There was another lawn party at Laurel Hill. Again the band was playing
in the summer-house on the lawn; light feet kept time to the merry
dance; lights glimmered in the trees, and the scene was like fairy-land.
More than a year had passed since the last party. The orchards had
bloomed again, and dropped their scented red and white blossoms. The
boughs hung low with gold and crimson globes of fair white fruit. The
timid, tender spring flowers were gone, and summer’s glowing beauties
Since Walter Earle had graduated he and Violet had been traveling in
the South with a party of friends. They had returned now, and this
reception to their young friends had been planned and carried out with
a great deal of interest and pleasure. It was a far more pretentious
affair than the almost impromptu one of last year. Several persons
had come from a distance to attend it. Among the latter was Ronald
Jaquelina Meredith, fresh from her school at Staunton, was there also.
Violet had feebly opposed an invitation to her at first, but her mother
and Walter had promptly overruled her embarrassed objections.
“My dear,” Mrs. Earle had said in some surprise, “why do you object to
Lina Meredith? Do you not like her?”
Pretty Violet, grown taller and even more stylish than of old, flushed
and looked annoyed.
“Lina is not in our set,” she said, “and she is too poor to get a party
dress; of course she could not come without one.”
“She had the prettiest dress at the party last year,” said Walter,
“That is all you know about it,” said Violet, laughingly. “It was her
mother’s wedding-dress. She had not a decent thing of her own.”
“She can wear her mother’s dress again,” said Mrs. Earle and her son
simultaneously, and Mrs. Earle added almost pleadingly: “Do let her
come, Violet, she is so young and pretty, and would enjoy it so much.”
“And she has so few pleasures,” said Walter, with commendable
forethought for such a giddy young man.
“Oh, she can come–certainly,” Violet answered coldly. “Only I thought
she would not care to come unless she could appear as others do. Last
year she was quite ignorant, she did not know anything about society.
But now that she has spent a year at boarding-school, she knows, of
course, that a shabby-looking girl is next to nobody. Invite her if you
like, I only wished to spare her feelings.”
“I think we should spare her feelings better by asking than by leaving
her out,” replied gentle Mrs. Earle.
So the orphan girl was asked, and Mr. Meredith came again and brought
her as before. And Violet was mistaken this time, for Jaquelina had
really something to wear.
This time it was a pretty robe of some soft, thin stuff, silver-gray,
and shining in the moonlight. The neck was cut square, and edged
with some soft, pretty lace. The sleeves were short, and exposed the
perfectly molded arms.
Jaquelina had brightened it here and there with a few vivid scarlet
roses, and the effect was exquisite.
In the flickering light of the lamps, and the softer gleam of the
moonlight, the slight and graceful form seemed to float in a robe of
silvery mist. Violet, in pale blue satin and pearls, felt eclipsed and
resentful again as she had done at the lawn party a year before.
“Lina, where _did_ you get such a pretty dress?” she asked her,
“Is it pretty?” asked Jaquelina, pleased. “I bought it at Staunton to
wear at one of our school concerts where I had to sing a part.”
“_Can_ you sing?” asked Violet, incredulous.
“A little,” admitted Jaquelina, modestly.
“And play?” said Violet.
And again Jaquelina answered shyly:
“A little; only the accompaniments to my songs, you know, Violet.”
“Then I shall be certain to call on you to sing and play to-night, and
you must not refuse,” said Violet, smiling to herself at the idea of
the singing and playing Jaquelina could have acquired in a year.
She did not look frightened at Violet’s words. She simply said that she
would do her best. Violet had no idea what that “best” meant.
“Mr. Valchester is here,” she said, after a pause, with a keen glance
at the other. “He came yesterday on purpose to attend our party. But
you have totally forgotten him, I suppose,” turning her head a little
“Oh, no; I remember him perfectly well,” said Jaquelina, unembarrassed.
“Do you? You have a good memory. I believe you only saw him once or
“Three times,” Jaquelina answered.
“I do not believe he has remembered _you_ so well,” said Violet,
arranging her bracelets. “When some one named you this morning at
breakfast, he did not speak of you nor ask any questions. He appeared
calm and uninterested as if you were a stranger.”
“He has probably forgotten me,” said Jaquelina, quietly, and Violet
could not see any change in the charming face as she spoke the careless
She had changed somewhat since she had been away, and acquired a touch
more of the grave, pretty dignity that had always seemed so natural to
There was a minute’s pause while they stood together beneath the arched
lattice work of honeysuckle and roses, like a beautiful picture of
night and morning; the one with her fair, blonde beauty and pale blue
robe; the other in her soft gray draperies, and dusky eyes with that
starry gleam in their darkness.
That thought came into the mind of the gentleman who came up to them
from a side-path, almost abruptly. It was Ronald Valchester.
“Miss Earle,” he said, “I think you promised to give me the first
“I am ready to keep my word,” answered Violet, with a brilliant smile.
Then she saw that the blue-gray eyes were gazing intently at her silent
“Oh, Mr. Valchester,” she cried, “I see you have forgotten Lina
Meredith. She was at our party last summer, and went boating on the
river with us one day–don’t you remember?”
Some pretty lines somewhere read rushed into his mind. Jaquelina
embodied the thought:
“Sweet face, swift eyes, and gleaming,
Sun-lifted, mingling hair–
Lips like two rosebuds dreaming
In June’s sweet-scented air.
Life, when her spring days meet her,
Hope, when the angels greet her,
Is not more calm, nor sweeter,
And love is not more fair!”
He drew a long breath and stepped forward with extended hand.
“Miss Meredith, is it really you?” he said. “You must pardon me that I
did not recognize you on the instant. I had not forgotten you, but you
She gave him her slim hand a moment, and would have spoken, but Violet
seemed impatient, and tapped her daintily slippered foot restlessly.
“I hear the first notes of the band,” she said. “If we do not hasten
they will make up the dance without me.”
Valchester bowed and offered her his arm just as Walter Earle came
“Miss Lina, will you give me the first dance?” he said; “you owe it
to me, indeed, for I taught you your first steps last year. Do you
“As though it were yesterday,” she replied, with a smile, as she put
her slight hand on his arm.
In the whirl of the dance Valchester bent his tall head over her a
moment to ask, almost pleadingly:
“Will you give me the next dance, Miss Meredith?”
“Yes,” she answered, as their hands met a moment in the giddy turn.
She did not guess how long it seemed to Valchester before the next
Walter Earle took her to her seat and lingered beside her until his
friend availed himself of the first notes of the music to come and lead
“I hoped she had not a partner for this dance,” cried Walter,
dolorously. “I meant to sit here and talk sentiment to her. I shall
regret that I taught her the steps since you fellows continually take
her away from me.”
“I will sit by you, Walter,” said his sister, coming to his side.
There was a smile on her face, but her voice sounded sad or troubled
“What, not dancing?” he said, surprised.
“Not this time. I am tired and would rather rest,” she answered.
She sat down by his side and laid her white, jeweled hand on his arm.
“Walter, are you in love with Lina Meredith?” she asked him, very low.
Walter started and flushed.
“That’s a leading question–rather,” he said. “Well, Violet, I
certainly admire her. I have never seen a more charming little girl in
“Is Ronald Valchester in love with her, too?” pursued Violet, looking
away from him that he might not see how much pain the question had
brought into her eyes.
Walter laughed at the question.
“Valchester in love?” he said. “The idea is too supremely ridiculous to
be entertained. What put such an idea in your head, Vi?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Yes, I do, too! Last summer, you know, he
said she was so fascinating.”
“So he did–and so she is,” said her brother. “But in love! Valchester
is too devoted to his books and his esthetic fancies to fall in love
with anything less ethereal than the muse of poetry.”
“If you are in love with Lina Meredith, why don’t you propose to her
and have the matter settled?” she asked, petulantly.
“I didn’t know you were anxious to have Lina Meredith for a sister,”
said Walter, staring.
“I should be very pleased,” said Violet, desperately, and she spoke the
She knew that Jaquelina was good and pretty. She had nothing against
her except her vague jealousy of Ronald Valchester.
“If you mean to propose for her, pray do so at once, and let us have
the wedding this fall,” said Violet, with feverish impatience.
Meanwhile Jaquelina’s partner, with his tall head bent over her, was
“I had not forgotten you, Miss Meredith, though I seemed startled for
the moment. Did you think I had?”
The dark eyes looked at him in smiling gratitude.
“I know that you remembered me kindly once, at least,” she replied. “It
was when you sent me the books. Oh, I could not tell you how much I
enjoyed them, Mr. Valchester. You cannot imagine what happiness they
gave me. I could never thank you enough for your kindness.”
“If you remembered me kindly a few times it was quite sufficient,” he
said. “Did you–Lina?”
“Did I _what_?” said the girl, with a keen shiver of some indefinable
emotion as the low name passed his lips.
“Think of me?” he answered, looking straight into her dark, uplifted
“Often and often,” she responded, with frank gravity. “You see I had
the beautiful books to recall you to my mind every day. Then one
day when I was looking through the book you read in the orchard, I
“What?” he asked, as she paused with a pleased smile on her scarlet
“I found on one page a pressed four-leaved clover. I remembered that
Violet had given you one that day, and I was so pleased,” she said.
“Pleased–why?” asked Ronald Valchester.
“That you had given it to me,” she answered.
“You are not superstitious enough to believe that the four-leaved
clover brings good luck?” he said, looking at her with a smile in his
“Oh, no,” she answered, with frank innocence; “I was pleased because I
thought it seemed a silent message from you to me to say that you wish
Ronald Valchester was a fine musician, and had a beautiful voice. No
one would sing or play after him usually.
The contrast was too great. Perhaps it was for that very reason that
Violet asked Jaquelina to play directly after Valchester had vacated
the piano-stool after singing an exquisite air from a favorite opera.
For a moment Jaquelina seemed tempted to refuse. The warm color rose
into her cheek as they all looked at her, her scarlet lips trembled,
but Violet said quickly:
“You must not refuse, Lina. We have all played now but you, and it
would not be fair for you to decline.”
“Allow me,” said Walter Earle, gently leading her to the piano.
Was it any wonder if a faint thrill of pleasure and triumph swelled the
girl’s heart as her white hands fluttered lovingly over the pearl keys?
She remembered last year. How ashamed she had felt that she could not
play; how the young girls had looked at her pityingly and, she vaguely
fancied, disdainfully, because she knew so little.
They did not know how hard she had practiced since. Everyone was
surprised that she should try after Ronald Valchester.
He himself looked at her a little uneasily. Everyone expected a
Walter Earle opened the portfolio of music and held it open before her,
but she shook her head.
“No, I will play something from memory,” she said.
“Now I know she will make a failure,” Violet said to herself, “for my
music-teacher always told me never to play without my notes before me.”
But Violet made no allowance for genius, which acknowledges no law, and
is sufficient unto itself.
Jaquelina touched a key or two softly so that the sound seemed to be
the answer to a caress, then her hands began to fly across the keys
like white-winged birds.
People looked at each other. The magic power of genius was in those
“Sweeping the swift and silver chords.”
In a moment she began to sing. She had chosen the pretty, familiar
ballad of Annie Laurie.
Not one in the room but knew that only a powerful and well-trained
voice could do justice to the melodious but difficult strain.
But Jaquelina’s voice–clear and fresh as a nightingale’s–soared
upward without the least apparent effort.
The sweet, pathetic ballad was rendered exquisitely. There was a
perfect hush throughout the room until it ended. Then they crowded
“Another,” and “another,” and “another,” they pleaded when she would
have risen. It was Violet at last who brought it to an end by saying
“Let us go back to the dancing now. We can have music every day, but
dancing only now and then.”
“Thank you,” said a low voice over Jaquelina’s shoulder as she was
passing out of the door. She looked back and saw Ronald Valchester’s
face looking down at her with bright, shining eyes. “You have given me
a great deal of pleasure,” he said.
“I am very glad,” she replied, and the next moment, she scarcely knew
how it happened, he was walking by her side, and her hand was resting
on his arm.
They went out upon the lawn and down the laurel walk.
“Instead of dancing will you give me this half-hour?” he had said to
her. “I wish to talk to you about this beautiful treasure you have
possessed so long unknown to us all.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, as they wandered along the path beneath
the whispering laurels.
“Your voice,” he said. “Do you know, Miss Meredith, that it is really
marvelous? I cannot tell you how it has surprised and delighted me.”
And again she said, simply as before:
“I am glad.”
He looked at the lovely young face and saw that she was pleased, but
not at all surprised.
“Someone has told you this before,” he said quickly. “I am not the
first to lay a laurel at your feet.”
In the soft light he saw the color deepen in her cheeks and the
long-fringed lashes droop low.
“My teachers have told me that my voice was fine,” she said, quietly,
“and–and I have sung in school-concerts a few times. The people
praised me, then.”
“It is no wonder you were not afraid to sing after me,” he said. “I was
afraid for you at first. You see I have practised for many years and
people think me a better performer than the most. But I own that my
light has paled before a brighter star.”
“You must not say so,” she said quickly. “I have only had a few months’
training. My voice is not at all cultivated.”
“It is naturally superb,” he answered; “I have heard voices in opera
that were no sweeter than yours. And yet they were _prima donnas_ whom
all the world praised. Perhaps you have heard that, too, before.”
“My teacher told me I might successfully choose an operatic career,”
she answered quietly, yet with a sigh whose meaning he did not
“I hope you will not do so,” he answered quickly. “I have always so
much disliked the idea of a public life for a woman.”
“We talked of that at school,” she replied, “but our singing master
thought quite differently. He declared that a really fine voice
actually belonged to the world.”
“Shall you return to the school this winter?”
“No,” with a quickly suppressed sigh.
“You have wearied of it, perhaps,” he said.
“No,” she said again; then, with a deepening color, “I have spent all
my money, that is the reason. Have you forgotten, Mr. Valchester, that
all the money I had was the reward I received for capturing the outlaw
The soft eyes raised to his face saw a shadow fall over its handsome
“I–I had been trying to forget all about him,” he said, constrainedly.
“What have they done with the fellow, Miss Meredith?”
“He is still confined in the county jail, I believe,” she replied. “His
counsel have been using every possible means to defer the new hearing
of the case which was asked for and promised. Uncle Meredith says they
are waiting for popular indignation to abate in hope of obtaining a
more lenient verdict.”
“Very likely,” said Ronald Valchester, and then there was a constrained
Jaquelina broke it herself in a voice that was slightly tremulous:
“I–am afraid I did not do right that night, Mr. Valchester. I did not
think–as I have since done–that it was not a fair return for his
kindness to me–for he was kind–kinder than any one knew.”
The pretty penitence in her face touched him, but he did not speak.
“I have puzzled over it often and often,” she went on, slowly and
thoughtfully, “I have asked myself whether my private obligation to him
should have outweighed the good of the country at large. I have never
been able to satisfy myself. Tell me, Mr. Valchester, did I do right or
“Miss Meredith,” he answered, “many persons have asked me the same
question, but I have never given my opinion to anyone.”
“Then, of course, you will not tell me,” she said, disappointed, yet
far too shy to insist upon it.
“No, I will not now. I may do so at some future time,” evasively.
“Do you think,” she said, just a trifle nervously, “it was worth while
to attach any meaning to his threat of vengeance? Sometimes I have felt
“I should not give it a thought,” he replied. “It is not probable he
will ever have the chance to harm you even if he wished it. No doubt
the best part of his life will be passed in a prison cell.”
“Oh, I hope not,” the girl cried out in irrepressible sorrow; “I
cannot bear to think that I have been the cause of depriving anyone of
liberty. I did not think of all these things in the fatal moment when
I saw him peering at me behind that laurel there. Now I feel as if I
had betrayed a human being to endless pain for a paltry two hundred
Ronald Valchester looked before him silently at the weird, flickering
shadows on the graveled path, and made no reply.
“But I wanted the money so very, very much,” she added, appealingly.
Valchester looked down at the slim, white hand lying on his black coat
sleeve, the taper forefinger sparkling
“With one great gem of globed dew
The moon shot crystal arrows through.”
“Did you never think of parting with your diamond ring?” he said,
Lifting her wondering gaze to his she saw his eyes fixed on her
mother’s ring. She drew her hand from his arm and held it up to the
light. A hundred shimmering rays flashed on the jewel.
“You do not mean that it is really a _diamond_?” she cried, with
“Did you not know it?” he asked, surprised.
“I thought it was only a pretty, shining bit of glass,” she answered.
“Is it really and truly a genuine diamond? and worth–how much?”
He took the warm, pretty hand in his on pretense of examining the ring.
At that touch a quick, electric thrill ran from heart to heart.
“Oh, girls, here she is,” cried Violet Earle’s voice at that moment, in
a tone of apparent gaiety. “What a pretty tableau! Flirting with Mr.
Valchester under the laurels.”
Ronald Valchester looked round, slightly annoyed, as Violet Earle and a
gay group of girls came up to him.
“One should never contradict a lady,” he said, “but really, Miss
Earle, your charge against Miss Meredith is misplaced. I was only
examining her ring.”
“And only think, Violet, Mr. Valchester says the stone is a real
diamond. I am so surprised and delighted. I did not dream of such a
thing until just now, when he spoke of it. I thought it only a mere,
valueless bit of shining glass.”
The eager voice and pleased face were too truthful to admit of doubt.
Everyone but Violet gave up the thought of a flirtation at once. The
girls crowded round to look at Jaquelina’s ring.
“Where did you get it?” “Who gave it you?” were some of the questions
they asked her.
“It was my mother’s ring,” she said, in answer to them all. “I did not
know till Mr. Valchester told me that it was a real diamond.”
“I suppose it is worth a great deal,” one of the girls said to him.
“A hundred dollars, perhaps–or it may be a hundred and fifty,” he
replied carelessly, while Jaquelina drew a long breath of surprise and
A hundred dollars seemed quite a little fortune in her eyes. She looked
at the pretty ring in awe and wonder, to think that she had possessed
it so long without dreaming of its value.
“We need you to make up the dance, Lina,” said Violet. “The Hamiltons,
the Perrys and the Deanes have all gone home, and we have not enough
for the Lancers unless you and Mr. Valchester will come to our
Both answered yes, and went with the girls to take their places in the
dance. Before the party was over he had said to her:
“May I come over and hear you sing to-morrow afternoon–under the
“Yes,” she answered simply.
He came alone. It must have required an amount of _finesse_ and
strategy for him to get away from Walter and Violet. But he
Jaquelina was waiting for him under the apple-trees. Her heart thrilled
with a strange pleasure as she saw the tall, handsome young man
coming toward her. She wore, in anticipation of his coming, a pretty,
inexpensive cambric, with a pattern of tiny rose-buds, and a delicate
lace frill fastened at her throat with a cluster of roses. He saw
that she had grown more delicately lovely since last year. The tanned
complexion had acquired a mellow, creamy fairness, the short, soft
rings of hair were longer, and clustered on her shoulders in shining
luxuriance, the crimson lips had taken a softer, tender curve, the dark
eyes had grown dreamy and thoughtful.
“You came _alone_?” she said, and there was an accent of surprise in
“Yes, I preferred it. Are you disappointed that Walter and Violet did
not accompany me?” he inquired.
Jaquelina answered no with pretty frankness, and an utter lack of
self-consciousness that was very charming.
“I dare say they would think me very selfish if they knew I had come
over to the farm alone,” he said. “I slipped away from them. I am very
selfish sometimes. I want you to sing your pretty songs to an audience
“I am quite willing,” she replied, happily.
She sang several songs for him, pouring out the exquisite melodies
clearly and artlessly as a bird. Ronald said to himself that it was
wonderful what a voice the girl had, so strong and sweet and clear that
she made him think of Shelley’s sky-lark–
“Pouring his full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.”
He remained with her fully two hours. It did not seem to him so long.
The time went very fast looking at that fair face and listening to that
musical voice. For a wonder Mrs. Meredith did not call her to the house
for anything. Dollie had grown large enough to walk and run alone, and
did not need so much attention.
“Is it true that you are going to become a governess?” he said to her.
“Violet Earle told me so this morning.”
“Yes, if I can find a situation,” she replied. “Do you think I shall be
likely to find one, Mr. Valchester?”
There was a wistful anxiety in the sweet voice. He looked at the fair
young face thoughtfully.
A slanting ray of sunlight pierced the green boughs of the tree and
penciled her white brow with a finger of light that brought out its
child-like innocence more clearly.
“No, I hardly think you will be successful,” he replied.
“You do not?” she said, and he saw the red lips quiver. “Why not, Mr.
Valchester? I have studied very hard and learned a great deal since I
have been away at school.”
“You look too young,” he replied. “No one would like to engage one who
appeared so childish. You look too inexperienced.”
“Do you really think that would weigh against me?” she asked,
distressed. “I assure you my looks are very deceptive. I am eighteen.”
“Quite a venerable age,” he laughed. “Yet still very young for an
instructor of youth.”
“You see I only expect to teach little children,” she said,
He looked at her gravely and curiously.
“Do you think you will enjoy such a life?” he inquired.
“No,” she admitted, frankly, “I do not imagine that it will be a
pleasant life, certainly. But it will be better than the farm. I shall
earn my support and not have my dependence continually thrust in my
face by a vulgar woman.”
“Poor child!” he thought to himself, as the sensitive color rushed over
her brow and throat.
He left her with a thrill of deep compassion in his heart. She seemed
so slight and frail a creature to take arms against the world and win
her way alone.
“May I come again to-morrow–with Walter?” he added, fancying that he
saw her hesitate.
“Yes,” she replied, readily, “and bring Violet with you if she will
“Very well,” he replied, “I will do so, but I shall come alone the next
day to hear you sing. Are you willing?”
“They will think I am selfish if I take you away from them, I fear.”
“You will not be taking me away. I belong to no one but myself,” he
replied. “Then, too, I shall return home in a few days, and I do not
know when I shall see you again.”
“You may come,” she replied, quickly.
The next day he came with Violet and Walter as agreed upon. But the
visit was short and unsatisfactory. Violet was fidgety and capricious.
She said she had planned a visit to another young lady, and she left
very soon, carrying Valchester in her train and telling Walter to
remain behind and amuse Jaquelina. Walter remained very willingly. He
had been thinking a great deal of what Violet had said to him about
marrying Jaquelina. In consequence he had concluded to take her advice.
But it is one thing to resolve and another to execute. Jaquelina, who
was exceedingly friendly and sociable with Walter in the company of
others was very shy when alone with him. She somehow eluded the efforts
he made to give a sentimental tone to the conversation. She sang at his
request, but it was a gay and lively air.
If she had known his intention she could not have frustrated it better
than she did by her unconscious indifference.
Walter went away with his love unspoken. Two days later he returned
alone, having slipped away from his friend and sister, just as
Valchester had done once or twice before.
Jaquelina was out under the trees reading. Little Dollie was frisking
in the grass beside her. Walter thought he had never seen the girl he
loved looking so fair and happy. He pleased himself with thinking how
he would take her away from her uncongenial home and lavish upon her
all the luxuries and adornments that would suit her beauty so well. The
thought gave him courage to speak to Jaquelina. It was not long before
she was blushing and trembling at these words from his lips:
“Lina, I love you dearly. Will you be my wife?”
“Oh! Mr. Earle,” she cried out, looking lovely as a dream in her dismay
and confusion. “I–I am very sorry for you. I did not dream of your
loving me. Since yesterday I have been engaged to Mr. Valchester.”
Walter Earle’s handsome face grew pale with surprise and emotion at the
words of the beautiful girl he loved so dearly. When at last he could
speak he cried out hoarsely:
“Engaged to Valchester! Is it possible? I never dreamed of such a
“Why not, Mr. Earle? If you loved me why should not he have loved me
also?” asked Jaquelina, with gentle dignity, though her cheeks flushed
Walter Earle stared at her a moment in silence. He began to realize
the effect of her bright and charming beauty as he had never done
before. All along it had seemed to him that other men were blind. He
had thought to put forth his hand and pluck a rose that none other had
sighed for; but another had been there before him.
“I thought Valchester was too selfishly absorbed in his books and
poetry to think of love,” he responded; then he added with a bitterness
he could not repress: “You will allow me to congratulate you, Miss
Meredith, on having secured such a desirable _parti_.”
“Thank you. I consider myself a very fortunate girl,” Jaquelina
answered, with a movement of graceful pride.
“No doubt!” said Walter, so excited and pained by her refusal of his
suit that he was not prepared to do her justice even in his thoughts.
“Others will consider you a very fortunate person also. It is well
known that Valchester’s parents are exceedingly wealthy.”
Jaquelina’s pretty, proud face grew pale at his words.
“I–did not know that,” she said.
“Did you not, really?” asked Walter.
“No, I did not,” she replied; then with a crimson blush: “Did you
think, Mr. Earle, that I accepted Mr. Valchester for mercenary
The pain and shame in the winning face overcame Walter’s unreasonable
and unjust mood.
“Forgive me,” he said, “I was tempted a moment to think so; but of
course I know better after what you have just told me. The smart of my
own pain made me unjust. Do not be angry with me, Lina, if I may call
you so this once. I shall hope still to be your friend since I cannot
claim a dearer title.”
Jaquelina held out her hand to him impulsively. Walter kissed it
tenderly and regretfully.
“Valchester is a noble fellow,” he said, bravely. “I hope you may be
very happy together.”
When he was gone, Jaquelina wept a shower of bright tears upon the
pages of her book. She was very sorry for poor Walter’s disappointment.
She cried so bitterly that little Dollie was affected to participation
in her grief, and wept in unison, whereat Jaquelina dried her tears and
“There now, Dollie, we are done crying,” she said. “We are very sorry
for Walter. He is gay and good and handsome, but Ronald is my prince.”
Her spirits were very light and gay now. It was only the day before
that Ronald Valchester had wooed her to be his wife. He had told her
how beautiful and gifted she was, and how fondly he loved her. And then
Jaquelina had suddenly wakened to the truth that she had long ago given
her heart into his keeping.
“Lina, can you give your heart to me?” he had pleaded, and she had
answered frankly, yet shyly, with her sweet face turned away:
“I believe it has been yours a long–long time, Mr. Valchester, only I
did not quite know it until now.”
Mr. Valchester was very demonstrative for awhile, considering that
he was usually so quiet and grave. Before he left he had made his
betrothed promise that, with her uncle’s consent, the wedding should be
in three months.
“Because, darling, I am anxious to take you away from your uncongenial
home and transplant my rosebud to a sunnier sphere of life,” he said,
kissing the dewy crimson lips ardently yet tenderly.
The dark eyes looked at him shyly from under the white lids and the
jetty fringe of her long curling lashes.
“So I shall not have to seek a situation after all,” she said, happily.
“No, indeed,” he answered with a shudder, “I could not bear to think of
you, my tender flower, out in the cold world alone. The bleak frosts of
adversity and sorrow would destroy you.”
He was mistaken. The time was coming when he was to learn what a brave
heart and strong patience lay hidden beneath the fragile seeming of the
lovely girl who held his heart.
The summer breeze sighing softly over the grass and flowers, and
lifting the dark, careless locks from his broad, white brow had no
subtle voice to warn him of the long, dark shadow that was ever
widening between him and the prize that seemed almost within his grasp.
Walter Earle did not go home immediately after his rejection by
He had loved her with as much ardor as he was capable of, and he felt
the pain of his disappointment deeply.
He wandered homeward slowly through the green woods, and threw himself
down by a purling brook to rest.
It was twilight when he reached home. He looked in the parlor for
Violet, but she was not there.
His father and Ronald Valchester were discussing some political news,
his mother was placidly crocheting lace on the sofa.
He went on quietly up-stairs to Violet’s own especial room, and tapped
lightly on the door.
“Come in,” she said, and he turned the door-knob and entered.
Violet was at the mirror, looping back her fair curls with roses and
She looked very fair and sweet in her white evening dress and pearl and
turquoise jewelry–a fact of which she was not unaware herself, for a
smile of gratified vanity curved her rosy lips as she surveyed her own
reflection in the full length mirror.
“Ah, Miss Vanity,” cried Walter, trying hard to be his natural,
careless self. “How do you like yourself?”
Violet turned around and swept him a gay little courtesy.
“Very well, indeed, sir,” she laughed. “How do you like me, Walter?”
Walter looked at the tall, stylish figure, and the fair, smiling face
with its large blue eyes and rosy lips, with genuine admiration.
“I do not believe any other fellow has as pretty a sister as I have,”
he replied, and Violet gave him a charming kiss in return for his
“Where have you been, Walter?” she said. “We have missed you all the
evening. Mr. Valchester was quite puzzled, but I could very nearly
guess–only I did not let him know it.”
Walter had thrown himself down in a chair at the window.
The rich lace curtains were drawn aside, admitting the evening breeze,
sweet with the breath of flowers. He stared moodily out at the full
moon rising over the dark line of the distant hills.
“Where have you been, Walter?” said Violet again, seeing that he made
her no answer. “Were you with Jaquelina?”
“Yes,” he replied, with cold brevity.
Violet went over and sat down by his side. She raised her fair, smiling
face to his in wonder.
She saw the brooding shadow of pain on the blonde, handsome face.
“Walter, what is it? Has–has anything happened?” she said, vaguely.
“Nothing has happened,” he replied, in a moody tone.
“Was Jaquelina well?” she asked, puzzled.
“Never better,” he replied, with transient bitterness.
Violet did not know what to think.
“Walter, was not Lina kind to you?” she asked, gently.
“No,” he replied, briefly and bitterly.
The soft flush had faded from Violet’s cheeks. A look of dread came
into her eyes, but Walter did not see it.
He had never turned his sad gaze from the distant hills gilded with
glory by the rising moon.
“Walter, do you mean,” she said, with lips that quivered strangely,
“that–you have asked Lina to marry you?”
“Yes,” he answered, very low.
“And she–oh, she did not refuse you!” cried Violet, indignantly.
“Yes, again,” said Walter, still without looking at her.
There was a moment’s pause, and then Violet cried out:
“The impertinent little jade! Why, what did she mean? I should have
thought that she would have jumped at the chance of marrying a rich,
handsome young man like you, Walter!”
Then Walter looked round at her.
“Violet, do not use such hasty words,” he said, sadly. “She has a right
to make her own choice. She has set her mark higher even than your
“You do not mean,” said Violet slowly, then paused, while every vestige
of color fled from her lips and cheeks as she stared at Walter.
“She is engaged to Valchester,” he answered, abruptly.
The words came with the suddenness of a blow.
Violet shivered and moaned like something wounded to death; then all in
a moment she slid from her seat to the floor, and lay there, a white
and senseless heap, upon the rich velvet carpet.
Walter sprang from his seat in alarm and consternation. He had never
before suspected the secret of Violet’s hidden love for Ronald
Valchester. It all rushed over him now overwhelmingly. With almost
womanly tenderness he lifted his stricken sister gently to a sofa, and
bringing _eau de cologne_ from the toilet-table laved her cold face and
hands with the refreshing water.
She opened her eyes and stared blankly at him in a moment.
“Darling, are you any better?” he asked, gently.
Then Violet threw her white arms round his neck and clung to him,
“Walter, is it indeed true?” she sobbed. “Is she to marry Ronald?”
“So she says,” he answered. “Do you care, Violet?”
“I hate her!” Violet cried, drawing herself from his arms and sitting
upright, while rage and jealousy flashed from her eyes–“I hate her!
She has stolen my lover from me!”
Walter’s blue eyes flashed lightning.
“Violet, is that true?” he asked. “I thought my friend was the soul
of honor; but if he has dared to trifle with your affections he shall
render me an account for his perfidy!”
Violet only wept and sobbed, without replying.
“Tell me, dear,” persisted Walter, “has Valchester made love to you,
really, while he was slyly wooing Miss Meredith?”
Violet was obliged to admit that he had not.
“But if he had never seen her–if she had let him alone–I must have
won him by the strength of my own love. He could not help loving me in
time. Therefore, Lina has really stolen him from me,” she persisted,
Walter could not see that it was as Violet said. He tried to argue
the case with her; but he soon found that Violet was too jealous and
miserable to listen to reason. She only reiterated again and again her
hatred of Jaquelina Meredith.
Walter took a great deal of blame to himself. He acknowledged that he
had done wrong ever to have brought Ronald Valchester to Laurel Hill.
“You see, Vi,” he said, miserably, “I never looked upon Valchester as
one to be lightly won, or one to lightly win a woman’s heart. He is
not usually gallant, or even attentive, to ladies. I thought him only
a book-worm, wrapped up in metaphysics and poetry. He is a splendid
fellow. I have told you that too often, Vi, for me to deny it now when
he has become my successful rival and the source of sorrow to yourself:
but I thought he was simply one of the men whom his own sex always
admire, but women seldom or never.”
“I do not believe that Jaquelina admires him,” cried Violet. “She is
attracted by his wealth and position.”
Nothing that Walter could say could change her opinion. She adhered to
it tenaciously. Walter was deeply sorry for her. Her jealous anger and
her wild grief distressed him exceedingly.
“Violet, think no more of it,” he would say. “Valchester is going away
to-morrow. I will never invite him to Laurel Hill again, and when he is
out of sight you will forget him.”
“I shall never forget him,” his sister replied. “I shall never forget
him, and I shall never love anyone but Ronald Valchester my life-long!
Oh, Walter, cannot you think of something to separate them and turn his
heart to me!” she added, with piteous pleading.
Walter was shocked.
“Darling, you are talking wildly,” he cried; “you would not wish such a
thing. Let me call mother. She can soothe you better than I can.”
She sprang up in the wildest alarm.
“Walter, promise me here and now,” she cried, “that you will never
reveal my wretched secret to mamma, nor to any living one. I will never
unlock my arms from your neck until you swear to me that you will
never, never betray me.”
Her arms were wreathed tightly round his neck; her anguished, white
face and wild blue eyes looked into his own imploringly.
Walter could not refuse to give her the promise she pleaded for, but he
regretted it many and many a day afterward.
He promised her, and she kissed him and thanked him.
“Now, Violet, we must really go down to the parlor,” he said, anxious
to distract her attention. “Our absence will be noticed and wondered
at. Smooth your hair and dress and come with me. This is the last night
of Valchester’s stay, and we must not seem discourteous.”
“You may go,” she said, “but I cannot to-night. Tell them I have a
headache and do not wish to be disturbed. Do not suffer mamma to come.
I feel very angry with her. It was she who insisted on patronizing that
wretched girl. But for that Ronald never would have seen her!”
Her brother went down reluctantly. Violet lay motionless on her couch
for long hours. When she roused herself at last and went to close
the window the lamp had burned low, and the mysterious stillness of
midnight brooded over everything. Violet lifted her hand and turned a
white, desperate face up to the starry sky.
“Before God,” she cried, in low, passionate accents, “I swear that I
will be revenged on Jaquelina Meredith for winning Ronald Valchester
away from me. She shall never be his wife, and if mortal power can
accomplish it, I will make of her life one long agony, such as she has
made of mine.”
So, under the starry arch of Heaven, Violet’s vow of vengeance was
registered beside that of Gerald Huntington. Poor Jaquelina, sleeping
softly on her little white couch and dreaming of her handsome, gifted
lover, did no swift, subtle warning tell her of the false friend and
the outraged prisoner whose hands were outstretched to dash the cup of
happiness from her beautiful lips?
One golden evening in September, Mr. Meredith came in from his weekly
trip to town considerably excited.
“There’s news, Lina,” he said to his niece, who was laying the cloth on
the table, and deftly arranging the tea-things.
Jaquelina looked at him with a start and a blush. She fancied he had
brought her a letter from her lover.
“Well, Uncle Charlie?” she said, expectantly.
“Yes,” said Farmer Meredith, “there’s wonderful news for you. The
horse-thief, Gerald Huntington, attempted to escape night before last.
He knocked down two keepers, and got almost a mile away before he was
caught and taken back. They say he fought like a lion for his freedom.”
Jaquelina started and grew deadly pale at his words.
“I have brought the newspaper with me,” went on the farmer. “It’s all
written there. Stop clattering the dishes a minute, Lina, and I’ll read
it out for you.”
His niece stood still with her hand resting on the table, and listened
while he turned the paper and read out, slowly:
“Attempted escape of Gerald Huntington, the chief of the outlaw gang
that had infested the mountains so long, and who was so summarily
captured little more than a year ago by a brave young girl.”
Having read this much, which was printed in flaring head lines and
capitals, Mr. Meredith cleared his throat, and proceeded to attack the
“It is well known to the most of our readers that the long-pending
case against Gerald Huntington was decided in the court on Monday by a
sentence of ten years’ confinement in the penitentiary. The prisoner
was remanded to the county jail to remain until Friday, when he was
to be removed to the penitentiary. Tuesday evening, at dusk, he was
visited in his cell by a veiled lady who remained with him half an
hour engaged in deep and private conversation. It is supposed that
this mysterious stranger conveyed to him a club which was skillfully
concealed beneath her voluminous draperies. At nightfall the prisoner,
armed with this enormous and heavy implement, assaulted the keeper
who brought him his supper, and succeeded in escaping into the hall,
where he knocked down the door-keeper and made a desperate run for
liberty. He was pursued by several persons, who captured and bound him
after a terrible struggle. He is now heavily ironed and chained down
to the floor of his cell. Public curiosity is highly excited over the
mysterious veiled visitant who furnished him the club, but the prisoner
preserves a dogged and obstinate silence regarding her, and nothing is
known of her in the town.”
“Oh, poor fellow!” cried Jaquelina, quite involuntarily, as he paused.
“Chained to the floor of his cell! How dreadful!”
“You are not sorry for the wretch–are you, Lina?” said her uncle,
looking at her in surprise.
“Yes–very sorry,” she said, shuddering at the thought of the gloomy
prison cell, and the clanking chains that held Gerald Huntington down
from the free, wild woodland life he loved.
“Well, you hadn’t ought to be sorry,” said Mrs. Meredith, who had
come in from the spring-house with the fresh butter and milk for tea,
with Dollie trotting behind her, a great, red apple in either chubby
fist; “his capture made you two hundred dollars the richer–if you
hadn’t spent every dollar of it so foolishly,” she added, as an
after-thought, and in an injured tone, for she had been deeply offended
at the way in which Jaquelina had spent her money. “She had ought
to have given it to her uncle to pay for her keep,” was her frankly
Jaquelina made no answer to Mrs. Meredith’s taunt. She was looking at
her uncle wistfully.
“Uncle Charles, did you stop at the post-office?” she asked, shyly.
“Why, certainly. How did I come by the newspaper, else?” inquired the
farmer, with a sly twinkle of his gray eyes.
“Were–were there any letters for me?” said the girl, coloring under
his laughing glance.
“Two,” said Mr. Meredith, “and only the day before yesterday there
were two. It seems as if Mr. Valchester has nothing to do but write
He fished the mail out of his coat pocket as he spoke, and gave her the
She caught them eagerly from his hand and hurried from the room.
“Two of the love-sickest ninnies ever I saw,” sniffed Mrs. Meredith,
disdainfully. “Everlastingly writing back and forth to each other. I
should think they’d run out of news.”
“Tut, tut, wife,” said the farmer, gaily, “don’t be hard on the young
folks. Don’t you remember when you and I were sparking at singing
school that winter, how many little notes we kept passing to each
other? And no news in any of them, either–nothing but love, love,
Mrs. Meredith turned her back at this juncture, but the homely
reminiscence must have had its effect on her. Her sharp tongue was
silenced for awhile. She busied herself in setting the appetizing
supper on the small table, then went out to the door and called
Jaquelina in to the meal.
Jaquelina, sitting under a maple tree that was beginning to turn
crimson under the kisses of September, returned an answer to the effect
that she was not hungry, and did not desire any supper.
“Always the way,” said Mrs. Meredith, returning to the table and
supplying Dollie with her portion of mush and milk. “After she gets one
of them letters from that solemn-looking, long-legged beau of hers, she
is that excited she can’t swallow a bite to eat. Say what you will,
Charlie Meredith, you can’t prove that ever I lost my appetite while
you courted me.”
Mr. Meredith only laughed as he drew up his chair to the table, and
Lina was left unmolested to read and re-read the closely written letter
in which her lover poured out his affection clothed in the beautiful
imagery of a poetic heart.
“My darling,” wrote Ronald Valchester, “as our bridal day is now only
two weeks off, I have one request to make of you. As our wedding is
to be such a simple and quiet one in the little country church, will
you not wear, just to please me, the pretty white robe you wore on the
night I saw you first? Never mind what others say. It is a beautiful
dress, and you will be beautiful in it. I have a fancy for you to wear
it in the moment when you give yourself to me–the happiest moment of
my life. Afterwards you shall have silks and satins, laces and jewels,
if you care for these things. I shall be with you the day before the
wedding. My mother will accompany me. I will tell you in confidence,
darling, she is a very proud and stately old lady. But you must not
be afraid of her. I know she cannot help but love you, as I know you
cannot help but love her. I have had a kind letter recently, from
Walter Earle, and a charming note from Violet, in which she tells me
you have asked her to be your bridesmaid and she has consented. Violet
is a very sweet and lovely girl. I am glad you are such friends with
This and a great deal more Ronald Valchester wrote to his betrothed.
She pored over it fondly, and blushingly kissed the page where the dear
white hand had rested while it traced the loving words.
Mrs. Meredith had spoken truly when she said that Jaquelina could never
eat when she received one of those letters from Ronald. They filled her
heart and soul so fully that mere material food seemed unnecessary.
The young heart which had gone hungering for love so long, and suffered
isolation through all its dreary years of orphanage, was steeped to its
depths in the golden glamour of first love’s bewildering dream.
She rose at last and wandered down to the little brook and sat down to
watch its dimpling flow with dreamy dark eyes.
Mrs. Meredith forbore to call her to help with the milking or tend
Dollie as she had been wont to do.
Since Jaquelina had returned home with the added polish of her
boarding-school upon her, and more especially since she had become the
affianced of the proud Ronald Valchester, the coarse woman had stood
somewhat in awe of her husband’s graceful and refined niece. A newly
awakened and resentful sense of vague inferiority made her feel ill at
ease in her company.
The sun was setting goldenly and warmly as it does under Virginia’s
skies in the golden month of September. The soft sounds of early autumn
filled the balmy air. Slowly the gold and purple and crimson of sunset
faded from the sky, and gave place to dusky twilight.
Jaquelina scarcely noticed it. She did not feel the soft dew falling on
her face and hands. She was lost in a sweet and dreamy revery.
Yet suddenly, with an inexplicable start and shiver, she lifted her
In the silence that seemed only more audible by the low, melodious
murmur of the streamlet, she had caught a strange sound–not a voice,
not a footstep–only the cold, heavy clank of an iron chain.
When she looked up she saw a man standing on the opposite side of the
brook, and looking across at her with steadfast, gleaming eyes.
He was a tall man, dressed in ragged clothing like a common tramp. His
face was blackened to the hue of a negro’s by soot or charcoal, but the
finely molded features were those of a white man. In the waning light
Jaquelina could see that his wrists were manacled, and heavy irons were
fastened about his ankles, from which depended chains that had been
severed in two.