Two weeks longer

Violet Earle was not surprised at her brother’s action. She was
rather relieved by it. The first shock over, she was rather glad that
Jaquelina had lost all her charms. Ronald Valchester had nothing to
regret now. The beauty he had loved was lost forever.

The day before she returned home, she went to see Jaquelina. She was
curious to know what her generous rival proposed to do with her blank
and ruined life.

“Do you really intend to return to Europe as you said you would?” she
asked her.

“Yes, I am going back after awhile,” Jaquelina answered, “but first, I
am going to pay a visit to Virginia. I have had a letter from my Uncle
Meredith, and he has invited me to pay him a visit.”

“I do not believe you would enjoy a visit to Meredith Farm,” said
Violet, quickly. “Mr. Meredith has become involved in debt, somehow,
and there is a mortgage on the whole estate. His wife is crosser than
ever, and she has two more children.”

“Yes, I know, Uncle Charlie wrote me about all his troubles,” Jaquelina
answered, simply, “and I will tell you what I mean to do, Violet. I
shall pay off the mortgage on the farm, and settle twenty-five thousand
dollars on Uncle Meredith, so that he may get a new start in life.”

Pretty Violet, rustling in her silks and furs, looked at her with
incredulous surprise.

“Lina, you are not in earnest?” she said.

“Yes, I am quite in earnest. I have more money than I know what to do
with, and I am going to help Uncle Charlie out of his difficulty.”

“They have not been so kind to you, Lina, that you need trouble
yourself over them,” said Violet, her mind going back to the old days
when Jaquelina had been the patient nurse and drudge, neglected and
uncared for.

“I know,” said Lina. “I have not forgotten the past, but I am sorry
for them all the same. And then, too, Violet, you must remember,” her
voice sank slightly lower, “I can never have any more happiness in life
except what I can make for others.”

Violet and her brother returned south the next day. Violet had promised
Mrs. Valchester to spend a few days with her in Richmond before she
went to Laurel Hill. She felt quite sure of having Ronald all to
herself then. What was her dismay to find him preparing to leave for
New York again the very day she arrived in Richmond?

“Were you growing impatient at my lengthened stay?” she asked him,
fondly. “It was Walter that kept me. I was very anxious to get back to
you.”

“I thought Walter intended to have brought back a bride with him,”
ignoring her first question.

“Oh! did not Walter tell you?” she cried out, carelessly. “The
engagement is off.”

“I do not think I understand you,” Ronald replied.

“The engagement is broken–they are not to be married,” she explained.

“Why not?” gravely.

“Oh, Mr. Valchester, she is so changed, you know,” said Violet, a
little disconcerted by his grave eyes. “She has lost her voice and
her beauty. She offered Walter his freedom, and he was glad enough to
accept it.”

“I could not have believed it of Walter!” said Ronald Valchester,
sturdily.

“Oh, Mr. Valchester, she is a perfect fright! You would not blame
Walter if you could see how she looks!” cried Violet, warmly defending
Walter’s course.

Ronald said no more. He had turned to go.

“You are not going to New York now! What is the use, when I am already
here?” she cried, in dismay.

Then Ronald answered, with a slight flush:

“Excuse me, Violet. At the risk of seeming rude, I must tell you I was
not going after you exactly. I am publishing another volume of poetry,
and I was going to New York on urgent business.”

“You were going to see Jaquelina!” Violet broke out, in a sudden
passion of anger and jealousy. And then she threw herself on a sofa and
burst into bitter weeping.

Ronald stood looking at her in amazement. He did not kneel down by her
and kiss away the tears, as she expected him to do. He said, sadly and
gravely:

“Violet, this is quite unworthy of you. You must remember that Lina
herself gave me to you.”

“I have small pleasure in the gift,” she retorted. “I but seldom see
you.”

The passionate complaint opened Ronald’s eyes. He bent down and touched
his affianced’s cheek with his lips while he said, quietly:

“Violet, when I return from New York I shall ask you to name our
wedding day. You must think about it while I am gone.”

“When–when will you return?” sobbed Violet, with a smile struggling
through her tears.

“In about two weeks, I think,” said Ronald.

“Two weeks longer; I shall be gone to Laurel Hill before that time,”
she said, disappointed.

“I do not think I can get back any sooner than that,” he answered, “but
I will come to Laurel Hill as soon as I return.”

“You promise,” she said, “faithfully?”

“I promise faithfully,” he replied, with a slight smile at her anxiety.

He went away and Violet was obliged to content herself with the thought
of seeing him again in two weeks. She returned to her mountain home
where she found her father very glad to see her again. In a week’s time
she heard that Jaquelina Meredith had returned to the farm on a visit
to her uncle.

“May I see you for a little while, Lina? I have important news for you.”

It was two weeks after Jaquelina had come to the farm-house that she
stood holding Ronald Valchester’s card in her trembling hand and
reading the few lines scribbled upon it. Her uncle Charlie had brought
it to her. He told her that Mr. Valchester was waiting outside.

She started up nervously when Mr. Meredith gave her Ronald’s card, and
told her that he was waiting to see her. An impulse came over her to
decline to grant him the interview he asked.

“He has come to tell me when he will be married to Violet,” she said to
her wildly beating heart. “I–I am not so strong as I thought I was–I
do not believe I could bear it. It was cruel to come. I should not have
thought it of Ronald. He must have known how it would hurt me. Oh! I
should not have come here–so near to the sight of Violet’s happiness.”

Then it crossed her mind that she was weak and selfish. She had begged
him to marry Violet. She must be brave enough to bear what she had
caused.

“Uncle Charlie, you may tell him to come in,” she said, with lips that
trembled strangely.

Then when he had gone out and closed the door she drooped into a chair
and hid her poor, marred face in her hands. She could not bear for
Ronald Valchester to behold it in its changed and altered guise.

She heard the door open softly, then Ronald’s unforgotten step as he
crossed the floor. She could not look up. He knelt down beside her and
took one of the hands that hid her face and held it tightly in his own.

“Lina, look at me,” he said, in a voice that was as tender as a caress.
“Do not be afraid to show me your sad affliction.”

Jaquelina looked up with something like a sob into the handsome,
thoughtful face of her lost lover. It was beaming with an eager joy
and tenderness that was like the expression she remembered on it in
the brief, happy summer of their betrothal. Even when he saw the face
that had frightened Walter Earle’s love away, no change came into the
blue-gray eyes fixed on her with such adoring love blent with such
sweet seriousness.

“Lina, do not grieve for the beauty you have lost,” he said. “I am so
thankful that your life is spared that all else is of little account.”

The sad dark eyes regarded him in wonder.

“Yes, darling,” he said, with a smile into the wondering eyes; “all
that you have suffered only makes you dearer to my heart.”

She pulled her small hand from his clasp and tried to rise.

“Mr. Valchester, you must not speak to me so,” she cried. “You forget
Violet–you forget everything.”

“I forget nothing,” he returned. “Listen, Lina, I did not come here
simply to pain you. I have news for you. Gerald Huntington is dead.”

At those words from her lover’s lips Jaquelina gasped for breath like
one dying. Her head fell heavily back against her chair, and her
eyelids closed. Ronald bent over her in surprise and alarm.

“Lina, did I tell you too suddenly?” he exclaimed, chafing the limp and
nerveless hands. “Forgive me, I forgot how weak and nervous you must be
yet.”

It was a shock to her, there could be no doubt of that. She lay silent
several minutes, her heart throbbing quick and fast. It was some little
while before she could speak. When she did, she uttered only one word
through pale lips:

“When?”

“Almost a week ago now,” he replied. “Are you strong enough for me to
tell you about it, Lina?”

“Yes,” she replied, and he drew a chair to her side.

“Will you suffer me to hold your hand while I am telling you, Lina?” he
inquired, fondly.

She seemed to be lost in thought for a moment, then she answered, with
a slight flush:

“No; I would rather you should not do so.”

A troubled look came into the blue-gray eyes a moment as they rested on
the leaping flames of the fire; then he said, with apparent composure:

“You knew I had been in New York for two weeks, Lina?”

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

“True, how should you know it?” he said, half to himself. “Well, I was,
and last week Professor Larue called on me at my hotel.”

“The dear old soul! I hope he was well,” exclaimed Jaquelina, warmly.

“Yes, he was well,” said Ronald Valchester, “and very impatient for
your return to New York. A dying man had sent for you, and when he
found that you were out of reach he called for me.”

“You went?” said Lina, looking at him with wide, dark eyes.

“Yes, Lina. Judge of my surprise when, in an obscure and comfortless
abode in the suburbs of Brooklyn, I found the handsome outlaw, Gerald
Huntington, stretched upon his dying bed.”

“Dying!” Jaquelina repeated after him, with something like awe in her
low voice.

“Yes, dying, but dying ashamed and repentant. There was a priest with
him. He passed away peacefully.”

“And he sent for me?” the girl said, wonderingly.

“Yes, he sent for you, and he was very much disappointed and grieved
that you were too far away to come in time. He wished to ask your
forgiveness for the cowardly revenge he took upon you for the ill-turn
you did him once.”

“I have been so sorry for it,” she said, weakly, and blushing crimson.
“I was so young and untutored I did not think. It was all because I
needed the money so much. If I could have seen him on his dying bed I
would have asked him to forgive me my sin of ingratitude, and I must
have forgiven him for the revenge he took. I could not have refused to
forgive him when he was dying.”

“Yes, I told him that,” said Ronald. “I understood you so well, Lina,
I knew just what you would say and feel. I told him to rest quite easy
about that.”

Lina thanked him with a grateful glance, quickly withdrawn.

“He had sinned against you, too,” she said, tremulously. “That dreadful
wound! You forgave him, Ronald?”

“Freely,” he replied; and then they were silent a moment, and Lina
looked at the softly falling snow through the windows, and Ronald
looked at her steadily and gravely.

He did not flinch as his eyes marked the scarred, discolored skin that
covered the once delicately lovely face.

After a pause Ronald said, gravely:

“Huntington had a confession to make to you, Lina.”

“A confession?” she repeated, turning her dark eyes from the window to
look at him with grave surprise.

“Yes,” he said. “You must have wondered, Lina, often and often, what
mysterious discovery caused him to give you up in the very moment when,
by violence he had made you his bride.”

“I have wondered over it often. It was the happy cause that delivered
me from a life more bitter than death,” she replied, with a shudder.

“He explained it to me, Lina, and perhaps I should leave the story
untold to you. Are you willing for me to do so?” he inquired.

Lina meditated a moment, then replied:

“I would prefer to hear it.”

“Spoken like a true daughter of Eve,” said her companion, with a slight
smile. “Very well, Lina, I will do as you say, but I fear it will pain
you to hear my story. And there is one thing you must promise me. You
will tell no one else?”

“Yes, I will promise that,” she replied.

“Listen to a bit of the outlaw’s history, then,” he said. “In the first
place, his true name was not Gerald Huntington at all.”

“Then what—-” said Lina, and paused abruptly.

“It was an _alias_ he adopted when he fell into evil and wicked
courses. He belonged to a well-born family in France. He was not an
American, Lina–he was French.”

Lina’s eyes were a little startled as she looked up at him; a sight
pallor crept about her lips.

“He was the younger son of a man who was so severely just, Lina, and so
proud and passionate, withal, that his children feared him instead of
loving him. His eldest daughter ran away with a young American artist,
and died under Virginian skies in only a few brief months. His younger
son, maddened by the sternness and harshness of his only parent, also
ran away to America. He fell into temptation, yielded blindly to evil,
and cast aside forever, the noble name he had disgraced.”

He paused, and Jaquelina regarded him with wild, wondering eyes.

“Lina, I need not tell you more,” he said. “You can guess.”

She lifted her small hands dizzily to her brow.

“Tell me yourself,” she said. “I am so dazed it seems to me I cannot
understand unless I hear the very words.”

He said them over, reluctantly enough:

“Gerald Huntington’s true name is Ardelle. Your mother, little Lina,
was his elder sister. He was your own uncle. Your mother’s jewelry
revealed your true identity to him that night.”

A moan of pain came from the girl’s white lips as she pressed her hand
to her brow.

“My own uncle!” she cried. “Oh, the shame and disgrace of it!”

“It is a buried secret,” he replied. “No one will ever know! I promised
him that myself, Lina. He died repentant. I believe that a noble nature
was marred when Gerald Ardelle, with his princely beauty and glorious
intellect, fell into evil ways.”

“But he died repentant,” she murmured, hopefully.

“Yes, he was very sorry for his sins,” replied Ronald. “He regretted
his sin against you the most of all.”

After a moment he added, gently:

“His dearest wish, Lina, was that you and I might be re-united.”

She put up her hands as if she could not bear the words.

“He was full of life and strength,” she said. “Why did he die? What
killed him, Ronald?”

“You will not be shocked if I tell you?” he said, hesitatingly.

“I wish to know,” she answered.

“He was in the theater the night you were burned,” he answered in a low
voice. “He tried to save your life, dear. He leaped from the upper tier
into the parquette–fell, and was almost trampled to death beneath the
feet of the maddened multitude. He died a slow and painful death from
internal injuries.”

“He died for me,” Jaquelina cried in a voice of pain, and the tears
fell from her eyes for the man who had wrecked her life and given his
own so freely at last for her sake.

Ronald wiped those tears away, and when she could speak she said,
looking gravely at him:

“Ronald, who was it that saved my life? Tell me.”

“No one knows,” he replied, uneasily.

“Yes, Ronald, _I_ know–I have always known,” she replied. “Ah, do not
blush. I have never breathed it to anyone, but I know that it was you
that saved me from death that night.”

“I thought you insensible,” he exclaimed, unconsciously admitting the
truth of her words.

“Ah, Ronald!” she cried, with sudden uncontrollable pain and passion.
“I was almost dead, but I knew whose arms held me, and whose lips
kissed me. It seems to me if I were dead and you touched me, even, I
should surely know it.”

“Ah, Lina, my darling,” he cried, “there are no barriers between us
now. All are broken. You will be my own at last!”

She looked at her lover with dark, despairing eyes and a death-white
face.

“You forget–Violet,” she said, in a desolate whisper.

She saw a dark shadow come over the handsome, love-lighted face.

“Lina, I have not told you all that Gerald Huntington told me yet,” he
said. “Do you remember that it was a disguised woman who liberated him
from prison?”

“Yes,” she replied, wonderingly.

“It was Violet who connived at his escape, and furnished him the means
to get away safely. The price of her aid was that he should kidnap you
and prevent our marriage.”

“I can scarcely believe it,” cried the girl.

“It is quite true,” he answered. “Gerald swore to it. Violet does not
deny it.”

“You did not charge her with it?” the girl cried, in breathless dismay.

“Yes,” he replied, firmly. “She was very angry at first, but when I
had talked to her awhile, she owned the truth. She had visited the
prisoner, and they had concocted their diabolical plan of revenge
together. She hated you, dear, because–she loved me.”

“And she gave you back your freedom?” Lina said, with unconscious
hopefulness.

“Yes, when I had asked her,” he answered, with a slight flush. “Her
offense had been too great for me to marry her. Do you blame me, Lina?”

She would not say, only asked him, anxiously:

“Was Violet repentant?”

“She was sorry she had been found out, and very angry with Gerald
Huntington for betraying the secret. I do not believe she has reached
the verge of repentance just yet.”

“Poor Violet!” the girl said, with infinite compassion. “You will not
tell anyone about it, Ronald?”

“No, darling, I promised her I would not. Many people have secrets
hidden in their lives. This will be one in Violet’s, and Gerald
Huntington’s near kinship to you, will be one in yours. I did not even
tell Walter her story. I gave her the privilege of saying she had
jilted me. You will not mind taking a man who has been jilted, will
you, Lina?”

She looked at the handsome, happy face, with the eager light of hope
shining in the blue-gray eyes, and her lips quivered. Years had
passed since she had seen the light of happiness shining on Ronald
Valchester’s face.

“Ronald, I must not take you now,” she said, “I am not the Lina you
loved years ago. I have lost my beauty.”

“You will always be beautiful to me,” he answered, loyally. “Lina,
my love was no weak, shallow passion for a fair face such as Walter
Earle cherished for you. It was not altogether your beauty that won me
first. There was about you a singular unconscious fascination–a luring
charm–sweet and subtle as the fragrance of a flower, that won me even
against my will. That nameless charm lingers about you still, though
your wondrous fairness has faded like a flower. You remember–

“‘You may break–you may shatter
The vase if you will,
But the scent of the roses
Will cling round it still.’

So, although you have lost your beauty, Lina, the real, undefinable
charm that held me, holds me still.”

Lina looked at him with dewy eyes. His whole, handsome, eager face was
lighted with the tenderness of his heart.

He took her small hands and held them fondly in his own.

“Lina, we were made for each other,” he pleaded; “we both love poetry,
music, and everything beautiful. Fate has been hard and unkind to us,
but she has relented at last. You are going to be my wife.”

Lina could not resist his pleading, and the gentle arm that stole
around her. She hid her face on his breast and wept the happiest tears
that ever rained from a happy woman’s eyes. She had loved Ronald so
long and so well, and she was going to be his wife at last.

* * * * *

Only one month later they were happily married amid the rejoicings of
all the neighborhood. General and Mrs. Valchester were present and
seemed very happy in the happiness of their idolized son. Mr. Earle was
also present, but Walter and Violet sent regrets. Their father said
that they were very busy making arrangements for a long projected tour
abroad.

Mrs. Meredith’s wedding-gift to her husband’s niece was a mysterious
box swathed around with silver paper.

Ronald was quite mystified to hear her say, gratefully, when she
received it:

“A thousand thanks, Aunt Meredith. I would rather have this box than
Crœsus’ fortune!”

It has been frequently said that women have all the curiosity in the
world and men none at all, but Ronald Valchester was exceedingly
curious over his wife’s bridal gift. He thought over it several times,
and at last he said to her:

“Lina, my darling, what precious gift was that which your uncle’s wife
gave you on your wedding-day?”

They were in Richmond then, spending the honey-moon very quietly at
General Valchester’s splendid residence at the West End. Lina was too
sensitive over her marred beauty to allow them to persuade her into
society and gayety. She took Ronald’s white fingers now, and passed
them gently over her cheeks.

“Ronald,” she said, “do you perceive that my skin is becoming softer
and smoother?”

“Yes, and fairer, too,” he replied. “The discolorations are
disappearing very fast. What does it mean, Lina?”

“It means that Aunt Meredith was wiser than the New York doctors,” she
laughed. “She has prepared a salve for me from various woodland roots
and herbs that is slowly obliterating every scar and discoloration from
my face. She declares that in a year I shall be as pretty as I ever
was.”

“Then I shall bless the kind soul forever!” he cried out joyfully, and
Lina knew then for the first time how silently and sadly Ronald had
sorrowed for the loss of her wondrous beauty.

It was two years later when the two were traveling, that they met
Walter Earle.

He had attended morning service at a pretty English church, and he
heard a grand, glorious, triumphant voice, rising, as it were, to
Heaven on the wings of the _Gloria in Excelsis_. He looked around and
saw Ronald Valchester sitting by his wife’s side.

Jaquelina had grown more beautiful than ever. Every trace of her
accident had disappeared. The dark eyes were radiant with youth and
health, the long lashes rested on a rose-flushed cheek, the scarlet
mouth smiled as she chanted:

“Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will to men.”

Walter covered his face with his hands, and gave one sigh, deep and
bitter, to the memory of what he had lost through his weakness.

When they came out of the church he was strong enough to meet them and
speak to them.

They were glad and surprised in a breath. They asked him if he was
married yet, and if Violet was with him.

“No, I am not married yet, and my sister is dead,” he answered sadly,
and then he showed them her grave. It was right in the churchyard
there, and just a little way from the path.

The low, green mound was covered with white and blue violets, and
there was a broken marble shaft at the head, twined about with passion
flowers.

“She has been dead six months,” he said, tremulously, and then he saw
the husband and wife look at each other with a shade of remorse and
pain in their speaking eyes.

“She had quite gotten over her trouble,” he said, quickly. “She seemed
perfectly well and happy. She talked of you, Ronald, and you, Mrs.
Valchester, kindly and often. But she inherited her mother’s disease.
She died very suddenly and painlessly one evening while sitting in her
chair and watching a beautiful sunset.”

Jaquelina shed some quiet and sorrowful tears over Violet’s early doom.
They were the first tears that had dimmed her lovely eyes since she had
married Ronald Valchester. He made her very happy.

In the beautiful, calm years of wedded happiness that flowed serenely
over their future lives, the few years of passionate sorrow she had
known were forgotten wholly, or remembered only as a haunting dream.

Continue Reading

It was not easy to find Gerald Huntington

“Ronald, there is something I should like to tell you,” Walter Earle
said to his friend, with a hesitating air, when they found themselves
alone a little while that evening.

Ronald Valchester looked at the handsome face lying on the lace-trimmed
pillow. Despite its pallor it wore a look of triumphant happiness.

“Walter, you need not tell me,” he said, with outward calmness. “I have
heard. Allow me to congratulate you.”

“Thank you,” Walter replied; then he looked at the calm, inscrutable
face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why marry her then?”

“Lina wished me to do so,” Ronald replied, with gentle frankness.

“Lina wished it–I do not understand–explain yourself.”

They looked at each other in silence a moment, then Ronald answered
gravely and gently:

“I will tell you, Walter. Lina had found out a fact which I–foolish
dreamer that I am–had never suspected. Pretty Violet cared for me a
little, and could only be happy as my wife.”

“Dear little Lina; and she asked you to sacrifice yourself for Violet’s
happiness,” said Walter, deeply moved.

“She wished me to marry Violet; perhaps she thought in making another’s
happiness I might find my own,” Ronald answered, in the same gentle
tone.

Walter’s face brightened.

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

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

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

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

She was free! Walter Earle had convalesced so fast that he was well
enough to go to church now, and he pressed for an early marriage.
Jaquelina yielded hesitatingly, and the happy day was named for one
week after. Wednesday was to behold her last triumphant appearance upon
the stage. Thursday she was to breathe the solemn vows that would make
her the wife of Walter Earle. Ronald Valchester and his mother had
returned to Richmond. The date of his return to New York and the time
for his marriage were unfixed as yet, though Mrs. Valchester and Violet
secretly hoped it would not be long delayed.

It was Wednesday night. Madame Dolores stood bowing before the eager,
admiring throng that greeted her farewell appearance. Some of her
romantic story had been noised abroad. It was rumored that the morrow
would behold her a bride, and there were not a few who envied the
fortunate bride-groom.

Walter Earle and his sister occupied a private box as usual. He looked
pale and thin still, but very handsome and happy, and his blue eyes
dwelt adoringly on the brilliant beauty of his promised bride. Violet,
sitting beside him in rich and costly attire, had never looked more
lovely.

“How perfectly beautiful Lina looks to-night,” she whispered to her
brother. “To look at her now, she does not seem like the Lina Meredith
of five years ago. Do you remember how tanned and bashful and shabby
she was then? To-night she is the most beautiful woman I ever saw, and
her jewels are worth a fortune. I never saw such magnificent diamonds.”

Then the curtain rose and the glorious voice of Madame Dolores filled
the vast theater with entrancing melody. They turned their attention to
the stage again.

It seemed to the _prima donna’s_ admirers that she sang and acted more
splendidly than ever that night. They looked and listened in rapt,
spell-bound admiration, dreading for the moment to arrive when that
heavy curtain should fall between her and the public forever.

There was one scene, perhaps the most interesting and thrilling of the
whole opera, where the heroine knelt weeping and praying at the feet of
a cruel and relentless husband. Madame Dolores was always grand in this
scene. The whole audience leaned forward now, breathless and eager, as
the curtain rose upon this favorite part of the opera.

The scene was laid in a dim, Moorish garden in the shadow of a ruined
temple, bathed in the mystic beams of moonlight. Before the broken
archway a tall, dark, haughty man stood with folded arms looking
down at the suppliant kneeling on the ground, her loose, white robe
dishevelled, her dark hair broken from its fillets of gold, and flowing
in careless tresses around her, half hiding her slender form in its
luxuriant veil. At a little distance stood a lovely little siren who
had lured the fickle man from his rightful love and duty. His eyes were
fixed on her, not on his sorrowful, pleading wife.

At that moment, when the attention of the whole vast throng was
concentrated in intense silence upon the scene, there suddenly broke
through the back of the stage a vast and terrible sheet of flame that
lighted the whole scene with a crimson, deadly glare. A tumultuous
shriek of horror and despair rose from the throng, and the actors
rushed wildly forward toward the footlights in a frenzied effort at
escape. The _prima donna’s_ foot became entangled in her flowing robe,
she swayed and fell forward across the footlights that instantly licked
the soft folds of her dress into a winding sheet of flame.

There ensued a panic that baffled description. One impulse moved the
whole excited, shrieking throng–they surged forward madly toward the
doors and windows, bent on escape.

They were like maniacs for the time. The weak fell down beneath the
feet of the strong, and were heedlessly trampled, while groans and
cries, sometimes mixed with curses, divided the shuddering air.

Violet Earle had shrieked and fainted in the arms of her half-maddened
brother. There was not one to avert the awful fate of her who a single
moment before had held every heart enchained by the power of her beauty
and genius.

Yes, there was one–one only, it seemed. In an instant after the
terrible flames had wrapped their fiery tongues around the slender form
of the _prima donna_ a man sprang over the footlights upon the stage
at one rapid bound from the parquette floor.

He had caught up a heavy camel’s-hair shawl, dropped by a lady in her
hurried flight. Rushing forward, utterly heedless of the advancing
flames that scorched his face and his hair, he threw the heavy shawl
over the blazing form and smothered out the fire. Then, lifting
the senseless girl in his arms, he made his way with the greatest
difficulty to a door and forced his way through the striving mass of
human beings out upon the thronged pavement.

The _prima donna’s_ carriage was waiting on the pavement, and Professor
Larue, who had come with it a minute before, was darting frantically up
and down ceaselessly around the doors of the doomed building.

Afterward Professor Larue told how a tall man with a face so blackened
with fire and soot as to be quite unrecognizable, had put Jaquelina
into his arms and fallen fainting on the pavement.

Someone had attended to him–he could not tell who–for he had been so
distracted with grief and horror over the tragic fate of his ward he
had not waited to see, but all inquiry afterward failed to discover the
rescuer of the _prima donna_. No one had recognized him, no one knew
where he went, or whence he came.

Professor Larue in the gratitude of his heart wished to discover him
and reward him generously, but his persistent inquiries through the
personal column of the _Herald_ elicited no reply. The man was modest
as well as brave. He did not wish to be known.

Walter Earle had had a most terrible time getting his unconscious
sister out of the building; his heart was distracted with grief
over the tragic fate which had overtaken his darling. But for the
encumbrance of his sister he would have rushed out in an attempt to
reach Jaquelina through that struggling mass of maddened humanity. But
Violet lay like an inert, helpless burden on his hands. It was only by
superhuman efforts that he ever reached the outer world with her. Then
when he had put her in a carriage, taken her home, and had seen her
revive, he drove rapidly back to the theater.

They told him there that a stranger had leaped upon the burning stage
and smothered the flames that enveloped the _prima donna_.

“She was saved from that terrible holocaust of flame, then,” Walter
cried out, almost wild with the joy of the tidings.

But no one could tell him whether Madame Dolores was living or not. Her
rescuer had carried her out of the burning building and placed her in
the arms of Professor Larue. He had carried her away, and no one knew
anything further as yet. Walter drove to the hotel where the professor
and his wife were staying with their ward. He sent up his card and the
professor came down to him.

They looked at each other silently a moment, then Walter breathed
“Lina?” through white lips that could scarcely utter that simple name.

Professor Larue shook his head sadly.

“Do not tell me she is dead!” Walter exclaimed, in an agony of fear and
dread.

“She lives,” the professor answered, “if a mere wavering breath may be
called living. But she is horribly, horribly burned, and her sufferings
are fearful. Half a dozen doctors are with her this moment. They will
save her life if it is possible to accomplish it.”

“Thank God, she lives,” Walter exclaimed, and hurried away to carry the
welcome news to Violet, while the almost heart-broken old professor
hurried back to that quiet chamber where the angels of life and death
were striving together over Jaquelina Meredith’s scorched and writhing
frame.

So the _prima donna’s_ bridal day dawned dark and gloomy, and overcast,
and Jaquelina lay upon her couch of pain, swathed from head to foot in
bandages of linen, while the breath of life wavered unevenly between
the pallid, parted lips, and every gasp was one of almost unendurable
anguish.

And the morning papers which chronicled the particulars of the great
fire, told the public that Madam Dolores would live, but she had been
so horribly burned, even to her face and hands, that her beauty would
be marred and ruined forever. The physicians were of the opinion that
her exquisite voice would be destroyed also. She would be a perfect
physical wreck.

“I do not believe it!” Walter Earle cried out in passionate unbelief,
and he went to the physicians and asked them for the truth. They were
very sorry for him, but they confirmed the newspaper reports. They
believed that Madame Dolores would carry those terrible scars on her
face to the grave, and they did not think it possible that she would
ever sing again.

“I would rather she had died than lose all her charms!” Walter cried to
his own heart, in a perfect fever of regret and despair, and he went to
the hotel and begged Mrs. Larue to let him see Jaquelina if but for a
moment.

The professor’s wife refused flatly. She said that Lina was far too ill
to see anyone, and that the lightest footstep in the room set her wild
with nervous pain. He must wait. It would be some time–three weeks,
perhaps–before he could be admitted to the room.

Almost distracted with his trouble, the young man returned to Violet
who was still suffering from the effects of her last night’s shock
and excitement. He was surprised to find Ronald Valchester in the
drawing-room with his sister–Ronald, looking pale and ill, with his
right arm carried in a sling.

“Ronald–you here!” he cried. “How glad I am to see you! When did you
arrive?”

“Last night,” said Ronald briefly.

“You changed your mind about coming to my marriage, did you not?”

Ronald smiled and did not reply.

“Oh, Ronald, is it not terrible?” cried Walter. “My poor little Lina.
Her beautiful voice and her beautiful face ruined forever!”

“Her life is spared, at least,” Ronald answered, in a low, grateful
voice.

“If I had been Lina I would rather have died than have lost my voice
and my beauty,” cried Violet. “She will have nothing left to live for
now.”

“She will have Walter’s love,” said Ronald Valchester gravely, and
Violet saw that he was regarding her with a slight air of surprise.

“Oh, yes, I had forgotten that,” she said quickly. “But it is dreadful
for Walter. He is such a beauty-worshiper, and he thought Lina the most
beautiful girl he ever saw.”

Walter changed the conversation quickly by asking Ronald what was
wrong with his arm that he wore it in a sling, and his friend replied
briefly that he had been hurt by a slight accident. That was all the
explanation he volunteered.

The day came when Jaquelina was well enough to sit up in her darkened
chamber again.

Then they sent word to Violet Earle that she might come to see her one
day and Walter the next.

Ronald Valchester had gone back to Richmond on the same day that he had
heard that Jaquelina would live.

Violet had fretted about him continually. She had never been quite well
since the night of the fire. The terrible shock had wakened her nerves,
and her heart. She was anxious to go back to Laurel Hill, but Walter
would not hear of such a thing yet.

“Not until Lina is better,” he urged. “When she is well enough to
travel we will be quietly married, and then we will take her back to
Laurel Hill with us.”

Violet grew very impatient in the weary weeks of waiting. She fancied
she would see Ronald oftener if she were only back in Virginia. He
wrote to her sometimes–simple, friendly notes such as he had written
her from abroad two years before, but he had never asked her to name
the wedding-day yet. She was very glad when they sent her word that
Jaquelina was well enough to receive a visit from her.

“They should have given me the first chance of paying her a visit,”
complained Walter.

He did not know that Jaquelina had purposely planned it so.

She wished that Violet would break to him the news of her changed
appearance before he saw her himself.

Violet went away from that visit to the darkened, invalid chamber
awed and saddened, and a little self-reproachful. She remembered how
bitterly she had used to hate Jaquelina for that dazzling beauty that
had won Ronald Valchester’s heart. Of all that wondrous charm there
remained only a memory now.

“She is an object to pity and sympathize with, but never to admire
again,” she told her brother in the first shock of his disappointment.

Walter’s handsome face grew pale with dread and sorrow.

“You must prepare yourself for a great alteration, Walter,” Violet
continued. “Her face is red and scarred, her hair is all burned off
short, even her long lashes are scorched and spoiled. It will be some
time before anyone can look at her without a shudder. You may love your
wife, Walter, but you can never be proud of her.”

Walter shuddered at her emphatic words.

“Do not tell me any more, Violet,” he groaned. “I cannot bear it. You
only torture me. Let me find it out for myself.”

“If you cannot bear to hear of it I do not know how you will bear the
terrible reality,” retorted Violet.

Walter could not answer her. He longed yet dreaded for the morrow.

The first thing he saw when he was ushered into Jaquelina’s presence
was her portrait hanging against the wall. It had been painted by the
first artist in Italy. A few pale beams of winter sunshine stole in
through the closed curtains and shone on the beautiful pictured face,
touching it with a life-like glow. Then Walter looked away from it and
saw a little figure in a quilted morning-wrapper of dark, gray satin,
huddled into an easy-chair before the fire.

Walter went up to his betrothed. He saw that some uncontrollable
impulse had caused her to bury her poor scarred face in her small,
gloved hands. The short, soft, dark hair was hidden beneath a little
cap of fine muslin and lace.

“Lina, my darling,” he cried out in a voice of yearning pain, and she
looked up reluctantly at her lover.

Then Walter saw that even Violet’s words had not prepared him for the
sorrowful reality.

To have saved his life he could not have repressed the groan of
anguish that sight wrung from his lips. He had so loved that bright,
fascinating beauty, he had been so proud of it when she had promised to
be his own. Now at this moment it seemed to him that the girl he had
loved was dead and buried, and this an utter stranger who looked up at
him with that poor scarred face, and those dim and sad, dark eyes.

“Sit down, Mr. Earle,” she said, gently. “It is even worse than you
imagined, is it not?”

“Yes,” he answered, like one dazed, then started, ashamed of his candor.

“Oh! forgive me, Lina,” he cried, “I am talking like a brute.”

He sat down then and tried not to look at the poor face that reminded
him of a blighted flower. But some irresistible fascination drew his
own gaze to meet the wistful eyes that had lost all their brightness
now and were dim and misty with pain and weakness.

“Do I look at all like my old self?” she asked him, and he answered
almost bluntly:

“No.”

In the next breath he went on in a kind of passionate despair:

“Oh, Lina, you were so beautiful, and I loved your beauty so well. It
almost kills me to see how utterly you have lost it.”

“Did you prize my poor beauty so much?” she inquired, with a faint sigh.

She read his answer in the anguished eyes he turned upon her face. She
saw that in losing her peerless beauty she had lost her charm for him.

After a moment she said, gently and gravely:

“The physicians believe that my face is spoiled forever, Walter. They
are not sure but the shock and the illness have ruined my voice, also.
How could you bear to have a wife whom you must always pity for her
misfortunes, but could never worship for her fairness?”

He did not answer, but Jaquelina saw that the words had touched a
tender spot in his heart. He bit his lips beneath his fair mustache,
and an anxious gleam came into his blue eyes.

“I have been looking at my poor marred face in the glass,” she went on,
in her low, sad voice, “and I came to the conclusion that no one could
ever love me any more. It is not fair to hold you to your promise now.
I will give you back your freedom, Walter, if you will accept it from
me.”

“Lina!”

She scarcely understood whether it was relief or reproach that quivered
in his quick exclamation.

“It shall be just as you wish,” she said, quickly. “If you claim my
promise, I am yours. If I have lost your love in losing my beauty, you
are free.”

“Lina, would it pain you if I take you at your word?” he asked in a
low, abashed voice.

“No,” she answered, with gentle frankness.

“You would not despise me?” he asked, anxiously, without looking at her.

“No,” she said again.

He looked at her a moment, half irresolute.

“Do not fear to express your preference,” she said, gently. “Either way
I stand willing to abide by the consequences.”

“Then, Lina, since you are so generous, I will take my freedom,”
he blurted out, looking away from her, very red and ashamed. “I am
unworthy of you, my dear. I see now that it was only your beauty that
held me in thrall. Can you forgive me for being so weak and shallow?”

“I am not angry with you, Mr. Earle,” she replied, gently. “Most men
would have felt the same–would they not?” but in her heart she felt
that there was one, at least, whose fealty would not have faltered.

“Yes, most men would, I think,” he replied, and when he had made Lina
promise that she would still remain his friend, he went away to tell
Violet what had occurred.

“It was a weak and shallow love after all,” she mused, when she was
thus left alone by her recreant lover. “I am glad he has found it out
in time, and I am–oh, so glad that I need not marry Walter Earle.”

And with clasped hands Jaquelina thanked God for the accident which had
deprived her of all her charms and set her free from her engagement,
for she had realized from the first that there could be nothing more
galling in life than the bonds she had forged in her gratitude for
Walter’s brave quarrel with Gerald Huntington.

Yet life looked very long and lonely to the tearful, dark eyes as she
sat there musing. She began to realise that love–beautiful love–had
gone out of her life forever.

Continue Reading

He did not try

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you were not so desperate as I feared,” he said. “For when you
disappeared so strangely, and we could hear nothing of your fate, I was
always afraid that you had drowned yourself.”

“I was not quite so reckless, nor so romantic,” said Jaquelina, with a
slight air of surprise; “I was very anxious to get away from myself,
but as that was impossible, I did the next best thing that occurred to
me. I simply ran away from the scenes and associations which it was
beyond my strength to endure any longer.”

“You must have taken infinite pains to hide every trace of your
flight,” he said. “No one saw or heard anything of you after I parted
from you.”

“That is not so strange when you remember how early it was, and what a
wet and chilly morning,” replied Jaquelina, quietly. “I am almost sure
I did not meet a single person on the road, but I went straight home.
My uncle and aunt were very early risers, you know. They were both
out of the house–uncle in the field, and his wife at the milking, I
supposed. I went up-stairs to my room, donned a traveling suit, and,
taking a small bag in my hand, left the house unobserved. I walked to
the station and took an early train for Staunton.”

“You had friends there?” said Walter, deeply interested in her quiet
story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Poor child!” he said, involuntarily.

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

An answering sadness came into Walter’s blue eyes.

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

“Always,” she answered, with patient resignation.

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

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

“And you have never guessed why he repudiated you in the very moment he
made you his bride?”

“Never,” she answered again. “There was some secret connected with it;
something he found out when he saw the picture of my mother. I cannot
tell what it was–I have no idea.”

“I saw Gerald Huntington at the opera last night,” he said, startlingly.

Jaquelina sprang to her feet, and looked at him in a very panic of
terror.

“You saw _him_,” she said, her breath coming and going in fluttering
gasps. “Oh, Mr. Earle!” she cried out in wild hope and anxiety; “did
Uncle Charlie ever try to get me freed from him, if indeed I was ever
bound? for it seemed to me a mere farce–nothing more.”

“He did not try, Lina–you were gone, and it seemed as if you were
dead,” Walter said, hesitatingly.

“He did not try–and Gerald Huntington is here? Oh, Mr. Earle! do
you think he has recognized me? Why is he here? What does he mean to
do? Oh, if I had never returned here!” Jaquelina cried, rapidly and
excitedly.

Before Walter could reply the door was pushed open, and Violet Earle
came quickly into the room.

“Walter–you _here_!” she cried.

Walter Earle looked at his sister in surprise. He had left her rather
unwell and complaining of a headache. Even now her eyes were dull and
heavy, and her cheeks were flushed a feverish crimson.

“Violet, I would have waited for you if I had known you would come,” he
said.

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

Then she went to Jaquelina and held out her hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violet looked surprised and pained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaquelina lifted her dark eyes and regarded her gravely.

“Why unsuitable?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, then, he was frank enough to tell you so yesterday,” cried Violet,
with unmistakable triumph and delight.

“Oh, no! I knew his opinion years and years ago,” the singer replied,
simply.

“And you actually defied his opinion–you were careless of what he
would wish!” exclaimed Violet Earle, surprised and incredulous.

There was a moment’s silence. The white hands that were clasped
together in her lap were lifted to hide her face; then she dropped them
again, and answered, with quivering lips:

“No, Miss Earle, do not say that. I was never either careless
or defiant of Ronald Valchester’s opinion. I loved him too well
always–always–to do him that despite. But the old life was
unendurable. It was madness to remember all I had lost. I threw myself
feverishly into a public career because it promised–forgetfulness.”

“And have you found it?” Violet asked her, quickly.

“No.”

The simple word dropped mournfully from the quivering lips.

Violet looked searchingly at the sad young face that looked so
marble-white with the dark fringes of the long, curling lashes resting
against the cheeks. A mental vision of that face three years ago came
over her. She remembered it sun-tanned, rose-flushed, happy. She
remembered the faded print dress, the shabby boots, the worn poetry
volume. In the place of that simple girl here was a beautiful, sad-eyed
woman, clothed with purple and fine linen–a woman who but a little
while ago had told Walter Earle that life had given her fame, wealth,
admiration–everything except happiness.

Violet studied the beautiful face curiously a moment, then inquired,
abruptly:

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

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

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

“Not until then,” was the answer.

Then Violet said, with flushing cheeks and restless eyes:

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

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

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

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

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

“You could go away,” Violet replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Violet answered, recklessly.

“Whom would he marry?” asked Jaquelina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah! I have had nothing to divert my mind,” cried Violet. “I have spent
my whole time thinking of Ronald Valchester–yes, and trying to win
him! You need not look so pained, Lina. I loved him before you ever saw
him, and it always seemed to me that I had the prior right to him.”

She paused, then as Jaquelina made no reply she went on slowly:

“After you were lost to him so strangely, I set my whole heart on
winning him. I think–nay, I am almost sure that I must have succeeded
in time if only–ah, if only you had not come back, Lina!”

Lina clasped her white hands tightly as she looked at the speaker.

“What difference could that make?” she asked. “You know it is
impossible I should win him, Violet. By his own will we are separated
forever!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaquelina looked at her in kind of vacant surprise.

“Why, Fanchette, is it morning?” she asked, looking around at the drawn
curtains and the flaring gas-light.

“Oh, yes, madam, and here’s a note which has just come for you, so I
thought I had better bring it in, and not wait for your bell to ring,
as it is getting late.”

Jaquelina took the delicately scented note and opened it almost
mechanically. It was an incoherent scrawl from Violet Earle.

“Oh, Lina, Lina!” it ran. “I told you you had ruined all our lives by
coming back. That terrible Gerald Huntington has murdered our poor
Walter this morning. He has spoken but once, and then only to ask for
you. Come at once.”

The Earles were not staying at a hotel. They were at the residence of
a distant relative in a fashionable quarter of the city. Violet had
inclosed her address, and the _prima donna_ drove there immediately,
full of grief and horror over Walter’s dreadful fate.

Violet met her in the elegant drawing-room. The beautiful blonde
looking pale, wan and distracted in the dim morning light. Her blue
morning robe was all in disorder, her golden hair was disarranged,
there were dark circles beneath her eyes, and the soft, blue orbs were
drowned in tears.

“Oh, Lina, Lina! I told you so!” she cried, breaking into wild,
hysterical weeping. “You have made us all wretched! You have caused
poor Walter’s death! Oh my brother, my brother!”

Jaquelina stood irresolute in the center of the room, her lips
quivering at Violet’s passionate charge.

“Oh, Violet, don’t!” she cried, lifting her white hands as if to ward
off a blow. “I have done nothing! I love you all. I would give my life
to make you and Ronald and Walter happy. Tell me of Walter. He is not
dead–he will not die! Oh, Violet, do not tell me so! I could not bear
it!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Read this,” and Violet put a note into her hand. “Walter left it on
his dressing-table this morning for me. I found it a little while ago.”

Walter had written as follows:

“DEAR SISTER:–I have challenged Gerald Huntington, and am gone to
fight him this morning. I saw him at the opera night before last,
and yesterday I sent him a challenge. I have taken Ronald’s quarrel
on myself. It would not have been right for Ronald to fight him,
because if he had killed Lina’s husband it would have been wrong for
him to marry Lina. So, without Ronald’s knowledge, I have taken up
Ronald’s quarrel. I hope I shall kill the villain, and then Lina will
be free to marry Valchester. I love Lina so dearly I cannot bear to
see her unhappy. If I kill Huntington I shall fly to a foreign land.
If he kills me I shall have done all I could to help my darling to
happiness. In either case, Violet, you must tell her that I did it
for her sake.”

Lina’s tears fell quick and fast on those brave, pathetic words.

“Oh, poor–poor Walter!” she exclaimed. “And he has asked for me,
Violet?”

“Yes,” Violet replied. “Will you go to him now, Lina?”

“Yes,” with a slight shudder of dread at what she was about to see.

Violet led her up a richly-carpeted stairway into a darkened, luxurious
chamber, where the wounded man lay among the snowy pillows, watched by
a skillful surgeon and careful nurses.

Jaquelina went up to the bed. She did not see Ronald Valchester draw
back quickly into the shadow of the bed-curtains in fear that it might
pain her to see him there.

Walter lay white and still upon the bed, his fair, curling locks
brushed back, the long lashes lying on his pale cheeks like one asleep;
but at the soft swish of Jaquelina’s silken robe he opened his eyes and
looked at her.

“Oh, Walter, I am so sorry!” she cried. “Oh, why–why did you do it?”

“Lina, it was for your sake,” he replied.

“You should not have done it; it was all wrong,” she cried out,
quickly.

“Lina, do not blame me,” he said, weakly; “I could not help it. I am so
sorry for you, dear.”

Jaquelina pressed the hand she held impulsively to her lips.

“I remembered what you said,” Walter continued, in feeble
accents–“that life had given you all save happiness–and I would so
gladly have given you that, too, Lina.”

“Oh, Walter, you have a noble heart!” she cried, and a faint smile
curved his lips.

“But I have failed,” he said, so sadly. “I have utterly failed, and the
only pleasant thought I have in dying is that I have given my life in
the attempt to make you and Ronald happy.”

“You will not die, Walter–you must not!” she cried. “I should feel as
if I had murdered you! You must try to get well again!”

Walter shook his head in silence, and Lina looked around at the surgeon.

“Oh, sir, he will get well–will he not?” she exclaimed, pleadingly.

“I hope so,” he answered, gravely; but her quick ear detected the tone
of doubt in his voice.

She looked down at the handsome, white face on the pillow. He was so
young, and life held so much for him; yet he was dying–dying for her.

“Walter, you must not go away from us like this! Live–_for me_!”

Walter’s dim eyes flashed wide open, full of eager joy.

“Lina!” he exclaimed, incredulously.

“I mean it!” she whispered, gently. “Try to live, Walter, and as soon
as I can be relieved of those galling fetters that bind me I will be
your own. I will be as generous as you are. You were willing to give me
your life–now I will give you mine.”

“Lina, I must not accept such a sacrifice from you,” he whispered,
almost too weak to refuse the promise she gave so unselfishly.

But Lina murmured with a sad, pretty attempt at archness:

“You must not refuse a lady’s hand when she offers it to you herself,
Mr. Earle.”

Walter’s face was radiant with joy and hope as he pressed her hand and
whispered:

“If I accept it, Lina, it is not through selfishness, but because if
I live I believe that my great love cannot fail in time to make you
happy.”

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

She looked down at the book in her hand

Three years; again the autumn leaves lay on the grass; again the roses
shed their leaves and left the thorns; again the golden sunlight lay
over the earth as it did that autumn three years gone when the tragedy
of sorrow fell between Ronald Valchester and the dawning happiness of
his life.

* * * * *

In one of the most palatial hotels of New York a lady sat in her
luxurious parlor a lovely morning in that sunny autumn. She was young
and beautiful–so beautiful that the eye never wearied of gazing on
the light of the large, dark eyes, the dainty contour of the cheek and
throat, and the delicate, lovely coloring of the scarlet lips curved
like Cupid’s bow. That rich tinting of the lips was all the color in
her face. The cheek was pale and clear, the brow was creamy-fair,
and so transparent you could see the blue veins outlined clearly in
the temples. The abundant chestnut hair, with a glint of gold in its
brownness was drawn back in waving masses from the thoughtful brow
and arranged in rich confusion of braids and ringlets fastened with
a comb of gold and pearl. She wore a morning gown of royal purple
velvet trimmed with snowy swansdown, and lingered near the fire as if
the chill in the autumn air made itself felt even amid the luxurious
comfort of her surroundings.

The door opened and an old gentleman entered with an arm-full of
papers. The lady looked up with a gentle smile.

“Ah! professor,” she cried, “you have not turned newsboy, I hope?”

The handsome old gentleman, with his gray hair and slightly foreign
face, laughed genially as he laid his burden down on the small reading
table and wheeled it to her side.

“Ah, my dear, only read these!” he exclaimed, enthusiastically. “Your
first appearance was a perfect success. All New York is at your feet.”

A slight, sad smile came over the beautiful face with its subtle touch
of melancholy.

“So they praise me,” she said, carelessly. “Tell me what they say,
professor.”

“_Parblieu!_ I could not begin to tell you,” said the old gentleman.
“You must read the papers.”

She glanced at the formidable heap with an expression of dismay.

“I really have not the time,” she said. “I have to study my part for
to-night. I will just look at one, however. I suppose one will be a
fair epitome of all the rest.”

“Yes, about that,” he replied. “They are all unanimous in praising you.
They declare that Madam Dolores is the queen of the lyric stage.”

“They are very kind,” replied Madam Dolores, carelessly, with the
languid air of one who is accustomed to praise, and almost indifferent
to it.

She took up at random a morning paper, smelling freshly of printer’s
ink, and ran her eyes over its columns. Several columns were devoted to
a description of the brilliant first appearance and splendid success of
the lovely _prima donna_ who had just come to New York from Europe with
all the _prestige_ of a brilliant foreign reputation fresh upon her.

The professor sat down and dived eagerly into the papers, while Madam
Dolores rapidly gleaned the contents of the one she held. Presently she
looked around at her companion with an eager light in her dark eyes and
a sudden flush on her dark cheeks.

“Professor,” she said, pointing one taper finger to a paragraph, “here
is a book I should like to read. Will you send out and get it for me?”

The professor looked at the words under her finger.

“Poems by R. V.,” he read; “certainly, my dear,” rising, then at the
door he turned and said, “who _is_ R. V., my child?”

“Some American poet,” said Madam Dolores, carelessly, with her head
turned away.

The door closed between them and a long, long sigh quivered over the
lips of the beautiful _prima donna_ with the sorrowful name, _Dolores_.
She hid her face in her beautiful hands.

“_His_ poems,” she murmured, almost inaudibly. “It will be almost like
meeting him face to face. Oh, Ronald, Ronald!”

You would not have thought, to see that slender figure bowed so
sorrowfully there, that all New York was raving over her beauty and her
genius. But it was true. Madam Dolores, as she called herself, had been
induced to come to America by a New York manager who wished to bring
out an opera by an author who desired to remain unknown for the present.

It was rumored that the gentleman had already achieved fame as a poet,
but beyond that fact, which the manager did not deny, no one even
remotely guessed the name. Neither money nor pains had been spared to
bring the opera out successfully. Madam Dolores, who had just completed
a successful starring tour abroad, was engaged at immense expense to
bring it out. The result was–success! Laurels for the brow of the
composer, and new laurels for the brow of the singer.

Yet no smile of triumph touched the fair face of the lovely queen of
song as she sat there waiting. It was full of a wistful pathos that
sometime deepened into pain. It was full of poetry and passion and
sorrow. There was no light of gladness in the large and bright dark
eyes, yet they were both brave and tender. It was only when she was
singing that any brightness came into the grave, sad face.

Then she lost herself like a true _artiste_ in the part she sang.

She looked up quickly as the professor entered with the book for which
she had sent him, her white hand trembled as she took the beautiful,
richly-bound volume.

“Thank you,” she said, and her voice was so husky and low that the
professor, her teacher and adviser, looked at her anxiously.

“Dolores, your voice sounds hoarse,” he said. “I fear you will not be
in voice for to-night.”

“Never fear,” she replied in a clearer tone, and then she turned away
from him, and while he pored over the papers, glorying in the praises
they showered on his gifted ward, she sat silent in the great velvet
arm-chair with the beautiful volume shut tightly between her folded
hands. She was not quite strong enough to open it yet. It seemed
like a message from the dead. Ronald Valchester was as one dead to
her forever, yet the best part of her lost lover, the heart’s deep
tenderness, the imperishable, proud, poetic soul seemed throbbing
beneath the warm clasp of her hand.

It was several minutes before she could open the book. She, who had
always loved music and poetry so dearly, sat trembling with her lover’s
poems in her hands and could not read them. She was dizzy–there was
a mist before her eyes. The luxurious room seemed to fade before her,
giving place to the green hills and dales of her old Virginia home.

She felt the cold winds whispering among the trees and lifting the
careless curls from her brow, she smelt the “violets hidden in the
green,” she recalled the old, simple, lonely life which had been
glorified for a little while by Ronald Valchester’s love. Then with
a start she came back to the present. Of that life and of that lover
there remained to her only a memory now.

“And this,” she said, opening the beautiful book and trembling all over
as she read the dainty verses into which her lost lover had poured all
the poetry and passion of a gifted mind and tender heart.

She read on and on. They touched her strangely, these gems of thought
and feeling.

Some were very sad and tender–some seemed to have poured straight from
Ronald’s heart into her own. It seemed as if he had written them for
her–for her only.

She became quite lost in them, and oblivious to everything else; she
did not hear the professor steal out and close the door gently behind
him. The outer world had no place in her thoughts for awhile.

She started when a hand was laid upon her head, and looked up with a
cry, but it was only the old professor’s wife, who was like a mother to
her.

“Oh, forgive me, darling,” said the sweet old lady; “I did not mean to
startle you. But only look at these flowers!”

She put a bouquet into the _prima donna’s_ hand–an exquisite
collection of rare and odorous flowers. There was not a scentless
leaf or flower in the bouquet. The delicate, living fragrance floated
deliciously through the room.

“_He_ sent them–the author of the opera himself,” cried Mrs.
Professor, delightedly. “He is coming with the manager to call on you
this afternoon.”

“Very well,” said Madam Dolores, resignedly. “_Chere maman_, please
tell my maid to put the flowers in water, and call me when it’s time to
dress.”

“Why, my dear, it’s time now, this minute. You have been lost in that
book for hours! Twice I looked into the room, and went out again
because you were so absorbed I hadn’t the heart to disturb you. But
now, really, there isn’t another minute to lose. I’ve told Fanchette
to lay out a handsome dress for you–and, dear, I think it would be a
graceful compliment to the author to wear a few of these flowers in
your hair.”

“Very well,” said Madam Dolores again, as she rose and passed into the
dressing-room, still clasping the precious book in her hand.

“What will madame wear?” inquired the trim French maid.

“Anything; it does not matter,” was the careless reply, as Madam
Dolores threw herself into a chair to have her hair rearranged, and
opened her book again.

She could not bear to lose a minute from its pages.

Fanchette had the true French taste for style and elegance. She
selected a robe of black lace and black satin, embroidered with jet.
Then she took some fragrant white rose-buds from the author’s bouquet
and fastened them at the front of the square corsage, and tied a black
velvet ribbon around the slender column of the white throat. She wore
no ornament except the pearl cross that swung from the velvet ribbon,
and a diamond on her finger. No costume could have enhanced the
star-like beauty of the queen of song more superbly. The lustrous satin
set off the creamy fairness of cheek and throat and brow exquisitely,
and made the soft darkness of eyes and hair more lovely by the contrast.

But Madam Dolores was so impatient she forgot to glance into the long,
swinging mirror when Fanchette said she was “finished.”

She took up R. V.’s poems and went back to the parlor, hoping to get a
minute more for reading before her visitors came.

So when Professor Larue ushered Manager Verne and the author into the
room, Madam Dolores had utterly forgotten their existence.

She was half-buried in a great, velvet chair, her cheek in the hollow
of one small hand, the dark, fringed lashes almost sweeping her cheek
as she pored over the blue-and-gold volume that lay open on her knee.

They were fairly in the house before she heard them; then she rose,
with a deep, beautiful blush that faded instantly into marble pallor;
for, glancing instinctively past the manager, she saw a tall, handsome
man with blue-gray eyes like twilight skies, and dark hair thrown
carelessly back from a high, white brow. She heard the manager say,
courteously:

“Madam Dolores, allow me to present to you Mr. Valchester, the composer
of the opera over which all New York has gone wild with delight.”

Madam Dolores murmured some indistinct words in reply, and made a low
bow to the author, but she did not offer him her hand. It hung at her
side, still mechanically grasping the book of poems.

Mr. Valchester complimented and congratulated her on her successful
appearance last night, and then thanked her in eloquent, well-chosen
terms for the part she had taken in making his venture such a signal
success.

Both were grave and courteous, and calm. No one who witnessed the
meeting would have suspected that they had parted only three years ago,
broken-hearted and longing for death.

In that moment of quiet recognition each believed that the other had
outlived the passion which a little while ago had seemed the all in all
of life.

Then the manager excused himself and went out with the professor.

The author and the singer were left alone in the luxurious parlor to
entertain each other. They sat silently a moment; then Mr. Valchester
said, calmly:

“You were reading, Madam Dolores?”

She looked down at the book in her hand, and the color rushed into her
cheeks as she answered:

“Yes.”

“Will you permit me to see what author engages your attention?” said
Ronald Valchester; and the singer quietly laid the book in his hand.

He opened it, and she smiled very faintly as she saw the sensitive
color mount to his cheeks.

“I presume they are your own poems, Mr. Valchester?” she said; and he
shivered at the sweetness of her low voice.

The rushing tide of memory poured over his soul overwhelmingly. He
lifted his eyes and looked fully at the beautiful woman.

“Yes, they are mine,” he answered, trembling as the beautiful dark eyes
met his own.

As they held his glance a moment he saw how grave and sad they were,
and the white brow suggested lines he had somewhere read:

“How noble and calm was that forehead
‘Neath its tresses of dark, waving hair;
The sadness of thought slept upon it,
And a look that a seraph might wear.”

“Ah, Mr. Valchester,” she said, lightly, it seemed to him, “I told you
long ago that you were a poet, and you denied it.”

He bent toward her eagerly, his blue-gray eyes growing bright and dark
with excitement.

“Then it really _is_ you, Lina?” he cried. “I thought–I believed it
was so, but I was afraid to speak.”

His deep voice quivered with emotion.

Of the two she seemed much the calmer.

Only the marble pallor of her cheek showed her intense repressed
agitation.

“Yes, it is Lina,” she said, with apparent calmness. “Are you
surprised, Mr. Valchester?”

“Lina, we have mourned you as dead,” he said, unsteadily.

“There were few to mourn me,” she replied, and there was a note of
bitterness in the musical voice.

There was a moment’s embarrassed silence. Valchester twirled the leaves
of the book in his hand. Jaquelina looked at the floor.

“Tell me something of the Earles–and my uncle,” she said. “It is so
long–three years–since I have heard.”

“The Earles are in New York–they came expressly to hear you sing last
night,” he replied.

“They did not know—-” she said, then paused, abruptly.

“That Madam Dolores was little Lina?” he said; “no, but in the first
moment when you came upon the stage we were struck by the resemblance.
Violet was positively agitated, yet she refused to entertain the idea
that it could really be you. You see she had always felt convinced that
you were dead, or that”–he paused, and she could see the shudder that
shook the strong, handsome form–“you had met a more terrible fate.”

“And you–did you believe in my identity?” she asked, calmly, and a
little curiously.

“Yes,” he answered, unfalteringly. “I knew there was no other face or
voice on earth like yours.”

“You must have been surprised?” she said.

“I was,” he answered. “Only think how strange it is, Lina. We who
parted under such sad and terrible circumstances three years ago, to
meet again in this way. To think that you of all others should be the
one to bring out the opera on which I have labored so long.”

“I did not know that you were the author–you must believe that, Mr.
Valchester! I should not have undertaken it had I only known!” she
exclaimed, hurriedly and earnestly.

He looked at her, the heavy sadness on his face deepening as he saw the
lines of pain drawn around the delicate, scarlet lips.

“Lina, were you so proud?” he asked.

“I did not know it was pride,” she said, simply. “I was only thinking
that–that it were so much better if we had never met again.”

She did not know what a pathetic heart-cry there was in the words, but
Ronald understood. He rose from his seat and before she could prevent
him knelt humbly at her feet.

“Lina, you are quite right,” he said, “I tried to keep myself from
coming, but I could not. Can you forgive me for inflicting this pain
upon you?”

She did not answer, and he took the white hand that hung listless by
her side and pressed it to his lips.

“I could not keep myself from coming,” he repeated; “I could not still
the fever and thirst of my heart. Last night I did not sleep one hour.
The knowledge that you were alive and so near me almost maddened me
with mingled joy and pain. Ah! Lina, my lost love, you must forgive me
for coming this once. I meant to be brave and calm. I thought it might
not pain you as it did me. I thought you might have learned not to
care.”

The hot, passionate tears he could not repress, fell on her white hand,
but she did not speak one word. There was nothing she could say. She
had not “learned not to care.”

She knew that her heart was beating with a fierce, wild joy because she
had met him again, but she knew and faced the knowledge with brave,
uncomplaining silence, that when he passed out of her life again the
unhealed wound in her heart would only bleed anew.

“I thought you might have forgotten,” he went on, out of his bitter
anguish, “but I see now that you still remember.”

“I remember–all,” she said, through white lips. “It was such a happy
summer–it would not be easy to forget.”

“And it pains you to remember it,” he said, reading her heart by the
light of his own.

She did not answer, but there came into her mind those sad words of
Tennyson:

“This is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.”

She drew her hand from his clasp, and rose, pallid, beautiful,
mournful, her rich and somber draperies rustling as she moved away from
him.

“Mr. Valchester, do not be angry, but it would be better for you if you
would go,” she said, bravely.

“Better–for me?” he said, rising, and looking at her with haggard,
weary eyes.

“For us both, then,” she answered with patient truthfulness, though the
color rose for a moment to her cheek.

“Not to see you again?” he said, questioningly.

“It would be better so,” she answered, “unless you have changed your
convictions,” and he could not help seeing the trembling hope that came
into her eyes. “Oh! Ronald, have you never changed in all these years?
Do you still hold me bound to that terrible man by a law man cannot
repeal?”

Her calmness had broken down. The anguish of that wild and sudden
appeal thrilled through his heart. He had no words to answer her.

He saw the dark eyes gazing at him through a mist of tears, the white
roses trembled on her breast with the quick beating of her heart. He
could not answer the question.

With a stifled moan he turned from the sight of her sorrowful beauty,
and rushed from the room, while the beautiful singer fell like a broken
lily to the floor and prayed to die.

Ronald Valchester thought after he had left the presence of his lost
love that day that he would not attend the opera again at night.

But he had promised his mother, who had just arrived in New York that
morning, to accompany her, and he had also engaged the same box with
Walter and Violet Earle, so it was almost impossible for him to remain
away.

When the vast theater rang with the wild plaudits that greeted the
queen of song, he was in his place by his mother’s side, and his eyes
saw nothing clearly but the one face that had filled his heart for
years–his ears heard nothing but the silvery voice that carolled its
songs to the world now, but which long ago–it seemed years and years,
measured by his pain–had sung to him alone beneath the blossoming
apple boughs, while her heart had thrilled within him at the sweetness
of the strain.

How like and how unlike was the brilliant _prima donna_ of to-night,
to the pretty, simple girl of three years ago. The love-light that
had beamed in those dark eyes then was so different from their quiet
sadness now. As she stood there in her costly robes and gleaming
jewels, while fragrant flowers rained at her feet, and the rapturous
applause thundered over her head, her beauty was peerless.

Yet no smile curved the rich, red lips as she bent her graceful head,
though the lashes swept low on the cheek that for a moment wore a
crimson flush like the sunset glow.

There was no gladness on the beautiful face, and yet it was not cold or
indifferent.

It was only touched on the fair, low brow, in “the dark–dark eyes,”
and on the arched, crimson lips with “the sadness of thought.”

Walter Earle gazed on the singer, too, with his heart in his eyes. He
believed that Madame Dolores was Jaquelina Meredith. The conviction
grew upon him.

And Violet, sitting by her brother’s side, a fair and graceful figure
in blue velvet and pearls, on which many eyes gazed admiringly, watched
that slender, stately figure, and listened to the musical voice with
untold feelings of horror and despair.

When the curtain was rung down on the first act, stately Mrs.
Valchester leaned over to murmur to Violet:

“My love,” she said, “the _prima donna_ reminds me of some one I have
seen before; but I cannot exactly recollect where.”

“Really?” said Violet, with an air of languid interest, but she
fluttered her fan nervously and did not try to enlighten the lady.

But Walter Earle had heard the whisper, too. He spoke impulsively:

“Mrs. Valchester, I will tell you of whom she reminds you. She is
like–Miss Meredith.”

“Oh, yes–yes,” Mrs. Valchester assented, quickly, “but it cannot be
that–that—-” she stopped and looked at Walter, startled out of her
usual quiet self-possession.

Walter answered, readily:

“The resemblance struck us all, Mrs. Valchester. I, for one, believe
that it is little Lina herself. She had a wonderful voice.”

“I thought–thought every one believed that she was dead, or that
Gerald Huntington had carried her off again,” stammered the lady.

“Every one must have been mistaken,” said Walter. “I think there can
scarcely be a doubt that Madame Dolores is only the stage name of
Jaquelina Meredith.”

“Ronald, what do you think?” the lady asked, looking up half timidly
into the face of her son.

He had stood by her chair, pale and silent as a statue, hearing every
word but taking no part in the conversation. He looked down at her now
and answered in a low, quiet voice:

“It is Lina herself.”

“Are you sure?” cried Walter.

“I am quite sure,” Ronald answered.

Then he saw that they were all looking at him inquiringly, and nerved
himself to explain.

“I called on Dolores to-day,” he said, “and she frankly admitted her
identity.”

He did not notice the white anguish that came over Violet’s face. He
was startled by the gladness that shone in her brother’s eyes. It was
a revelation to him. But the next moment he heard the sound of a fall.
They all turned and saw that Violet had slipped out of her chair and
lay on the floor with closed eyelids and a deathly face.

“Violet has fainted,” cried Mrs. Valchester.

She had fainted, and when she regained consciousness, it was only to
bury her face on Walter’s breast, and whisper sadly:

“Take me away.”

He carried her home, and when they were gone, Mrs. Valchester looked at
her son.

“Ronald, do you know what Violet’s fainting meant? she asked, gravely.

“It was too warm, I think,” said the unconscious poet.

“Oh, how blind you are, Ronald!” exclaimed his mother.

Continue Reading

The next day the river was dragged

When Walter Earle parted from Jaquelina at the lawn gates, he went back
to the house with two distinct thoughts in his mind. One was a feeling
of indignation and surprise against Ronald Valchester. He was amazed
at learning that his friend was an unbeliever in divorces. He firmly
resolved to give Ronald a lecture on the subject, when he should be
sufficiently recovered to argue the case. His second thought, which he
could not help entertaining, was, that since affairs had taken this
peculiar turn, there was some hope still for himself.

“After the divorce is granted, I will do my utmost to re-unite them,”
he said, still loyal to Ronald and Lina in spite of his love for her;
“and then if I fail of converting Ronald, I will woo little Lina for
myself. Ronald could not accuse me of disloyalty to him in that case.”

He could not help feeling that Ronald Valchester’s defection must place
his own suit in a better light before Jaquelina’s eyes. The divorce
from the outlaw was only a question of time, Walter thought. They
could not fail to grant it. Indeed, it seemed to Walter that it could
scarcely be viewed as a marriage at all. Jaquelina once freed from its
fetters, she could not help feeling a little indignant at Valchester’s
view of the case, and, once over the smart of her pain, it seemed to
Walter that his own loyal love could not fail to find favor in her eyes.

“And then–who knows?” mused Walter. “Jaquelina once out of his reach,
and by his own decision, too, the heart of Valchester may, in time,
turn to Violet. Poor little Violet! She has borne her pain bravely, but
I am certain that she has not got over it yet.”

In spite of his sympathy for the sadly and strangely parted lovers,
Walter could not repress a glow of satisfaction at the thought that,
after all, his own happiness and that of his sister might be secured
by the strange events that had seemed so deplorable at first. Yet he
resolved that he would first do all he could to change Valchester’s
opinion of divorces.

He went back to the sick-room and found his friend very ill and weak.
The doctor warned him there must be no talking–his patient could not
bear to be excited. He lay back upon the pillow, his handsome face
pale as marble, the long, dark lashes lying motionless on his cheek,
yet they knew that he was not asleep, only spent and exhausted by the
tempest of emotion that had passed over him. His mother sat quietly
by the bed-side, looking pale and sad, and heart-broken in the gray
morning light. She had telegraphed for General Valchester, and looked
anxiously for his arrival at any hour of the day.

As the day wore on, the wound developed a dangerous phase. Fever and
delirium set in; Ronald’s pale face grew scarlet, his dim eyes bright
with fever fires. He tossed restlessly on his pillows, and babbled
ceaselessly of his loved Lina, interspersing his flighty murmurs with
poetical quotations. “Hiawatha’s Wooing” seemed to linger in his mind
like a pleasant dream. He would murmur over and over:

“Pleasant was the journey homeward:
All the birds sang loud and sweetly.”

And again:

“Over wide and rushing rivers
In his arms he bore the maiden.”

At noon General Valchester arrived. He had a brief, private interview
with Dr. Leslie; then they telegraphed for a celebrated Richmond
physician.

The brooding shadows of the death-angel’s wing hung dark and heavy over
Laurel Hill.

In the rainy, dreary sunset Charlie Meredith drove over in his buggy.

“I would have come sooner,” he said, “but I have been to town to
consult a lawyer for my niece. So when I got home and wife told me Lina
had never got back, I thought I’d drive over and inquire after Mr.
Valchester, and fetch her home if she’d a mind to go.”

Mr. Earle, to whom he was talking, looked at him with a start of
surprise.

“I am sorry to say that Mr. Valchester is in a very critical
condition,” he replied. “After his father came up at noon to-day he
immediately telegraphed for a physician from Richmond.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” said Mr. Meredith. “Perhaps, then, my niece
will not be ready to go home yet?”

And again Mr. Earle looked surprised.

“Miss Meredith went home at daylight this morning,” he answered.

“Eh–what? I don’t think I understand you,” said Charlie Meredith.

“Your niece went home at daylight this morning,” Mr. Earle repeated.

The farmer’s healthy brown skin turned pale. He looked dazed.

“Mr. Earle, you must be mistaken,” he said. “Lina has never been home
to-day. She walked over here yesterday afternoon, and she has not been
at home since.”

“She certainly left Laurel Hill early this morning,” Mr. Earle said,
perplexed. “Walter walked with her to the lawn gates. He wished to
drive her over in the phaeton, but she declined, so he told me, and
insisted on going home alone. I sincerely trust that no harm has
befallen little Lina.”

Mr. Meredith looked grave and a good deal troubled.

“Is it not strange she should have started home so soon in the morning?
I cannot understand it.”

Walter came out just then. He grew pale when they told him that
Jaquelina had never come home that day. He remembered what a hopeless
despair had looked at him from the dark eyes and the fair young face
when they parted.

“And yet I never dreamed of anything wrong,” he said to himself, with
a pang of pain at his heart. “Oh, why did I let her go alone? I should
have known better from the look on her face.”

He said aloud, more cheerfully than he felt:

“Perhaps she grew weary and stopped in at some of the neighbors to
rest. I will go with you to inquire, Mr. Meredith.”

“I shall be glad of your company,” said the farmer. “I think it is very
likely you have hit on the truth, Walter. She must have grown tired and
stopped in at some of the neighbors.”

“And you may, perhaps, find her already at home when you reach there,”
said Mr. Earle, who thought that his son’s idea was the correct one.

But Walter was not so sanguine. He got into the buggy and drove away
with Mr. Meredith, but he was not surprised when one neighbor after
another declared that Jaquelina had not been seen by any one of them
that day.

All inquiry and all search failed to unravel the mystery of her
disappearance. No one had seen her since she turned away from Walter
Earle at the lawn gates that morning, and when he remembered the look
upon her face that moment he shuddered and thought of the river.

He told Mr. Meredith of his fears.

The next day the river was dragged, but to no avail. Jaquelina had
vanished as utterly as if the solid earth had opened beneath her feet
and received her into its bosom.

Many believed that Gerald Huntington had carried her off again, and a
party was organized to explore the woods in the hope of discovering the
cave which Jaquelina had described to them as the rendezvous of the
outlaws.

It was decided that Ronald Valchester should not hear of Jaquelina’s
strange disappearance. Already he lay at death’s door, and the
physicians declared that another shock of any kind would utterly
destroy his frail hold on life.

As consciousness returned to him they avoided all mention of that once
familiar name in the sick-room; yet they knew many a time, by the look
in the beautiful, dark-gray eyes, that he was thinking of the girl he
had loved so well and lost so sadly.

Sometimes they wondered why he never spoke of her. They did not know
how Ronald and Lina had parted–how sorrowfully he had said to her,
even as he held the small hands tightly in his own, and looked at her
with a soul’s despair stamped on his death white face:

“Lina, this is the last time I must hold your hands, or even look into
your face while Gerald Huntington lives. You are legally his, and I
have never believed in divorce. If the law were to free you, I should
still hold you bound to him by a higher power than man’s law. So you
understand, dear, it is best we should separate wholly, never, perhaps,
to look on each other’s faces again. I pray God that I may die, and
so pass from this life that but a little while ago was so fair and
tempting in my eyes, and that is now but an empty desert. For you, my
sweet, lost love, may God bless you, and give us both the strength to
bear the heavy cross of sorrow!”

And Jaquelina, remembering Doctor Leslie’s words that he must not be
excited or contradicted in any way, had bowed her head, and answered
meekly:

“It must be so if you will it thus, Ronald. God give us both the
patience to bear it.”

And with those words, and one last, lingering look at the beloved face,
Jaquelina had kissed his hands, and gone away, but she had not let
him see that look on her face that the others had seen–that hopeless
despair and pain that it frightened Walter Earle to remember.

So they kept the story away from Ronald, even while the unspoken
language of his eyes said plainer than words:

“I am longing to hear something of my poor lost love. Even to hear her
name spoken aloud would be a relief, since it is ever ringing itself in
my brain.”

But no one spoke of her, no one seemed to remember her existence. It
seemed to Ronald that they were cruel to be so forgetful. He had placed
a seal upon his own lips, but he would have trembled with pleasure if
anyone else had even named her name.

Day by day there began to be some slight change in Ronald, faint at
first, but growing more and more noticeable. The doctors began to have
hopes of him.

They thought it more than likely he would pull through safely now. Yet
they owned that there would long be a weakness in that wounded lung,
and they strenuously recommended a sea voyage to him when he should be
sufficiently recovered to undertake it.

“A sea voyage–a winter in Italy,” said Doctor Sanborn, “would build up
your constitution–make a new man of you.”

“And lend new wings to your soaring fancy,” laughed Doctor Leslie, who
had found out that Ronald was a poet. “I should say that beautiful,
dreamy Italy, is the true home of the poetic muse.”

Ronald fell in with the plan at once, the more eagerly that he felt it
would be best to put the whole width of the world between himself and
Jaquelina. It seemed to him that if he were farther away that he must
cease to be tormented by that passionate yearning for the lost one that
haunted him now forever.

But there were weary days of lingering pain and slow convalescence to
be passed over before that sea voyage could be undertaken. The red and
gold of the October leaves blew in drifts across the lawn and in the
wood before he was ever out of his room. Meanwhile his thoughts–in
spite of himself–were ever busy with Jaquelina. He pictured her to
himself many times daily. He wondered how she spent her time; he
wondered if she had gone away to teach as she had meant to do before
their evanescent dream of happiness. That fancy pained him.

It retarded his convalescence. It kept him restless and wakeful at
night. He learned the full meaning of the poet’s plaints:

“When we most need rest, and the perfect sleep,
Some hand will reach from the dark, and keep
The curtains drawn and the pillows tossed
Like a tide of foam, and one will say
At night–Oh, Heaven, that it were day!
And one by night through the misty tears
Will say–Oh, Heaven, the days are years,
And I would to Heaven that the waves were crossed!”

General Valchester had returned home when his son was declared out of
danger, but his wife remained to nurse and tend her darling. She was
growing very impatient to take him home to Richmond.

It was a happy day for Violet Earle when the invalid was at last able
to come down into the drawing-room and rest on the snowy pillows
that she eagerly arranged for him. She had not been admitted to the
sick-room much, but for the few days he would remain with them, she
determined that she would do her best to win him. Jaquelina was out of
the way now, and she had a fair field for her operations.

As she sat near the sunny window with her dainty basket of bright
colored silks and embroideries, Ronald’s eyes could rest on her without
the trouble of turning his head, and he could not help seeing that she
was very fair and beautiful. She had spent a long time at her toilet
that morning, and the result was a very dainty and charming toilet.
A morning dress of pale-blue cashmere, with front facings of shirred
satin, made a perfect foil to her fair skin, blue eyes and golden
hair. A delicate fichu of cream-colored lace was knotted around her
throat and fastened on her breast by a cluster of pale, pink begonias.
The delicate hands, flashing in and out through the bright colors of
the embroidery, were soft and white, and gleaming with jewels. Mrs.
Valchester was charmed with her. She wished very much that her son
would take a fancy to her, since he had lost the girl he loved at first.

But Violet’s presence was more of a pain than a pleasure to Ronald
Valchester. She made him think all the more of Jaquelina. He had seen
them so often together.

“I wish you were well enough to go out and walk in the woods,” she said
to him, lifting her blue eyes a moment to look at him; “you would be
delighted with their autumn beauty. I sent you, yesterday, a little
basket of leaves, the brightest and prettiest I could find. Did mamma
give them to you?”

“Yes, but I think she forgot to tell me you had sent them,” he replied.
“Thank you for thinking of me so kindly. They were very beautiful. I
enjoyed looking at them very much.”

Violet pushed back the lace curtains that he might look out at the
distant hills with their vivid coloring of scarlet and gold, blent with
the dark green of holly and cedar and evergreen.

The autumn sunshine lay over all the scene, brightening it with its
mellow light, and adding new beauty to the prospect. Ronald gazed on it
long and unweariedly, and he could not help seeing pretty Violet, too,
for she sat between him and the window with the golden light shining on
her sunny hair.

“How beautiful it all is,” Ronald said, with a passing gleam of
enthusiasm. “The light is so soft and clear, the air so sweet, and
those distant mountains look so blue and beautiful. It seems to me that
Italy can scarcely be lovelier than my own native land.”

Violet folded her white hands on her work, and looked at him earnestly.

“Oh, Mr. Valchester, I want you to promise me one thing!” she exclaimed.

He looked at her in some surprise.

“What can it be?” he inquired, rather gravely.

“Only this,” she said, “that you will write to Walter every week while
you are gone, and describe all the beauties of art and nature which you
encounter in your travels. I do so love Italy, and long to see it, and
if you describe it in your letters, graphically, as I know you will do,
it will be almost like seeing it myself, for I will insist on reading
all Walter’s letters.”

“I did not know you were so fond of the beauties of nature, Miss
Earle,” he replied in some surprise, and the color rose in her fair
cheeks.

“I am very fond of nature,” she replied, “but you have not promised me
yet that you will write to my brother as I said.”

“Of course I shall write to Walter,” he said, “but I cannot promise
that my letters will be very interesting. Perhaps you would prefer to
hear me describe my travels when I return.”

“Oh, yes, that would be delightful!” Violet cried, all smiles and
pleasure. “So then you promise me to come to Laurel Hill when you
return, and describe Italy to me?”

“Oh, yes, I will come,” he replied, carelessly. “But I dare say you
will be married and gone to a home of your own before that time.”

“Oh! no indeed!” she cried out quickly. “If you stay ten years you will
find me at Laurel Hill when you return.”

“It will be quite a wonder if he does, then,” said Mrs. Valchester, who
had entered and overheard the last remarks. “It is not likely that the
young men of Virginia will allow such a pretty girl to remain at Laurel
Hill ten years longer!”

Violet laughed and blushed, and protested that she would never marry;
but Ronald agreed with his mother that it was quite unlikely she should
remain an old maid. She was exceedingly pretty for such a fate.

Ronald Valchester grew very tired of the _role_ of invalid. His mother
and Mrs. Earle and Violet all vied in attentions to him. They were
always arranging his pillows, bringing him flowers, and “fussing
over him,” as Walter laughingly termed it. The young man was growing
exceedingly impatient. He declared that he was well enough to go back
to Richmond, and Doctor Leslie at last agreed with him. So they decided
one day to start the next day for home.

In the meantime Ronald had enjoyed a few rides in Mrs. Earle’s
pretty little phaeton with Walter or Violet as his companion. The
cool, bracing air of autumn made him feel stronger and better. Mrs.
Valchester thought she would soon have him well when once she had taken
him home with her.

“Violet,” she said, the afternoon of the day on which they were to
leave that night, “Walter is going down to Richmond with us. I wish you
would go also. Cannot you go, dear?”

Violet looked up with a deep flush of pleasure crimsoning her cheeks.

“If mamma is willing, I can see no reason to prevent,” she said, her
heart beating high at the thought, for she had been grieving over the
thoughts of the near departure of the man she loved so vainly.

“You must ask your papa, love,” replied Mrs. Earle, with placid
unconsciousness.

“Papa and Walter are going over to the town,” said Violet, unable to
conceal her disappointment. “They are on some odious law business, and
if I wait for their return it is quite likely I shall not have time to
pack my trunk–so you will have to excuse me, Mrs. Valchester.”

Ronald looked across at her from over the top of the book he was
apparently reading. He saw that she was disappointed, though he had no
idea of the reason. He did not dream that Violet loved him. He thought
she was simply like other girls–weary of the monotony of country life,
and longing for the gaiety of the city.

“If you will let me have a horse, Mrs. Earle,” he said, “I will ride
over to the town and hasten the truants back.”

“You are not strong enough to bear horse-back exercise, otherwise I
have no objection,” replied Mrs. Earle.

“I am quite strong enough,” protested Ronald. “You ladies are keeping
me an invalid too long. A mile ride through this pleasant air would
brace me up. I believe it would do me good.”

“Perhaps it would be better to take the phaeton,” suggested Violet, who
saw therein a chance to accompany him.

But Ronald insisted that horse-back exercise would please him best, and
the three ladies yielded the point and allowed him to have his own way.

It was very unwise of Ronald, perhaps, but his passionate hunger to see
Jaquelina again had been mainly instrumental in sending him out that
evening. The perfect silence everyone maintained regarding her, instead
of cooling the fever of his heart added new fires to it. Although his
peculiar views regarding divorce precluded the idea that they should
ever be aught to each other again, he could not cease to love her.

“It is quite impossible I should ever cease to love her,” he said to
himself as he rode along under the interlacing boughs of the trees. “I
long to see her again, to hear her voice, to touch her hand. And yet
I know that I am unwise. But if they had talked to me about her, if
they had even called her name I think I could have borne it better. The
strange silence they keep maddens me with suspense. It is just as if my
lost little Lina were dead.”

He sighed deeply, and the thought came to him that it were better
indeed if she were dead–better than this separation. He wondered if
Lina was as miserable over it as he found himself.

He persuaded himself that it would not be wrong to go and bid Lina a
last farewell, and tell her that he was going away–far away in the
hope of forgetting her. He could not leave the neighborhood without one
more look in the dark eyes that had won his heart. It seemed to him
that one look into the fair young face, one sound of the winning voice
would cool the fever and thirst of his heart.

He turned into the road that led to Meredith farm, and, almost before
he knew it, found himself dismounted and tying the bridle-rein to the
orchard gate. Then he opened the gate and went down the path expecting
every moment to come upon Lina under the trees, reading or dreaming as
of old. His pale face flushed, his heart beat quick, his whole frame
trembled with the pain and pleasure of seeing Jaquelina again.

He walked on full of the thought of the girl he loved so wildly and
came upon an unexpected tableau. Mrs. Meredith was under a tree with a
basket, busily filling it with great red-cheeked winter apples. Little
Dollie, frisking beside her, uttered a cry, and she looked around.

“Oh! Mr. Valchester!” she exclaimed, surprised and embarrassed at his
sudden appearance.

“Good-evening, Mrs. Meredith,” he replied, in equal surprise and
confusion.

“I have come to bid Lina good-bye–I am going home to-night. Can you
tell me where to find her?”

Mrs. Meredith straightened up and looked at him in surprise. She did
not know how carefully they had kept the truth from him.

“My dear sir, I wish I _could_ tell you,” she said, full of a certain
remorseful pity over poor Jaquelina’s fate. “We hain’t never heard a
word since she went away!”

“Went away–where?” asked Ronald Valchester, blankly; then he added at
her look of surprise: “I thought she was at home all the time.”

“Oh! dear me,” cried Mrs. Meredith; “why, she disappeared all of a
sudden, sir, the very day that she left Laurel Hill after visiting you
there. Mr. Walter was the last person that ever saw her. We have never
seen nor heard of her since, and Mr. Meredith’s nigh crazy over it. Did
Mr. Walter never tell you, sir?”

But Ronald Valchester did not stay to answer her. He turned away like
one in a dream and walked back to the gate, mounted his horse, and rode
away as though on an errand of life or death.

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