Transcriber's Note:

This story was first serialized in the New York Family Story Paper as Jaquelina; or, The Outlaw's Bride during 1882. The text used in this edition comes from a later reprint, part of Street & Smith's Eagle Series no. 192, in which it was printed alongside the author's An Old Man's Darling. The spelling of the title in this e-book is taken from the original 1882 version.










STREET & SMITH, Publishers

238 William Street

Copyright, 1883,

Copyright, 1900,







A girlish head, "running over with curls," lifted itself from the long orchard grass, and listened—the slender, arched black brows met over the bright, dark eyes in a vexed frown.

The woman who was calling Jaquelina in that loud, shrill, uncultivated voice stood in the doorway of a low, unpainted farm-house, prettily situated on the gentle slope of a green hill at whose foot a silvery little brook ran singing past.

Beyond it was a strip of fertile meadow. Then the ground took a sloping rise again into the orchard now glowing white and red in the flush of its spring-time blossoming.

Under the branches of a wide-spreading apple tree a girl lay at length in the emerald grass and blossoming clover, her curly head bent over a book.

The sunshine sifted down through the fragrant boughs on the soft chestnut locks with a glint of gold in their brownness, and on the arch, pretty face with its soft skin tanned to a clear brune by exposure, and the pouting lips that were tinted with the vivid scarlet of youth and bounding vitality.

"Jack-we-li-ner!" came the loud, elongated scream again.

Jaquelina Meredith sprang up so impatiently that her head struck against a low-bending branch, and a shower of the fragrant apple-blossoms fluttered down into the folds of her faded print dress.

A robin that had been singing in the tree broke off in his warble and stared down at her in round-eyed surprise.

"What now, I wonder?" she said, as she took up her book and her sun-bonnet, and wended her way to the house.

"Hurry up, will you now, Lina?" cried the woman in the doorway, as she crossed the log over the little brook. "You must come in the house and tend the baby while I hasten the dinner a bit. Your uncle wants to go over to the Grange meeting directly."

[Pg 2]

Jaquelina went into the clean, neat sitting-room and took the cross, heavy child into her slender young arms, and proceeded to walk up and down the floor with it—the only method she knew of to still its clamorous cries, for its mother had gone to the kitchen to hurry the noonday meal for her farmer husband.

Her uncle and the hired man, who had just come in from the field, sat at the window discussing the country news in general.

"The gang of horse-thieves seems to be getting into our neighborhood," said the plowman. "Squire Stanley's fine bay mare was taken from the stable last night."

Farmer Meredith started and looked anxious.

"Is it possible?" he said. "Why, Stanley's isn't more than two miles from here. Who knows but they may come here next? It would be a terrible thing if they took my two horses now, and the plowing not half done."

"Dreadful," said the man, "but it's a desperate gang—little they'd care if the plowing be done or not. But they do say as how the thieves don't meddle with poor men's beasts much. It's the rich farmers as has fine horses and such that they go for. I suppose they don't find a ready market for common plow-horses."

"Likely not," said Mr. Meredith. "Well, I wish the gang could be smoked out of the country, or caught up with in their thieving. It's a terrible scourge to the country—this gang."

"There's a large reward out for the ringleader," said the hired man. "I saw the posters out on Smith's fence as I came along this morning. Two hundred dollars for his apprehension."

Jaquelina, who had been listening, gave a startled cry.

"Two hundred dollars! Oh, my! I wish I could catch the wretch! Two hundred dollars would give me a whole year at a good boarding-school!"

Farmer Meredith looked round in surprise. Something in the girl's unconscious wistfulness struck him oddly.

"Boardin'-school," he said; "what put that foolish idea in your head, Lina? Haven't you larnt enough readin' and writin' at the public school four months in every winter?"

"No, indeed, Uncle Charlie;" and Lina shook her head so decisively that the short, soft rings of hair danced coquettishly with the movement. "It's very little I know, indeed, and if I only knew how to catch that horse-thief I'd spend every cent of the reward in getting myself a good education."

"You've more learning than is good for you now," said Mrs. Meredith, sharply, as she re-entered the room and overheard the words. "Every time I want you there you are out of the way, with your face poked into a book. And me slaving my life away all the time. Is the baby asleep? Put her into the cradle, then. Come, men—dinner's ready."

The sharp-faced, sharp-voiced mistress of the house bustled out.

Jaquelina put the heavy child out of her tired, aching arms into the cradle, and sat down to rock it.

Her full red lips were quivering; her dark eyes were misty with tears that her girlish pride would not suffer to fall.

[Pg 3]

"How hard and unkind Aunt Meredith is," she said to herself. "Ah! if only papa and mamma had lived, how different my life would have been. I wish I had died, too. Shall I go on forever like this, minding the baby, washing the dishes, bringing the cows, serving as scape-goat for Aunt Meredith's ill tempers, and considered a burden in spite of all I can do to help? I wish when papa died he had left me to the alms-house at once."

"Miss Jack-o'-lantern," said a voice at the window; and she looked around with a start.

It was only a neighbor's cow-boy—a good-natured, ignorant negro lad, who had converted her odd name of Jaquelina into "Jack-o'-lantern."

"Well," she said, "what do you want, Sambo? Why do you come to the window and frighten me so?"

"I'm in a hurry, if you please, Miss Jack," said the lad. "Is your uncle at home?"

"Yes—at dinner," said the girl.

"Master sent me over to see if Mr. Meredith and his man would jine a party to hunt the horse-thieves to-night," said Sambo. "Squire Stanley's headin' it; his stable was robbed last night."

Jaquelina went into the kitchen with her message, and Mr. Meredith came out himself.

"Tell your master I'll be going over to the Grange meeting this afternoon, and I'll stop by and make arrangements to join them in the hunt," he said.

He finished his dinner and started.

The idea of the thief-hunt so inspired the plowman that he begged to be excused from working the balance of the day, and went away full of enthusiasm to join the gallant band of pursuers.

Jaquelina washed the dishes, and while Mrs. Meredith sat by the cradle with her knitting, the girl took her book and sat down on the doorstep to read.

Half an hour went by quietly. The hum of the bees and the warble of the birds were all that broke the silence, save the low whisper of the wind as it sighed among the trees.

Jaquelina enjoyed the silence thoroughly, every moment dreading to hear the fretful wail of her aunt's baby, and to be summoned to tend it again.

But lifting her head at last, as she turned a page, she saw a lady crossing the narrow foot-bridge that spanned the brook.

"Aunt Meredith," she said, turning her head toward the sitting-room, "there's company coming."

Mrs. Meredith whisked off her kitchen apron, slipped a white ruffled one over her dark print dress, and appeared at the door just in time to hear a musical voice saying, kindly:

"Good-afternoon, Lina—ah, good-afternoon, Mrs. Meredith."


The new-comer was Violet Earle, a girl scarcely older than Jaquelina, but taller, better dressed, and exquisitely lovely. She was fair as a lily, with soft, languishing blue eyes, and[Pg 4] golden curls falling in beautiful luxuriance upon her graceful shoulders.

A cool, tasteful costume of blue and white lawn, with pale-blue ribbons fluttering here and there, lent an artistic grace to her appearance that made Jaquelina shrink into herself upon the doorstep, feeling dowdy, miserable and commonplace by the contrast.

Jaquelina knew no one on earth whom she envied so much as this fair and self-possessed young lady—the petted, only daughter of the wealthiest man in the county.

"Good-afternoon, Miss Earle. Will you walk into the sitting-room?" inquired Mrs. Meredith, a little flustered by the lovely young visitor's appearance.

She led the way to the little sitting-room where the baby slumbered peacefully still, and they sat down, Jaquelina with her slim finger between the pages of her book.

"Lina, I have come to invite you to a party to-morrow night," Violet said, graciously.

Jaquelina's brune face flushed, her scarlet lips trembled with pleasure.

"My brother and one of his classmates are come from college for a visit, and mamma is going to give us a party. Will you come, Lina?"

Jaquelina glanced at Mrs. Meredith.

"Yes, if Aunt Meredith will permit me," she answered, frankly.

"Of course she will," Violet said, looking at the hostess, who frowned slightly as she said, almost bruskly:

"Lina has nothing fit to wear to a party."

Lina's sensitive cheeks turned crimson, but Miss Earle only laughed.

"Everyone says that when invited to a party," she observed lightly. "It was what I said about myself, when mamma first named the party this morning. But you see, after all, this will only be a kind of impromptu party—a lawn party. We will have Chinese lanterns and colored lamps hung in the trees, and refreshments served out of doors, and games, you know."

"Yes," said Lina, and her cheeks glowed, and her eyes beamed. She forgot the embarrassing sense of dowdiness that often overwhelmed her in Miss Earle's elegant presence, and sat up straight, and forgot to draw her shabby little slippers under her chair.

There was a great deal of dainty, untutored grace in the slim figure, and Violet, who was inclined to patronize the shy orphan girl, decided to herself that Lina Meredith would be rather a pretty girl if only she were not so tanned, and if only her uncle and aunt would dress her decently.

"I have invited several people," she went on, looking at Mrs. Meredith, "and they all said they would be sure to come. Mamma said she thought you would be very glad to have Lina come, as she sees so very little pleasure."

Miss Violet's fine little shaft of malice told.

Mrs. Meredith's face turned red in a moment. She could not[Pg 5] but be aware that the neighbors gossiped over her treatment of her husband's niece, and said that she kept her a dowdy and a drudge.

"Lina sees as much pleasure as she can afford to see," she retorted, a little shortly. "She wasn't born with a silver spoon in her mouth, like some people. She has to work for her living the same as I do. As for the party, I'm obliged to your mother, I'm sure, for inviting Jaquelina. I've not a word to say against her going, but she's nothing but calico dresses."

Lina glanced at Miss Earle's pretty blue-and-white lawn, and the deep color flushed into her face again. Even Violet looked disconcerted.

"Haven't you even a white?" she said, after a minute. "Almost any kind of a white would look well at a lawn-party at night, you know. You can wear natural flowers."

Jaquelina looked at her aunt with a sudden gleam in her eyes.

"Aunt Meredith, there's mamma's white dress in the chest up in the garret—her wedding-one, you know," she said.

"Old-fashioned—and yellow as gold!" sniffed Mrs. Meredith contemptuously.

"The very thing," cried Violet Earle. "Yellow-white is the rage, and antique styles are very fashionable. Wear your mother's wedding-dress by all means, Lina. And plenty of flowers, remember."

"It's ill-luck wearing the clothes of them that's dead and gone," said Mrs. Meredith, half-fearfully.

"Oh! Aunt Meredith—could you think mamma would care for me wearing her wedding-dress?" cried Jaquelina, reproachfully.

"Certainly not," said Violet Earle. "Could an angel in Heaven care for an old dress she had left upon earth? What do cast-off garments matter to one wearing the robe of righteousness? Wear it by all means Lina!"

She rose as she spoke and moved toward the door.

"Good-bye, Lina; good-bye, Mrs. Meredith. Lina, don't fail us! We have only invited a certain number of girls and we count on everyone being there."


Miss Earle went away. Jaquelina brought the cows from the pasture, and tended the baby while her aunt did the milking. It was a dull and prosaic life enough for a young girl who was pretty, spirited and imaginative.

No wonder her thoughts dwelt eagerly and longingly on the lawn-party to which Violet Earle had invited her. The girl felt as if she were going to have a peep into fairyland.

She thought Violet Earle was the dearest and kindest girl in the world.

She did not know how Violet had said, half-laughingly, half-carelessly, when she went home:

"Mamma, I cannot see why you were so anxious to have that shy, awkward Jaquelina Meredith come to our party. She has[Pg 6] not a decent thing to wear—her aunt said so. She will have to come in an old white dress that belonged to her mother."

Violet's brother, the young collegian, laughed.

Gentle Mrs. Earle looked at them both a little reproachfully.

"My dears, I wish you would not laugh at little Lina's poverty," she said. "The Merediths do not treat her right. But aside from her poverty she ranks as high in the social scale as we do. Her father was an artist of no mean ability. He would have made his mark if he had not died young. I feel sorry for little Jaquelina."

"Was her mother a nice person, too, mamma?" Violet asked, interested.

"I did not know her mother very well," said Mrs. Earle. "She was Jaquelina Ardell, a young French girl whom Claude Meredith married while he was abroad. She did not live but a few months after they returned here. When her little girl was born she died."

"And Mr. Meredith soon after," said the student; "I remember it myself. I was a lad of five years at the time."

"Yes, he died of a fever," said Mrs. Earle, with a sigh, quickly suppressed.

"Did he leave no money for his daughter?" inquired Violet.

"No—he spent the few thousands his farmer-father bequeathed him upon his education and his art-studies abroad. So Lina is dependent upon her uncle's charity."

"A cold charity it is too," said Violet, thinking of cold, hard Mrs. Meredith.

"Charlie Meredith is not purposely unkind," Mrs. Earle said, quickly, "but he is thoughtless and careless, and his wife rules him. Still, for the sake of his feelings, I should not like to slight Claude's daughter."

"I do hope she will make a respectable appearance so that no one will be able to laugh at her," said Violet. "It was on my mind to offer to lend her a party-dress, but I decided that she would not have accepted it."

"I am glad you did not," her mother said promptly. "I think Lina is proud in her way. She would have been hurt."

Violet and her brother thought their mamma was very kind and thoughtful over Jaquelina Meredith.

No one had ever told them that Claude Meredith and their mother had been lovers in their boy and girl days, and that an ambitious father had come between them and persuaded the girl into a loveless union with the wealthy Mr. Earle.

Jaquelina herself did not know what an interest the pretty, faded woman took in her fate. As she walked up and down the low sitting-room with her little cousin in her arms she remembered how tenderly Violet had said "Mamma," and a vague yearning stood over her to feel herself enfolded in the sweetness of a mother's love, which she, poor child, was never to know.

At twilight Sambo came over from the neighboring farm with a message for Mrs. Meredith. Her husband had joined the band[Pg 7] of men who were going to pursue the horse-thieves, and would not be home until morning.

If she and Jaquelina were afraid they were to take the child and go to a neighbor's to spend the night.

Mrs. Meredith laughed at the idea of fear. So did Jaquelina. Both felt perfectly safe in the quiet, peaceful little farm-house. They sent word that they would remain at home.

At eight o'clock Mrs. Meredith, according to her usual custom, retired to bed with her child. Jaquelina took a lamp and went to her own room, but not to sleep. It was too early. The night hours were golden ones to her.

Then she was free to read or study as she liked. True, her aunt grumbled over the useless waste of a light, but her Uncle Charlie was wont to interfere so decidedly on that point that the orphan girl had her way.

But to-night the book was laid on the shelf of the little garret-chamber, and the girl dragged out a little cedar chest from under the high-posted bed.

She unlocked it and took out the dress she had told Violet she would wear to the lawn-party—her mother's wedding-dress.

Jaquelina shook out the cedar-scented folds of the dress and spread it out on the bed to look at. It was a fine, soft India muslin, trimmed with a good deal of fine, pretty lace and bows of satin ribbon—all of which had turned very yellow in the years while it lay folded in the cedar chest.

It was made in a quaint, pretty style, too; but Jaquelina looked at it doubtfully. She did not know enough of dry goods to know that the garment was made of the finest materials, and was costly as well as pretty.

She thought of Violet's crisp, fresh costumes, and the limp India muslin suffered in her guileless mind by the contrast. She actually brought out her Sunday calico, with its fine pink dots and two frills on the skirt, and laid it beside the India muslin, anxiously comparing them.

"The calico is the fresher-looking, certainly," she said, turning her pretty head sidewise in bird-like fashion, and eyeing the dresses thoughtfully, "but I am quite sure, from the way Violet looked, she would not like for me to wear that. Mamma's dress is very pretty, if only it were not so limp. I should not dare try to starch it, though. I might make it look worse."

Then she took a little box from the chest and opened it. It contained her dead mother's little store of jewelry.

There were two or three simple rings, a thin gold chain with a locket that held her father's and mother's pictures.

She fastened the chain around her neck and slipped one of the rings—the prettiest one—on her finger.

"I will wear these to the lawn-party," she said to herself. "The ring is very nice—it has such a pretty, shining stone!"

It was a pretty ring, as she said, but Jaquelina, brought up so ignorantly in the lonely farm-house, did not know that the shining little stone was a real diamond.

Charlie Meredith and his hard wife did not know it either. They all thought it was a bright, pretty bit of glass.

[Pg 8]

There was a motto cut deeply inside the ring over which Jaquelina had often puzzled.

Sometimes she thought she would ask Violet Earle, who had been to boarding-school, to translate it for her, then she desisted from shame at her own ignorance.

It was in her mother's native tongue, but no one had taught the artist's orphan child a line of French.

The question of the party-dress being settled, Jaquelina put away the India muslin and the jewelry, and sat down by the window, leaning her curly head on her slim, brown hand, while she gazed out into the moon-lighted night with her dark, dreamy eyes.

Everything was very still and peaceful. The full moon sailed on in calm majesty through the purple sky, the distant hills were clearly outlined in the brightness, and nearer home a faint, white mist curled over the brook, and the perfume of the lilacs and the roses in the garden below were borne sweetly on the wandering breeze.

Yet after all there was something weird and mysterious in the blended brightness and shadows of the moon-lighted landscape, and the sensitive mind of Jaquelina felt it so.

She shuddered, and her thoughts flew to the outlaw band said to be lurking in the neighborhood and riding off with all the finest horses of the farmers.

She thought of the pursuing party. Her mind pictured vividly the conflict that would ensue when the robbers and their pursuers met, and the capture of the daring chief whom rumor represented as brave and handsome as a demi-god.

"Whoever captures the chief will have two hundred dollars for a reward," the girl said to herself, wistfully. "Ah, if I only had two hundred dollars I would go to boarding-school one whole year! I would study so hard all the time that I would learn as much in twelve months as any other girl would in twenty-four! Then I would not stay at the farm any more. I would go away and earn my own living by teaching, or perhaps I might paint pretty little pictures like papa did, and sell them to rich people who have nothing to do but to be happy."

Two crystal drops welled up into the dark eyes and splashed down upon her cheeks.

She brushed them off impatiently.

"Crying, am I, like a great baby?" she said sharply, to herself. "What good will that do? Will crying get me two hundred dollars and send me to school, and deliver me from the jurisdiction of Aunt Meredith and her cross baby? Oh! that I might be a man for a few hours! I would sally forth and capture the robber-chief, and win the reward!"

Her thoughts having turned in this direction, Jaquelina forgot the lawn-party for awhile, and remained lost in thought, wishing over and over that she might capture the outlaw chief and claim the coveted reward that appeared so large in her longing eyes.

At last, wearied by the duties of the day, the tired head drooped upon the window-sill, the long, black lashes lay upon the warm,[Pg 9] pink cheeks—Jaquelina slept and dreamed she had captured the dreaded outlaw chief, and bound him securely with a garland of roses.

Laughing at her ludicrous dream, the young girl woke—someone was shaking her roughly by the arm.

"Lina Meredith, for shame," said her aunt, towering above her, angular and slim, in a striped calico night-dress. "Sleeping in the window at midnight, and the lamp a-burnin' bright, too! Willful waste makes woful want! But I'll not scold you this time. I'm glad you're up and dressed; you must fetch the doctor from town."

Jaquelina rose, stretching her cramped limbs and yawning drearily, only half awake. Mrs. Meredith grabbed a wet towel and deliberately mopped her face with it.

"There, now! I've got you awake," she said, triumphantly. "Did you hear what I said, Lina? You'll have to saddle Black Bess and fetch the doctor from town. Baby's got the cramp—dreadful bad, too!"

Jaquelina, broad awake now, stared in dismay at Mrs. Meredith.

"Why, aunt," she cried, "how can I go for the doctor at midnight? The town is at least a mile and a half from here."

"Only a mile through the woods," answered Mrs. Meredith, quickly.

The young girl shivered.

"Come, come, I never knew you afraid of anything," Mrs. Meredith began quickly; "surely you'll do this much for me, Lina—if not for me, for your poor little cousin Dollie, a-wheezin' her life away, and none to bring a doctor."

But Jaquelina hesitated.

"Aunt Meredith," she said, "the road through the woods is very dark and lonely, and, you may see for yourself, the moon is going down, and then those dreadful outlaws may be lurking in the woods. Is Dollie so very bad? Perhaps she would do until daylight."

"Come," said Mrs. Meredith, pulling the girl by the sleeve, "you shall see."

Jaquelina followed her down stairs to the room where the fat baby lay upon the bed wheezing terribly, while now and then a hoarse, whistling cough echoed painfully through the room.

Jaquelina's heart, always tender to pain, was touched by the sight of the infant's suffering.

"Oh, Lina, will you let the darling die?" cried the frightened mother, whose hard heart could soften, at least, to her own child's suffering. "Surely you'll bring the doctor to little Dollie?"

"Can't I go over to Brown's and send Sambo?" asked the girl, still shrinking from the thought of the lonely midnight ride.

"No, no," wailed the mother, clasping the sick child frantically in her arms, "I'll not trust that negro! I'll trust no one but you, Lina, to go and come in a hurry; I can depend on you to do your best. Oh, for God's sake, Lina, do go for the doctor; no one will hurt you—there's not a sign of danger. Your uncle and them[Pg 10] other men have captured the outlaws long before this time of night. Oh, Dollie! Dollie! my darling—I do believe she's dying now!"

Jaquelina waited for no more urging. She ran out of the house with the cry of the frightened, helpless mother still ringing in her ears, and made her way to the stable.

Her uncle had ridden one of the horses. Black Bess, the remaining one, stood patiently in the stall.

The mare was gentle, and quite accustomed to Jaquelina. She saddled her with deft, skillful fingers, led her out, and vaulted lightly to her back.

Then in the dim light of the waning moon, the girl rode out of the stable-yard, and set forth at a swift gallop for the town a mile away.

There was something weird and strange in that midnight ride through the lonely wood to Jaquelina.

Her heart beat fast as she guided the mare through the thick woods where the tall pines stood around dark and grim like silent sentinels.

The moon had gone down, and she had only the faint light of the stars to guide her on her perilous way.

Every moment she expected to be confronted by the outlaw band, of whom she had heard such terrible stories.

A foreboding dread lent her fresh impetuosity. Black Bess was panting and covered with perspiration, when her rider at length emerged safely from the woods and found herself on the outskirts of the town.

A few minutes brought her to the physician's neat residence. Her loud halloo soon brought him to the window. He promised to dress and come to the baby's assistance immediately.

"If you will wait a few minutes, Miss Meredith, I will ride back with you. The road at night is lonely and dangerous for a woman," the old doctor said, courteously.

But having come over the road safely, Jaquelina's courage had risen.

"Aunt Meredith will, perhaps, need my assistance with the child," she said, "so I had better ride on at once. I do not think there can be any danger, but if you ride fast enough to overtake me, I shall be very glad of your company."

She turned as she spoke and galloped away. A sudden storm was rising.

A cool wind blew into her face, and for a second the face of the heavens was divided by a keen flash of lightning that glittered steely blue, like a sword point, against the darkness.

Two or three drops of rain swirled down on the uncovered head and face.

"It was fortunate I did not wait," she thought, "I shall barely escape the storm if I do my best."

She urged Black Bess to her highest speed.

The wind increased. It blew Jaquelina's short, soft curls into her face, and across her eyes.

The strong, sweet breath of the pines mixed refreshingly with "the scent of violets hidden in the green."

[Pg 11]

Jaquelina never forgot that hour. It came back to her in after years—dark years, when memory was a nameless pain.

"The smell of violets hidden in the green,
Poured back into my fainting soul and frame
The times when I remember to have been
Joyful and free from blame."

She had reached the thickest part of the woods in safety when suddenly Black Bess came to such a sudden stop that her rider came near being thrown over her head.

In the next moment a vivid flash of lightning showed Jaquelina a tall, masked outlaw clutching her bridle rein.


Before the lurid flash died away, Jaquelina saw a second masked figure emerge from behind a tree with a bull's-eye lantern. She heard a voice exclaim in profound surprise:

"By Jove, it's a woman!"

"Yes," cried the girl, bravely, "and if you are men you will suffer me to pass. Only cowards would molest a woman!"

The second man flashed the light of the lantern into the pale, yet spirited face.

"By Jove," he said again, "what a pretty girl! Well, miss, we suffer neither man nor woman to pass without taking toll."

Jaquelina's heart sank. Would they take Black Bess, her uncle's favorite?

These were the horse thieves, of course. She could not repress the quiver in her voice as she asked faintly:

"What toll do you demand?"

"We usually take a horse, miss," said the last speaker, coolly, "but seeing that you're such an uncommon pretty girl, we'll take the mare, and you shall give us a kiss apiece, besides."

The man had reckoned without his host. The words were scarcely out of his mouth before a shower of keen and stinging blows rained down upon his head and face from the little riding-whip the girl carried in her clenched hand.

"You infamous coward," she cried, indignantly, "take that, and that, and that! For shame! To insult a helpless woman who is in your power!"

"Yes, you're in my power, and I'll make you pay dearly for those blows," cried the ruffian, plucking her from the saddle like a feather, and in an instant she was struggling on the ground beside him.

But the man who had held the mare's bridle-rein all the while now interfered sternly.

"Come, come, Bowles, you're transgressing orders. The captain's order is to allow no violence. But of course we'll take the mare."

"And the girl, too," said Bowles, shortly and sharply, still smarting under the indignity of the stinging blows the brave girl had rained upon him so furiously.

[Pg 12]

"We've no call to take the girl," said the other. "Orders are for animals, not persons. Turn her loose, and let her walk home."

"No," said Bowles, with an oath, "I'll give her a scare, anyway. I'll take her to the captain, and he shall say what punishment she merits. I'll not let her go! My head and face are burning with the jade's blows!"

"I will not go with you!" Jaquelina cried out, trying to break from his tight clasp. "You have no right to detain me! Let me go at once!"

But her struggles and cries were silenced effectually by a stout handkerchief the man bound over her mouth.

Then he sprang to the mare's back, and, lifting Jaquelina before him, galloped quickly away through the increasing darkness and the rain, which now began to pour down in large, heavy drops, that speedily wet the girl's thin garments through and through.

Jaquelina was beside herself with terror and fear of the ruffian who held her in that rough, tight clasp.

A thousand conflicting thoughts rushed over her mind.

She thought of her Uncle Charlie, to whom the loss of Black Bess would be so severe at the present time; she thought of the sick child at home, and of the hard, selfish woman who had sent her forth to encounter this terrible peril.

Every moment while she was borne onward in the storm and darkness seemed an eternity of time to her bewildered mind.

She had no idea where she was going, or in what direction. The gloom and darkness hid every object from her view, and she was too terrified to reason clearly.

At last they stopped. Jaquelina felt herself lifted down from the mare's back, and borne rapidly in Bowles' arms along what seemed to be a perfectly dark passage-way, long and winding. The wind and rain had ceased to blow in her face, and a damp, earthy smell pervaded the atmosphere.

Jaquelina instantly decided that they were in a cave, of which there were several in the neighborhood of her home.

Presently her captor paused, and gave a low, peculiar whistle, several times repeated.

"Enter!" she heard a deep, musical voice exclaim.

Bowles seemed to push aside a thick and heavy curtain. The next moment a blaze of light shone around him as he entered a large apartment, pushing his frightened captive before him.

Jaquelina was blinded a moment as she came into the brilliant light from the outer rain and darkness; then the mist cleared; she looked up and found herself standing before the stateliest and most superbly handsome man she had ever beheld in her life.

Tall, dark, haughty, the outlaw chief was as kingly in his beauty as Lucifer, "star of the morning," might have looked in the hour of his fall.

His glossy curls of jet-black hair were thrown carelessly back from a brow as white and perfect as sculptured marble, his dark and piercing eyes gleamed star-like beneath the black, over-arching brows.

[Pg 13]

His nose was perfect in shape and contour; his rather stern and slightly sad lips were half concealed by a long curling mustache, black, like his hair.

Youth, power, and strength spoke in every line of the firm and well-knit figure in its careless yet well-fitting hunting suit of fine, dark-blue flannel.

One might have looked for such a face and form at the head of a gallant army, bravely leading his troops to victory or death, but never here in the den of robbers.

Jaquelina had one full glance into that darkly handsome face—one look that imprinted it forever on her memory—then the chief caught up a mask that lay upon a table near by, and fitted it hurriedly to his features; the low, deep, musical voice that bade them enter now exclaimed with repressed wrath and menace:

"Whom have we here, Bowles? And how have you dared bring a stranger into my presence while I remained unmasked?"

Jaquelina saw that Bowles trembled at the stern anger of his chief.

"Captain, I humbly beg your pardon," he said. "I caught this girl riding a fine black mare through the woods, and attempted a harmless joke upon her, on which she flew at me like a little tigress and belabored me with her riding-whip. I was so enraged at her impudence that I whipped upon the mare's back and brought the little wretch here to you to tell me how to punish her."

A low laugh actually rippled over the stern, sad lips of the robber chief. He looked at Jaquelina where she stood in the center of the apartment, the rain-drops falling from her drenched garments upon the rich crimson carpet in shining little pools, the wet curls clinging to her white brow; her face pale as death, her slight form trembling with cold and terror.

The laugh died suddenly on his lips, his dark eyes flashed through the openings in his mask.

"For shame, Bowles," he said, sharply. "How dared you assault a woman? We make no war upon such."

"Orders were to take every fine animal that passed," Bowles said, half-apologetically, yet sullenly.

"Animals, yes, but not human beings, least of all helpless females. I never counted upon such passing. What were you, a mere slip of a girl, doing on horseback in the woods at the dead hour of night?" he inquired, looking curiously at Jaquelina.

"I went to call the doctor to a sick child," she answered.

"Where were all the men of your family and neighborhood that you were permitted to take such a lonely and perilous midnight ride?" inquired the outlaw chief, again fixing his dark eyes upon her in surprise, not unmixed with suspicion.

Jaquelina flushed hotly beneath that look.

"My uncle and all the neighboring men were absent," she said, returning his gaze with cool scorn.

"Where?" he inquired.

"They have joined together to pursue the horse-thieves whom you have the honor to command," she replied, defiantly.

[Pg 14]

The chief started, then tossed his handsome head with a reckless laugh.

"Do you think it likely they will overtake us?" he asked, sneeringly.

"I cannot tell, but I hope so. I wish I could capture you," said the girl, frankly.

"Do you? Why do you wish so?" he inquired, nettled.

"I should like to earn the reward of two hundred dollars that has been offered for your apprehension;" she replied, naively.

"What would you do with it?" he asked, rather amused at her frankness.

"That is my business," Jaquelina answered, with demure dignity.

"Bowles, light a fire. I have been so interested in your charming captive that I forgot she was drenched with the rain. Take a seat, Miss—Miss—I don't know what to call you," he said, as he pushed a large arm-chair toward her.

"My name is Meredith—Miss Meredith," Jaquelina said, but she did not take the offered chair. She lifted her dark, clear eyes appealingly to the masked face of the outlaw captain.

"Oh, sir," she cried, clasping her white hands in unconscious pathos, "do let me have Black Bess and go home! They tell me you only rob rich men who can afford to lose their horses. Uncle Charlie is poor. He has only his farm and the mare, and one horse besides. Would you rob him of his little all?"

The handsome chief looked admiringly at the sweet, girlish face with its pleading eyes and wistful lips. In spite of her terror and her drenched, miserable condition there was a strange, luring charm about the lovely young face. The heart of the outlaw chief was strangely stirred by it.

"Miss Meredith," he said, abruptly, "I gather from what you have said that you are an orphan?"

"Yes," Jaquelina said, wonderingly.

"There is one condition," he said, slowly, "on which I will return Black Bess to her owner. There is nothing that would tempt me to part with you. I am a reckless, defiant man, Miss Meredith. I fear nothing; but your beautiful, brave face has won my heart from me at first sight. I love you. Let me make you my wife, sweet girl, and I will take you far away from this life and these scenes, and your life shall be a long, bright dream of love and happiness!"


The startling suddenness of the outlaw chief's proposal appeared to take Jaquelina's breath away.

She did not attempt to answer him, but remained silently regarding him in surprise, not unmixed with terror.

"Have I taken you by surprise?" he inquired, after a moment, in a gentler tone. "Forgive me. I am used to rough men, not timid women. But consent to be my bride, Miss Meredith, and you will find me the tenderest lord a fair girl ever dreamed of. Do not answer me this moment. Take time to consider."

[Pg 15]

"I do not need a moment's time to consider," Jaquelina flashed forth indignantly. "Do you think I would marry a common robber, a horse-thief, an outlaw?"

She saw the dark eyes flash beneath the outlaw's mask.

"Those are harsh words, Miss Meredith," he said, with outward calmness. "They are not becoming under my own humble roof and from the lips of my guest."

"Not your guest, but your captive," the girl said, bitterly.

"A beloved captive," replied the outlaw. "Child, I do not know why my heart has gone out to you so strangely. It is not your beauty that has won me. Women more beautiful than you have smiled on me and my heart was untouched. But the moment I looked into your proud, dark eyes my soul seemed to recognize its true mate."

"You flatter me!" cried the captive, drawing her slight form erect with indignant scorn. "I the true mate of a man as reckless and crime-stained as you? You rate me highly indeed! Were I a man I would make you retract the insult at the sword's point."

"How? A duel?" asked the outlaw, laughing at her passionate vehemence.

"Yes, a duel," she answered, with unmoved gravity.

"You are a brave little girl, Miss Meredith," the outlaw answered, resting his white, well-formed hand on the back of a chair with easy grace, while he regarded her attentively. "You make me admire you more than ever."

"I am sorry for that," said Jaquelina, with spirit.

"Why?" he inquired, seeming to find pleasure in the very sound of her voice, although her words were so scornful. "Is admiration so distasteful to you?"

"From you it is," she said, and although he affected indifference her scornful tone had an arrow in it that secretly pierced his heart.

"What manner of a man might he be whose admiration would be acceptable to you, fair lady?" he inquired, coldly, yet with a certain wistfulness in his tone.

Jaquelina turned her dark eyes on the masked face of the outlaw, and regarded him steadily as she said, firmly:

"A man quite your opposite in everything—an honest, honorable, noble man, brave and without reproach."

"Sans peur et sans reproche—the Ardelle motto," muttered the outlaw beneath his dark mustache. "So, Miss Meredith, you are holding up before me a glass wherein I may see all that I am not?"

"Yes," she said; then after a minute, in which she gazed at the princely form in unwilling admiration, Jaquelina added, half-pityingly: "All that you might have been!"

"Yes, all that I might have been," he said, in a saddened and softened voice. "Are you a student of Whittier, Miss Meredith? Do you believe with him that

"'Of all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest are these: It might have been'?"

[Pg 16]

Jaquelina gazed in astonishment at him. A sudden sense of the strangeness of her position rushed over her.

She was here alone in the outlaw's cave, and he was talking sentiment to her.

She clasped her slim hands together, and the dark eyes looked at him pleadingly as she answered:

"I am too young and untutored to discuss these things with you, sir, and my mind is distracted by thoughts of home. Release me, if you please. If you will only show me the outlet of the cave I will find my way home. My friends will be alarmed at my continued absence."

"Do you hear the storm?" he asked. "It is pitchy dark, the rain and wind are fearful, and you are several miles from home."

"It is no matter," said the girl, desperately. "Only release me, and I will find my home if I have to crawl there. I am more afraid of you and your outlaw band than I am of the night and the darkness."

He looked at her thoughtfully.

"Child," he said, abruptly, "you need not fear me. I would not harm a hair on that little head, and yet, if I suffered you to go free, I suppose you would at once discover our hiding-place to our enemies."

Jaquelina remained perfectly silent.

"Is it not true?" he inquired, coldly.

She lifted her eyes and gazed at him defiantly.

"You mean that you would do so?" he said, interpreting her look aright.

"Yes, for it would be my duty to rid my neighborhood of such a scourge," she replied, very low.

Then there was a minute of perfect silence. The long lashes drooped upon her cheeks as the handsome outlaw studied her face.

Bowles came in with a small furnace filled with glowing coals, then silently withdrew.

"Draw near to the fire and dry your wet clothing," said the chief, abruptly.

"There would be no use," Jaquelina answered, coldly, "I shall be drenched through going home."

"You seem quite certain of going," he said, amused at her persistency. "I fear you will be disappointed, Miss Meredith. I regret the fact of Bowles bringing you here very much, and I shall order him to apologize to you for doing so. But I must tell you that my own safety demands that I shall keep you a prisoner in this cave until such time as we shall decide to leave the neighborhood, when, if you shall still persist in refusing my hand, I may, perhaps, release you."

Jaquelina made an impulsive rush toward the heavy curtains that shut in the comfortable apartment from the outer darkness of the cave, but the voice of the outlaw arrested her with her hand upon the thick hanging.

"I should not advise you to attempt leaving without my consent, Miss Meredith. I have sentries stationed through the cave. You would scarcely find them so courteous as myself!"

[Pg 17]

The white hands fell from the heavy curtains in dismay. Jaquelina remembered the rude, officious Bowles, and accepted the outlaw's statement as true. She looked at him in surprise and disgust.

"Why do you who appear to have the instincts and the training of a gentleman, herd with such ruffians?" she asked.

"Promise to marry me, and I will tell you why," he replied. "I will give up this life and try to become that which you said just now I might have been. Miss Meredith, I am in serious earnest. Become my wife, and I swear to you that you shall not have one wish ungratified. I am wealthy. I will take you away to some fair, bright clime where my history is all unknown. Costly jewels, splendid silks and laces—all that the heart of woman desires—shall be yours, with the adoration of a heart as true as truth."

"I care nothing for these things," Jaquelina answered, crimsoning with anger and disdain; "you have had my answer. Sooner than link my fate with one so wicked and crime-stained as your own, I would die here at your feet!"

"Do I, then, appear so utterly vile in the clear eyes of a pure woman?" inquired the outlaw chief, in a voice strangely tinctured with melancholy.

Jaquelina had drawn near the glowing furnace of coals, unconsciously attracted by the warmth that stole deliciously over her drenched and shivering frame.

She was too young and untouched by real sorrow to understand the vague remorse and pathos that quivered in the man's low voice. Yet when she answered "yes," it was a trifle more gently and kindly.

"I could never teach you to love me, then?" he said, questioningly.

"No," the girl said, decidedly, with her curly head set sidewise, and such an owlish gravity about her that the outlaw chief, who seemed "to be all things by turns, and nothing long," felt his risibilities excited, and laughed outright.

"Why do you laugh?" she inquired, with an air of offended dignity.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Meredith, for my rudeness," he said, "but as you stood there with the steam from your drenched clothing rising over your head, and the furnace blazing at your feet, you reminded me so comically of one of Shakespeare's witches that I was forced to laugh."

Jaquelina was thoroughly angry. To be laughed at by this man whom she scorned, was too much.

She stepped back into the darkest and coldest corner of the room, and stood there in silent, dignified displeasure.

"Pray do not allow my silly jest to drive you away from the fire," he exclaimed, anxiously. "Let me entreat you to return."

But his captive had sunk down upon the floor, and buried her face in her hands.

Folding his arms across his breast, the outlaw chief walked up and down across the soft, echoless carpet, his gloomy eyes fixed[Pg 18] immovably upon the little crouching figure with the graceful head bowed on the clasped hands.

Jaquelina looked very childish and forlorn as she crouched there.

Quite suddenly she broke into a perfectly audible sob of grief and self-pity.

"I shall miss Violet Earle's party after all. And I had been so happy over it!"

It was the cry of a child over a broken toy, yet its artless pathos pierced the man's heart. He went quickly and knelt down beside her.

"Little one, what is this that you grieve for?" he asked, almost tenderly; "tell me?"

"It is only—only," sobbed the girl, "that you will cause me to lose the happiest hour of my life."

"Poor child! and life has so few happy hours," said the outlaw chief. "Tell me what it is you lament so much. Perhaps I may relent."

"It was Miss Violet Earle's lawn-party to-morrow night," sobbed Jaquelina. "She had invited me. I—I was never at a party in my life, and I wanted so much to see what it was like."

The listener frowned, then smiled beneath his concealing mask.

"Do not weep for that," he said. "I will tell you what every party is like, little girl. A party is an occasion when somebody else has a prettier dress than yours, and somebody else dances with your favorite beau once more than you did, and when you get home you are mad, and say you wouldn't have gone if you had known it, so there!"

"I don't believe it," wept Jaquelina, obstinately, "at least, not all of it. It may be true about the dress. I know Violet Earle's will be ever so much prettier than mine, but I should never, never wish I had not gone there."

Ah, Jaquelina, Jaquelina! If those dark eyes, dimmed now with childish tears, could but have pierced the secret of the untried future!

"She is but a simple child," the outlaw said to himself, pityingly. "Only a little wild bird. I have caged it, but it would never sing for me. I must let it fly back to its nest."

He touched the girl's damp, clinging curls lightly.

"Miss Meredith, look up at me," he said.

Jaquelina lifted her wet eyes inquiringly.

"Cannot you leave me in peace?" she asked, shrinking from his light touch impatiently.

He did not appear to notice the pretty, childish petulance.

"Little bird," he said, "I will give you your freedom if you will promise me just one thing—you will not reveal the secret of this cavern retreat to my enemies? It is the only price by which you can purchase freedom."

"Since it is my only chance of release, I must needs keep the secret," Jaquelina said; reluctantly. "What shall I tell them?"

"Only say that you were lost in the woods, and that the outlaw chief guided you to the road again," he replied.

[Pg 19]

"Very well," she replied; "but I warn you that if ever I see you elsewhere I will attempt to capture you."

He looked at the frank, determined face half-reproachfully a moment, then laughed at the threat.

Ten minutes after he was riding by Jaquelina's side through the stormy woods.

When the first faint beams of daylight glimmered in the cloudy east, he watched her riding safely toward home, mounted on the faithful Black Bess.

"Good-by, Miss Meredith," he had said, as they parted. "When you think of the outlaw whose love you scorned, do not forget that the bravest thing a brave man can do is to voluntarily resign the one fair woman who holds his heart."

But Jaquelina, with a cold and haughty bow, rode silently away.


"All the people we invited are here, mamma," said Violet Earle, "all except Jaquelina Meredith. Do you think she will come?"

Laurel Hill, the beautiful home of the Earles, was in a blaze of light and gayety. The handsome, roomy mansion, with its wide and long piazzas and large bay windows, was lighted "from garret to basement," and thrown open to the guests. The beautiful green lawn, with its sprinkling of laurel trees that gave the place its name, was almost as light as day with the glitter of colored lamps and Chinese lanterns.

A pretty summer-house in the center of the lawn was decorated with garlands of cedar and fluttering silken banners. It was here that Violet was standing when she spoke to her mother.

She looked very sweet and winning as she stood there, the light shining down on the fair, flushed face, and on the golden ringlets looped back with sprays of lilies-of-the-valley nestling among dark green leaves.

She wore a soft, filmy white robe, and a wide sash of pale-blue satin was knotted carelessly around the slender waist. The pretty dimpled neck and arms were quite bare, and golden ornaments, studded with pearls and turquoise, gleamed upon their whiteness.

Mrs. Earle, looking very fair and graceful in silver-gray silk and pale, gleaming pearls, looked admiringly at her lovely daughter.

"No, I am afraid Jaquelina will not come," she said; "one of the neighbors was telling me just now that she was lost in the woods last night and thoroughly drenched by the rain, so it is just possible she may be ill. Had you not heard it, dear?"

"Yes; Mr. Brown told me," answered Violet. "And only think, mamma, she met the captain of the outlaws, and he guided her to the road. Was it not romantic? I should not have expected such courtesy from such a dreadful man."

"It was perfectly shameful for Mrs. Meredith to have sent her for the doctor at midnight," said Mrs. Earle, warmly. "They[Pg 20] tell me there was no real necessity for such a thing. The child only had a common attack of croup, which any sensible mother would have known how to subdue with simple domestic remedies. Mr. Brown, their near neighbor, tells me it is playing about the floor, as well as usual, to-day."

"Poor Lina! That terrible man might have killed her," said pretty Violet, with a shudder.

"Look, Violet—who is that coming now?" said Mrs. Earle suddenly.

Violet looked hastily.

"Oh," she said, "it is Mr. Meredith—he is bringing her after all."

The farmer came up the steps, Jaquelina following in his wake, a veil tied about her head, a thin summer shawl wrapped about her shoulders.

"They told me I should find you here. I have brought my niece to the party, Mrs. Earle. She had a cold, but I couldn't persuade her to stay at home," he said. "I will go back, now, as wife and Dollie are alone, but if you'll tell me when the party will be over, I'll bring back the mare for Lina."

"You need not trouble about that," Mrs. Earle replied as he turned away. "I'll see that she gets back safely, Mr. Meredith."

Then she turned to Jaquelina, who stood beside Violet, gazing with timid delight at the illuminated lawn and the moving groups of people.

"You may lay aside your wraps, dear," she said, kindly. "I hope you will enjoy our little party."

"I know I shall," the girl answered, gazing around her with sparkling eyes. "Oh! Mrs. Earle, how beautiful it all is. It seems just like fairyland!"

Mrs. Earle smiled indulgently as she helped her to remove the plain shawl and veil that enveloped her; then she started back with a little cry of surprise that was faintly re-echoed by Violet.

Jaquelina's sensitive lips quivered; her dark eyes filled with quick tears.

"I was afraid the dress would not do," she said, falteringly. "I will put on my wraps and go home again, Mrs. Earle."

She was turning toward the steps, but Violet caught her arm.

"Oh, you little goose!" she said, laughing, "come back. Where did you get such a sweet dress?"

"Is it pretty? Will it do, indeed?" asked Jaquelina, radiant.

"It is lovely," Mrs. Earle said, kindly. "It makes you look extremely pretty, my dear."

"Pretty is faint praise, mother," said her handsome son, as he came up the steps, and overheard the words. "Miss Lina, how do you do? You have blossomed into a beauty since I last saw you."

His college-mate, who had come up the steps with him, peered over his shoulder at the "beauty."

He saw a shy, lovely face with dewy-crimson lips, and large, dark eyes with long, black lashes like fringed curtains—chestnut curls, tinged with gold, clustering about a low, broad brow and[Pg 21] proudly-set head—a quaint, pretty dress of yellowish India muslin with lace and satin ribbons fluttering about it.

Nothing more quaintly sweet and pretty than the dress and its wearer could have been imagined.

Jaquelina gave her hand shyly a moment to Walter Earle, then he stepped aside to introduce her to his friend.

"Miss Meredith, allow me to present to you my friend, Ronald Valchester."

Jaquelina bowed to a tall, grave-looking man with dark hair thrown carelessly back from a high, white brow, and twilight-colored eyes—blue-gray in quiet moments, starry-black in moments of excitement.

He touched the girl's slim, brown hand lightly with his firm, white one, then stepped quietly aside a moment later, and allowed Walter Earle to lead her out upon the lawn.

"My friend is not what you would call a lady's-man," Walter said to her. "He is a dreamy student, quite absorbed in his books, and yet the best friend and the bravest that man ever had. He is very intellectual, and leads in everything at college. We are all proud of him there. Miss Meredith, you have read of men who stood head and shoulders above their fellows? Valchester is one of them. I could tell you a hundred delightful things that he has done if you——"

"Walter, I'll never forgive you if you say another word," said Valchester's voice behind them.

Walter turned and saw his friend walking after him with Violet clinging to his arm.

"Listeners never hear good of themselves," he retorted, to cover his embarrassment at being overheard.

"The old adage is falsified in this case," laughed Valchester, "and for fear of not coming up to the ideal you have raised in Miss Meredith's mind, I shall always tread on thorns in her presence."

Walter Earle laughed lightly at the careless metaphor.

"Then the path will be rose-strewn, too," he said, "for where there are thorns there are roses."

"Talking of roses," said Violet, "reminds me to ask you, Lina, where are the flowers I told you to wear? You forgot them."

"No, I did not," said the girl. "I must tell you the truth, Violet; I did not have the time to gather a single flower. I was late as it was; for you see Aunt Meredith needed me so long I could scarcely get away. But I thought perhaps you could spare me a flower."

"As many as you like," said Violet, generously. "What will you have? Here we are at the flower-beds. Make your own selection."

"I am afraid of the gardener," laughed Jaquelina, shrinking back from the trim and well-kept flower-beds. "I will take anything you choose to give me."

"Daisies would suit you," said Walter Earle, looking at the sweet, shy face.

"Scarlet geraniums or roses," said Violet, thinking how beautifully[Pg 22] they would contrast with the dark eyes and the white dress.

Ronald Valchester studied the drooping face attentively, as the dark eyes gazed at the brilliant flowers, the dark, curling lashes shading the rose-flushed cheek.

"Passion-flowers, I think," he said, and gathered a cluster of the bright flowers from the trellis and offered them to her. She took them with a slight bow, and fastened them in her belt.

What had Ronald Valchester, the gifted, thoughtful student, read in the lovely, innocent face of the simple girl that had prompted him to offer her passion-flowers for her type?

Walter Earle looked surprised, but he set it down as one of Valchester's odd freaks, and told Jaquelina that the flowers were very becoming.

Violet said that roses would have looked prettier. Then she gathered some dewy violets and pinned them on his coat with pretty, careless coquetry.

"Lina, we are going to have a dance on the lawn," said the latter. "Do you like to dance?"

"No," said Jaquelina, and the fitful color came and went in her cheeks.

"Why not?" Violet said, surprised.

"Because I do not know how to dance," Jaquelina said, so timidly and naively that Walter Earle and Ronald Valchester laughed. Then Walter said, good-naturedly:

"Oh, that is nothing. You must dance with me. I will show you how to do the steps and the figures."

"You are sure I shall not appear awkward?" she asked, her sensitive pride on the alert.

"You could not be awkward if you tried ever so hard," said the gallant young collegiate, captivated by the artless shyness and prettiness of the little girl whom at first he had only meant to patronize.

So they danced together.

Jaquelina fell into it all so naturally and happily that no one felt inclined to laugh at her when now and then she made a misstep, or caused a whole quadrille to blunder.

She was so ashamed and penitent over her little mistakes that it was a pleasure to set her right and forgive her. We pardon so many errors in youth and beauty.

After awhile Ronald Valchester, dancing with Violet, said, carelessly:

"Your friend, Miss Meredith, is exceedingly pretty—is she not, Miss Earle?"

Violet looked across at Jaquelina, who was dancing with someone whom Walter had introduced to her—a handsome, manly young fellow, who seemed to admire his partner very much. She was startled at the radiant beauty that happiness had kindled in Jaquelina's changeful face.

"She is not always so pretty," Violet said, quickly; "it is the effect of the moonlight and lamplight! You should see her at home by daylight. She is tanned and sunburned, and terribly[Pg 23] shabby. Would you believe she is wearing her dead mother's wedding-dress to-night?"

"I should not have thought it," he said. "It is a very nice dress, is it not?" and he looked more carefully at the girl who was dancing in her dead mother's wedding-dress with the passion-flowers half falling from the satin girdle that bound the slender waist—the girl who was so pretty and happy in the lamplight and moonlight, and so tanned and shabby by daylight.

"I have heard of 'gas-light beauties,' Miss Earle," he said carelessly. "I suppose Miss Meredith must belong to that class."

Violet felt uncomfortable, she could not have told why, for she had only spoken what she felt to be true.

"Yes," she answered, "I suppose so. I have known Lina Meredith all my life, or nearly, but I never thought her pretty until to-night. To-morrow we will call upon her at her own home. You may see for yourself how different she will appear."

"I shall be pleased to go—thank you," said Ronald Valchester. "Is Miss Meredith the only daughter?"

Violet looked at him surprised.

"Why, of course," she began, then stopped, and said deprecatingly: "I have, perhaps, done Lina an injustice in speaking of her as I have to you, Mr. Valchester. I thought you knew that she is an orphan. It isn't her fault that she must go shabby and neglected. She is poor, and has no one to love her."

Violet looked very pretty in the thoughtful student's eyes just then—much prettier than she had five minutes ago. As he clasped the little hand in the winding figures of the gay dance, he thought that the touch of womanly pity in her voice was very winning.

More than once he looked at the slender figure of Jaquelina, as it whirled past him lightly, with a new interest in his eyes. She had been simply a pretty, interesting girl to him before, in whose radiant face he had vaguely read something that prompted him to give her the passion-flowers.

Now the vibrating chord of sympathy in his nature had been touched by those simple words: "She has no one to love her."

When that dance was over and Violet had been claimed by another partner, he went up to Jaquelina.

"You have not danced with me yet," he said. "Will you give me the next dance, Miss Meredith?"

"You must excuse me, Mr. Valchester," she replied, with a smile, "I have promised the next dance to your friend, Mr. Earle."


Jaquelina saw that the young student looked surprised.

"You have danced with Walter Earle twice already," he said. "Do you not know that it is not considered en regle to dance more than twice with the same partner?"

She looked at him, puzzled, for an instant. Then the long lashes drooped, and the ready color flashed into her cheek as she answered.

[Pg 24]

"I do not think I understand what en regle means, Mr. Valchester."

"I beg your pardon for using a French phrase," said Ronald Valchester, uncertain whether she was in earnest or meant to rebuke him. "I am aware that the habit is considered an affectation, but one falls into these things so naturally at college, you know, Miss Meredith."

But he did not attempt to explain it to her. It had vaguely occurred to him that she was teasing him, and he relapsed at once into his grave dignity.

But the next instant he saw that he had been mistaken. She raised her clear, dark eyes to his face, and said, gratefully:

"You do not laugh at my ignorance, Mr. Valchester—then I may dare to ask you a favor."

As she spoke she drew a ring from her finger, and held it out to him.

"Will you translate for me the French words in this ring?" she said.

Many times afterward she wondered what had given her such courage to ask Ronald Valchester this question; she had always been too timid to ask anyone before.

The student took the ring and held it up to the light of the lamp that swung in the tree above their heads.

The diamond flashed and sparkled in the antique dead-gold setting. He read out aloud:

"'Sans peur et sans reproche.' It is a French motto, Miss Meredith. It simply means, 'without fear and without reproach.'"

"Oh! what beautiful words," she cried. "Thank you, Mr. Valchester, very much. All my life I have wanted to know what those words in mamma's ring meant."

"Anyone, almost, could have told you," he replied, as he handed it back to her. "Did you never ask anyone?"

"No, I was ashamed to confess such pitiable ignorance," she answered, frankly. "You see, Mr. Valchester, my mother was French, and it seemed so odd that I should be ignorant of her mother-tongue."

"No one could laugh at you for that," said Ronald Valchester, kindly.

He was leaning against the tree carelessly, and Jaquelina sat on the rustic bench beneath it, the soft, white folds of her dress falling on the velvety green turf. A little beyond them was the square-cut cedar hedge that bounded the trim lawn.

Jaquelina did not know what dark, gleaming eyes watched her beauty, as she sat there with the light falling down on her girlish face and form.

She was looking at her companion, and recalling the words in which Walter Earle had praised him.

"He is handsome, too," she said to herself. "What a beautiful, high, white brow, and clear-cut face. Mr. Earle must be very proud to have him for his friend."

"Mr. Valchester, are you a poet?" she asked, suddenly.

[Pg 25]

"No one ever accused me of being one," he answered, laughing. "Why do you ask me, Miss Meredith?"

"You look like one," she said.

Ronald Valchester laughed again.

"Did you ever see a poet, Miss Meredith?" he asked.

Then Jaquelina started and blushed.

"No, in truth, I never did," she said. "It was only my fancy. Perhaps I should have expressed my thought better if I had said that you realize my ideal of how a poet should look."

"You flatter me," he said, smiling, yet in his heart Ronald Valchester was pleased at her words, for he saw that she meant them and had no thought of flattering him.

Quite naturally he said to her after a moment of silent thought.

"Are you fond of poetry, Miss Meredith?"

"I love it better than anything in the world!" she replied, with enthusiasm.

"Tell me the name of your favorite poet," he said.

He saw the quick, sensitive flush of shame leap into the soft cheek at the natural question.

"I cannot tell you," she said. "I have had no fair opportunity of making up my mind. I have read bits from them all, but never a whole volume. We have not many books at home."

It seemed only kindness that he should say then:

"Will you permit me to lend you some of my books, Miss Meredith? I have all the poets. I will send you down a box from college."

"Thank you," she said, flushing with pleasure. "I will be very careful with them, Mr. Valchester."

Either Walter Earle had forgotten her, or something had detained him.

Another set was forming, but he did not come to claim her hand.

The dance was made up and she sat still and waited, while the wild, entrancing strains of music filled the night with melody.

Ronald Valchester did not seek another partner. He sat down by Jaquelina's side, and talked to her of books and poetry.

Now and then he repeated pretty bits from his favorite authors, to which she listened eagerly.

It was very pleasant. The night was so bright and warm, the scene was so gay and brilliant, the heavy, odorous perfume of honeysuckles and roses freighted the air.

The moon shone bright and clear, the stars seemed to twinkle with joy. In her mind Jaquelina silently contrasted it with last night.

Could it be possible that only last night she was kneeling, wet and cold and wretched in the outlaw's cavern retreat, pleading for liberty—she who sat here free and happy, and listened to the musical voice of Ronald Valchester murmuring lovely lines and gentle thoughts from the poets she loved?

She shivered as if with cold as the striking contrast presented itself to her mind.

"It is a delightful party," she said to herself. "I would not[Pg 26] have missed it for anything. I have enjoyed every minute of it."

Just then Walter Earle came hurrying up to them.

"Miss Meredith, I beg ten thousand pardons," he cried. "Our dance is almost over, but I did not know it was on until this moment. You see I had gone into the house and was talking to my father and some of the older people, and I did not hear the music. Will you excuse me, and give me another dance?"

"You are perfectly excusable, sir," she said, "but——" she stopped and looked at Ronald Valchester.

"I have just been telling her," said Valchester, "that it is neither customary nor fair to give so many dances to one person."

Walter Earle flushed slightly.

"As I am her teacher," he said, "that objection should not apply to me. I have been showing her how to do the steps and figures. No one else volunteered to teach her. You did not, Valchester."

It was Valchester's turn to blush now.

"It was very careless and selfish in me that I did not," he replied. "But I am sufficiently punished for it, as I have not been able to secure her for my partner a single time."

"Well, suppose we adjourn to the house now," said Walter. "Refreshments are served in the dining-room."

"And mamma has sent me to hurry you in," said Violet, appearing on the scene, with a merry party of young people in her wake.

They went into the house, and Jaquelina found herself placed between Walter Earle and Ronald Valchester at table. Violet was on the other side of Valchester.

They formed a merry party. The long table sparkled with silver and cut-glass and flowers, and the dishes were loaded with rare and dainty edibles and delicious fruits.

But Jaquelina was too happy and excited to eat. She drank in pleasure from the sights and sounds about her—the bright, happy faces, the joyous voices.

The hour that was spent at the table passed like a dream of pleasure, but afterward she remembered that she had only trifled with her knife and fork; she had been too excited to eat.

When they left the table the young people all went into the parlor.

Violet had a new piano—a fine instrument that she laughingly said it was a perfect delight to touch.

Several of the young ladies sang and played. Jaquelina sat quietly at the window and listened.

Music was a passion with her. It seemed to stir a thousand slumbering harmonies into life within her heart.

"Do you play?" said Valchester a voice beside her, presently.

"No, I have never been taught," she answered, and he caught the faint tone of regret in the low voice.

"But you love music?" he said.

"Dearly," she answered, with unconscious pathos.

"You have not had a fashionable boarding-school education, Miss Meredith, I suppose," he said, and was sorry for the words a[Pg 27] moment after as he saw the sensitive, ever-ready color tinge her cheek.

"Why do you say so?" she asked, toying nervously with the heavy fringe of the curtain. "Do I betray my ignorance so plainly?"

"Excuse me; not in the least," he replied. "I guessed so because you do not play."

"I am an orphan, Mr. Valchester," she said, raising her dark eyes to his face a moment. She seemed to think that all was said in that.

"A song, Mr. Valchester," said Violet Earle, looking round from the piano toward the window. "It is your turn now."

"Valchester! Valchester!" cried a score of voices.

Jaquelina thought he looked annoyed.

"I am not in voice——" he began.

"No excuses," laughed Walter Earle, who was turning over some sheets of music. "Send him away from the window, Miss Meredith."

Valchester looked at her.

"Shall you do so?" he asked.

"I should like to hear you sing," she replied, simply.

"Very well, I will sing for you," he answered, as he crossed the room and sat down on the stool which Violet vacated as he came up.

The long, white hands swept over the pearl keys lightly. A rush of divine melody filled the room.

Jaquelina shivered, it was so weirdly, thrillingly sweet. He sang song after song in a full, rich tenor voice, seeming to lose himself in the strains.

Almost without knowing it, Jaquelina arose and went over to the piano, standing by Violet, who was turning the leaves of the music.

He glanced up at her with a slight smile, and she saw that his blue-gray eyes were sparkling with pleasure or excitement—they were glittering starry black.

"He has the sweetest tenor voice in the country," Violet whispered to her. "Is it not a perfect treat to hear him sing?"

Jaquelina thought so, but she only whispered "Yes," very faintly. She did not wish to lose a note of the perfect strains.

At last he rose abruptly.

"I have made you all twice thankful," he laughed. "That is my worst fault. When I am induced to play I never know when to stop."

No one could be induced to touch the piano after Ronald Valchester had played—his music was too superior to anyone else's. They all went out on the lawn again. Some danced—some wandered under the trees. Among these latter was Jaquelina.

She was walking with Walter Earle again, and Violet with Ronald Valchester.

It was growing far into the night. Some of the lights had burned low; the moon was about to go down. The trees grew thick where they were walking, and some sudden impulse made Jaquelina shiver and lift her eyes half nervously.

[Pg 28]

As she did so she met the burning gaze of a pair of dark eyes watching her from behind a tree.

A scream of surprise and terror. Jaquelina pulled her hand from Walter Earle's arm and rushed forward. The outlaw chief, for it was no other, was turning to fly; but she caught his arm and held it tightly in both her own.

"The outlaw! the outlaw!" she panted. "Do not let him escape!"

He was surrounded in an instant. He made no attempt to fly, but stood still, gazing around him on the angry faces of the men, and his dark eyes blazed as they rested on the excited face of the fair girl who had betrayed him to his enemies.


One of the men who was holding the captive looked at Jaquelina and said:

"Miss Meredith, is this really the man you say he is?"

"Yes, he is really the chief of the outlaws," she replied; but her eyes fell as they all looked at her—the swift color came into her cheek.

No one thought of doubting her word.

They had all heard the story of her adventure in the woods last night, that she had lost her way in the terrible storm, and the outlaw chief had guided her to the road.

"Are you quite sure of his identity?"

She looked at the dark, handsome face that was regarding her so intently. Every feature was stamped indelibly on her memory.

"I am perfectly sure," she replied. "He was unmasked when I saw him at first. I remember his face perfectly."

"Are you really Gerald Huntington?" they asked him.

"I am called by that name," he responded, almost mechanically, without looking at them. It seemed as if he could not remove his eyes from Jaquelina Meredith's flushed and defiant face.

"And this is your gratitude, Miss Meredith," he said, slowly. "Last night you were in my power, I had every temptation to hold you a prisoner, but I yielded to pity and let you go free. To-night you reward me by betraying me into the hands of my enemies."

"I warned you I should do so," she answered, spiritedly. "Why did you come here?"

"I had a fancy for seeing you again," he answered, boldly. "Last night, when you wept so bitterly at the thought of missing this merry-making, I wondered if it would really make you as happy as you thought. To-night the fancy seized me to come and see. I did not believe you would betray me even if you saw me."

"Why did you think so? I had warned you I would," she replied.

"I thought that common gratitude would have restrained you. I did not merit this treatment at your hands," was his reply.

"Miss Meredith has acted exactly right," said one of his captors,[Pg 29] coarsely. "I look upon her as a real heroine. Everyone will feel pleased and relieved when they hear that she has actually captured the scourge of the country."

"Aye, she has done what two-score men set out to do last night and failed in," said another.

Jaquelina lifted her drooping head a little at their words of praise. At the outlaw's words it had drooped upon her breast.

"She has treated me ungenerously," repeated Gerald Huntington, scornfully, as he looked at the girl's defenders. "When she fell into my power last night I treated her fairly and honorably. I will leave it to any of you whether she has repaid me in like manner."

His dark, flashing eyes ran round the circle of eager, excited faces under the dim, waning light of the flickering lamp.

In a moment he lifted his finger and pointed at Ronald Valchester, who stood apart, silently regarding the curious scene.

"You, sir," said the outlaw, "have a noble face, and clear eyes that no deceit can blind. You can understand what is meant by that much abused term, honor. I will leave it to you. Has Miss Meredith used me fairly?"

It was a striking scene. It was past the midnight hour. The moon was sinking behind the distant hills, the starlight and the flickering lamplight shone weirdly down on the glistening laurel trees, and on the eager, curious crowd about that central figure, the outlaw chief. His splendid form was drawn haughtily erect, his head was raised, and his white hand pointed at the grave, noble face of Ronald Valchester.

Between the two figures was Jaquelina Meredith, lovely, frightened, half-defiant, yet hanging with her whole heart on Ronald Valchester's decision. He did not know how eagerly and fearfully she awaited his words.

Yet Gerald Huntington, as he looked at her, more than half guessed it. He remembered what they had said to each other last night.

"What manner of man might he be whose admiration would be acceptable to you?" he had asked her, and she had answered, promptly:

"A man quite your opposite in everything."

Looking fixedly at Ronald Valchester, the outlaw beheld the man whom Jaquelina's fancy had painted to her heart before she ever beheld him—the one man, "sans peur et sans reproche," whose admiration would be welcome to her.

"I will leave it to you," he repeated. "Has Miss Meredith used me fairly?"

"I decidedly decline to express an opinion on the subject," replied Ronald Valchester, gravely and coldly.

There was a moment's silence.

"Very well," said the outlaw, with a quiet bow; then he looked again at the fair young face that had caused his downfall.

"Miss Meredith," he said, "you have repaid my kindness to you last night with the basest ingratitude. It was love for your beautiful face that led me here to-night. I have lurked in the shadows for hours watching your happiness, and unselfishly rejoicing[Pg 30] in your unclouded joy. But your cruelty has awakened the sleeping tiger in my heart. Henceforth beware the name of Gerald Huntington! I swear to you that sooner or later I will take a terrible revenge for this injury!"

"Do not be frightened at the villain's threat, Miss Meredith," said a gentleman, kindly, as they led the captive away. "He will not have the chance to harm you. They will be sure to send him to the penitentiary for life."

Jaquelina looked startled.

"Will the punishment, indeed, be so severe?" she cried. "I did not know that! I only thought——"

"Do not begin to repent of your brave deed, Miss Meredith," cried Walter Earle, gayly, at her side. "Of course he will go into imprisonment for life, or for a very long term of years, certainly—and deserves it, too, the handsome rascal!"

"Then you do not think I acted wrong?" said Jaquelina, almost piteously.

"Wrong! no, indeed!" said Walter Earle. "I think you are a perfect little heroine."

"So do I," "And I," "And I," cried a score of voices; but Ronald Valchester, whose opinion she longed to hear, was gravely silent.

No one could induce the gifted student to utter his opinion on that one subject—whether or not Jaquelina had treated Gerald Huntington unfairly.

When asked about it afterward, as he often was, he distinctly and invariably declined to discuss it.

Walter Earle, his dear friend, could not chaff him into betraying himself.

Violet, though she coaxed and teased bewitchingly, could not charm his thoughts from him. He kept his opinion to himself.

The delightful party broke up in a whirl of excitement. More than half the young men went away with the squad that guarded the prisoner, anxious to see him placed in safe custody.

Others hurried home to carry their friends the welcome news of the dreaded horse-thief's capture.

Walter Earle drove Jaquelina home in his mother's pretty little basket phaeton.

Mr. Meredith was awake, and in answer to his question his niece told him it had been a pleasant party, but she did not tell him what he would have been delighted to hear, namely, that the outlaw chief had been captured.

She went to her room, laid aside her mother's wedding-dress, and put away with the ring and locket the withered passion-flowers that Ronald Valchester had gathered for her.

"I will keep the flowers in remembrance of to-night," she said, artlessly. "It would have been the happiest night of my life," she added, "if only——" a vague sigh followed the broken sentence.


Jaquelina was lying at ease under her favorite apple tree the next afternoon when the murmur of voices roused her.

[Pg 31]

She lifted her head, and saw Walter and Violet Earle with Mr. Valchester.

"I knew we should find you here," said Violet, with her soft laugh. "I have heard about your pretty retreat under the apple trees."

She did not say that she had come straight there, feeling quite sure of catching Jaquelina at a disadvantage.

Violet would not have owned to herself that she was prompted by a spiteful little feminine instinct. But she gave Ronald Valchester an arch little smile that said plainer than words:

"Did I not tell you the truth? Is not the little beauty of last night brown, awkward and shabby to-day?"

Violet herself looked as fair and pure as a lily in her cool, white dress and white chip hat with its delicate wreath of violets.

She had some violets fastened with the lace at her throat, and they were just the color of her eyes.

She was fully conscious of the pleasant fact that though Jaquelina had rivaled her last night, she had a very decided advantage over her to-day.

But men never do see with woman's eyes. Ronald Valchester only saw that the brune skin was glowing with the rosy tint of health, that the careless, boyish locks of chestnut hair had caught and held some stray gleams of summer sunshine, that the brown hands were slender and delicately formed.

He noticed, too, that the girlish form, guiltless of stays or laces, was very graceful with the willowy lightness and roundness so lovely in youth.

But he never realized at all, until he heard Violet telling her mamma at tea that night, that "poor Lina Meredith had on a faded and darned calico, and worn-out boots with half the buttons gone."

Jaquelina had been reading a book of poetry, and some of the dreaminess still lingered in her eyes as she rose to greet her visitors.

A half wish darted into her mind that they had gone into the house at first, that she might have slipped into the back way and donned her Sunday dress, but no one guessed the thought, not even Walter Earle, who said, with a careless laugh:

"Ah! Miss Cinderella, we have caught you without your ball-dress to-day. Where are your diamond ring and gold locket?"

Jaquelina looked at them a little surprised.

"I have put away the ring and locket," she said. "I do not wear them usually; they belonged to my mother."

Then she added, a little shyly and anxiously:

"Will you come into the house and see Aunt Meredith?"

"Thanks—no," answered Violet, promptly. "It is so pretty out here in the orchard, we would rather stay."

She fluttered down to a seat at the root of the great apple tree, making a pretty picture with the low boughs bending above her head.

Valchester had already taken a seat and possessed himself of Jaquelina's worn poetry volume. He immediately became lost in its pages.

[Pg 32]

Walter Earle groaned.

"What has the book-worm got hold of now?" he inquired.

Violet moved a little nearer—near enough to look over at the open volume.

"Favorite poems by favorite authors," she replied.

"Is that your daily reading?" asked Walter of Jaquelina.

"Yes," she admitted.

"Are you fond of poetry?" Violet asked her.

"Yes," she said again, demurely.

"You should ask Valchester to show you his volume of manuscript poetry," said Walter, laughing. "He is a very untiring and voluminous poet—I might say a second Byron!"

Valchester looked up, flushed and confused—evidently annoyed. He was about to speak when Jaquelina broke out reproachfully:

"Oh! Mr. Valchester—I asked you—and you denied it!"

"Asked him what?" cried Walter, enjoying the situation immensely.

"If he was a poet," said Jaquelina, breathless, "and he said——"

"That no one ever accused me of it," said Valchester. "I confess to some rhymes, Miss Meredith, but to be a poet—a real poet—means more than that."

"Miss Lina, it is only modesty that makes him talk so," said Walter, laughingly. "He has written some very readable rhymes, I assure you."

"Miss Meredith, I hope you will not give credence to Walter's idle gossip," exclaimed Ronald Valchester, really distressed now. "It is as I told you just now, I have rhymed some—I confess it. Of course my verses sound well to Earle—he has not the slightest taste for poetry. True poetry and real doggerel would be alike to him. But the critics might tell me to——"

"Return to your gallipots, as they told the poet-apothecary," laughed Earle.

"Yes," said Valchester, and returned to his reading.

"Read aloud to us," said Violet. "Should you not like that, Lina?"

"Very much," she replied, and her dark eyes brightened at the thought.

"Then I will read on from where we interrupted you," said Valchester, looking at Jaquelina. "Which poet was it, Miss Meredith?"

"Longfellow—it was Hiawatha's Wooing," she said, and blushed, though she did not know why, at Violet's laugh.

"And you left off—where?" inquired Valchester, holding the open book toward her.

Jaquelina leaned forward a moment, turned a page with her brown forefinger, and showed him the verse.

She did not know why her breath came quicker for an instant as his white hand touched hers quite accidentally, but Violet Earle saw the swift color rise into her cheek.

It was a beautiful scene. The day was so bright and golden, the grass so green, the clover blossoms and the orchard blooms[Pg 33] were so sweet, and the quartette under the apple tree were so young and so happy.

Sorrow had never touched them with her gloomy finger. It was one of those "hours we frame in gold—pictures to be remembered."

Valchester read on in his deep, sweet voice that seemed to blend harmoniously with the warble of the birds and the myriad sweet voices of nature:

"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!'
"From the sky the sun benignant
Looked upon them through the branches,
Saying to them: 'Oh, my children,
Love is sunshine, hate is shadow;
Life is checkered shade and sunshine;
Rule by love, oh, Hiawatha!'
"From the sky the moon looked at them,
Filled the lodge with mystic splendors,
Whispered to them: 'Oh, my children,
Day is restless, night is quiet,
Man imperious, woman feeble;
Half is mine, although I follow,
Rule by patience, Laughing Water!'"

"It is very beautiful," said Valchester, shutting the book and glancing round quickly, so as to catch the expression on each face, "but I will not read anymore. I see that Walter looks bored, and Miss Earle as if she would rather talk to Miss Meredith about the party last night."

"I am dying to ask her if she enjoyed it all," said Violet, piqued that he had read her indifference to poetry, yet carrying it off with cool self-possession; "did you, Lina?"

Jaquelina looked up with a start, her dark eyes soft and dreamy. In fancy, she was still following the young brave, Hiawatha, as he bore his bride homeward.

"Through interminable forests,
Over wide and rushing rivers."

"Oh! yes, it was delightful," she said, and a smile chased the momentary dreaminess away. "I enjoyed it all very much, except, perhaps, just at the last."

"I should have thought you would have enjoyed that most of all," cried Walter Earle. "Do you know, Miss Meredith, that you are quite a heroine all over the country this morning. Your presence of mind and daring are on every lip. The farmers breathe freely once more. You have not only earned the reward of two hundred dollars, but you have won the admiration and[Pg 34] gratitude of all who have heard of it. By to-morrow morning you will find yourself in all the newspapers."

"'You will wake up and find yourself famous,'" quoted Violet, laughing.

But Jaquelina did not look elated at their words. A shadow seemed to fall over the brightness of the arch, brunette face. She glanced at Ronald Valchester shyly. His face was perfectly non-committal.

"I do not know whether to be ashamed or proud," she said, frankly. "Gerald Huntington seemed to think I had taken an unfair advantage of him. But to tell the truth, I have brooded so much and so ardently over his capture that I was wild with delight at the idea of its possibility. I forgot gratitude and everything else in the moment when I frantically clutched him—forgot everything but the offered reward."

"I did not know you were so mercenary, Lina," said Miss Earle, laughing.

Jaquelina looked abashed for a moment, then she answered, without looking up, and almost pleadingly:

"You see, Violet, I needed two hundred dollars so very, very much."

"For what?" said careless, thoughtless Walter. "To buy a silk dress, or a watch, or a pair of diamond earrings?"

"Neither," she answered, half vexed, half smiling. "I wanted it to buy an education."

Walter and Violet laughed. Valchester looked surprised a moment, then smiled a smile of sweet approval.

"I thought you were—educated," said Walter.

She was about to reply when Mrs. Meredith's shrill, peculiar call was heard from the house:

"Jack-we-li-ner! Jack-we-li-ner!"

Jaquelina's face faded in a frown of shame and annoyance. She rose, with a hurried excuse, and, promising to return, went to the house.

"Aunt Meredith, I have company," she said, a little impatiently, to the red-faced, cross-looking woman in the doorway.

"Where?" asked Mrs. Meredith, looking around, bewildered.

"Out in the orchard—Miss Violet Earle, with her brother and his friend," said Jaquelina. "I should like to go back if you can spare me."

"I can't spare you. I want you to tend Dollie while I run over to Mrs. Brown's on a matter of business," Mrs. Meredith said sharply.

"Can I take Dollie to the orchard with me? It is very warm and sunny there," said Jaquelina, timidly.

"Yes, take her if you choose—I don't care," said her aunt, as she slipped on her sunbonnet and hurried off to a gossiping neighbor's.


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

[Pg 35]

"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[Pg 36] 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[Pg 37] 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[Pg 38] 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[Pg 39] 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."

[Pg 40]

"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[Pg 41] 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.

[Pg 42]

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[Pg 43] 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.

[Pg 44]

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."

[Pg 45]

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[Pg 46] 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."


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,[Pg 47] 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.

[Pg 48]

"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.

[Pg 49]

"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[Pg 50] 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:

[Pg 51]

"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.

[Pg 52]

"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[Pg 53] 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[Pg 54] 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.

[Pg 55]

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,"[Pg 56] 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[Pg 57] 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[Pg 58] 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.


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."

[Pg 59]

"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[Pg 60] 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[Pg 61] 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[Pg 62] 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[Pg 63] 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[Pg 64] 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.

[Pg 65]

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."

[Pg 66]

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."


"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."

[Pg 67]

"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[Pg 68] 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:


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,[Pg 69] 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[Pg 70] 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,[Pg 71] 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[Pg 72] 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.


Gerald Huntington lifted his unconscious bride and laid her again on the sofa. Bowles hurried the not unwilling priest from the room. The outlaw chief was alone with the beautiful, senseless form of the hapless girl whom he had torn from the side of her lover before the very altar, and forced away to share the terrible life of a criminal who was in hiding from the stern arm of justice.

He knelt down by her side, and took her small white hand in both his own.

"She fell before I could place the wedding-ring on her finger," he said: "I will do so now."

But in lifting her hand he saw a diamond ring sparkling on one slender finger. He tore it off quickly, and a spasm of jealous rage convulsed the handsome features from which he had cast aside the disfiguring mask.

"Valchester's gift, doubtless," he said, holding it scornfully on[Pg 73] the tip of his finger. "Let us see what dainty motto the poet chose for his darling!"

He held the sparkling circlet up to the light and read the fine lines cut deeply within it:

"Sans peur et sans reproche!"

Then a groan forced itself through his lips that had grown suddenly cold and pallid.

"Ah, my God! the Ardelle motto! How comes it on the hand of this child?"

But the pale, silent lips of the wronged girl made him no answer. She lay still, with the dark fringe of her lashes lying low upon her white cheek. His eye caught the gleam of a golden locket lying on her breast.

"Ah!" he cried, jealously tearing it open, "my rival's dreamy face, perhaps."

A woman's curl, soft and dark, fell from the locket into his hand, and seemed to twine about his fingers as if in tenderness. He shut it into his hand, and looked for the expected picture of the hated rival.

Two faces smiled out upon him. One was a man's—gentle, tender, dreamy, handsome—the other a face, dark and lovely, with a luring charm about its vivid beauty. The fury, the passion, the jealous rage died out of the outlaw's face as he gazed. His fierce, dark eyes grew soft, then startled, and the whiteness of death overspread his face. He opened his hand, and looked fixedly at the long, curling tress.

"My God!" he uttered, and his eyes roved from the fair face in the picture to that of the still unconscious girl. Something in the strange likeness of the two affected him terribly.

"Can it be?" he said, aloud; and as if he had asked her a question, the white lids of Jaquelina fluttered upward, and she fixed her dark eyes upon him.

Then she saw that he held her treasured locket open in his hand, and a gleam of anger flashed from her eyes.

"How dare you?" she cried, trying to wrench it from him.

But the outlaw caught the weak little hands and held them tightly.

"Girl," he said, hoarsely, "tell me whose faces are these you wear upon your breast?"

Something in his strong, repressed agitation forced a reply from Jaquelina's pale lips.

"They are those of my father and mother," she replied, wonderingly.

"Your mother's maiden name?" he asked, fixing his dark, magnetic eyes upon her face.

And again some power that seemed beyond her own volition, held her passionate anger in abeyance, and forced her to reply, quietly:

"Jaqueline Ardelle."

The man started—a groan of agony forced itself between his bloodless, pain-drawn lips.

"For God's sake, I ask you, for God's sake, tell me all you[Pg 74] know of your mother," he exclaimed, in low, tense accents, while his black eyes seemed to burn with inward fire.

"I know very little to tell you," she said, with increasing wonder at his fearful agitation, for great drops of dew beaded his high, white brow. "I have told you her name was Jaqueline Ardelle. My father married her in the south of France. He was an artist, and fell in love with her beauty. He brought her home with him, and when I was born she died."

"And this was her hair—her ring—her locket?" he said, as she paused, and then Jaquelina saw for the first time that he had taken her mother's ring from her finger. She reached out her hand for it as she said, sadly:

"Yes, that was her ring and her locket, and that was a curl they cut off for papa after she was dead. And this dress I have on now was my mother's wedding-dress."

There was a pause. The dark eyes of the outlaw were fixed on the curl in his hand. Its silken tendrils seemed to twine about his hand caressingly.

"Give me the curl. I will put it back in the locket," said the girl, rising abruptly to a sitting posture.

"No—no," the outlaw murmured, dreamily, like one talking in his sleep.

"Give it to me," Jaquelina repeated, half angrily. "It is mine—mine."

Then Gerald Huntington sprang to his feet, and towered above her in his princely hight and satanic beauty.

His face was livid, his eyes flashed fire. He threw the silken curl into her lap with a muttered curse.

"Take it," he cried, madly, "take it, and with my curse! I am baffled! baffled! In the moment of my revenge the golden wine of happiness has turned to poison on my lips! I have loved you madly, and made you my bride, but you can never, never be wife of mine! These arms may never hold you, these lips never press your own! Go, girl; go out of my sight forever! Go, before in the madness of my love and despair, I lay you dead at my feet!"

Jaquelina needed no second bidding.

The outlaw chief had turned away with his dark face hidden in his hands.

She slipped from her seat, and gliding softly across the carpeted floor, passed between the heavy velvet hangings and disappeared in the perilous gloom and darkness of the cave beyond, leaving the outlaw chief solitary and alone, stricken by some mysterious, blighting secret.


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.

[Pg 75]

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.

[Pg 76]

"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,[Pg 77] 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.

[Pg 78]

"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.

[Pg 79]

"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.

[Pg 80]

"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[Pg 81] 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[Pg 82] 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.

[Pg 83]

"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.


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[Pg 84] 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.

[Pg 85]

"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[Pg 86] 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."

[Pg 87]

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[Pg 88] 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[Pg 89] 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."

[Pg 90]

"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!"

[Pg 91]

"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.


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."

[Pg 92]

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[Pg 93] 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[Pg 94] 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[Pg 95] 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:



"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."

[Pg 96]

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?"

[Pg 97]

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.

[Pg 98]


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:

[Pg 99]

"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.


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.

[Pg 100]

"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."

[Pg 101]

"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.

[Pg 102]

"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[Pg 103] 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.


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[Pg 104] 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[Pg 105] 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!"

[Pg 106]


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.

[Pg 107]

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[Pg 108] 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[Pg 109] 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.

[Pg 110]

"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.

[Pg 111]

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."


"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[Pg 112] 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.[Pg 113] 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[Pg 114] 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[Pg 115] 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.

[Pg 116]

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!"

[Pg 117]

"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.

[Pg 118]

"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:


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."

[Pg 119]

"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."


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[Pg 120] 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.


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?

[Pg 121]

"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.

[Pg 122]

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.

[Pg 123]

"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:


"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[Pg 124] 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[Pg 125] 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."

[Pg 126]

"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[Pg 127] 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 Crœsus' 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[Pg 128] 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.



Transcriber's Note:

Added table of contents.

Images may be clicked to view larger versions.

The original text lacked accent marks; this has been left unchanged (e.g. en regle in place of en règle).

Inconsistent hyphenation (e.g. "bedside" vs. "bed-side") has been retained from the original.

Title page, corrected typographical errorgraphical error "JACQUELINA" to "JAQUELINA."

This book contains two different chapter IX's. The numbering has been left as originally printed.

Page 1, added missing "g" to "bounding vitality." Added missing "l" to "fragrant apple-blossoms." Added missing "r" to "Your uncle wants."

Page 3, corrected typographical error "Jacquelina" in "scarcely older than Jaquelina."

Page 6, added missing period to "Gentle Mrs. Earle."

Page 11, corrected "trangressing" to "transgressing."

Page 14, corrected typographical error "strangly" in "strangely stirred by it."

Page 18, changed comma to period at end of paragraph after "knelt down beside her."

Page 19, corrected typographical error "notted" in "knotted carelessly."

Page 21, added missing period after "satin ribbons fluttering about it."

Page 22, corrected period to question mark after "passion-flowers for her type?"

Page 23, removed extra "a" from before "an" in "for an instant."

Page 28, corrected single to double quote after "The outlaw! the outlaw!"

Page 31, added missing hyphen to "to-day" in "ball-dress to-day."

Page 35, corrected typographical error "Dolly" in "He sat Dollie down."

Page 42, corrected "her" to "his" in "Jaquelina's partner, with his tall head."

Page 50, corrected typographical error "preparad" in "not prepared to do."

Page 51, corrected typographical error "you" in "from your uncongenial home."

Page 62, corrected typographical error "ooked" in "when she looked back."

Page 65, corrected typographical error "Haiwatha" in "Happy are you; Hiawatha." Added missing comma before "persuaded into amiability."

Page 71, corrected typographical error "appartment" in "luxurious cavern appartment." Added comma before "suddenly regaining her strength."

Page 74, added missing period after "mysterious, blighting secret."

Page 75, added missing comma after "fixed yearningly on the door."

Page 80, moved misplaced quote from after "Ronald" to after "beloved" in "Oh, Ronald, my best beloved."

Page 81, added missing quote after "refuse his prayer."

Page 82, corrected typographical error "It" in "If he becomes excited."

Page 84, corrected typographical error "anxously" in "anxiously for his arrival." Added missing comma after "Perhaps, then."

Page 85, added missing quote after "befallen little Lina."

Page 87, corrected typographical error "convalesence" in "It retarded his convalescence." Corrected "rst one" to "rest on."

Page 90, added missing "d" to "bridle-rein."

Page 99, added missing quote before "and she frankly admitted."

Page 101, added missing period after heading for CHAPTER XXXII.

Page 105, corrected typographical error "imposible" in "it is impossible I should win."

Page 113, corrected "that" to "than" in "easier than he had expected."

Page 115, corrected typographical error "maddenened" in "mass of maddened."

Page 126, corrected typographical error "respeated" in "she respeated, turning her dark eyes."

Page 127, removed unnecessary quote before "She put up her hands."