When that dance was over

“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 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 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
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 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.

“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.

“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 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 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.

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,
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 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.

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.

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 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 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is Millard?” Violet queried.

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

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

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

“Yes,” Jaquelina answered, simply.

“And then?” said Walter Earle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why not later?” asked Violet, curiously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She is–fascinating,” said Ronald Valchester.

Violet looked up quickly.

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

“I think it is more,” he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The compliments of Ronald Valchester.”

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

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

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

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

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

“JAQUELINA MEREDITH.”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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