not seem like the Lina Meredith
of five years ago. Do you remember how tanned and bashful and shabby
she was then? To-night she is the most beautiful woman I ever saw, and
her jewels are worth a fortune. I never saw such magnificent diamonds.”

Then the curtain rose and the glorious voice of Madame Dolores filled
the vast theater with entrancing melody. They turned their attention to
the stage again.

It seemed to the _prima donna’s_ admirers that she sang and acted more
splendidly than ever that night. They looked and listened in rapt,
spell-bound admiration, dreading for the moment to arrive when that
heavy curtain should fall between her and the public forever.

There was one scene, perhaps the most interesting and thrilling of the
whole opera, where the heroine knelt weeping and praying at the feet of
a cruel and relentless husband. Madame Dolores was always grand in this
scene. The whole audience leaned forward now, breathless and eager, as
the curtain rose upon this favorite part of the opera.

The scene was laid in a dim, Moorish garden in the shadow of a ruined
temple, bathed in the mystic beams of moonlight. Before the broken
archway a tall, dark, haughty man stood with folded arms looking
down at the suppliant kneeling on the ground, her loose, white robe
dishevelled, her dark hair broken from its fillets of gold, and flowing
in careless tresses around her, half hiding her slender form in its
luxuriant veil. At a little distance stood a lovely little siren who
had lured the fickle man from his rightful love and duty. His eyes were
fixed on her, not on his sorrowful, pleading wife.

At that moment, when the attention of the whole vast throng was
concentrated in intense silence upon the scene, there suddenly broke
through the back of the stage a vast and terrible sheet of flame that
lighted the whole scene with a crimson, deadly glare. A tumultuous
shriek of horror and despair rose from the throng, and the actors
rushed wildly forward toward the footlights in a frenzied effort at
escape. The _prima donna’s_ foot became entangled in her flowing robe,
she swayed and fell forward across the footlights that instantly licked
the soft folds of her dress into a winding sheet of flame.

There ensued a panic that baffled description. One impulse moved the
whole excited, shrieking throng–they surged forward madly toward the
doors and windows, bent on escape.

They were like maniacs for the time. The weak fell down beneath the
feet of the strong, and were heedlessly trampled, while groans and
cries, sometimes mixed with curses, divided the shuddering air.

Violet Earle had shrieked and fainted in the arms of her half-maddened
brother. There was not one to avert the awful fate of her who a single
moment before had held every heart enchained by the power of her beauty
and genius.

Yes, there was one–one only, it seemed. In an instant after the
terrible flames had wrapped their fiery tongues around the slender form
of the _prima donna_ a man sprang over the footlights upon the stage
at one rapid bound from the parquette floor.

He had caught up a heavy camel’s-hair shawl, dropped by a lady in her
hurried flight. Rushing forward, utterly heedless of the advancing
flames that scorched his face and his hair, he threw the heavy shawl
over the blazing form and smothered out the fire. Then, lifting
the senseless girl in his arms, he made his way with the greatest
difficulty to a door and forced his way through the striving mass of
human beings out upon the thronged pavement.

The _prima donna’s_ carriage was waiting on the pavement, and Professor
Larue, who had come with it a minute before, was darting frantically up
and down ceaselessly around the doors of the doomed building.

Afterward Professor Larue told how a tall man with a face so blackened
with fire and soot as to be quite unrecognizable, had put Jaquelina
into his arms and fallen fainting on the pavement.

Someone had attended to him–he could not tell who–for he had been so
distracted with grief and horror over the tragic fate of his ward he
had not waited to see, but all inquiry afterward failed to discover the
rescuer of the _prima donna_. No one had recognized him, no one knew
where he went, or whence he came.

Professor Larue in the gratitude of his heart wished to discover him
and reward him generously, but his persistent inquiries through the
personal column of the _Herald_ elicited no reply. The man was modest
as well as brave. He did not wish to be known.

Walter Earle had had a most terrible time getting his unconscious
sister out of the building; his heart was distracted with grief
over the tragic fate which had overtaken his darling. But for the
encumbrance of his sister he would have rushed out in an attempt to
reach Jaquelina through that struggling mass of maddened humanity. But
Violet lay like an inert, helpless burden on his hands. It was only by
superhuman efforts that he ever reached the outer world with her. Then
when he had put her in a carriage, taken her home, and had seen her
revive, he drove rapidly back to the theater.

They told him there that a stranger had leaped upon the burning stage
and smothered the flames that enveloped the _prima donna_.

“She was saved from that terrible holocaust of flame, then,” Walter
cried out, almost wild with the joy of the tidings.

But no one could tell him whether Madame Dolores was living or not. Her
rescuer had carried her out of the burning building and placed her in
the arms of Professor Larue. He had carried her away, and no one knew
anything further as yet. Walter drove to the hotel where the professor
and his wife were staying with their ward. He sent up his card and the
professor came down to him.

They looked at each other silently a moment, then Walter breathed
“Lina?” through white lips that could scarcely utter that simple name.

Professor Larue shook his head sadly.

“Do not tell me she is dead!” Walter exclaimed, in an agony of fear and
dread.

“She lives,” the professor answered, “if a mere wavering breath may be
called living. But she is horribly, horribly burned, and her sufferings
are fearful. Half a dozen doctors are with her this moment. They will
save her life if it is possible to accomplish it.”

“Thank God, she lives,” Walter exclaimed, and hurried away to carry the
welcome news to Violet, while the almost heart-broken old professor
hurried back to that quiet chamber where the angels of life and death
were striving together over Jaquelina Meredith’s scorched and writhing
frame.

So the _prima donna’s_ bridal day dawned dark and gloomy, and overcast,
and Jaquelina lay upon her couch of pain, swathed from head to foot in
bandages of linen, while the breath of life wavered unevenly between
the pallid, parted lips, and every gasp was one of almost unendurable
anguish.

And the morning papers which chronicled the particulars of the great
fire, told the public that Madam Dolores would live, but she had been
so horribly burned, even to her face and hands, that her beauty would
be marred and ruined forever. The physicians were of the opinion that
her exquisite voice would be destroyed also. She would be a perfect
physical wreck.

“I do not believe it!” Walter Earle cried out in passionate unbelief,
and he went to the physicians and asked them for the truth. They were
very sorry for him, but they confirmed the newspaper reports. They
believed that Madame Dolores would carry those terrible scars on her
face to the grave, and they did not think it possible that she would
ever sing again.

“I would rather she had died than lose all her charms!” Walter cried to
his own heart, in a perfect fever of regret and despair, and he went to
the hotel and begged Mrs. Larue to let him see Jaquelina if but for a
moment.

The professor’s wife refused flatly. She said that Lina was far too ill
to see anyone, and that the lightest footstep in the room set her wild
with nervous pain. He must wait. It would be some time–three weeks,
perhaps–before he could be admitted to the room.

Almost distracted with his trouble, the young man returned to Violet
who was still suffering from the effects of her last night’s shock
and excitement. He was surprised to find Ronald Valchester in the
drawing-room with his sister–Ronald, looking pale and ill, with his
right arm carried in a sling.

“Ronald–you here!” he cried. “How glad I am to see you! When did you
arrive?”

“Last night,” said Ronald briefly.

“You changed your mind about coming to my marriage, did you not?”

Ronald smiled and did not reply.

“Oh, Ronald, is it not terrible?” cried Walter. “My poor little Lina.
Her beautiful voice and her beautiful face ruined forever!”

“Her life is spared, at least,” Ronald answered, in a low, grateful
voice.

“If I had been Lina I would rather have died than have lost my voice
and my beauty,” cried Violet. “She will have nothing left to live for
now.”

“She will have Walter’s love,” said Ronald Valchester gravely, and
Violet saw that he was regarding her with a slight air of surprise.

“Oh, yes, I had forgotten that,” she said quickly. “But it is dreadful
for Walter. He is such a beauty-worshiper, and he thought Lina the most
beautiful girl he ever saw.”

Walter changed the conversation quickly by asking Ronald what was
wrong with his arm that he wore it in a sling, and his friend replied
briefly that he had been hurt by a slight accident. That was all the
explanation he volunteered.

The day came when Jaquelina was well enough to sit up in her darkened
chamber again.

Then they sent word to Violet Earle that she might come to see her one
day and Walter the next.

Ronald Valchester had gone back to Richmond on the same day that he had
heard that Jaquelina would live.

Violet had fretted about him continually. She had never been quite well
since the night of the fire. The terrible shock had wakened her nerves,
and her heart. She was anxious to go back to Laurel Hill, but Walter
would not hear of such a thing yet.

“Not until Lina is better,” he urged. “When she is well enough to
travel we will be quietly married, and then we will take her back to
Laurel Hill with us.”

Violet grew very impatient in the weary weeks of waiting. She fancied
she would see Ronald oftener if she were only back in Virginia. He
wrote to her sometimes–simple, friendly notes such as he had written
her from abroad two years before, but he had never asked her to name
the wedding-day yet. She was very glad when they sent her word that
Jaquelina was well enough to receive a visit from her.

“They should have given me the first chance of paying her a visit,”
complained Walter.

He did not know that Jaquelina had purposely planned it so.

She wished that Violet would break to him the news of her changed
appearance before he saw her himself.

Violet went away from that visit to the darkened, invalid chamber
awed and saddened, and a little self-reproachful. She remembered how
bitterly she had used to hate Jaquelina for that dazzling beauty that
had won Ronald Valchester’s heart. Of all that wondrous charm there
remained only a memory now.

“She is an object to pity and sympathize with, but never to admire
again,” she told her brother in the first shock of his disappointment.

Walter’s handsome face grew pale with dread and sorrow.

“You must prepare yourself for a great alteration, Walter,” Violet
continued. “Her face is red and scarred, her hair is all burned off
short, even her long lashes are scorched and spoiled. It will be some
time before anyone can look at her without a shudder. You may love your
wife, Walter, but you can never be proud of her.”

Walter shuddered at her emphatic words.

“Do not tell me any more, Violet,” he groaned. “I cannot bear it. You
only torture me. Let me find it out for myself.”

“If you cannot bear to hear of it I do not know how you will bear the
terrible reality,” retorted Violet.

Walter could not answer her. He longed yet dreaded for the morrow.

The first thing he saw when he was ushered into Jaquelina’s presence
was her portrait hanging against the wall. It had been painted by the
first artist in Italy. A few pale beams of winter sunshine stole in
through the closed curtains and shone on the beautiful pictured face,
touching it with a life-like glow. Then Walter looked away from it and
saw a little figure in a quilted morning-wrapper of dark, gray satin,
huddled into an easy-chair before the fire.

Walter went up to his betrothed. He saw that some uncontrollable
impulse had caused her to bury her poor scarred face in her small,
gloved hands. The short, soft, dark hair was hidden beneath a little
cap of fine muslin and lace.

“Lina, my darling,” he cried out in a voice of yearning pain, and she
looked up reluctantly at her lover.

Then Walter saw that even Violet’s words had not prepared him for the
sorrowful reality.

To have saved his life he could not have repressed the groan of
anguish that sight wrung from his lips. He had so loved that bright,
fascinating beauty, he had been so proud of it when she had promised to
be his own. Now at this moment it seemed to him that the girl he had
loved was dead and buried, and this an utter stranger who looked up at
him with that poor scarred face, and those dim and sad, dark eyes.

“Sit down, Mr. Earle,” she said, gently. “It is even worse than you
imagined, is it not?”

“Yes,” he answered, like one dazed, then started, ashamed of his candor.

“Oh! forgive me, Lina,” he cried, “I am talking like a brute.”

He sat down then and tried not to look at the poor face that reminded
him of a blighted flower. But some irresistible fascination drew his
own gaze to meet the wistful eyes that had lost all their brightness
now and were dim and misty with pain and weakness.

“Do I look at all like my old self?” she asked him, and he answered
almost bluntly:

“No.”

In the next breath he went on in a kind of passionate despair:

“Oh, Lina, you were so beautiful, and I loved your beauty so well. It
almost kills me to see how utterly you have lost it.”

“Did you prize my poor beauty so much?” she inquired, with a faint sigh.

She read his answer in the anguished eyes he turned upon her face. She
saw that in losing her peerless beauty she had lost her charm for him.

After a moment she said, gently and gravely:

“The physicians believe that my face is spoiled forever, Walter. They
are not sure but the shock and the illness have ruined my voice, also.
How could you bear to have a wife whom you must always pity for her
misfortunes, but could never worship for her fairness?”

He did not answer, but Jaquelina saw that the words had touched a
tender spot in his heart. He bit his lips beneath his fair mustache,
and an anxious gleam came into his blue eyes.

“I have been looking at my poor marred face in the glass,” she went on,
in her low, sad voice, “and I came to the conclusion that no one could
ever love me any more. It is not fair to hold you to your promise now.
I will give you back your freedom, Walter, if you will accept it from
me.”

“Lina!”

She scarcely understood whether it was relief or reproach that quivered
in his quick exclamation.

“It shall be just as you wish,” she said, quickly. “If you claim my
promise, I am yours. If I have lost your love in losing my beauty, you
are free.”

“Lina, would it pain you if I take you at your word?” he asked in a
low, abashed voice.

“No,” she answered, with gentle frankness.

“You would not despise me?” he asked, anxiously, without looking at her.

“No,” she said again.

He looked at her a moment, half irresolute.

“Do not fear to express your preference,” she said, gently. “Either way
I stand willing to abide by the consequences.”

“Then, Lina, since you are so generous, I will take my freedom,”
he blurted out, looking away from her, very red and ashamed. “I am
unworthy of you, my dear. I see now that it was only your beauty that
held me in thrall. Can you forgive me for being so weak and shallow?”

“I am not angry with you, Mr. Earle,” she replied, gently. “Most men
would have felt the same–would they not?” but in her heart she felt
that there was one, at least, whose fealty would not have faltered.

“Yes, most men would, I think,” he replied, and when he had made Lina
promise that she would still remain his friend, he went away to tell
Violet what had occurred.

“It was a weak and shallow love after all,” she mused, when she was
thus left alone by her recreant lover. “I am glad he has found it out
in time, and I am–oh, so glad that I need not marry Walter Earle.”

And with clasped hands Jaquelina thanked God for the accident which had
deprived her of all her charms and set her free from her engagement,
for she had realized from the first that there could be nothing more
galling in life than the bonds she had forged in her gratitude for
Walter’s brave quarrel with Gerald Huntington.

Yet life looked very long and lonely to the tearful, dark eyes as she
sat there musing. She began to realise that love–beautiful love–had
gone out of her life forever.

Continue Reading

He did not try

The next day while Madam Dolores sat alone in her beautiful parlor, a
card was brought to her. She read upon it the name of Walter Earle.

“I am so glad to meet you once more,” he said, as she rose to receive
him. “Valchester told me he had called upon you yesterday and I could
not resist coming to-day.”

The sensitive color Walter remembered so well, rose into Jaquelina’s
clear cheek.

“I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Earle,” she replied, and gave him
her hand in a perfectly frank, unembarrassed way. Walter pressed it
a moment with a quickened heart-beat, and then they sat down. He
congratulated her on her brilliant career.

“You must tell me how it all came about,” he said. “We all believed you
dead. It seemed as if the earth must have opened and swallowed you that
morning, when I left you at the park gates.”

“I wish it had!” she cried, involuntarily, and a look of pain came over
the eager, handsome face of the listener.

“Were you so unhappy, Lina?” he asked, sadly.

The white hands clasped each other tightly, and tears came into the
sad, dark eyes, as she lifted them to Walter’s face.

“I was wretched,” she replied. “It seemed to me that my heart was
broken.”

“But you were not so desperate as I feared,” he said. “For when you
disappeared so strangely, and we could hear nothing of your fate, I was
always afraid that you had drowned yourself.”

“I was not quite so reckless, nor so romantic,” said Jaquelina, with a
slight air of surprise; “I was very anxious to get away from myself,
but as that was impossible, I did the next best thing that occurred to
me. I simply ran away from the scenes and associations which it was
beyond my strength to endure any longer.”

“You must have taken infinite pains to hide every trace of your
flight,” he said. “No one saw or heard anything of you after I parted
from you.”

“That is not so strange when you remember how early it was, and what a
wet and chilly morning,” replied Jaquelina, quietly. “I am almost sure
I did not meet a single person on the road, but I went straight home.
My uncle and aunt were very early risers, you know. They were both
out of the house–uncle in the field, and his wife at the milking, I
supposed. I went up-stairs to my room, donned a traveling suit, and,
taking a small bag in my hand, left the house unobserved. I walked to
the station and took an early train for Staunton.”

“You had friends there?” said Walter, deeply interested in her quiet
story.

“Only Professor Larue–my old music-teacher–and his wife,” she
replied. “I went to them quite sure of a welcome. They had always
predicted great things of me,” she added, with the deep color rushing
to her cheeks.

“You have been with them always then?” he asked.

“Always,” she replied. “They have supplied the place of the parents I
never knew. I owe them everything.”

“God bless them,” said Walter, fervently. “I shall always love them
because they were kind to you in your sorrow, Lina.”

He could not help calling her Lina. He did not like the sound of her
stage name, and “Miss Meredith” seemed so cold and formal in this
moment when they had been parted so long. She did not seem to care. She
looked at him now, and answered quietly:

“Yes, they were very kind–yet they never knew how much I needed love
and kindness. They had only themselves to care for. The professor had
always been wild over my voice. I was reckless, desperate. I allowed
him to have his own way with me. He took me to Europe, procured musical
instructors for me and in time I made my _debut_ in opera.”

“And from thenceforward it has been _veni, vidi, vici_,” smiled Walter.

“Yes,” she replied, with the calmness of indifference “I have been
what the world calls very fortunate. I have won fame and gold–I have
been loved and sought–I have had all the best the world has to give
except”–here her low voice sank still lower–“except happiness.”

“Poor child!” he said, involuntarily.

“Except happiness,” she repeated, looking at him with her large, soft,
mournful eyes. “That was impossible, you know.”

An answering sadness came into Walter’s blue eyes.

“Is happiness always to be an impossibility to you, Lina?” he asked.

“Always,” she answered, with patient resignation.

“Lina, have you ever seen Gerald Huntington since that night?” he broke
out.

“Never!” she replied, with a shudder, and her pale face grew paler
still.

“And you have never guessed why he repudiated you in the very moment he
made you his bride?”

“Never,” she answered again. “There was some secret connected with it;
something he found out when he saw the picture of my mother. I cannot
tell what it was–I have no idea.”

“I saw Gerald Huntington at the opera last night,” he said, startlingly.

Jaquelina sprang to her feet, and looked at him in a very panic of
terror.

“You saw _him_,” she said, her breath coming and going in fluttering
gasps. “Oh, Mr. Earle!” she cried out in wild hope and anxiety; “did
Uncle Charlie ever try to get me freed from him, if indeed I was ever
bound? for it seemed to me a mere farce–nothing more.”

“He did not try, Lina–you were gone, and it seemed as if you were
dead,” Walter said, hesitatingly.

“He did not try–and Gerald Huntington is here? Oh, Mr. Earle! do
you think he has recognized me? Why is he here? What does he mean to
do? Oh, if I had never returned here!” Jaquelina cried, rapidly and
excitedly.

Before Walter could reply the door was pushed open, and Violet Earle
came quickly into the room.

“Walter–you _here_!” she cried.

Walter Earle looked at his sister in surprise. He had left her rather
unwell and complaining of a headache. Even now her eyes were dull and
heavy, and her cheeks were flushed a feverish crimson.

“Violet, I would have waited for you if I had known you would come,” he
said.

“I preferred to come alone,” she replied, a little shortly.

Then she went to Jaquelina and held out her hands.

“How do you do, Lina?” she said. “You must allow me to congratulate you
on your brilliant success.”

The words were calm and conventional; there was no heart in them.
Jaquelina felt it vaguely; but she laid her hands in Violet’s, kindly,
and would have kissed her, only Miss Earle did not offer her lips.

Then Violet looked around at her brother with a charming smile.

“I came alone that I might have a quiet chat with our old friend,” she
said, “and I dare say you have finished your call; so you may just take
yourself off, Walter.”

Walter looked uneasy, but her careless gaiety disarmed his vague dread.
He went up to Jaquelina and held out his hand.

“I must give way to Violet this time,” he said, “but I will call again
to-morrow and continue our interrupted conversation, if you will permit
me.”

Jaquelina turned courteously to her guest, who had thrown herself
wearily into a cushioned chair.

“I hope your mamma is well, Miss Earle,” she said, gently, thinking of
the faded little lady who had always been so kind.

Violet looked surprised and pained.

“Did not Walter tell you?” she cried. “Oh, Lina, mamma is dead!”

“Dead!” cried Jaquelina, and the quick tears sprang into her eyes. “I
am sorry. No one had told me of it. How long is it, Violet?”

“Almost three years now,” answered Violet, sadly: “She died the winter
you went away. I–I do not like to recall it. I was away at the time,
visiting the Valchesters in Richmond. It was very, very sudden. She had
disease of the heart.”

“I am so sorry,” Jaquelina repeated, sorrowfully. “I loved her dearly.
She was always kind to me.”

“Yes, mamma loved you dearly,” said Violet, gravely; “yet you
disappointed her dearest hope, Lina.”

“Her dearest hope!” cried Jaquelina. “I do not understand you, Violet.”

“She wished above everything, for you to have become Walter’s wife,”
exclaimed Violet.

The beautiful singer colored deeply, but she did not reply.

“We all wished it,” continued Violet. “It would have pleased me very
much. I cannot tell you what a disappointment it was to us all when you
chose Valchester–a disappointment and a surprise as well. The match
seemed so unsuitable.”

Jaquelina lifted her dark eyes and regarded her gravely.

“Why unsuitable?” she asked.

“Oh, I could hardly explain it,” answered Violet, vaguely, “but it
struck us all that way. Ronald Valchester was so very peculiar. You
must have thought so yourself after you learned his strange views of
marriage and divorce. Did you not, dear?”

Jaquelina sat silent, her hands tightly clasped in her lap.

“Ronald is so very, very proud,” went on Violet, after a moment.
“He was too proud to marry a woman who had been married to Gerald
Huntington; so he invented that excuse to break with you.”

“Miss Earle, I believe your views do injustice to Mr. Valchester,”
Jaquelina answered, with grave, sad dignity. “I am willing to admit
that his views are peculiar, but I am quite, quite sure that he only
acted in accordance with his honest convictions of duty.”

An irrepressible sneer of scorn rose to Violet’s lips.

“You must remember I have known Ronald Valchester longer than you
have,” she said.

“You have known him longer, but I cannot think you understand him any
better than I do,” Jaquelina answered with gentle sadness.

Violet bit her lip at the quiet rejoinder, but still she persevered.

“Let me give you another instance of his peculiarity,” she said. “Are
you aware that he entertains a most unwarrantable and ridiculous
prejudice against a public life for a woman–such a life as you lead,
for instance? Will you discredit this assertion also, Lina?”

“No, for I have long been aware of the fact,” she replied with perfect
calmness.

“Ah, then, he was frank enough to tell you so yesterday,” cried Violet,
with unmistakable triumph and delight.

“Oh, no! I knew his opinion years and years ago,” the singer replied,
simply.

“And you actually defied his opinion–you were careless of what he
would wish!” exclaimed Violet Earle, surprised and incredulous.

There was a moment’s silence. The white hands that were clasped
together in her lap were lifted to hide her face; then she dropped them
again, and answered, with quivering lips:

“No, Miss Earle, do not say that. I was never either careless
or defiant of Ronald Valchester’s opinion. I loved him too well
always–always–to do him that despite. But the old life was
unendurable. It was madness to remember all I had lost. I threw myself
feverishly into a public career because it promised–forgetfulness.”

“And have you found it?” Violet asked her, quickly.

“No.”

The simple word dropped mournfully from the quivering lips.

Violet looked searchingly at the sad young face that looked so
marble-white with the dark fringes of the long, curling lashes resting
against the cheeks. A mental vision of that face three years ago came
over her. She remembered it sun-tanned, rose-flushed, happy. She
remembered the faded print dress, the shabby boots, the worn poetry
volume. In the place of that simple girl here was a beautiful, sad-eyed
woman, clothed with purple and fine linen–a woman who but a little
while ago had told Walter Earle that life had given her fame, wealth,
admiration–everything except happiness.

Violet studied the beautiful face curiously a moment, then inquired,
abruptly:

“Lina, did you know when you came here that Ronald Valchester was the
author of the opera you have brought out with such signal success?”

“No, I did not know it until yesterday,” she replied.

“Not until Ronald called upon you?” inquired Violet.

“Not until then,” was the answer.

Then Violet said, with flushing cheeks and restless eyes:

“Tell me, Lina, if you had known it would you have come?”

“No, I would not have come,” Jaquelina replied, firmly.

“But since you _have_ come,” said Violet, with a look of relief, “what
do you intend to do about it?”

The singer looked up with a surprised face. Violet looked down uneasily
before that wondering gaze.

“Miss Earle, what is there that I _can_ do?” she inquired, in a clear,
distinct voice.

“You could go away,” Violet replied.

“I intend to do so the very day that my engagement is ended,” Jaquelina
answered. “It would be impossible to do so before. I am under the
heaviest bonds to the manager to fulfill my contract. To evade it I
should have to forfeit the greater part of my fortune.”

“You would be willing to do that to insure Mr. Valchester’s
happiness–would you not?” asked Violet, quickly.

“I would do more than that to secure Ronald’s happiness,” Jaquelina
answered, “I would give my life.”

“Do you love him so well, then?” Violet asked, with actual pain upon
her face.

“Yes,” was the quiet reply. “I love him well enough to make any
sacrifice for him if it could but secure his happiness. Can you tell me
how to do so, Miss Earle?”

“Yes,” said Violet. “Obtain a divorce from Gerald Huntington and marry
Walter.”

“Marry Walter?” Jaquelina echoed faintly. “What happiness could that
give to Ronald?”

“It would leave him free to marry elsewhere. Now he has a foolish,
Quixotic notion that honor binds him to remain single for your sake.”

“And he would be glad to be free from that shadowy tie?” asked the
_prima donna_, with white, pain-drawn lips.

“Yes,” Violet answered, recklessly.

“Whom would he marry?” asked Jaquelina.

There was a moment’s silence. The dark eyes and the blue ones looked
straight into each other. In the first moments of that interview
Jaquelina had read the secret of the other. She was not surprised when
Violet answered desperately:

“I would try to win him for myself, then.”

“You love him?” said Jaquelina, in a tone of the gentlest pity.

Violet lay back in the great, velvet arm-chair, her face as pale as
death, her white hand pressed to her side to still its heavy beatings.
She answered, gaspingly:

“Yes, I love him–I have always loved him–before you ever saw him. If
I do not win him I shall die!”

Then the white lids closed and she lay unconscious before the eyes of
her dreaded rival. Jaquelina bent over her and chafed the nerveless
hands in her own with tenderest pity.

“Poor Violet,” she murmured, “I never dreamed of this, yet I have been
her unconscious rival for years. Must I give him up to her? Alas! he is
not mine to give.”

It was several minutes before Violet revived. She looked up into the
face of her rival and whispered fearfully.

“It is my heart, Lina. I cannot bear any great excitement. I have
inherited my mother’s disease.”

The look of grief and pity that came over Jaquelina’s sensitive
features disarmed all Violet’s passionate jealousy and resentment for
a moment. A blush of shame colored her pale cheeks, and she cried out
with a sudden, remorseful impulse:

“Oh! Lina, do not look at me so kindly–you would not if you knew!”

Touched by an impulse of pity, Jaquelina bent and kissed the white brow
with its soft waves of golden hair.

“I know what you mean, dear,” she said. “You have been angry with me
because Ronald loved me. You could not help it, dear. I am sorry, but
I am not angry. You cannot be very envious of me. His love has not
brought me much happiness.”

It was an anguished plaint from the young heart that had suffered for
years in brave silence. Violet looked at her in wonder.

“Oh, Lina,” she cried, “how have you borne your sorrow all these years?”

“Violet, I could not tell you,” she answered. “Sometimes I wonder at
myself when I look back through the long years and remember how hard
it was to bear. I think it was only my art that kept my heart from
breaking.”

“Ah! I have had nothing to divert my mind,” cried Violet. “I have spent
my whole time thinking of Ronald Valchester–yes, and trying to win
him! You need not look so pained, Lina. I loved him before you ever saw
him, and it always seemed to me that I had the prior right to him.”

She paused, then as Jaquelina made no reply she went on slowly:

“After you were lost to him so strangely, I set my whole heart on
winning him. I think–nay, I am almost sure that I must have succeeded
in time if only–ah, if only you had not come back, Lina!”

Lina clasped her white hands tightly as she looked at the speaker.

“What difference could that make?” she asked. “You know it is
impossible I should win him, Violet. By his own will we are separated
forever!”

“Yes, I know that,” said Violet, “but, you see, Lina, you have turned
his thoughts into the past.”

The words were spoken with almost a sob. As the singer made no reply
she continued fretfully, and almost reproachfully:

“You have ruined everything by coming back Lina. You have spoiled
Ronald’s peace, and made Walter’s heart ache. And you have destroyed my
only hope of happiness. I know I shall surely die!”

Those who attended the opera that night thought that Madam Dolores sang
more exquisitely than ever before. She poured her whole heart into the
passionate strains of the music. She held every heart chained by the
power of her beauty and genius.

The impressible throng was swayed tumultuously. Men’s hearts beat fast
with love for her beauty and admiration for her genius, yet, although
their hearts lay at her feet, no one dreamed that it was possible to
win her.

There was a look on the fair face beneath the diamond tiara that bound
the dark hair that forbade the thought. There was a story written on
that face–a story of poetry, and passion, and sorrow.

The dark eyes did not dwell on men’s faces. They looked down as if in
mournful retrospection. The scarlet lips but seldom smiled. The cheeks
were always pale.

One pair of eyes followed every movement of the _prima donna_ with a
passionate pain and repressed yearning in their grave, sad depths.

She did not turn to meet their glances, yet she knew instinctively that
he was there. Through all the scenes in which she took her brilliant
part there remained with her an aching consciousness of that note which
Ronald Valchester held tightly clenched in his hand as he followed her
every movement with hungry, despairing eyes–the note she had sent him
that evening at twilight.

It was brief and calm, but Ronald had read it over and over. He had
held the thick, satiny sheet in his hand, and looked at the delicate,
flowing chirography with a blank, staring gaze, trying to picture to
himself the white, jeweled hand that had traced those lines that seemed
so cold and cruel to his eager, passionate, though wretched heart.

Yet Jaquelina had not meant to be so cruel. She had only written out
of the tenderness of her pity for Violet, and the sadness of her own
despair, these plaintive words:

“DEAR RONALD:–For the sake of all that I might have been to you
once, I beg you to listen to me and grant my prayer. I have learned
to-day that you are deeply beloved by one whose unconscious rival I
have been for years. Perhaps you may guess her name–it is Violet
Earle. It will make her very happy if you will make her your wife.
One more request, Ronald. I am compelled to remain in New York
two weeks longer. I think I could bear it better, Ronald, if you
would leave New York and return to the South until I am gone, you
understand. The Earles return to-morrow. Go with them, Ronald; marry
Violet, and try to be happy. For me, I will leave America as soon as
my engagement is ended, and henceforth the whole width of the world
shall remain between us.”

That was what Lina had written to the lover from whom she had been so
tragically parted before the very altar–the poet lover of whom she had
been so proud and fond. He read and re-read the note with dazed eyes
full of grief and pain.

There was another man in that vast theater, too, who clenched a folded
note in his strong, white hand, while he gazed at the beautiful singer
with burning, black eyes, and eager, repressed passion in every line of
his haughty, superbly handsome face.

He had no eyes for anyone else but Madam Dolores, save that now and
then his gaze strayed to the box where Ronald Valchester sat in the
shadow of the heavily-fringed curtains, and a gleam of satanic rage
and hatred transfigured the dusky beauty of his proud face. Once or
twice he opened the note he held and read it over with a grim and
deadly smile upon his lips. It was a challenge to a duel; and as Gerald
Huntington sat there feasting his eyes on the beauty of the _prima
donna_, and filling his heart with the magic sweetness of her voice, he
knew that it was quite probable that this was the last time he might
ever behold her charming face.

The play was over at last. The storm of hot-house bouquets had rained
upon the stage at the feet of Madame Dolores. The curtain had fallen,
the lights were dim. She had passed to her carriage with downcast eyes
that did not see the two men who waited outside the door, taking no
note of each other’s presence in their eager desire that one glance
from those dark eyes might fall upon them. But they lingered in vain.
The long lashes did not lift from the white cheeks. The closing door
shut her in from their sight. The two men who loved her, each in his
own fashion, left the scene disappointed and sad, while Jaquelina
rode home to spend the long hours of the night in a weary, sleepless
vigil. She was wondering over and over in a weary, dazed way if Ronald
Valchester would take her at her word and marry Violet.

“If he marries her–poor Violet,” she said to herself, sadly and
tearfully, “I wish to be quite out of the country before it takes
place.”

Then it came to her mind that perhaps she was selfish in the wish.

“Not that I wish it not to be,” she said. “I pity poor Violet, and I
pity Ronald. He will learn to love her in time. She is fair and sweet.
They may be happy yet.”

She walked up and down the floor in her long, white dressing-gown, her
dark hair trailing loosely over her shoulders, a pathetic despair in
the dark eyes and in the droop of the red lips.

“They may be happy,” she repeated, “happy–while I–oh, God!” with a
sudden gesture of wild despair; “oh, God! how much longer must I live
to bear my burden of sorrow?”

She fell upon the floor, and lay there moaning and weeping for long
hours. It was not often that tears came to those dark eyes, but
to-night the sealed fountains of sorrow were unclosed, and the quick,
refreshing tear-drops came quick and fast. They relieved her. They
seemed to cool the fever of her blood, and lift the burden that weighed
so heavily on her heart.

No sleep came to the dark eyes that night. When her maid came to
call her the next morning, she found her sitting wearily in a great
cushioned arm-chair, her dark hair flowing about her in waving masses,
her dark eyes fixed on vacancy with a grief, more pathetic than tears,
in their shadowy depths.

“Oh, my dear lady, you have not been in bed all night,” she cried in
dismay.

Jaquelina looked at her in kind of vacant surprise.

“Why, Fanchette, is it morning?” she asked, looking around at the drawn
curtains and the flaring gas-light.

“Oh, yes, madam, and here’s a note which has just come for you, so I
thought I had better bring it in, and not wait for your bell to ring,
as it is getting late.”

Jaquelina took the delicately scented note and opened it almost
mechanically. It was an incoherent scrawl from Violet Earle.

“Oh, Lina, Lina!” it ran. “I told you you had ruined all our lives by
coming back. That terrible Gerald Huntington has murdered our poor
Walter this morning. He has spoken but once, and then only to ask for
you. Come at once.”

The Earles were not staying at a hotel. They were at the residence of
a distant relative in a fashionable quarter of the city. Violet had
inclosed her address, and the _prima donna_ drove there immediately,
full of grief and horror over Walter’s dreadful fate.

Violet met her in the elegant drawing-room. The beautiful blonde
looking pale, wan and distracted in the dim morning light. Her blue
morning robe was all in disorder, her golden hair was disarranged,
there were dark circles beneath her eyes, and the soft, blue orbs were
drowned in tears.

“Oh, Lina, Lina! I told you so!” she cried, breaking into wild,
hysterical weeping. “You have made us all wretched! You have caused
poor Walter’s death! Oh my brother, my brother!”

Jaquelina stood irresolute in the center of the room, her lips
quivering at Violet’s passionate charge.

“Oh, Violet, don’t!” she cried, lifting her white hands as if to ward
off a blow. “I have done nothing! I love you all. I would give my life
to make you and Ronald and Walter happy. Tell me of Walter. He is not
dead–he will not die! Oh, Violet, do not tell me so! I could not bear
it!”

“There has been a duel,” Violet cried. “They met outside of the city
this morning, and fought. That dreadful man–your husband–shot Walter,
and got away himself. We did not know one thing, Lina, till they
brought our poor boy home.”

“Dead?” Jaquelina asked, with pitiful anguish in face and voice.

“Not dead–but–dying–we fear,” wept Violet, wildly.

The beautiful singer knelt by the side of the agitated girl, who had
thrown herself down on a silken couch, sobbing and weeping in utter
hysterical abandonment. She put her arms around her, and drew the
golden head to a resting-place upon her breast.

“Oh, Violet,” she murmured, smoothing back the disheveled tresses with
gentle fingers, “do not give way so utterly. Try to be calm. It may not
be so bad as you think. I cannot believe that Walter will die. He is
young and strong. Let us pray that God will spare his life.”

There was some moments of utter silence. Violet’s grief had spent
itself for awhile. She lay passive on Jaquelina’s tender breast, her
golden eyelids resting on her pallid cheeks.

The delicate lips of the _prima donna_ moved silently for a little
while, as if in prayer–perhaps for the wounded man who lay up stairs
breathing painfully and shortly. Then she spoke:

“Violet, you will tell me how it all came about? Why did they fight?”

“It was for your sake, Lina,” Violet replied, moving uneasily from the
clasp of her arm and opening her eyes a moment.

“For my sake?” Lina cried, with white lips. “Oh, Violet, I do not
understand.”

“Read this,” and Violet put a note into her hand. “Walter left it on
his dressing-table this morning for me. I found it a little while ago.”

Walter had written as follows:

“DEAR SISTER:–I have challenged Gerald Huntington, and am gone to
fight him this morning. I saw him at the opera night before last,
and yesterday I sent him a challenge. I have taken Ronald’s quarrel
on myself. It would not have been right for Ronald to fight him,
because if he had killed Lina’s husband it would have been wrong for
him to marry Lina. So, without Ronald’s knowledge, I have taken up
Ronald’s quarrel. I hope I shall kill the villain, and then Lina will
be free to marry Valchester. I love Lina so dearly I cannot bear to
see her unhappy. If I kill Huntington I shall fly to a foreign land.
If he kills me I shall have done all I could to help my darling to
happiness. In either case, Violet, you must tell her that I did it
for her sake.”

Lina’s tears fell quick and fast on those brave, pathetic words.

“Oh, poor–poor Walter!” she exclaimed. “And he has asked for me,
Violet?”

“Yes,” Violet replied. “Will you go to him now, Lina?”

“Yes,” with a slight shudder of dread at what she was about to see.

Violet led her up a richly-carpeted stairway into a darkened, luxurious
chamber, where the wounded man lay among the snowy pillows, watched by
a skillful surgeon and careful nurses.

Jaquelina went up to the bed. She did not see Ronald Valchester draw
back quickly into the shadow of the bed-curtains in fear that it might
pain her to see him there.

Walter lay white and still upon the bed, his fair, curling locks
brushed back, the long lashes lying on his pale cheeks like one asleep;
but at the soft swish of Jaquelina’s silken robe he opened his eyes and
looked at her.

“Oh, Walter, I am so sorry!” she cried. “Oh, why–why did you do it?”

“Lina, it was for your sake,” he replied.

“You should not have done it; it was all wrong,” she cried out,
quickly.

“Lina, do not blame me,” he said, weakly; “I could not help it. I am so
sorry for you, dear.”

Jaquelina pressed the hand she held impulsively to her lips.

“I remembered what you said,” Walter continued, in feeble
accents–“that life had given you all save happiness–and I would so
gladly have given you that, too, Lina.”

“Oh, Walter, you have a noble heart!” she cried, and a faint smile
curved his lips.

“But I have failed,” he said, so sadly. “I have utterly failed, and the
only pleasant thought I have in dying is that I have given my life in
the attempt to make you and Ronald happy.”

“You will not die, Walter–you must not!” she cried. “I should feel as
if I had murdered you! You must try to get well again!”

Walter shook his head in silence, and Lina looked around at the surgeon.

“Oh, sir, he will get well–will he not?” she exclaimed, pleadingly.

“I hope so,” he answered, gravely; but her quick ear detected the tone
of doubt in his voice.

She looked down at the handsome, white face on the pillow. He was so
young, and life held so much for him; yet he was dying–dying for her.

“Walter, you must not go away from us like this! Live–_for me_!”

Walter’s dim eyes flashed wide open, full of eager joy.

“Lina!” he exclaimed, incredulously.

“I mean it!” she whispered, gently. “Try to live, Walter, and as soon
as I can be relieved of those galling fetters that bind me I will be
your own. I will be as generous as you are. You were willing to give me
your life–now I will give you mine.”

“Lina, I must not accept such a sacrifice from you,” he whispered,
almost too weak to refuse the promise she gave so unselfishly.

But Lina murmured with a sad, pretty attempt at archness:

“You must not refuse a lady’s hand when she offers it to you herself,
Mr. Earle.”

Walter’s face was radiant with joy and hope as he pressed her hand and
whispered:

“If I accept it, Lina, it is not through selfishness, but because if
I live I believe that my great love cannot fail in time to make you
happy.”

“May God spare your life, Walter,” she whispered from the depths of her
grateful, generous heart.

Then, as she turned her head aside quickly to hide the pain that came
into her face at the thought of that other dearer love that might have
made her life so fair, she suddenly encountered Ronald Valchester’s
eyes looking straight into her own.

There was in that straining gaze a look of dumb and hopeless agony that
Jaquelina never forgot to her dying day. The beautiful, blue-gray eyes
that expressed, as eyes of another color never can, the lights and
shades of feeling, were fixed on hers with a yearning pathos that went
straight to her heart.

Then Ronald turned quickly and went from the room. It was all in
a moment. Walter had taken no notice. With his glad eyes fixed on
Jaquelina’s face he was praying silently that his life might be spared
to him.

* * * * *

When Jaquelina was leaving, almost an hour later, she found Ronald
Valchester waiting on the pavement to hand her to her carriage.

When she was seated, he held her hand a moment in his own and bent
forward to speak to her.

“Lina,” he said, hurriedly, “I meant to go south to-day as you wish
me, but that will be impossible now. I cannot desert Walter. He is my
dearest friend, and when I was wounded three years ago he nursed me
like a brother. Can you endure my presence a little longer?”

“I _must_ bear it–as I have done many things,” she said, with her
white hand on her heart. “You must not forsake your friend.”

Then she lifted her haunting, dark eyes to his face.

“Ronald, you are not angry with me,” she said, wistfully. “Walter has
loved me through long years. And I could never be yours, you know.”

He shook his head with white, pain-drawn lips.

“And Violet?” she said to him, questioningly.

“I spoke to her–a little while ago,” he said. “It was only because
_you_ wished it, Lina. She will be my wife.”

He felt, rather than saw the shiver that ran over the slender form of
the _prima donna_.

“When I marry her,” he added, after a moment, “I shall take her far
away, Lina. I think it best–as you said–to put the whole width of the
world between you and me forever.”

She bowed speechlessly. The blue-gray-eyes–black now with a yearning
love and fathomless despair–looked into hers gloomily a moment, then
the carriage-door clanged heavily between them, the carriage-wheels
echoed “low on the sand and loud on the stone.”

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

The next day the river was dragged

When Walter Earle parted from Jaquelina at the lawn gates, he went back
to the house with two distinct thoughts in his mind. One was a feeling
of indignation and surprise against Ronald Valchester. He was amazed
at learning that his friend was an unbeliever in divorces. He firmly
resolved to give Ronald a lecture on the subject, when he should be
sufficiently recovered to argue the case. His second thought, which he
could not help entertaining, was, that since affairs had taken this
peculiar turn, there was some hope still for himself.

“After the divorce is granted, I will do my utmost to re-unite them,”
he said, still loyal to Ronald and Lina in spite of his love for her;
“and then if I fail of converting Ronald, I will woo little Lina for
myself. Ronald could not accuse me of disloyalty to him in that case.”

He could not help feeling that Ronald Valchester’s defection must place
his own suit in a better light before Jaquelina’s eyes. The divorce
from the outlaw was only a question of time, Walter thought. They
could not fail to grant it. Indeed, it seemed to Walter that it could
scarcely be viewed as a marriage at all. Jaquelina once freed from its
fetters, she could not help feeling a little indignant at Valchester’s
view of the case, and, once over the smart of her pain, it seemed to
Walter that his own loyal love could not fail to find favor in her eyes.

“And then–who knows?” mused Walter. “Jaquelina once out of his reach,
and by his own decision, too, the heart of Valchester may, in time,
turn to Violet. Poor little Violet! She has borne her pain bravely, but
I am certain that she has not got over it yet.”

In spite of his sympathy for the sadly and strangely parted lovers,
Walter could not repress a glow of satisfaction at the thought that,
after all, his own happiness and that of his sister might be secured
by the strange events that had seemed so deplorable at first. Yet he
resolved that he would first do all he could to change Valchester’s
opinion of divorces.

He went back to the sick-room and found his friend very ill and weak.
The doctor warned him there must be no talking–his patient could not
bear to be excited. He lay back upon the pillow, his handsome face
pale as marble, the long, dark lashes lying motionless on his cheek,
yet they knew that he was not asleep, only spent and exhausted by the
tempest of emotion that had passed over him. His mother sat quietly
by the bed-side, looking pale and sad, and heart-broken in the gray
morning light. She had telegraphed for General Valchester, and looked
anxiously for his arrival at any hour of the day.

As the day wore on, the wound developed a dangerous phase. Fever and
delirium set in; Ronald’s pale face grew scarlet, his dim eyes bright
with fever fires. He tossed restlessly on his pillows, and babbled
ceaselessly of his loved Lina, interspersing his flighty murmurs with
poetical quotations. “Hiawatha’s Wooing” seemed to linger in his mind
like a pleasant dream. He would murmur over and over:

“Pleasant was the journey homeward:
All the birds sang loud and sweetly.”

And again:

“Over wide and rushing rivers
In his arms he bore the maiden.”

At noon General Valchester arrived. He had a brief, private interview
with Dr. Leslie; then they telegraphed for a celebrated Richmond
physician.

The brooding shadows of the death-angel’s wing hung dark and heavy over
Laurel Hill.

In the rainy, dreary sunset Charlie Meredith drove over in his buggy.

“I would have come sooner,” he said, “but I have been to town to
consult a lawyer for my niece. So when I got home and wife told me Lina
had never got back, I thought I’d drive over and inquire after Mr.
Valchester, and fetch her home if she’d a mind to go.”

Mr. Earle, to whom he was talking, looked at him with a start of
surprise.

“I am sorry to say that Mr. Valchester is in a very critical
condition,” he replied. “After his father came up at noon to-day he
immediately telegraphed for a physician from Richmond.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” said Mr. Meredith. “Perhaps, then, my niece
will not be ready to go home yet?”

And again Mr. Earle looked surprised.

“Miss Meredith went home at daylight this morning,” he answered.

“Eh–what? I don’t think I understand you,” said Charlie Meredith.

“Your niece went home at daylight this morning,” Mr. Earle repeated.

The farmer’s healthy brown skin turned pale. He looked dazed.

“Mr. Earle, you must be mistaken,” he said. “Lina has never been home
to-day. She walked over here yesterday afternoon, and she has not been
at home since.”

“She certainly left Laurel Hill early this morning,” Mr. Earle said,
perplexed. “Walter walked with her to the lawn gates. He wished to
drive her over in the phaeton, but she declined, so he told me, and
insisted on going home alone. I sincerely trust that no harm has
befallen little Lina.”

Mr. Meredith looked grave and a good deal troubled.

“Is it not strange she should have started home so soon in the morning?
I cannot understand it.”

Walter came out just then. He grew pale when they told him that
Jaquelina had never come home that day. He remembered what a hopeless
despair had looked at him from the dark eyes and the fair young face
when they parted.

“And yet I never dreamed of anything wrong,” he said to himself, with
a pang of pain at his heart. “Oh, why did I let her go alone? I should
have known better from the look on her face.”

He said aloud, more cheerfully than he felt:

“Perhaps she grew weary and stopped in at some of the neighbors to
rest. I will go with you to inquire, Mr. Meredith.”

“I shall be glad of your company,” said the farmer. “I think it is very
likely you have hit on the truth, Walter. She must have grown tired and
stopped in at some of the neighbors.”

“And you may, perhaps, find her already at home when you reach there,”
said Mr. Earle, who thought that his son’s idea was the correct one.

But Walter was not so sanguine. He got into the buggy and drove away
with Mr. Meredith, but he was not surprised when one neighbor after
another declared that Jaquelina had not been seen by any one of them
that day.

All inquiry and all search failed to unravel the mystery of her
disappearance. No one had seen her since she turned away from Walter
Earle at the lawn gates that morning, and when he remembered the look
upon her face that moment he shuddered and thought of the river.

He told Mr. Meredith of his fears.

The next day the river was dragged, but to no avail. Jaquelina had
vanished as utterly as if the solid earth had opened beneath her feet
and received her into its bosom.

Many believed that Gerald Huntington had carried her off again, and a
party was organized to explore the woods in the hope of discovering the
cave which Jaquelina had described to them as the rendezvous of the
outlaws.

It was decided that Ronald Valchester should not hear of Jaquelina’s
strange disappearance. Already he lay at death’s door, and the
physicians declared that another shock of any kind would utterly
destroy his frail hold on life.

As consciousness returned to him they avoided all mention of that once
familiar name in the sick-room; yet they knew many a time, by the look
in the beautiful, dark-gray eyes, that he was thinking of the girl he
had loved so well and lost so sadly.

Sometimes they wondered why he never spoke of her. They did not know
how Ronald and Lina had parted–how sorrowfully he had said to her,
even as he held the small hands tightly in his own, and looked at her
with a soul’s despair stamped on his death white face:

“Lina, this is the last time I must hold your hands, or even look into
your face while Gerald Huntington lives. You are legally his, and I
have never believed in divorce. If the law were to free you, I should
still hold you bound to him by a higher power than man’s law. So you
understand, dear, it is best we should separate wholly, never, perhaps,
to look on each other’s faces again. I pray God that I may die, and
so pass from this life that but a little while ago was so fair and
tempting in my eyes, and that is now but an empty desert. For you, my
sweet, lost love, may God bless you, and give us both the strength to
bear the heavy cross of sorrow!”

And Jaquelina, remembering Doctor Leslie’s words that he must not be
excited or contradicted in any way, had bowed her head, and answered
meekly:

“It must be so if you will it thus, Ronald. God give us both the
patience to bear it.”

And with those words, and one last, lingering look at the beloved face,
Jaquelina had kissed his hands, and gone away, but she had not let
him see that look on her face that the others had seen–that hopeless
despair and pain that it frightened Walter Earle to remember.

So they kept the story away from Ronald, even while the unspoken
language of his eyes said plainer than words:

“I am longing to hear something of my poor lost love. Even to hear her
name spoken aloud would be a relief, since it is ever ringing itself in
my brain.”

But no one spoke of her, no one seemed to remember her existence. It
seemed to Ronald that they were cruel to be so forgetful. He had placed
a seal upon his own lips, but he would have trembled with pleasure if
anyone else had even named her name.

Day by day there began to be some slight change in Ronald, faint at
first, but growing more and more noticeable. The doctors began to have
hopes of him.

They thought it more than likely he would pull through safely now. Yet
they owned that there would long be a weakness in that wounded lung,
and they strenuously recommended a sea voyage to him when he should be
sufficiently recovered to undertake it.

“A sea voyage–a winter in Italy,” said Doctor Sanborn, “would build up
your constitution–make a new man of you.”

“And lend new wings to your soaring fancy,” laughed Doctor Leslie, who
had found out that Ronald was a poet. “I should say that beautiful,
dreamy Italy, is the true home of the poetic muse.”

Ronald fell in with the plan at once, the more eagerly that he felt it
would be best to put the whole width of the world between himself and
Jaquelina. It seemed to him that if he were farther away that he must
cease to be tormented by that passionate yearning for the lost one that
haunted him now forever.

But there were weary days of lingering pain and slow convalescence to
be passed over before that sea voyage could be undertaken. The red and
gold of the October leaves blew in drifts across the lawn and in the
wood before he was ever out of his room. Meanwhile his thoughts–in
spite of himself–were ever busy with Jaquelina. He pictured her to
himself many times daily. He wondered how she spent her time; he
wondered if she had gone away to teach as she had meant to do before
their evanescent dream of happiness. That fancy pained him.

It retarded his convalescence. It kept him restless and wakeful at
night. He learned the full meaning of the poet’s plaints:

“When we most need rest, and the perfect sleep,
Some hand will reach from the dark, and keep
The curtains drawn and the pillows tossed
Like a tide of foam, and one will say
At night–Oh, Heaven, that it were day!
And one by night through the misty tears
Will say–Oh, Heaven, the days are years,
And I would to Heaven that the waves were crossed!”

General Valchester had returned home when his son was declared out of
danger, but his wife remained to nurse and tend her darling. She was
growing very impatient to take him home to Richmond.

It was a happy day for Violet Earle when the invalid was at last able
to come down into the drawing-room and rest on the snowy pillows
that she eagerly arranged for him. She had not been admitted to the
sick-room much, but for the few days he would remain with them, she
determined that she would do her best to win him. Jaquelina was out of
the way now, and she had a fair field for her operations.

As she sat near the sunny window with her dainty basket of bright
colored silks and embroideries, Ronald’s eyes could rest on her without
the trouble of turning his head, and he could not help seeing that she
was very fair and beautiful. She had spent a long time at her toilet
that morning, and the result was a very dainty and charming toilet.
A morning dress of pale-blue cashmere, with front facings of shirred
satin, made a perfect foil to her fair skin, blue eyes and golden
hair. A delicate fichu of cream-colored lace was knotted around her
throat and fastened on her breast by a cluster of pale, pink begonias.
The delicate hands, flashing in and out through the bright colors of
the embroidery, were soft and white, and gleaming with jewels. Mrs.
Valchester was charmed with her. She wished very much that her son
would take a fancy to her, since he had lost the girl he loved at first.

But Violet’s presence was more of a pain than a pleasure to Ronald
Valchester. She made him think all the more of Jaquelina. He had seen
them so often together.

“I wish you were well enough to go out and walk in the woods,” she said
to him, lifting her blue eyes a moment to look at him; “you would be
delighted with their autumn beauty. I sent you, yesterday, a little
basket of leaves, the brightest and prettiest I could find. Did mamma
give them to you?”

“Yes, but I think she forgot to tell me you had sent them,” he replied.
“Thank you for thinking of me so kindly. They were very beautiful. I
enjoyed looking at them very much.”

Violet pushed back the lace curtains that he might look out at the
distant hills with their vivid coloring of scarlet and gold, blent with
the dark green of holly and cedar and evergreen.

The autumn sunshine lay over all the scene, brightening it with its
mellow light, and adding new beauty to the prospect. Ronald gazed on it
long and unweariedly, and he could not help seeing pretty Violet, too,
for she sat between him and the window with the golden light shining on
her sunny hair.

“How beautiful it all is,” Ronald said, with a passing gleam of
enthusiasm. “The light is so soft and clear, the air so sweet, and
those distant mountains look so blue and beautiful. It seems to me that
Italy can scarcely be lovelier than my own native land.”

Violet folded her white hands on her work, and looked at him earnestly.

“Oh, Mr. Valchester, I want you to promise me one thing!” she exclaimed.

He looked at her in some surprise.

“What can it be?” he inquired, rather gravely.

“Only this,” she said, “that you will write to Walter every week while
you are gone, and describe all the beauties of art and nature which you
encounter in your travels. I do so love Italy, and long to see it, and
if you describe it in your letters, graphically, as I know you will do,
it will be almost like seeing it myself, for I will insist on reading
all Walter’s letters.”

“I did not know you were so fond of the beauties of nature, Miss
Earle,” he replied in some surprise, and the color rose in her fair
cheeks.

“I am very fond of nature,” she replied, “but you have not promised me
yet that you will write to my brother as I said.”

“Of course I shall write to Walter,” he said, “but I cannot promise
that my letters will be very interesting. Perhaps you would prefer to
hear me describe my travels when I return.”

“Oh, yes, that would be delightful!” Violet cried, all smiles and
pleasure. “So then you promise me to come to Laurel Hill when you
return, and describe Italy to me?”

“Oh, yes, I will come,” he replied, carelessly. “But I dare say you
will be married and gone to a home of your own before that time.”

“Oh! no indeed!” she cried out quickly. “If you stay ten years you will
find me at Laurel Hill when you return.”

“It will be quite a wonder if he does, then,” said Mrs. Valchester, who
had entered and overheard the last remarks. “It is not likely that the
young men of Virginia will allow such a pretty girl to remain at Laurel
Hill ten years longer!”

Violet laughed and blushed, and protested that she would never marry;
but Ronald agreed with his mother that it was quite unlikely she should
remain an old maid. She was exceedingly pretty for such a fate.

Ronald Valchester grew very tired of the _role_ of invalid. His mother
and Mrs. Earle and Violet all vied in attentions to him. They were
always arranging his pillows, bringing him flowers, and “fussing
over him,” as Walter laughingly termed it. The young man was growing
exceedingly impatient. He declared that he was well enough to go back
to Richmond, and Doctor Leslie at last agreed with him. So they decided
one day to start the next day for home.

In the meantime Ronald had enjoyed a few rides in Mrs. Earle’s
pretty little phaeton with Walter or Violet as his companion. The
cool, bracing air of autumn made him feel stronger and better. Mrs.
Valchester thought she would soon have him well when once she had taken
him home with her.

“Violet,” she said, the afternoon of the day on which they were to
leave that night, “Walter is going down to Richmond with us. I wish you
would go also. Cannot you go, dear?”

Violet looked up with a deep flush of pleasure crimsoning her cheeks.

“If mamma is willing, I can see no reason to prevent,” she said, her
heart beating high at the thought, for she had been grieving over the
thoughts of the near departure of the man she loved so vainly.

“You must ask your papa, love,” replied Mrs. Earle, with placid
unconsciousness.

“Papa and Walter are going over to the town,” said Violet, unable to
conceal her disappointment. “They are on some odious law business, and
if I wait for their return it is quite likely I shall not have time to
pack my trunk–so you will have to excuse me, Mrs. Valchester.”

Ronald looked across at her from over the top of the book he was
apparently reading. He saw that she was disappointed, though he had no
idea of the reason. He did not dream that Violet loved him. He thought
she was simply like other girls–weary of the monotony of country life,
and longing for the gaiety of the city.

“If you will let me have a horse, Mrs. Earle,” he said, “I will ride
over to the town and hasten the truants back.”

“You are not strong enough to bear horse-back exercise, otherwise I
have no objection,” replied Mrs. Earle.

“I am quite strong enough,” protested Ronald. “You ladies are keeping
me an invalid too long. A mile ride through this pleasant air would
brace me up. I believe it would do me good.”

“Perhaps it would be better to take the phaeton,” suggested Violet, who
saw therein a chance to accompany him.

But Ronald insisted that horse-back exercise would please him best, and
the three ladies yielded the point and allowed him to have his own way.

It was very unwise of Ronald, perhaps, but his passionate hunger to see
Jaquelina again had been mainly instrumental in sending him out that
evening. The perfect silence everyone maintained regarding her, instead
of cooling the fever of his heart added new fires to it. Although his
peculiar views regarding divorce precluded the idea that they should
ever be aught to each other again, he could not cease to love her.

“It is quite impossible I should ever cease to love her,” he said to
himself as he rode along under the interlacing boughs of the trees. “I
long to see her again, to hear her voice, to touch her hand. And yet
I know that I am unwise. But if they had talked to me about her, if
they had even called her name I think I could have borne it better. The
strange silence they keep maddens me with suspense. It is just as if my
lost little Lina were dead.”

He sighed deeply, and the thought came to him that it were better
indeed if she were dead–better than this separation. He wondered if
Lina was as miserable over it as he found himself.

He persuaded himself that it would not be wrong to go and bid Lina a
last farewell, and tell her that he was going away–far away in the
hope of forgetting her. He could not leave the neighborhood without one
more look in the dark eyes that had won his heart. It seemed to him
that one look into the fair young face, one sound of the winning voice
would cool the fever and thirst of his heart.

He turned into the road that led to Meredith farm, and, almost before
he knew it, found himself dismounted and tying the bridle-rein to the
orchard gate. Then he opened the gate and went down the path expecting
every moment to come upon Lina under the trees, reading or dreaming as
of old. His pale face flushed, his heart beat quick, his whole frame
trembled with the pain and pleasure of seeing Jaquelina again.

He walked on full of the thought of the girl he loved so wildly and
came upon an unexpected tableau. Mrs. Meredith was under a tree with a
basket, busily filling it with great red-cheeked winter apples. Little
Dollie, frisking beside her, uttered a cry, and she looked around.

“Oh! Mr. Valchester!” she exclaimed, surprised and embarrassed at his
sudden appearance.

“Good-evening, Mrs. Meredith,” he replied, in equal surprise and
confusion.

“I have come to bid Lina good-bye–I am going home to-night. Can you
tell me where to find her?”

Mrs. Meredith straightened up and looked at him in surprise. She did
not know how carefully they had kept the truth from him.

“My dear sir, I wish I _could_ tell you,” she said, full of a certain
remorseful pity over poor Jaquelina’s fate. “We hain’t never heard a
word since she went away!”

“Went away–where?” asked Ronald Valchester, blankly; then he added at
her look of surprise: “I thought she was at home all the time.”

“Oh! dear me,” cried Mrs. Meredith; “why, she disappeared all of a
sudden, sir, the very day that she left Laurel Hill after visiting you
there. Mr. Walter was the last person that ever saw her. We have never
seen nor heard of her since, and Mr. Meredith’s nigh crazy over it. Did
Mr. Walter never tell you, sir?”

But Ronald Valchester did not stay to answer her. He turned away like
one in a dream and walked back to the gate, mounted his horse, and rode
away as though on an errand of life or death.

Continue Reading

The sight of her anguish

When the chandelier was relighted in the chapel they found Ronald
Valchester lying like one dead upon the floor before the altar.

The abductor of his bride had given him a murderous thrust from a knife
in the dark, and his snowy vest was dyed with the crimson current that
poured from his side.

He was in a deep and death-like swoon, and when he opened his dim eyes
again, he found himself supported on the white arm of Violet Earle,
while a flood of tears rained from her dark blue eyes.

The doctors came and examined him. They found that the wound was not so
bad as was at first supposed.

It was a flesh-wound in the left lung, and, though dangerous, not
necessarily fatal.

They thought the assassin had aimed for the heart, but had missed it in
the darkness.

They carried him to Laurel Hill, and Walter Earle and every other man
in the neighborhood set out on a hot pursuit of the daring abductor of
the beautiful girl-bride.

Public indignation was thoroughly aroused, and public opinion pointed
unerringly to the perpetrator of the terrible outrage.

All remembered that Gerald Huntington had sworn an oath of vengeance
against Jaquelina Meredith the night on which she had effected his
capture.

Meanwhile Ronald Valchester, lying in a cool, white chamber at Laurel
Hill, and lovingly tended by careful hands, was racked by the pain of
his wound and the still greater anguish of his mental suffering.

He had lost her, his bonny, dark-eyed bride. She had been torn from his
side in the very moment when she was about to be made his own forever.

One ever-recurring question fevered and tormented his harassed mind. To
what terrible fate had his darling been devoted by her ruthless foe?

He moaned and tossed in restless delirium all night. They could not
soothe him. Opiates failed utterly of effect.

The doctors said it was very bad for his wound. If a fever set in
they could not answer for the consequences. But the terribly bereaved
bridegroom heeded nothing they said.

He lay all night with his eager, restless eyes fixed upon the door.

Whenever anyone entered he would ask them if they had heard
anything–if Walter had returned, and a dozen other anxious questions
that were always answered in the negative.

But in the golden dawn of the new day Walter Earle rode into the
stable-yard.

His horse was panting and flecked with foam. His master looked weary
and jaded, but there was a light of eager joy in his face.

He threw the reins to a servant, and hurried away to the wounded
bridegroom’s room.

Valchester’s heavy eyes, still fixed yearningly on the door, grew
bright with joy at his friend’s entrance.

“Walter, you bring me news,” he cried, eagerly.

And Walter answered with a quiver of joy in his voice:

“Yes, Val, we have found her!”

“Found her!” Mrs. Valchester echoed from her place beside the bed where
she was fanning her son.

“Found her!” Mrs. Earle cried joyfully from the washstand where she was
preparing iced cloths for Ronald’s heated brow.

But Ronald was stricken dumb by that joyful answer. He lay still,
pressing Walter’s hand tightly in perfect silence, his whole eloquent
face expressing his exceeding joy and thankfulness. It was Mrs. Earle
who asked after a moment:

“Walter, where did you find the poor child?”

“In the woods, mother, where she had dragged herself until she could go
no further. She was very weak and exhausted.”

“Is it possible she had escaped from her captor?” exclaimed Mrs.
Valchester.

“So it seems,” said Walter, “but she was too weary and exhausted to
give us any information, scarcely. We have taken her home, and when she
is rested and somewhat recovered, she will tell us all.”

“When did you find her?” Ronald asked, faintly.

“A little past midnight, lying like a little white heap under a tree,”
Walter replied.

“She was quite unconscious, and only rallied after we reached the farm
with her. She could only answer a few questions, and we would not weary
her. She was very nervous, and seemed disinclined for speech.”

“Oh! that I were well enough to go to her,” groaned Ronald.

Walter Earle looked at the pale, eager face compassionately.

“Valchester, do not worry yourself,” he said, kindly. “It is not good
for you. Lina will come to you the moment she is able. She said she
would, and her uncle said that he would bring her. Try and be patient a
few hours.”

“If he would only sleep,” said Mrs. Valchester, eagerly. “The doctor
said he must be very quiet and sleep a good deal, but he has never even
closed his eyes, and he’s watching the door constantly, and asking wild
questions of everyone.”

Walter looked at the pale, worn face of the wounded man. He knew in his
heart what the anguish of that night had been to him.

“Poor old Val,” he said, gently, “how could he help it? It was hard to
bear–the misery, and the terrible suspense. But now that Lina is safe,
he will compose himself and go to sleep as you wish him–will you not,
Ronald?” he inquired in a soothing tone.

“I will try,” he answered, and closed his eyes obediently; but every
now and then when they thought him asleep, a nervous start or a
twitching of the eye-lids would betray the wakefulness and excitement
which he was patiently striving to overcome.

But happiness is a potent medicine.

They knew that ere long his relieved mind would succumb to its own
weariness, so they darkened the room and kept very still, waiting
anxiously for the moment when “tired nature’s sweet restorer, balmy
sleep,” should fold her pinions over his weary pillow.

Then Walter himself, weary and worn with a night’s hard riding, stole
from the room to seek rest and comfort on his own downy couch.

Outside the door he encountered his sister restlessly hovering in the
hall, her fair face strangely pallid, a frightened gleam in her large,
blue eyes.

“Walter,” she whispered fearfully, “is it true what I heard you saying
just now–that Lina Meredith is really found?”

“Yes, it is true,” he answered. “Are you not glad, Violet?”

A strange expression that Walter could not understand, came over the
pallid face of the girl.

“_Found_–I can scarcely credit it!” she cried out, in astonishment.
“Come, Walter, I will go with you to your room, and you shall tell me
all about it.”

She went with him to his quiet room, but she could gain no more from
him than she had already heard him telling Ronald Valchester. A look of
disappointment came over her lovely, blonde face. She left Walter and
went away to her own room, where she threw herself down upon her snowy
couch and wept the bitterest tears that had ever fallen from those
lovely eyes.

“Gerald Huntington has played me false,” she told herself. “He has let
her go after all the risks I ran for him. Oh! how could he be so base,
so cruel? What shall I do now? Oh, what shall I do?”

Weeping and sighing, Violet wrung her hands, and hid her anguished face
in the lace-trimmed pillow. She had dared and risked so much to remove
her hated rival from her path, and all had failed.

* * * * *

In the afternoon Ronald Valchester fell into a long, refreshing sleep.
When he awakened, feeling wonderfully calmed and refreshed, his first
question was for his little Lina.

“My dear, I do not think she has come yet,” said the gentle mother,
patiently watching by his bedside. “Be patient. She will come
bye-and-bye.”

“Mother, will you just step down and see if they have heard any more
from her?”

Mrs. Valchester moved quietly away. The invalid lay still, with
half-closed eyes, watching the last flickering beams of sunshine as
they lay in golden bars upon the floor.

Then, although he had heard no footsteps, he saw the shadow of a woman
lying across the sunbeams on the floor. He looked up quickly and saw a
small, white figure in the doorway, with a wan, white face and great,
dark eyes that looked at him sorrowfully yet eagerly.

“Lina, Lina, my darling!” he cried out, extending his eager arms toward
her.

At that loving call Jaquelina staggered across the floor to Ronald’s
bedside. She laid her wan, white face upon his own, and kissed him
through a rain of bitter tears.

“Oh! my poor, poor murdered love,” she sobbed wildly. “If you should
die your poor Lina must die too.”

Ronald’s arm stole around the slender form lovingly.

“It is not so bad as that, dear,” he said. “I shall get well, please
God, and we shall be married soon. Nay, why should we not have the holy
man come and unite us at this very hour? Would it not be the best,
Lina, darling? Then you would belong to me, and be my own patient,
loving little nurse. Believe me, I should get well all the faster.”

But Jaquelina had drawn back from his caress with a sudden cry of pain.
He put out his hand with a smile to draw her back, and then he saw that
her small, white hands were cut and bruised, and that a linen bandage
was swathed about her right arm.

“Oh! my poor little Lina!” he cried, “your hands are cruelly bruised
and torn! Who has done this wicked, brutal deed?”

Her lips quivered as he took her hands gently and pressed them to his
lips; the large tears gathered in her eyes and brimmed over on her pale
cheeks.

“No one has done it, Ronald,” she said, falteringly. “I crawled on my
hands and knees through a long, dark, perilous cave, and the sharp
rocks bruised and wounded me. But I did not care for _that_; I was so
glad to get away that I did not feel the pain. Look at this,” she said,
turning back a corner of the bandage on her arm.

Ronald looked and shivered. There was a terrible, jagged wound on the
fair, round arm, and the flesh around it was fearfully bruised and
discolored.

“There were horses tethered in the cave,” she whispered. “It was pitch
black: I could see nothing. I must have crawled beneath their very
feet, and one struck his hoof out in the darkness and kicked this arm.
Then, by a merciful providence, I was enabled to turn aside out of the
range of their hoofs. Oh, I cannot tell you, Ronald, how terrible it
was, creeping through that fearful place.”

“You were in the very den of the outlaws,” he exclaimed.

“Yes,” she answered, with a shudder.

“And you escaped from them, my brave little girl!” he cried. “Oh, thank
God, you were saved from the vindictive power of that man! Lina, I
cannot rest easy one moment now until I have the right to watch over
every moment of your life. I must take you far away from here.”

She trembled at the passionate dread in his voice, then rallied bravely.

“Do not fear for me,” she said. “He will not molest me again, Ronald.”

But Ronald shook his head.

“I shall never know one moment’s peace until you are my own,” he said.
“Lina, I shall send for the minister to-night, and you shall be my wife
without one moment’s delay. You are willing, are you not, my little
love?”

The girl clasped her small, bruised hands together, and her pale face
grew paler still with anguish.

“Oh, pitiful Heaven!” she wailed, “how can I tell you the truth, my own
Ronald?”

He looked at her in wonder.

“Lina, what is it?” he asked. “You will not refuse to marry me here and
now–you cannot be so cruel. Think, love, you would have been my wife
last night if all had gone well, and you cannot now refuse my prayer
to make you mine in the moment of my suffering and sorrow. Think what
a comfort it would be to me to have my own little wife for my patient,
loving nurse–or perhaps that would be too great a burden for you,
Lina?”

“No, no; it would be too great a pleasure,” she replied eagerly. “How
could I think any task performed for you would be a burden, Ronald?”

“Then you will marry me to-night, Lina, will you not, my darling?”

She looked at the pale, handsome face, with its anxious eyes and
winning smile, and her heart gave a great, suffocating throb of
terrible pain.

“Ronald, I cannot–to-night,” she said, falteringly.

“To-morrow, then?” he said.

“That is too soon,” she answered, looking away from him that he might
not see the pain in her face. “We must defer it. Let us wait until you
get well.”

An expression of the keenest disappointment came over the handsome face.

“Lina, I thought you loved me better than that,” he said,
reproachfully. “What reason can there be for waiting so long?”

“There is a very important reason,” she replied, tremblingly.

“Tell me what it is,” said Ronald, half-laughing.

He thought it was only some small feminine scruple he could easily
overcome.

She looked at him, hesitating strangely.

She had moved a little way from him, and stood with her hand resting
easily on the back of a chair, while her long lashes drooped and a
crimson flush tinted her face.

“Tell me what it is,” he said again. “Is it that the pretty
wedding-dress is ruined. Lina? Never mind that. The one you are wearing
will do perfectly well.”

“It is a greater obstacle than that,” she faltered; “but it may be
overcome after awhile. Uncle says so, and Walter Earle–I have told
him, too–says that it will all come right.”

“Lina, come here to my side and put both your hands in mine,” said
Ronald Valchester.

She obeyed him, though she trembled like a leaf.

“Now look straight into my eyes and let me see if you are quite sane,”
he said.

She lifted her long lashes obediently and looked at him.

He started as those dark eyes met his own. They were dim and heavy with
almost intolerable anguish.

“Oh, Heaven, my darling, what mystery is this?” he cried out,
fearfully. “Lina, what has happened to part us?”

She shivered, as though the very words hurt her.

“It is only for a little while,” she said, in a low and faltering tone.
“Uncle Charlie has promised to do all he can for us. It is bitter to
bear, Ronald, but it will all come right.”

“Lina, you drive me mad,” he cried, hoarsely; and she saw that his face
was pallid as death, and his eyes wild and frightened. “Go, my child,
send Walter Earle to me. Perhaps he will tell me the truth.”

A look of resolute endurance came into the pathetic young face.

“No,” she said, “I will tell you myself. They said I could break it to
you more gently. Perhaps I may help you to bear it. Oh, my darling, do
not look at me so hard! I would have died rather than this should have
happened.”

The sight of her anguish almost maddened Ronald Valchester.

“Lina, I cannot bear this suspense any longer,” he cried. “Tell me why
you will not marry me?”

She came nearer; she took both his hands and held them in her own; she
looked at him with brave, patient eyes.

“Oh, Ronald, my best beloved,” she said, trying to speak calmly and
bravely, “you must remember while I am telling you that it will not be
for long. The obstacle shall be removed–Uncle Charlie has promised
me _that_. But I cannot be your wife now, because–oh, Ronald,
because–against my own will–I am already–married to another.”

A terrible pause! The blue-gray eyes, looking up into the tear-wet
black ones, grew dark with intense emotion; the handsome face grew
corpse-like in its awful pallor.

“Lina!” he gasped, then words failed him.

“Yes, Ronald,” she said, “last night that man had a priest in his
awful cave. He read the ceremony of marriage over Gerald Huntington
and myself; he pronounced us man and wife. But, Ronald, Uncle Charlie
will get a divorce for me, and I will marry you as soon as I am free.
Ronald—-”

She stopped in terror. He had turned suddenly upon his side, and after
a low, gasping sound in his throat, and one quiver of the limbs, lay
still, with the bluish pallor of death on his face.

She laid her hand on his heart, but there was no movement.

“Ronald is dead!” she cried, and her wail of anguish re-echoed through
the house.

Jaquelina’s wail of anguish penetrated to every ear in the house. Those
who had sent her alone to break the terrible news to Ronald, came
hurrying in now, and found her weeping and wringing her hands, and
wildly calling on Ronald to speak to her once more.

“Ronald is dead!” she cried to them. “I tried to tell him gently, but
he could not bear it. It has killed him–oh, my darling, my darling!”

Walter Earle hurried to the bedside, while the shrieks of the women
filled the room. He pushed Jaquelina gently aside, and bent over the
still form of his friend. He laid his hand on the quiet heart.

“Do not tell me that he is dead–my only child, my precious Ronald!”
cried the frightened mother.

Walter was silent. He felt the cold hands, the still heart over and
over again. At last he turned to his mother, who stood weeping by his
side.

“I cannot believe he is dead,” he said. “I can feel no pulse, and no
beat of the heart. Yet it is possible that he is only prostrated by the
suddenness of the shock. He may possibly revive. Send for the doctor
immediately.”

Then he saw that Mrs. Valchester had fainted, and that Jaquelina
chafing her cold hands and bathing them with her tears. He lifted the
form of the insensible woman and bore her into the next room.

“Lina, you must come in here–and you, too, Violet,” he said. “You must
do what you can for Mrs. Valchester. I do not believe that Ronald is
dead. I will try every means to revive him.”

He left them and went back to Ronald, who still lay like one dead on
his pillow. With all that Lina and Violet could do, it was a long time
before they could rouse Mrs. Valchester from her deep swoon. In the
meantime they could hear the hurrying footsteps coming and going in
Ronald’s room. The doctor had been sent for and arrived, but it was an
hour before Mrs. Earle came softly into the room and said, with gentle
joy on her sweet face:

“Walter was right–Ronald is living!”

“Living!” they echoed, and then the three women wept for joy–the
mother who had borne him, the girl who was to have been his wife, and
Violet who loved him secretly and vainly.

He was living, but life hung on the merest thread. No one could be
admitted into the room that night but the doctor and Walter Earle and
his mother. He was unable to bear even the joyful excitement his own
mother could not have suppressed on seeing him.

He was nervous and restless. The doctor stayed with him all night. He
slept for a few hours under the influence of a strong opiate. Then
vivid consciousness and memory returned. He pleaded with the physician
for a boon which was firmly refused.

* * * * *

But in the glimmering dawn of the new day, which had come in rainy and
damp and sunless, the physician stood in the doorway of the next room,
where the sleepless watchers waited for the hourly bulletins that came
from the sufferer.

“He wishes to see Miss Meredith,” he said, gravely.

“And not me!” Mrs. Valchester cried.

“Yes, if I would permit it,” said the doctor. “But I am afraid of the
excitement. I can admit but one at the time, and Miss Meredith must go
first. He has asked for her so often I can no longer refuse his prayer.”

Jaquelina rose from her crouching attitude in which she had remained
cramped on the hearth-rug all night, shivering and wretched.

“You must go to him alone,” said the kindly physician. “He wishes it so
earnestly. Try to be very calm, my child. Agree to everything he says.
If he becomes excited, call me into the room.”

Jaquelina went very quietly, though her dark eyes shone like stars.
She did not know with what a baleful gaze Violet watched her as she
went into that room where the idol of both their hearts waited for her
coming.

They listened, fearful of some excited cry, but no sound came from
the next room save a murmur of low, hushed voices. In a very little
while–ten or fifteen minutes at the most–the door opened and
Jaquelina came out again.

“My dear,” the old physician cried out in alarm, and he went up to
her involuntarily. The strange pallor on her beautiful young face
frightened him.

She lifted her heavy, dark eyes that seemed to have no light or beauty
left in them any more, and looked up at him.

“Doctor Leslie,” she said, “will you let his mother go to him now? He
is not excited. I think he is quite calm, but perhaps his mother may
comfort him.”

She went out into the hall the next moment. No one thought of stopping
her. Her strange appearance had almost frightened them. Doctor Leslie
led Mrs. Valchester quietly into her son’s room. Jaquelina went softly
down-stairs and took her shawl and hat from the rack in the hall. She
put them on mechanically and stole quietly out of the house into the
chilly, rainy world that lay outside.

She walked quietly along the wet and sodden path across the lawn,
little dreaming that Walter Earle had observed her from an upper window
and was hastening after her. She turned with a start at his light touch
upon her arm.

“Lina, what does this mean?” he cried.

“I am going home,” she said, with hard, dry lips.

“Not in the rain,” said Walter, “the walk is too far. I will drive you
over in the phaeton after breakfast.”

“I must go now,” she said, pushing on resolutely through the chilling
autumn drizzle. “I do not mind the walk.”

“I do not understand you, Lina,” he said, gravely. “Why did you not
wait and see Valchester? He will be very disappointed at your going.”

“I have seen him,” she replied, still walking on. “Doctor Leslie
allowed me to go in a few minutes.”

Walter could not understand her strange gravity and quietude. It seemed
as if years had suddenly fallen on the bright young head and made of
her a mature and thoughtful woman.

“You will come back and see Ronald again?” he said, interrogatively.

She lifted her heavy eyes and gave him one swift look whose hopeless
despair never passed from his memory.

“I shall never see Mr. Valchester again,” she said, mournfully.

“Never–why not, Lina?” he cried, surprised.

“He has given me up,” she said.

“Why?” Walter queried again in bewilderment. “It will be all right
after your Uncle Charles obtains a divorce for you–will it not?”

She looked at him again with those heavy, hopeless eyes.

“No, never again,” she said. “Mr. Valchester has told me that he does
not believe that human law can repeal a union cemented by a priest of
God. He does not believe in divorces. As long as Gerald Huntington
lives, he believes I am bound to him.”

“Valchester is mad–delirious,” Walter muttered, indignantly. “For
myself, I hold that it was no marriage at all!”

They were nearing the lawn gates, and in a moment she looked up at him.

“Mr. Earle,” she said, “we are almost at the lawn gates. Will you
excuse me if I go on alone from here? You are very kind, but–it seems
to me I cannot bear the sight of a human face.”

Walter bowed and turned back silently, leaving her to pursue her walk
alone.

Continue Reading

Then she paused

“My dear, I have brought you my own bridal veil to wear. I fancied I
would like Ronald’s bride to wear it. I asked him about it, and he
seemed very pleased with the idea.”

Mrs. Valchester carefully unwrapped the little package of fine tissue
paper, and shook out a web of costly Brussels lace. Jaquelina uttered a
low cry of delight.

“It is beautiful,” she said, “and you are very kind, Mrs. Valchester.”

Ronald’s handsome, stately old mother looked pleased.

“So you like it,” she said, throwing it over Jaquelina’s head, and
thinking to herself how beautifully the dark eyes gleamed through its
silvery mist. “Now, my dear, if we only had a few natural white flowers
to arrange in your hair we should do splendidly. Have you any in your
flower garden?”

Jaquelina, with her graceful head on one side, studied intently.

“I am afraid we have none that would do,” she said, scornfully.
“You see, Mrs. Valchester, it is so late in the season that most of
the flowers are gone. In the spring and summer we have white lilacs
and syringas, and roses and jessamines, but now we have only some
small white chrysanthemums–yes, and a bed of lovely white pansies.
Mrs. Earle gave me the plants last year. Would they do at all, Mrs.
Valchester?”

“The very things,” said the old lady; “are there many of them in bloom?”

“Lots of them,” said Jaquelina, enthusiastically, “and, ah, so lovely,
Mrs. Valchester. They look like white velvet, and they are so streaked
and veined with the loveliest tints I ever saw.”

Mrs. Valchester smiled indulgently at her girlish enthusiasm.

“Very well, Lina,” she said, kindly. “You may bring me a quantity of
the darlings. We will need some for your wreath, and some for your
breast, and a knot to fasten in your belt.”

Lina, who was already dressed in the quaint, pretty India muslin, and
the gold chain and locket, went down from the little chamber in haste
to execute the commission.

Mrs. Meredith, who was donning her Sunday best to attend the wedding,
looked out from her chamber as the girl passed by.

“Lina, stop in my room as you go back,” she said. “I’ve something for
you.”

“Very well, Aunt Meredith, I will,” she said, hurrying on, full of
happy excitement.

In the softly falling twilight she glided down the path to the
old-fashioned garden that lay silent and odorous under the pale light
of the moon that hung like a silver crescent in the dark blue sky just
above the line of the distant hills.

Lina knelt down with a smile on her lips and gathered a lapful of the
great, velvety pansies, on which the dewdrops of evening shone like
glittering diamonds.

Her white hands trembled with pleasure; her young heart beat high
with love and rapture. She had thrown off the incubus of dread since
Ronald’s reassuring words last night; yet a sudden, swift memory caused
her, as she rose, to glance quickly around her, and then to gather up
her flowers and fly along the path back to the house.

As she hurried up to her own room she suddenly remembered Mrs.
Meredith’s injunction, and ran back to her door, where she tapped
lightly.

It was opened by her aunt, who held a small package in her hand, and
spoke thickly, with her mouth full of hairpins.

“A black man brought this here, and said it was a bridal-present for
you,” Lina understood her to say.

She took the package and went on to Mrs. Valchester.

She emptied her lapful of flowers on the toilet-table and held up the
package with a smile.

“Some one has sent me a bridal-gift,” she laughed.

“Don’t stop to examine it now, my dear,” said Mrs. Valchester. “We have
no time to lose. Sit down here by me, and let us tie the pansies into
pretty little bunches.”

Jaquelina sat down obediently, and Mrs. Valchester said:

“I will tell you a secret, Lina. Ronald went to New York last week
and purchased an exquisite set of jewelry–diamonds and large, pale
pearls–for your bridal-gift. Do you like jewels?”

“Very much,” said Lina; “but I have never possessed any except mamma’s
few trinkets and the engagement-ring that Ronald gave me.”

“Ronald does not mean to give you the jewels till after the wedding,”
said Ronald’s adoring mother. “He has a poetic fancy for you to wear
just the same things you wore when he first met you. Of course, that
would never do in a fashionable place, but here in the country it does
not matter so much to give him his way. Ronald is very fanciful and
poetic. He is about to publish a volume of poems. I am sure they must
succeed. Some of them are quite Byronic.”

So Ronald’s fond mother rambled on to his bride-elect, while with her
own white, jeweled fingers she adjusted the beautiful veil on the
girl’s graceful head; confining it with knots of velvety white pansies.

When she said, quite proudly: “You are finished, and you make a really
beautiful bride, my dear,” Lina’s heart gave a throb of rapture at the
praise of her betrothed’s mother.

“I may open the package now?” she said, timidly, to the stately old
lady in her silver-gray silk and real laces and soft puffs of gray hair.

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Valchester, “for I suppose you are impatient to see
what token of kindness one of your friends has sent to you.”

Jaquelina removed the wrappings and found a small painting, exquisitely
framed in ebony and silver. The painting represented a serpent crushing
a dove. Beneath it was written, in a fine, clear, feminine hand the one
word:

“Vendetta.”

Mrs. Valchester looked over Lina’s shoulder at the strange bridal-gift.

“Lina,” she said, gravely, “it is not a friend who has sent you this;
it is an enemy.”

“Oh, how cruel!” said the girl.

Her fair cheeks grew pale, and a frightened look came into her dark
eyes.

“Who could have done it?” said Mrs. Valchester. “_Have_ you an enemy,
my child–a female enemy? This is the writing of a woman.”

“I do not know a woman on earth who dislikes me,” Lina replied.

“It was very unkind and cruel,” said Mrs. Valchester, warmly. “I should
not have thought anyone could be so cruel as to try and frighten you
thus in the happiest moment of your life. It is very strange that you
should have an unknown enemy who should take this method of declaring
war against you. We must tell Ronald about it, and see if he can have
any idea as to the perpetrator.”

Then she paused, and Lina laid the threatening bridal-gift upon the
small toilet-table, for the rumble of wheels was heard below. Ronald
Valchester had come for his bride.

“They are come. Do not be frightened Lina,” said Mrs. Valchester,
smiling, as the sensitive white-and-red began to come and go in the
cheeks of the dark-eyed girl.

The small congregation of the pretty little country chapel where
Jaquelina was to be married was in a flutter of excitement equal to
that of a fashionable city church.

High and low, rich and poor, had gathered in the aisles to witness
the wedding of the farmer’s pretty, simple niece to the wealthy and
aristocratic Ronald Valchester.

There was the usual amount of gossip and small talk while they waited
for the bridal party to appear, but the chat was mostly good-natured.

Jaquelina Meredith had always been an object of pity and sympathy to
the neighbors for the hard life she had lived at her uncle’s. All were
glad that she had made what is termed a good match.

Kind and friendly hands had decorated the house of God with flowers for
the bridal. Gentle Mrs. Earle had sent white flowers, beneath which
the contracting parties were to stand while they pledged the solemn
vows.

The path from the gateway to the churchdoor was literally strewn with
roses. Kind hearts and kind wishes waited on the coming of the gentle
young bride.

They came at last. The whisper ran from lip to lip. The joyous notes of
the wedding march pealed from the small organ; the gray-haired minister
arose and stood waiting with his open book.

The immediate relatives of the bride and groom, the Merediths and Mrs.
Valchester, entered first with Mr. and Mrs. Earle.

They proceeded to the seats reserved for them near the altar, amid a
great deal of subdued whispering over their appearance, especially the
elegant dresses of Mrs. Earle and the groom’s mother.

Then: “Oh, how beautiful!” was whispered from lip to lip as Violet
Earle came slowly up the aisle on the arm of her handsome brother.

Violet was attired in an exquisite costume of white lace, festooned
with delicate pink geraniums. She wore gleaming white pearls on her
neck and wrists, and carried a small basket of delicate pink geraniums
on her arm that exhaled a delicate perfume as she passed.

“Violet, I never saw you looking so pretty as you do to-night,” Walter
whispered to her, and it was true.

A slight air of restless and anxious expectancy lent color to her
cheeks and fire to her eyes.

Walter himself looked handsome, but very pale and grave. He had not
conquered his own heart yet, and he walked over a path of thorns when
he accompanied his friend to the altar.

It was a strange sight to see this brother and sister acting as
bridesmaid and groomsman to this pair.

Walter was in love with the bride, Violet with the groom. Yet they had
been chosen for this office and accepted it calmly as they were now
fulfilling it.

They walked to the front of the altar and stepped apart.

Ronald Valchester, tall, handsome and stately, passed between them with
his bride upon his arm, and stood expectantly before the clergyman.

Those who stood around said that there never had been a finer-looking
bridegroom or a lovelier bride.

Valchester’s calm, grave face was very pale, but it was touched with a
beautiful, tender seriousness that impressed all who saw it with his
deep consciousness of the sanctity of the moment.

The beautiful face of the girl-bride, as seen through the mist of the
splendid Brussels veil, glowed with shy blushes, and the thick, curling
fringe of her black lashes drooped low upon her softly-rounded cheek.

A moment–the rustle and whisper in the congregation suddenly grew
still. The clergyman began to read the solemnly beautiful words of the
marriage service. Everyone was looking at the bride. No one noticed
that Violet Earle, as she stood at the left of the bride, looked
behind her with an anxious, fugitive, eager gaze.

But the next moment all was darkness and confusion. A man sprang up
with the swiftness of lightning, and with a daring hand extinguished
the pretty chandelier that lighted the chapel.

Cries of alarm and indignation arose. In an instant all was hurry,
noise and confusion.

In the instant that the light was extinguished, Jaquelina heard a low
cry of pain from her lover’s lips, felt him falling to the floor in
the darkness. Then she was caught in a pair of strong arms and borne
rapidly from the chapel. Struggling and screaming, she was lifted to
the back of a horse and borne fleetly away in the arms of her captor.

In the hour that was the happiest of her life, Gerald Huntington had
taken his terrible revenge.

“They’re away, they’re away, over bank, bush and scaur,
‘They’ll have fleet steeds that follow,’ quoth young Lochinvar.”

Gradually the first frantic struggle of Jaquelina relaxed in violence.
The grief and horror of her situation overcame her nerves. She fainted,
and hung limp and nerveless in the strong arms of the outlaw.

“It is better thus,” said Gerald Huntington, grimly. “Her struggles
sadly impeded my flight. Now I will put my horse to its highest speed.”

He crushed the beautiful, senseless white burden fiercely against his
breast, and struck the spurs into the sides of his gallant horse,
urging him madly forward, for he could hear, in the distance, the
ringing hoofs of the animals that bore hot pursuers upon his track.

But his horse, one of the swiftest racers in the country, and the
first-rate start he had had, precluded the possibility of being
overtaken. Gradually as he flew over the long, white, moon-lighted
road, he lost the echo of the pursuing hoofs. They might follow still,
but he had left them too far behind to fear them. When he had fully
realized this, he struck into the woods. An hour’s hard riding brought
him to the entrance of the cave, where Jaquelina had first had the
ill-fortune to meet him.

He dismounted, and, taking the still senseless girl in his arms, blew a
shrill, low whistle that brought a man to care for his horse.

“Have you brought the priest?” he said, abruptly, to this man.

“Yes, captain, he’s in waiting,” was the respectful reply.

Gerald Huntington waited for no more. He strode into the pitchy
darkness of the cave, winding in and out through its tortuous recesses,
and emerged, at last, in the luxurious apartment which was specially
his own, and which no one dared to enter without his permission. All
the while the beautiful, stolen bride lay white and senseless, like a
broken lily in his strong arms.

Now he laid her down on a silken sofa, and drawing a flask of wine
from his pocket poured a few drops between her pale, parted lips, and
chafed her cold brow and hands. Almost before he knew it, the dark eyes
opened dreamily, and stared up at his masked face in bewilderment. Then
Gerald Huntington again repeated his peculiar whistle.

The thick, velvet hanging parted noiselessly, and three men appeared
in the opening. They manifested no surprise at the unusual sight of
the girl lying helplessly on the sofa. They evidently knew what had
transpired.

“Has Bowles arrived safely from the chapel?” inquired Captain
Huntington.

“Yes, captain–just this moment,” was the reply.

“Very well. Tell him to come in with the priest. You three guard the
different approaches until you receive the signal to take away the
priest.”

The men bowed and went away. Jaquelina, suddenly regaining her strength
and a half-dazed consciousness, sprang wildly to her feet.

“Oh, my God!” she cried out, as her gaze roved wildly around the
luxurious cavern apartment, “is it indeed true? You have dared to bring
me here! You have torn me from—-”

She stopped with a moan of uncontrollable anguish.

“I have torn you from your lover’s very arms–yes,” echoed Gerald
Huntington, with a scornful laugh. “Did I not warn you I would take my
revenge in your happiest hour?”

“Cruel, implacable wretch!” Jaquelina cried out, indignantly, her dark
eyes flashing fiery scorn on her triumphant enemy. “Oh, how I hate your
very sight!”

“Hush, hush, my bonny bride,” said Gerald Huntington, with mocking
tenderness. “Ere long I will teach you to love me.”

She looked at him with parted lips and dark eyes, but her angry beauty
did not move him. His wrath was roused to its highest pitch against
her. Passionate love and passionate hate struggled together in his
breast.

The heavy curtains parted softly again, and Bowles entered, ushering
in a small, frightened-looking priest. Gerald Huntington caught
Jaquelina’s hand forcibly in his and drew her forward.

“Come, priest, we are waiting,” he said, with haughty impatience. “Make
us man and wife as soon as you can.”

“Oh, never–never!” cried his captive with a shriek of fear and terror,
as she broke loose from his hold and fled swiftly toward the heavy
hangings in a wild effort at escape.

But as she pushed aside the thick curtains, a dark form barred
her farther progress. Gerald Huntington came toward her, laughing
carelessly at her cry of disappointment.

“Not so fast, my pretty bird,” he said. “You are caged tight and fast.
There is no escape for you. I have determined to make you my bride
whether you consent or not.”

“You cannot,” she broke out in passionate, breathless defiance. “You
_dare_ not!”

“I dare do anything!” Gerald Huntington replied proudly, and he proved
the truth of his words by seizing her firmly by one arm, while Bowles,
at a signal from his chief, took her by the other. It was a strange
sight. The frightened, trembling little priest standing irresolute
in the center of the large apartment, and the lovely young girl
struggling desperately with the two masked outlaws; her face pale and
convulsed with terror, her dark hair streaming in dishevelled ringlets,
the silvery mist of her bridal veil rent and torn, the broken, white
pansies falling from her hair and her breast, and strewing the crimson
carpet–over all, the flickering glare of the lamplight, and the dark,
sinister faces of the outlaws peering through the velvet hangings at
the striking scene.

The little priest who had been decoyed to the cave by a clever story of
a death-bed in the country, though frightened at the sound of his own
voice in that terrible place, felt moved to utter a feeble protest.

“If the young lady is not willing,” he ventured, “it is not right to
marry her against her will.”

Gerald Huntington turned on him sternly.

“Reverend sir,” he said, haughtily, “we have not asked for your
opinion. You are here to perform the ceremony of marriage. Proceed with
it. To refuse, or even to hesitate, will be at your deadly peril!”

His white hand went into his breast, and the priest heard the click of
a weapon. With a throbbing heart and faltering voice he began to mumble
forth the words of the marriage service. Bowles and his master held
Jaquelina firmly between them. Gerald Huntington made every response
in a loud, clear, triumphant voice; but Jaquelina’s head drooped on
her breast, while her whole slight frame was benumbed by a sick and
shuddering horror. A terrible hopeless despair was stamped upon her
white and haggard features.

“I pronounce you man and wife, and whom God hath joined together let no
man put asunder,” said the priest’s feeble, quivering voice at last,
and the new-made bride drooped forward and fell like one dead at the
feet of her lawful master.

Continue Reading

In the moment that is the happiest

At that sudden and terrible-looking apparition, Jaquelina remained for
a moment perfectly motionless.

Surprise and terror had rendered her for the time perfectly incapable
of speech or motion.

Meanwhile the gleaming black eyes of the man, looking inordinately
large and fierce in his blackened face, were riveted upon her
beautiful, pallid features.

“Miss Meredith, do you not know me?” he asked, breaking the silence at
last, in a low, deep, angry voice.

Jaquelina shivered and started at that intense voice. His name fell
from her lips in a gasp:

“Gerald Huntington!”

“Yes,” he said, bitterly. “Gerald Huntington! I see you have not
forgotten me. My tattered garb, my blackened face are not sufficient to
hide your victim from your keen eyes.”

He held up his hands, that were blackened also, and she shivered as
she saw the heavy handcuffs that were still clasped about his wrists,
though the strong chain that had bound them together was filed in half.

“I have escaped from the prison to which you betrayed me,” he said to
her in a tone of fierce triumph and joy.

In all the terror of that moment Jaquelina felt as though a heavy
weight had been lifted off her heart.

“Before God, I am glad!” she broke out fervently, clasping her small
hands together while her dark eyes sparkled with joy.

But a scowl of withering scorn and unbelief broke over the dark
features of the outlaw, transforming them to the semblance of a demon’s.

Jaquelina was reminded irresistibly of the vivid words in which Byron
had described the Corsair.

“There was a laughing devil in his sneer
That raised emotions of both love and fear,
And where his scowl of hatred darkly fell,
Hope, withering, fled–and mercy sighed farewell.”

“Do not lie to me, Miss Meredith,” exclaimed Gerald Huntington, with
that terrible sneer still curling his closely-shaven lips. “Do not
lie to me in hope of turning aside the shaft of my deadly revenge. I
have sworn to punish you, and I shall keep my vow. You pretend to a
penitence you do not feel; I have not the least doubt that you would be
glad to deliver me up to justice this minute.”

“No, I would not,” replied Jaquelina earnestly. She was getting over
the first shock of her surprise and terror, and her young face looked
brave and almost fearless as she lifted it in the dim light. “I would
not for worlds betray you to your foes again. See how quietly I sit
here without raising my voice, or trying to alarm anyone.”

“That is because you are afraid of me,” he said, mockingly, as he put
his hand in his bosom that she might hear the click of his threatening
weapon. “I am a desperate man, and you know it, Miss Meredith. If you
tried to raise an alarm I should immediately shoot you.”

They looked at each other a moment silently across the narrow strip of
singing water.

A braver heart than little Jaquelina’s might have quailed at his
aspect, the murderous gleam in his eyes might have daunted a heart less
true and pure than hers, but he did not see her tremble as she answered
earnestly:

“I do not intend to raise an alarm, Mr. Huntington. On the contrary,
I am willing, and even anxious, to do you a kindness if it lies in my
power. Is there aught I can do for you? Are you thirsty or hungry? If
so, let me bring you food and drink.”

He stared at her with a muttered curse.

“So you are laying a trap to ensnare me,” he said, roughly. “No, thank
you, fair lady, I am not ready to fall into your power so easily.
Perhaps, now, you would lend me a horse to carry me a few miles
to-night out of danger’s reach, since you are so kindly disposed toward
me,” sneeringly.

The young moon rising over the hills threw a beam upon Jaquelina’s
face, showing it white and troubled and earnest.

“I–have no horse of my own,” she said, hesitatingly. “If I should lend
you one of my uncle’s, might I dare hope that you would turn it loose
after a few miles, and let it come back?”

“No, you might not dare to hope,” he said, mockingly. “I ask no favors
at your hands. It would spoil the sweet flavor of my revenge. I am not
friendless as you suppose. I have a purse of gold in my breast and a
swift horse waiting for me not a mile away from here. I but turned
aside from my way for one look at the fair flower-face that beguiled me
to my ruin. And now that I have seen you, lovely Jaquelina, I am loath
to part from you again; I am tempted to take you away with me, and make
you an outlaw’s cherished and fondly worshiped bride.”

With a low cry of sudden fear and alarm, Jaquelina sprang up and turned
to flee.

But her enemy was too swift for her. At a single bound he cleared the
brook, and before she had run a dozen rods he caught her arm in a grasp
of steel.

She turned toward him with a white imploring face and frightened eyes.

“Let me go,” she panted, with failing breath. “I cannot go with you, I
cannot be your wife!”

He laughed scornfully.

“You shall go free,” he said. “Do not be frightened–the time for my
revenge is not yet. I shall only dash the cup of joy from your lips
when it is so full that a rose-leaf will cause it to overflow. I am
going now; but remember this truth, my fair enemy, I am not powerless.
I am only biding my time. In the moment that is the happiest of your
whole life I shall take my revenge!”

He threw her wrathfully from him, and in a moment had disappeared
from sight and hearing. Jaquelina lay half-stunned a moment in the
long, dewy grass where she had fallen, her heart thrilling with a dumb,
prescient fear and dread.

“In the moment that is the happiest of your whole life I will take my
revenge,” Gerald Huntington had said, and those words had strangely
recalled the words of her lover’s letter.

“In the moment when you give yourself to me–the happiest moment of my
life!” Ronald Valchester had written; and Jaquelina shivered with a
nameless dread and terror, for she knew that that moment would be the
happiest one of her whole life also.

“Oh, Ronald–Ronald!”

“Lina, my little darling!” and Ronald Valchester drew his betrothed
into his arms, and pressed a score of fond kisses on the dewy, crimson
lips.

It was the day before the wedding, and though Jaquelina had been
expecting him all the morning, he had taken her by surprise at last.

After dinner she had gone out into the orchard and sat down beneath her
favorite tree, feeling certain that Ronald would seek her there first.
But after watching for him vainly for awhile, she fell into a dreamy
revery in which he came unseen and unheard at last.

He sat down beside her, letting his arm remain about the slender waist,
and with the beauty and silence of nature all about them, they talked
of their happiness in meeting again, and of the coming morrow, when
they should be united to part no more.

“It seems too blissful to be true,” Jaquelina murmured wistfully,
looking up in her lover’s happy face. “Oh, Ronald, if anything should
happen?”

“What could happen, Lina?” said Ronald Valchester, laughing at her
fears. “I hope you are not growing nervous and fanciful, little one.”

Then he suddenly saw that the bright rose-flush that had come into
her face when she met him was dying out, and leaving her pale and
wistful-looking.

“Lina, you do not look quite so well as usual,” he said, anxiously.
“You are paler than I ever saw you, and your eyes have a startled
expression now and then. It seems to me that you are slightly nervous.
Are you not well?”

“I am perfectly well,” she replied, quickly; but his attention once
awakened, he could not help seeing that there was a slight and subtle
change in her.

She would start and look around at the rustle of the falling leaves
that began to strew the orchard with a carpeting of scarlet and russet
and gold. Every time the great mellow globes of winter apples would
fall into the grass, she would look up quickly, with something like
fear in her eyes. It was plain to be seen, as Ronald Valchester had
said, that she was nervous.

As his gaze dwelt on her, full of tender solicitude, she was tempted
to tell him of that night, two weeks ago, when she had been so startled
and frightened by the sudden appearance and menacing words of Gerald
Huntington. A haunting dread and terror had possessed her ever since.

She waked at night from startling dreams, in which the lowering gaze
and the clanking irons of the escaped prisoner were so terribly real
that she could scarcely persuade herself that it had only been a vision
of her slumber.

Her nights were restless, her days were filled with dread. She was
afraid to dwell too much on her love and her happiness. She remembered
that the outlaw had said he would take his revenge in the moment that
was the happiest of her life.

Yet she shrank from telling Ronald Valchester the truth. She had
noticed that he seemed to dislike the mention of Gerald Huntington. He
had never praised her as others did for capturing the outlaw. He had
never even told her whether he thought she had acted right or wrong
in the matter. She decided that she would not tell him. She had never
told anyone of her adventure that night, though the whole country
was excited over the second, and this time successful, escape of the
prisoner.

“My mother came with me,” he said, after a little. “She was fatigued
with travel, and did not feel like calling on you to-day, but to-morrow
I shall bring her to see you. She claims the privilege of dressing the
bride.”

The lovely color came surging up into Jaquelina’s pale cheeks at her
lover’s words.

“Oh! you do not know how I dread the ordeal of to-morrow night,” she
whispered to him. “All the country people will be crowded into the
little church, and–only think–I must walk up the aisle before them
all to be–married!”

Ronald Valchester laughed at her pretty bashfulness.

“To-morrow night will be a slight ordeal to what you will have to
encounter in the way of people when I take you home to Richmond,” he
replied. “I have never told you yet, my darling, that we are very
wealthy. I was pleased to think that you loved me for myself alone. But
the truth is, Lina, my father is a millionaire, and you will enter the
highest rank of society when you become my bride. After we have been
married awhile, and you have learned something of the world, I shall
take you with me on a tour to Europe. Shall you like that, my dearest?”

“Very much,” Lina replied, delightedly.

He did not tell her that his father, the proud General Valchester, was
both grieved and disappointed that his handsome son, whom half the
_belles_ of Richmond were sighing for, had chosen to marry an obscure
and simple little country girl.

His gentle mother, too, was distressed over it, but she had allowed
her darling son to persuade her that his betrothed was the fairest
and most lovable girl on earth, and she had come with Ronald to the
wedding, determined, for the sake of her son, to make the most of her
daughter-in-law.

She was staying with the Earles by express invitation and Violet was
especially charming and affectionate to Ronald Valchester’s mother–so
much so, indeed, that stately old Mrs. Valchester unbent from her quiet
dignity enough to say, frankly:

“It is a wonder to me, Miss Earle, that my Ronald could have strayed
any further than Laurel Hill to make his choice. If Miss Meredith is
any more charming and lovely than you she must be a wonderful girl.”

A peculiar expression came over Violet’s pale, fair face. She turned
her head away and looked out of the window silently a moment, but when
she looked back her face wore a careless smile.

“Many thanks for your compliment, Mrs. Valchester,” she replied. “Lina
is very pretty, I assure you. She has a gipsyish kind of beauty.”

“Is she dark?” asked Mrs. Valchester, and Violet replied:

“She has a brown skin and dark eyes, and her hair is a kind of
chestnut, but rather sunburned, I think. You see she is always out in
the wind and sun.”

“I am rather sorry she is a brunette,” said Mrs. Valchester, looking at
Violet’s lily-white beauty. “I always admired blondes the most. But,”
hopefully, “my son tells me she is a beautiful singer.”

“Yes, she has a good voice,” admitted Violet. “It is loud and clear,
yet almost totally uncultivated. She has had only a few months’
tuition, you know. But, of course, after she–is–married, Mr.
Valchester will secure a teacher for her in all those branches in which
she is deficient.”

“Of course,” said Ronald Valchester’s mother, but in her heart she
winced at the idea of a daughter-in-law who would require teachers
after she was married. What would her fashionable and exclusive set say
to such a wife for her only son of whom she was so proud?

“Ronald told me that Miss Meredith is quite fresh from
boarding-school,” she said faintly, after a moment.

“Oh! yes, she had _one_ year at Staunton,” said Violet, carelessly, yet
enjoying to the utmost the anxiety she had awakened in the mind of the
proud old lady. “Of course you know, dear Mrs. Valchester, that _one_
year would not be sufficient to give the polish requisite for such
society as your son’s wife will mingle in. You will have to give Lina
the benefit of your own knowledge, of course. I am quite sure she will
do her best to appear to an advantage. She has always made the very
most of her few opportunities.”

Violet talked so kindly and patronizingly that Mrs. Valchester did not
suspect the hidden malice that lurked in her words, yet she began to
feel vaguely uncomfortable. Her placid conviction that her gifted son
could not have made a bad choice began to give place to anxiety.

“I am very anxious to see Miss Meredith,” she said. “I wish I had felt
well enough to drive over to Meredith farm with Ronald to-day. Tell me,
Miss Earle, do you think my son has chosen a wife who is likely to do
credit to his judgment?”

“I really should not like to express an opinion,” replied the girl,
with an appearance of the greatest frankness. “It is always very
difficult to decide such a question. Lina Meredith is certainly
unformed and a little rustic at present. But these are defects which
time and the mingling in good society will certainly amend, you know.”

“Do you believe that she is in love with my son?” asked the old lady,
anxiously, and feeling to herself that a genuine affection felt for
Ronald by the girl of his choice would condone a multitude of faults.

“I could not tell you,” replied Violet. “I have never heard her express
an opinion concerning him. Of course his wealth would be a great
temptation to a girl in her position, but no one has a right to judge
that she accepted him for that. It must be that she loved him, Mrs.
Valchester. One reared so rudely and plainly as poor Lina has been,
could not really form an idea of the great advantages wealth would
bring her.”

Every innocent seeming word had a barbed point for the heart of the
proud mother. Violet talked to her some time about Jaquelina.

She appeared very frank and open, but she made Mrs. Valchester
understand very plainly by skillful innuendoes that she was by no
means on terms of intimate association with her son’s betrothed, and
that their acquaintance had simply consisted of a series of kindly,
patronizing acts on her part.

Ronald Valchester, whiling away the sunny afternoon by the side of
his betrothed, little dreamed with what subtle art Violet Earle was
implanting a prejudice in his mother’s mind against his darling.

He was fastidious, and harder to please than most men, but even his
exacting taste could find few things in Jaquelina that he would have
cared to change.

She was naturally refined, graceful and polished, and her beauty was so
remarkable that even in her simple print dress and white ruffled apron,
Ronald thought her lovelier than any satin and jewel-bedecked _belle_
he had ever met in society.

“Lina, sing to me,” he said, when the sunset glow began to crimson the
west. “I have longed to hear you sing so often while I was away from
you.”

She smiled, and turned her face to watch the setting sun as she began
to sing.

Ronald thought there was nothing on earth so fair as that face, with
the parted crimson lips, and the wonderful light that always came upon
it when she sang.

“‘When dawn awakes the eastern skies,
And wooing zephyrs kiss the sea,
In vain I sigh for those dark eyes
That should have ope’d in love to me.
But they have looked on me their last,
Time’s darkling wave they cheer no more,
Which now in sadness rushes past
To break upon an unknown shore.'”

“Lina, hush,” he said, impulsively, when she had sung that first
verse. “That is too sad a song. Choose something gayer and more suited
to our bridal eve.”

“I do not know any gay songs, Ronald,” she replied, with some of the
sadness of the song yet lingering on her face.

“That is strange,” he said. “Did you learn nothing bright and lively at
school, Lina?”

“No, I do not believe I did,” she answered, musingly. “It seems to me
that I always chose songs with a touch of sadness in them. Somehow I
liked them best.”

But after a minute’s thought she sang lightly:

“‘Here, take my heart–’twill be safe in thy keeping
While I go wand’ring o’er land and o’er sea:
Smiling or sorrowing, waking or weeping,
What need I care, so my heart is with thee?

“‘If, in the race we are destined to run, love,
They who have light hearts the happiest be,
Then happier still must be they who have none, love,
And that will be my case when mine is with thee.'”

“Do you like that one any better, Ronald?” she said, with a smile, when
she had finished.

“It is a pretty song,” he said, “but, do you know, Lina, you keep
selecting songs that hint of separation and sorrow; I do not like to
hear you. Darling, do you begin to realize that after to-morrow we
shall be separated no more ‘until death us do part?'”

He took both her small hands in his as he asked the question.

She lifted her eyes to his, and he saw that they were full of bright,
unshed tears.

“No, Ronald,” she said, in a faint, fluttering voice. “I do not quite
realize my happiness. It seems too bright to be real.”

She shivered slightly as she spoke, and gave a swift, nervous look
around her.

The soft sigh of the evening breeze, the rustling leaves seemed to
whisper threateningly:

“In the moment that is the happiest of your whole life I shall take my
revenge!”

“Lina, I do not believe you are well,” cried Ronald Valchester,
anxiously. “I saw you shivering that moment.”

“The twilight is coming on, and these September evenings are chilly,”
she answered, rising. “Let us go to the house and sit on the porch.
Uncle Charlie will be very glad to see you.”

When they had crossed the purling brook and gone into the little
vine-wreathed porch, Jaquelina felt easier. She was nervous out in the
orchard among the whispering grasses.

She fancied a dark, demoniacal face peering at her behind the trees.

When she crossed the brook it seemed to be singing loudly:

“In the moment that is the happiest of your whole life I shall take my
revenge.”

The shadow of Gerald Huntington’s vengeance was already upon her.

But on Ronald Valchester’s love and happiness there fell no cloud from
the near future.

To his ardent and poetic imagination life lay before him fair and
lovely like a dream of summer.

Mr. Meredith came out and welcomed his niece’s lover cordially, and
after a brief conversation prudently retired into the house to the
companionship of his wife and Dollie.

Mrs. Meredith, persuaded into amiability for once in her life by her
husband, spread a dainty and neat-looking supper upon the table.

The lovers went through the form of eating, and then returned to
the porch again where the air was spicy and sweet with the breath
of late-blooming roses, and the new moon rose over the misty hills,
smiling on these two lovers who were all the world to each other.

“This time to-morrow night you will be my bride,” Ronald said to her
fondly. “Then we will immediately take the train for Richmond. Oh!
Lina, how often I have dreamed of that home-going. Often and often when
I think of taking you with me, I recall the beautiful words in which
Longfellow describes the home going of Hiawatha and his bride. Do you
remember, Lina?”

She repeated a few lines softly:

“Pleasant was the journey homeward,
All the birds sang loud and sweetly
Songs of happiness and heart’s-ease;
Sang the blue-bird, the Owaissa:
‘Happy are you; Hiawatha,
Having such a wife to love you!’
Sang the robin, the Opechee:
‘Happy are you, Minnehaha,
Having such a noble husband!'”

Then Lina’s small hand stole softly into her lover’s. She raised her
dark, passionate eyes to his face, and he read in their starry depths
the deathless love that filled her heart.

“Lina, you do love me very much–do you not?” he said, lovingly.

“Ah, I could not tell you how much,” she murmured. “If I were a poet
like you, Ronald, I might put my tenderness into glowing words. But it
is locked deep within my heart. I think if anything happens to part us
I should die.”

“Nothing _can_ happen to part us, Love,” he answered. “To-morrow night
at this hour you will belong to me wholly, and then your life shall be
all _couleur de rose_. Nothing can come between us after that magic
ring is on your finger. We shall belong to each other, then, in the
solemn, beautiful words of the marriage service, ‘until death us do
part.'”

His happy mood and his loving confidence were infectious.

The girl forgot for awhile the hovering shadow of evil.

She was gay and blithe and happy, looking forward to the morrow with
timid, tremulous joy.

“I shall come for you in a carriage to-morrow evening, myself,” he
said. “Walter Earle has promised to come for mother in his phaeton.
Violet will meet us at the church.”

He kissed her good-night, saying that he would bring his mother
to-morrow.

“My last good-night,” he said, as he held her small hands tightly a
moment, loth to leave her, and smiling at the warm blushes that surged
into her cheeks.

She watched him walking away through the white radiance of the
moonlight, a tall and graceful figure, on which her heart and her eyes
dwelt fondly. She murmured his words with trembling pleasure, “our last
good-night.”

Continue Reading

Her brother went down reluctantly

Ronald Valchester looked round, slightly annoyed, as Violet Earle and a
gay group of girls came up to him.

“One should never contradict a lady,” he said, “but really, Miss
Earle, your charge against Miss Meredith is misplaced. I was only
examining her ring.”

“And only think, Violet, Mr. Valchester says the stone is a real
diamond. I am so surprised and delighted. I did not dream of such a
thing until just now, when he spoke of it. I thought it only a mere,
valueless bit of shining glass.”

The eager voice and pleased face were too truthful to admit of doubt.

Everyone but Violet gave up the thought of a flirtation at once. The
girls crowded round to look at Jaquelina’s ring.

“Where did you get it?” “Who gave it you?” were some of the questions
they asked her.

“It was my mother’s ring,” she said, in answer to them all. “I did not
know till Mr. Valchester told me that it was a real diamond.”

“I suppose it is worth a great deal,” one of the girls said to him.

“A hundred dollars, perhaps–or it may be a hundred and fifty,” he
replied carelessly, while Jaquelina drew a long breath of surprise and
delight.

A hundred dollars seemed quite a little fortune in her eyes. She looked
at the pretty ring in awe and wonder, to think that she had possessed
it so long without dreaming of its value.

“We need you to make up the dance, Lina,” said Violet. “The Hamiltons,
the Perrys and the Deanes have all gone home, and we have not enough
for the Lancers unless you and Mr. Valchester will come to our
assistance–will you?”

Both answered yes, and went with the girls to take their places in the
dance. Before the party was over he had said to her:

“May I come over and hear you sing to-morrow afternoon–under the
apple-trees?”

“Yes,” she answered simply.

He came alone. It must have required an amount of _finesse_ and
strategy for him to get away from Walter and Violet. But he
accomplished it.

Jaquelina was waiting for him under the apple-trees. Her heart thrilled
with a strange pleasure as she saw the tall, handsome young man
coming toward her. She wore, in anticipation of his coming, a pretty,
inexpensive cambric, with a pattern of tiny rose-buds, and a delicate
lace frill fastened at her throat with a cluster of roses. He saw
that she had grown more delicately lovely since last year. The tanned
complexion had acquired a mellow, creamy fairness, the short, soft
rings of hair were longer, and clustered on her shoulders in shining
luxuriance, the crimson lips had taken a softer, tender curve, the dark
eyes had grown dreamy and thoughtful.

“You came _alone_?” she said, and there was an accent of surprise in
her voice.

“Yes, I preferred it. Are you disappointed that Walter and Violet did
not accompany me?” he inquired.

Jaquelina answered no with pretty frankness, and an utter lack of
self-consciousness that was very charming.

“I dare say they would think me very selfish if they knew I had come
over to the farm alone,” he said. “I slipped away from them. I am very
selfish sometimes. I want you to sing your pretty songs to an audience
of one.”

“I am quite willing,” she replied, happily.

She sang several songs for him, pouring out the exquisite melodies
clearly and artlessly as a bird. Ronald said to himself that it was
wonderful what a voice the girl had, so strong and sweet and clear that
she made him think of Shelley’s sky-lark–

“Pouring his full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.”

He remained with her fully two hours. It did not seem to him so long.
The time went very fast looking at that fair face and listening to that
musical voice. For a wonder Mrs. Meredith did not call her to the house
for anything. Dollie had grown large enough to walk and run alone, and
did not need so much attention.

“Is it true that you are going to become a governess?” he said to her.
“Violet Earle told me so this morning.”

“Yes, if I can find a situation,” she replied. “Do you think I shall be
likely to find one, Mr. Valchester?”

There was a wistful anxiety in the sweet voice. He looked at the fair
young face thoughtfully.

A slanting ray of sunlight pierced the green boughs of the tree and
penciled her white brow with a finger of light that brought out its
child-like innocence more clearly.

“No, I hardly think you will be successful,” he replied.

“You do not?” she said, and he saw the red lips quiver. “Why not, Mr.
Valchester? I have studied very hard and learned a great deal since I
have been away at school.”

“You look too young,” he replied. “No one would like to engage one who
appeared so childish. You look too inexperienced.”

“Do you really think that would weigh against me?” she asked,
distressed. “I assure you my looks are very deceptive. I am eighteen.”

“Quite a venerable age,” he laughed. “Yet still very young for an
instructor of youth.”

“You see I only expect to teach little children,” she said,
apologetically.

He looked at her gravely and curiously.

“Do you think you will enjoy such a life?” he inquired.

“No,” she admitted, frankly, “I do not imagine that it will be a
pleasant life, certainly. But it will be better than the farm. I shall
earn my support and not have my dependence continually thrust in my
face by a vulgar woman.”

“Poor child!” he thought to himself, as the sensitive color rushed over
her brow and throat.

He left her with a thrill of deep compassion in his heart. She seemed
so slight and frail a creature to take arms against the world and win
her way alone.

“May I come again to-morrow–with Walter?” he added, fancying that he
saw her hesitate.

“Yes,” she replied, readily, “and bring Violet with you if she will
come.”

“Very well,” he replied, “I will do so, but I shall come alone the next
day to hear you sing. Are you willing?”

“They will think I am selfish if I take you away from them, I fear.”

“You will not be taking me away. I belong to no one but myself,” he
replied. “Then, too, I shall return home in a few days, and I do not
know when I shall see you again.”

“You may come,” she replied, quickly.

The next day he came with Violet and Walter as agreed upon. But the
visit was short and unsatisfactory. Violet was fidgety and capricious.
She said she had planned a visit to another young lady, and she left
very soon, carrying Valchester in her train and telling Walter to
remain behind and amuse Jaquelina. Walter remained very willingly. He
had been thinking a great deal of what Violet had said to him about
marrying Jaquelina. In consequence he had concluded to take her advice.

But it is one thing to resolve and another to execute. Jaquelina, who
was exceedingly friendly and sociable with Walter in the company of
others was very shy when alone with him. She somehow eluded the efforts
he made to give a sentimental tone to the conversation. She sang at his
request, but it was a gay and lively air.

If she had known his intention she could not have frustrated it better
than she did by her unconscious indifference.

Walter went away with his love unspoken. Two days later he returned
alone, having slipped away from his friend and sister, just as
Valchester had done once or twice before.

Jaquelina was out under the trees reading. Little Dollie was frisking
in the grass beside her. Walter thought he had never seen the girl he
loved looking so fair and happy. He pleased himself with thinking how
he would take her away from her uncongenial home and lavish upon her
all the luxuries and adornments that would suit her beauty so well. The
thought gave him courage to speak to Jaquelina. It was not long before
she was blushing and trembling at these words from his lips:

“Lina, I love you dearly. Will you be my wife?”

“Oh! Mr. Earle,” she cried out, looking lovely as a dream in her dismay
and confusion. “I–I am very sorry for you. I did not dream of your
loving me. Since yesterday I have been engaged to Mr. Valchester.”

Walter Earle’s handsome face grew pale with surprise and emotion at the
words of the beautiful girl he loved so dearly. When at last he could
speak he cried out hoarsely:

“Engaged to Valchester! Is it possible? I never dreamed of such a
thing.”

“Why not, Mr. Earle? If you loved me why should not he have loved me
also?” asked Jaquelina, with gentle dignity, though her cheeks flushed
deeply.

Walter Earle stared at her a moment in silence. He began to realize
the effect of her bright and charming beauty as he had never done
before. All along it had seemed to him that other men were blind. He
had thought to put forth his hand and pluck a rose that none other had
sighed for; but another had been there before him.

“I thought Valchester was too selfishly absorbed in his books and
poetry to think of love,” he responded; then he added with a bitterness
he could not repress: “You will allow me to congratulate you, Miss
Meredith, on having secured such a desirable _parti_.”

“Thank you. I consider myself a very fortunate girl,” Jaquelina
answered, with a movement of graceful pride.

“No doubt!” said Walter, so excited and pained by her refusal of his
suit that he was not prepared to do her justice even in his thoughts.
“Others will consider you a very fortunate person also. It is well
known that Valchester’s parents are exceedingly wealthy.”

Jaquelina’s pretty, proud face grew pale at his words.

“I–did not know that,” she said.

“Did you not, really?” asked Walter.

“No, I did not,” she replied; then with a crimson blush: “Did you
think, Mr. Earle, that I accepted Mr. Valchester for mercenary
considerations?”

The pain and shame in the winning face overcame Walter’s unreasonable
and unjust mood.

“Forgive me,” he said, “I was tempted a moment to think so; but of
course I know better after what you have just told me. The smart of my
own pain made me unjust. Do not be angry with me, Lina, if I may call
you so this once. I shall hope still to be your friend since I cannot
claim a dearer title.”

Jaquelina held out her hand to him impulsively. Walter kissed it
tenderly and regretfully.

“Valchester is a noble fellow,” he said, bravely. “I hope you may be
very happy together.”

When he was gone, Jaquelina wept a shower of bright tears upon the
pages of her book. She was very sorry for poor Walter’s disappointment.
She cried so bitterly that little Dollie was affected to participation
in her grief, and wept in unison, whereat Jaquelina dried her tears and
laughed.

“There now, Dollie, we are done crying,” she said. “We are very sorry
for Walter. He is gay and good and handsome, but Ronald is my prince.”

Her spirits were very light and gay now. It was only the day before
that Ronald Valchester had wooed her to be his wife. He had told her
how beautiful and gifted she was, and how fondly he loved her. And then
Jaquelina had suddenly wakened to the truth that she had long ago given
her heart into his keeping.

“Lina, can you give your heart to me?” he had pleaded, and she had
answered frankly, yet shyly, with her sweet face turned away:

“I believe it has been yours a long–long time, Mr. Valchester, only I
did not quite know it until now.”

Mr. Valchester was very demonstrative for awhile, considering that
he was usually so quiet and grave. Before he left he had made his
betrothed promise that, with her uncle’s consent, the wedding should be
in three months.

“Because, darling, I am anxious to take you away from your uncongenial
home and transplant my rosebud to a sunnier sphere of life,” he said,
kissing the dewy crimson lips ardently yet tenderly.

The dark eyes looked at him shyly from under the white lids and the
jetty fringe of her long curling lashes.

“So I shall not have to seek a situation after all,” she said, happily.

“No, indeed,” he answered with a shudder, “I could not bear to think of
you, my tender flower, out in the cold world alone. The bleak frosts of
adversity and sorrow would destroy you.”

He was mistaken. The time was coming when he was to learn what a brave
heart and strong patience lay hidden beneath the fragile seeming of the
lovely girl who held his heart.

The summer breeze sighing softly over the grass and flowers, and
lifting the dark, careless locks from his broad, white brow had no
subtle voice to warn him of the long, dark shadow that was ever
widening between him and the prize that seemed almost within his grasp.

Walter Earle did not go home immediately after his rejection by
Jaquelina.

He had loved her with as much ardor as he was capable of, and he felt
the pain of his disappointment deeply.

He wandered homeward slowly through the green woods, and threw himself
down by a purling brook to rest.

It was twilight when he reached home. He looked in the parlor for
Violet, but she was not there.

His father and Ronald Valchester were discussing some political news,
his mother was placidly crocheting lace on the sofa.

He went on quietly up-stairs to Violet’s own especial room, and tapped
lightly on the door.

“Come in,” she said, and he turned the door-knob and entered.

Violet was at the mirror, looping back her fair curls with roses and
white jessamine.

She looked very fair and sweet in her white evening dress and pearl and
turquoise jewelry–a fact of which she was not unaware herself, for a
smile of gratified vanity curved her rosy lips as she surveyed her own
reflection in the full length mirror.

“Ah, Miss Vanity,” cried Walter, trying hard to be his natural,
careless self. “How do you like yourself?”

Violet turned around and swept him a gay little courtesy.

“Very well, indeed, sir,” she laughed. “How do you like me, Walter?”

Walter looked at the tall, stylish figure, and the fair, smiling face
with its large blue eyes and rosy lips, with genuine admiration.

“I do not believe any other fellow has as pretty a sister as I have,”
he replied, and Violet gave him a charming kiss in return for his
praise.

“Where have you been, Walter?” she said. “We have missed you all the
evening. Mr. Valchester was quite puzzled, but I could very nearly
guess–only I did not let him know it.”

Walter had thrown himself down in a chair at the window.

The rich lace curtains were drawn aside, admitting the evening breeze,
sweet with the breath of flowers. He stared moodily out at the full
moon rising over the dark line of the distant hills.

“Where have you been, Walter?” said Violet again, seeing that he made
her no answer. “Were you with Jaquelina?”

“Yes,” he replied, with cold brevity.

Violet went over and sat down by his side. She raised her fair, smiling
face to his in wonder.

She saw the brooding shadow of pain on the blonde, handsome face.

“Walter, what is it? Has–has anything happened?” she said, vaguely.

“Nothing has happened,” he replied, in a moody tone.

“Was Jaquelina well?” she asked, puzzled.

“Never better,” he replied, with transient bitterness.

Violet did not know what to think.

“Walter, was not Lina kind to you?” she asked, gently.

“No,” he replied, briefly and bitterly.

The soft flush had faded from Violet’s cheeks. A look of dread came
into her eyes, but Walter did not see it.

He had never turned his sad gaze from the distant hills gilded with
glory by the rising moon.

“Walter, do you mean,” she said, with lips that quivered strangely,
“that–you have asked Lina to marry you?”

“Yes,” he answered, very low.

“And she–oh, she did not refuse you!” cried Violet, indignantly.

“Yes, again,” said Walter, still without looking at her.

There was a moment’s pause, and then Violet cried out:

“The impertinent little jade! Why, what did she mean? I should have
thought that she would have jumped at the chance of marrying a rich,
handsome young man like you, Walter!”

Then Walter looked round at her.

“Violet, do not use such hasty words,” he said, sadly. “She has a right
to make her own choice. She has set her mark higher even than your
unworthy brother.”

“You do not mean,” said Violet slowly, then paused, while every vestige
of color fled from her lips and cheeks as she stared at Walter.

“She is engaged to Valchester,” he answered, abruptly.

The words came with the suddenness of a blow.

Violet shivered and moaned like something wounded to death; then all in
a moment she slid from her seat to the floor, and lay there, a white
and senseless heap, upon the rich velvet carpet.

Walter sprang from his seat in alarm and consternation. He had never
before suspected the secret of Violet’s hidden love for Ronald
Valchester. It all rushed over him now overwhelmingly. With almost
womanly tenderness he lifted his stricken sister gently to a sofa, and
bringing _eau de cologne_ from the toilet-table laved her cold face and
hands with the refreshing water.

She opened her eyes and stared blankly at him in a moment.

“Darling, are you any better?” he asked, gently.

Then Violet threw her white arms round his neck and clung to him,
weeping wildly.

“Walter, is it indeed true?” she sobbed. “Is she to marry Ronald?”

“So she says,” he answered. “Do you care, Violet?”

“I hate her!” Violet cried, drawing herself from his arms and sitting
upright, while rage and jealousy flashed from her eyes–“I hate her!
She has stolen my lover from me!”

Walter’s blue eyes flashed lightning.

“Violet, is that true?” he asked. “I thought my friend was the soul
of honor; but if he has dared to trifle with your affections he shall
render me an account for his perfidy!”

Violet only wept and sobbed, without replying.

“Tell me, dear,” persisted Walter, “has Valchester made love to you,
really, while he was slyly wooing Miss Meredith?”

Violet was obliged to admit that he had not.

“But if he had never seen her–if she had let him alone–I must have
won him by the strength of my own love. He could not help loving me in
time. Therefore, Lina has really stolen him from me,” she persisted,
most unreasonably.

Walter could not see that it was as Violet said. He tried to argue
the case with her; but he soon found that Violet was too jealous and
miserable to listen to reason. She only reiterated again and again her
hatred of Jaquelina Meredith.

Walter took a great deal of blame to himself. He acknowledged that he
had done wrong ever to have brought Ronald Valchester to Laurel Hill.

“You see, Vi,” he said, miserably, “I never looked upon Valchester as
one to be lightly won, or one to lightly win a woman’s heart. He is
not usually gallant, or even attentive, to ladies. I thought him only
a book-worm, wrapped up in metaphysics and poetry. He is a splendid
fellow. I have told you that too often, Vi, for me to deny it now when
he has become my successful rival and the source of sorrow to yourself:
but I thought he was simply one of the men whom his own sex always
admire, but women seldom or never.”

“I do not believe that Jaquelina admires him,” cried Violet. “She is
attracted by his wealth and position.”

Nothing that Walter could say could change her opinion. She adhered to
it tenaciously. Walter was deeply sorry for her. Her jealous anger and
her wild grief distressed him exceedingly.

“Violet, think no more of it,” he would say. “Valchester is going away
to-morrow. I will never invite him to Laurel Hill again, and when he is
out of sight you will forget him.”

“I shall never forget him,” his sister replied. “I shall never forget
him, and I shall never love anyone but Ronald Valchester my life-long!
Oh, Walter, cannot you think of something to separate them and turn his
heart to me!” she added, with piteous pleading.

Walter was shocked.

“Darling, you are talking wildly,” he cried; “you would not wish such a
thing. Let me call mother. She can soothe you better than I can.”

She sprang up in the wildest alarm.

“Walter, promise me here and now,” she cried, “that you will never
reveal my wretched secret to mamma, nor to any living one. I will never
unlock my arms from your neck until you swear to me that you will
never, never betray me.”

Her arms were wreathed tightly round his neck; her anguished, white
face and wild blue eyes looked into his own imploringly.

Walter could not refuse to give her the promise she pleaded for, but he
regretted it many and many a day afterward.

He promised her, and she kissed him and thanked him.

“Now, Violet, we must really go down to the parlor,” he said, anxious
to distract her attention. “Our absence will be noticed and wondered
at. Smooth your hair and dress and come with me. This is the last night
of Valchester’s stay, and we must not seem discourteous.”

“You may go,” she said, “but I cannot to-night. Tell them I have a
headache and do not wish to be disturbed. Do not suffer mamma to come.
I feel very angry with her. It was she who insisted on patronizing that
wretched girl. But for that Ronald never would have seen her!”

Her brother went down reluctantly. Violet lay motionless on her couch
for long hours. When she roused herself at last and went to close
the window the lamp had burned low, and the mysterious stillness of
midnight brooded over everything. Violet lifted her hand and turned a
white, desperate face up to the starry sky.

“Before God,” she cried, in low, passionate accents, “I swear that I
will be revenged on Jaquelina Meredith for winning Ronald Valchester
away from me. She shall never be his wife, and if mortal power can
accomplish it, I will make of her life one long agony, such as she has
made of mine.”

So, under the starry arch of Heaven, Violet’s vow of vengeance was
registered beside that of Gerald Huntington. Poor Jaquelina, sleeping
softly on her little white couch and dreaming of her handsome, gifted
lover, did no swift, subtle warning tell her of the false friend and
the outraged prisoner whose hands were outstretched to dash the cup of
happiness from her beautiful lips?

One golden evening in September, Mr. Meredith came in from his weekly
trip to town considerably excited.

“There’s news, Lina,” he said to his niece, who was laying the cloth on
the table, and deftly arranging the tea-things.

Jaquelina looked at him with a start and a blush. She fancied he had
brought her a letter from her lover.

“Well, Uncle Charlie?” she said, expectantly.

“Yes,” said Farmer Meredith, “there’s wonderful news for you. The
horse-thief, Gerald Huntington, attempted to escape night before last.
He knocked down two keepers, and got almost a mile away before he was
caught and taken back. They say he fought like a lion for his freedom.”

Jaquelina started and grew deadly pale at his words.

“I have brought the newspaper with me,” went on the farmer. “It’s all
written there. Stop clattering the dishes a minute, Lina, and I’ll read
it out for you.”

His niece stood still with her hand resting on the table, and listened
while he turned the paper and read out, slowly:

“Attempted escape of Gerald Huntington, the chief of the outlaw gang
that had infested the mountains so long, and who was so summarily
captured little more than a year ago by a brave young girl.”

Having read this much, which was printed in flaring head lines and
capitals, Mr. Meredith cleared his throat, and proceeded to attack the
smaller type:

“It is well known to the most of our readers that the long-pending
case against Gerald Huntington was decided in the court on Monday by a
sentence of ten years’ confinement in the penitentiary. The prisoner
was remanded to the county jail to remain until Friday, when he was
to be removed to the penitentiary. Tuesday evening, at dusk, he was
visited in his cell by a veiled lady who remained with him half an
hour engaged in deep and private conversation. It is supposed that
this mysterious stranger conveyed to him a club which was skillfully
concealed beneath her voluminous draperies. At nightfall the prisoner,
armed with this enormous and heavy implement, assaulted the keeper
who brought him his supper, and succeeded in escaping into the hall,
where he knocked down the door-keeper and made a desperate run for
liberty. He was pursued by several persons, who captured and bound him
after a terrible struggle. He is now heavily ironed and chained down
to the floor of his cell. Public curiosity is highly excited over the
mysterious veiled visitant who furnished him the club, but the prisoner
preserves a dogged and obstinate silence regarding her, and nothing is
known of her in the town.”

“Oh, poor fellow!” cried Jaquelina, quite involuntarily, as he paused.
“Chained to the floor of his cell! How dreadful!”

“You are not sorry for the wretch–are you, Lina?” said her uncle,
looking at her in surprise.

“Yes–very sorry,” she said, shuddering at the thought of the gloomy
prison cell, and the clanking chains that held Gerald Huntington down
from the free, wild woodland life he loved.

“Well, you hadn’t ought to be sorry,” said Mrs. Meredith, who had
come in from the spring-house with the fresh butter and milk for tea,
with Dollie trotting behind her, a great, red apple in either chubby
fist; “his capture made you two hundred dollars the richer–if you
hadn’t spent every dollar of it so foolishly,” she added, as an
after-thought, and in an injured tone, for she had been deeply offended
at the way in which Jaquelina had spent her money. “She had ought
to have given it to her uncle to pay for her keep,” was her frankly
expressed opinion.

Jaquelina made no answer to Mrs. Meredith’s taunt. She was looking at
her uncle wistfully.

“Uncle Charles, did you stop at the post-office?” she asked, shyly.

“Why, certainly. How did I come by the newspaper, else?” inquired the
farmer, with a sly twinkle of his gray eyes.

“Were–were there any letters for me?” said the girl, coloring under
his laughing glance.

“Two,” said Mr. Meredith, “and only the day before yesterday there
were two. It seems as if Mr. Valchester has nothing to do but write
love-letters.”

He fished the mail out of his coat pocket as he spoke, and gave her the
two letters.

She caught them eagerly from his hand and hurried from the room.

“Two of the love-sickest ninnies ever I saw,” sniffed Mrs. Meredith,
disdainfully. “Everlastingly writing back and forth to each other. I
should think they’d run out of news.”

“Tut, tut, wife,” said the farmer, gaily, “don’t be hard on the young
folks. Don’t you remember when you and I were sparking at singing
school that winter, how many little notes we kept passing to each
other? And no news in any of them, either–nothing but love, love,
love.”

Mrs. Meredith turned her back at this juncture, but the homely
reminiscence must have had its effect on her. Her sharp tongue was
silenced for awhile. She busied herself in setting the appetizing
supper on the small table, then went out to the door and called
Jaquelina in to the meal.

Jaquelina, sitting under a maple tree that was beginning to turn
crimson under the kisses of September, returned an answer to the effect
that she was not hungry, and did not desire any supper.

“Always the way,” said Mrs. Meredith, returning to the table and
supplying Dollie with her portion of mush and milk. “After she gets one
of them letters from that solemn-looking, long-legged beau of hers, she
is that excited she can’t swallow a bite to eat. Say what you will,
Charlie Meredith, you can’t prove that ever I lost my appetite while
you courted me.”

Mr. Meredith only laughed as he drew up his chair to the table, and
Lina was left unmolested to read and re-read the closely written letter
in which her lover poured out his affection clothed in the beautiful
imagery of a poetic heart.

“My darling,” wrote Ronald Valchester, “as our bridal day is now only
two weeks off, I have one request to make of you. As our wedding is
to be such a simple and quiet one in the little country church, will
you not wear, just to please me, the pretty white robe you wore on the
night I saw you first? Never mind what others say. It is a beautiful
dress, and you will be beautiful in it. I have a fancy for you to wear
it in the moment when you give yourself to me–the happiest moment of
my life. Afterwards you shall have silks and satins, laces and jewels,
if you care for these things. I shall be with you the day before the
wedding. My mother will accompany me. I will tell you in confidence,
darling, she is a very proud and stately old lady. But you must not
be afraid of her. I know she cannot help but love you, as I know you
cannot help but love her. I have had a kind letter recently, from
Walter Earle, and a charming note from Violet, in which she tells me
you have asked her to be your bridesmaid and she has consented. Violet
is a very sweet and lovely girl. I am glad you are such friends with
her.”

This and a great deal more Ronald Valchester wrote to his betrothed.

She pored over it fondly, and blushingly kissed the page where the dear
white hand had rested while it traced the loving words.

Mrs. Meredith had spoken truly when she said that Jaquelina could never
eat when she received one of those letters from Ronald. They filled her
heart and soul so fully that mere material food seemed unnecessary.

The young heart which had gone hungering for love so long, and suffered
isolation through all its dreary years of orphanage, was steeped to its
depths in the golden glamour of first love’s bewildering dream.

She rose at last and wandered down to the little brook and sat down to
watch its dimpling flow with dreamy dark eyes.

Mrs. Meredith forbore to call her to help with the milking or tend
Dollie as she had been wont to do.

Since Jaquelina had returned home with the added polish of her
boarding-school upon her, and more especially since she had become the
affianced of the proud Ronald Valchester, the coarse woman had stood
somewhat in awe of her husband’s graceful and refined niece. A newly
awakened and resentful sense of vague inferiority made her feel ill at
ease in her company.

The sun was setting goldenly and warmly as it does under Virginia’s
skies in the golden month of September. The soft sounds of early autumn
filled the balmy air. Slowly the gold and purple and crimson of sunset
faded from the sky, and gave place to dusky twilight.

Jaquelina scarcely noticed it. She did not feel the soft dew falling on
her face and hands. She was lost in a sweet and dreamy revery.

Yet suddenly, with an inexplicable start and shiver, she lifted her
eyes.

In the silence that seemed only more audible by the low, melodious
murmur of the streamlet, she had caught a strange sound–not a voice,
not a footstep–only the cold, heavy clank of an iron chain.

When she looked up she saw a man standing on the opposite side of the
brook, and looking across at her with steadfast, gleaming eyes.

He was a tall man, dressed in ragged clothing like a common tramp. His
face was blackened to the hue of a negro’s by soot or charcoal, but the
finely molded features were those of a white man. In the waning light
Jaquelina could see that his wrists were manacled, and heavy irons were
fastened about his ankles, from which depended chains that had been
severed in two.

Continue Reading

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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