Who could have done it

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

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

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

Ronald’s handsome, stately old mother looked pleased.

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Valchester smiled indulgently at her girlish enthusiasm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaquelina sat down obediently, and Mrs. Valchester said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Vendetta.”

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

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

“Oh, how cruel!” said the girl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She stopped with a moan of uncontrollable anguish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerald Huntington turned on him sternly.

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

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

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

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 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 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.