Before Walter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Poor child!” he said, involuntarily.

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

An answering sadness came into Walter’s blue eyes.

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

“Always,” she answered, with patient resignation.

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

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

“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

“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

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

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

Then she went to Jaquelina and held out her hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violet looked surprised and pained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaquelina lifted her dark eyes and regarded her gravely.

“Why unsuitable?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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,

“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,

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

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

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

“Not until then,” was the answer.

Then Violet said, with flushing cheeks and restless eyes:

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

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

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

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

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

“You could go away,” Violet replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Violet answered, recklessly.

“Whom would he marry?” asked Jaquelina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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,

“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,

“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

“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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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

Walter’s face brightened.

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

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

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

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

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.