The startling suddenness

Before the lurid flash died away, Jaquelina saw a second masked figure
emerge from behind a tree with a bull’s-eye lantern. She heard a voice
exclaim in profound surprise:

“By Jove, it’s a woman!”

“Yes,” cried the girl, bravely, “and if you are men you will suffer me
to pass. Only cowards would molest a woman!”

The second man flashed the light of the lantern into the pale, yet
spirited face.

“By Jove,” he said again, “what a pretty girl! Well, miss, we suffer
neither man nor woman to pass without taking toll.”

Jaquelina’s heart sank. Would they take Black Bess, her uncle’s
favorite?

These were the horse thieves, of course. She could not repress the
quiver in her voice as she asked faintly:

“What toll do you demand?”

“We usually take a horse, miss,” said the last speaker, coolly, “but
seeing that you’re such an uncommon pretty girl, we’ll take the mare,
and you shall give us a kiss apiece, besides.”

The man had reckoned without his host. The words were scarcely out of
his mouth before a shower of keen and stinging blows rained down upon
his head and face from the little riding-whip the girl carried in her
clenched hand.

“You infamous coward,” she cried, indignantly, “take that, and that,
and that! For shame! To insult a helpless woman who is in your power!”

“Yes, you’re in my power, and I’ll make you pay dearly for those
blows,” cried the ruffian, plucking her from the saddle like a feather,
and in an instant she was struggling on the ground beside him.

But the man who had held the mare’s bridle-rein all the while now
interfered sternly.

“Come, come, Bowles, you’re transgressing orders. The captain’s order
is to allow no violence. But of course we’ll take the mare.”

“And the girl, too,” said Bowles, shortly and sharply, still smarting
under the indignity of the stinging blows the brave girl had rained
upon him so furiously.

“We’ve no call to take the girl,” said the other. “Orders are for
animals, not persons. Turn her loose, and let her walk home.”

“No,” said Bowles, with an oath, “I’ll give her a scare, anyway. I’ll
take her to the captain, and he shall say what punishment she merits.
I’ll not let her go! My head and face are burning with the jade’s
blows!”

“I will not go with you!” Jaquelina cried out, trying to break from his
tight clasp. “You have no right to detain me! Let me go at once!”

But her struggles and cries were silenced effectually by a stout
handkerchief the man bound over her mouth.

Then he sprang to the mare’s back, and, lifting Jaquelina before him,
galloped quickly away through the increasing darkness and the rain,
which now began to pour down in large, heavy drops, that speedily wet
the girl’s thin garments through and through.

Jaquelina was beside herself with terror and fear of the ruffian who
held her in that rough, tight clasp.

A thousand conflicting thoughts rushed over her mind.

She thought of her Uncle Charlie, to whom the loss of Black Bess
would be so severe at the present time; she thought of the sick child
at home, and of the hard, selfish woman who had sent her forth to
encounter this terrible peril.

Every moment while she was borne onward in the storm and darkness
seemed an eternity of time to her bewildered mind.

She had no idea where she was going, or in what direction. The gloom
and darkness hid every object from her view, and she was too terrified
to reason clearly.

At last they stopped. Jaquelina felt herself lifted down from the
mare’s back, and borne rapidly in Bowles’ arms along what seemed to
be a perfectly dark passage-way, long and winding. The wind and rain
had ceased to blow in her face, and a damp, earthy smell pervaded the
atmosphere.

Jaquelina instantly decided that they were in a cave, of which there
were several in the neighborhood of her home.

Presently her captor paused, and gave a low, peculiar whistle, several
times repeated.

“Enter!” she heard a deep, musical voice exclaim.

Bowles seemed to push aside a thick and heavy curtain. The next moment
a blaze of light shone around him as he entered a large apartment,
pushing his frightened captive before him.

Jaquelina was blinded a moment as she came into the brilliant light
from the outer rain and darkness; then the mist cleared; she looked
up and found herself standing before the stateliest and most superbly
handsome man she had ever beheld in her life.

Tall, dark, haughty, the outlaw chief was as kingly in his beauty as
Lucifer, “star of the morning,” might have looked in the hour of his
fall.

His glossy curls of jet-black hair were thrown carelessly back from a
brow as white and perfect as sculptured marble, his dark and piercing
eyes gleamed star-like beneath the black, over-arching brows.

His nose was perfect in shape and contour; his rather stern and
slightly sad lips were half concealed by a long curling mustache,
black, like his hair.

Youth, power, and strength spoke in every line of the firm and
well-knit figure in its careless yet well-fitting hunting suit of fine,
dark-blue flannel.

One might have looked for such a face and form at the head of a gallant
army, bravely leading his troops to victory or death, but never here in
the den of robbers.

Jaquelina had one full glance into that darkly handsome face–one
look that imprinted it forever on her memory–then the chief caught
up a mask that lay upon a table near by, and fitted it hurriedly to
his features; the low, deep, musical voice that bade them enter now
exclaimed with repressed wrath and menace:

“Whom have we here, Bowles? And how have you dared bring a stranger
into my presence while I remained unmasked?”

Jaquelina saw that Bowles trembled at the stern anger of his chief.

“Captain, I humbly beg your pardon,” he said. “I caught this girl
riding a fine black mare through the woods, and attempted a harmless
joke upon her, on which she flew at me like a little tigress and
belabored me with her riding-whip. I was so enraged at her impudence
that I whipped upon the mare’s back and brought the little wretch here
to you to tell me how to punish her.”

A low laugh actually rippled over the stern, sad lips of the robber
chief. He looked at Jaquelina where she stood in the center of the
apartment, the rain-drops falling from her drenched garments upon the
rich crimson carpet in shining little pools, the wet curls clinging to
her white brow; her face pale as death, her slight form trembling with
cold and terror.

The laugh died suddenly on his lips, his dark eyes flashed through the
openings in his mask.

“For shame, Bowles,” he said, sharply. “How dared you assault a woman?
We make no war upon such.”

“Orders were to take every fine animal that passed,” Bowles said,
half-apologetically, yet sullenly.

“Animals, yes, but not human beings, least of all helpless females.
I never counted upon _such_ passing. What were you, a mere slip of a
girl, doing on horseback in the woods at the dead hour of night?” he
inquired, looking curiously at Jaquelina.

“I went to call the doctor to a sick child,” she answered.

“Where were all the men of your family and neighborhood that you were
permitted to take such a lonely and perilous midnight ride?” inquired
the outlaw chief, again fixing his dark eyes upon her in surprise, not
unmixed with suspicion.

Jaquelina flushed hotly beneath that look.

“My uncle and all the neighboring men were absent,” she said, returning
his gaze with cool scorn.

“Where?” he inquired.

“They have joined together to pursue the horse-thieves whom you have
the honor to command,” she replied, defiantly.

The chief started, then tossed his handsome head with a reckless laugh.

“Do you think it likely they will overtake us?” he asked, sneeringly.

“I cannot tell, but I hope so. I wish I could capture _you_,” said the
girl, frankly.

“Do you? Why do you wish so?” he inquired, nettled.

“I should like to earn the reward of two hundred dollars that has been
offered for your apprehension;” she replied, naively.

“What would you do with it?” he asked, rather amused at her frankness.

“That is _my_ business,” Jaquelina answered, with demure dignity.

“Bowles, light a fire. I have been so interested in your charming
captive that I forgot she was drenched with the rain. Take a seat,
Miss–Miss–I don’t know what to call you,” he said, as he pushed a
large arm-chair toward her.

“My name is Meredith–Miss Meredith,” Jaquelina said, but she did not
take the offered chair. She lifted her dark, clear eyes appealingly to
the masked face of the outlaw captain.

“Oh, sir,” she cried, clasping her white hands in unconscious pathos,
“_do_ let me have Black Bess and go home! They tell me you only rob
rich men who can afford to lose their horses. Uncle Charlie is poor. He
has only his farm and the mare, and one horse besides. Would you rob
him of his little all?”

The handsome chief looked admiringly at the sweet, girlish face with
its pleading eyes and wistful lips. In spite of her terror and her
drenched, miserable condition there was a strange, luring charm about
the lovely young face. The heart of the outlaw chief was strangely
stirred by it.

“Miss Meredith,” he said, abruptly, “I gather from what you have said
that you are an orphan?”

“Yes,” Jaquelina said, wonderingly.

“There is one condition,” he said, slowly, “on which I will return
Black Bess to her owner. There is nothing that would tempt me to part
with you. I am a reckless, defiant man, Miss Meredith. I fear nothing;
but your beautiful, brave face has won my heart from me at first sight.
I love you. Let me make you my wife, sweet girl, and I will take you
far away from this life and these scenes, and your life shall be a
long, bright dream of love and happiness!”

The startling suddenness of the outlaw chief’s proposal appeared to
take Jaquelina’s breath away.

She did not attempt to answer him, but remained silently regarding him
in surprise, not unmixed with terror.

“Have I taken you by surprise?” he inquired, after a moment, in a
gentler tone. “Forgive me. I am used to rough men, not timid women.
But consent to be my bride, Miss Meredith, and you will find me the
tenderest lord a fair girl ever dreamed of. Do not answer me this
moment. Take time to consider.”

“I do not need a moment’s time to consider,” Jaquelina flashed
forth indignantly. “Do you think I would marry a common robber, a
horse-thief, an outlaw?”

She saw the dark eyes flash beneath the outlaw’s mask.

“Those are harsh words, Miss Meredith,” he said, with outward calmness.
“They are not becoming under my own humble roof and from the lips of my
guest.”

“Not your guest, but your captive,” the girl said, bitterly.

“A beloved captive,” replied the outlaw. “Child, I do not know why my
heart has gone out to you so strangely. It is not your beauty that has
won me. Women more beautiful than you have smiled on me and my heart
was untouched. But the moment I looked into your proud, dark eyes my
soul seemed to recognize its true mate.”

“You flatter me!” cried the captive, drawing her slight form erect
with indignant scorn. “I the true mate of a man as reckless and
crime-stained as you? You rate me highly indeed! Were I a man I would
make you retract the insult at the sword’s point.”

“How? A duel?” asked the outlaw, laughing at her passionate vehemence.

“Yes, a duel,” she answered, with unmoved gravity.

“You are a brave little girl, Miss Meredith,” the outlaw answered,
resting his white, well-formed hand on the back of a chair with easy
grace, while he regarded her attentively. “You make me admire you more
than ever.”

“I am sorry for that,” said Jaquelina, with spirit.

“Why?” he inquired, seeming to find pleasure in the very sound of
her voice, although her words were so scornful. “Is admiration so
distasteful to you?”

“From you it is,” she said, and although he affected indifference her
scornful tone had an arrow in it that secretly pierced his heart.

“What manner of a man might he be whose admiration would be acceptable
to you, fair lady?” he inquired, coldly, yet with a certain wistfulness
in his tone.

Jaquelina turned her dark eyes on the masked face of the outlaw, and
regarded him steadily as she said, firmly:

“A man quite your opposite in everything–an honest, honorable, noble
man, brave and without reproach.”

“_Sans peur et sans reproche_–the Ardelle motto,” muttered the outlaw
beneath his dark mustache. “So, Miss Meredith, you are holding up
before me a glass wherein I may see all that I am not?”

“Yes,” she said; then after a minute, in which she gazed at the
princely form in unwilling admiration, Jaquelina added, half-pityingly:
“All that you might have been!”

“Yes, all that I might have been,” he said, in a saddened and softened
voice. “Are you a student of Whittier, Miss Meredith? Do you believe
with him that

“‘Of all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest are these: _It might have been_’?”

Jaquelina gazed in astonishment at him. A sudden sense of the
strangeness of her position rushed over her.

She was here alone in the outlaw’s cave, and he was talking sentiment
to her.

She clasped her slim hands together, and the dark eyes looked at him
pleadingly as she answered:

“I am too young and untutored to discuss these things with you, sir,
and my mind is distracted by thoughts of home. Release me, if you
please. If you will only show me the outlet of the cave I will find my
way home. My friends will be alarmed at my continued absence.”

“Do you hear the storm?” he asked. “It is pitchy dark, the rain and
wind are fearful, and you are several miles from home.”

“It is no matter,” said the girl, desperately. “Only release me, and I
will find my home if I have to crawl there. I am more afraid of you and
your outlaw band than I am of the night and the darkness.”

He looked at her thoughtfully.

“Child,” he said, abruptly, “you need not fear me. I would not harm
a hair on that little head, and yet, if I suffered you to go free, I
suppose you would at once discover our hiding-place to our enemies.”

Jaquelina remained perfectly silent.

“Is it not true?” he inquired, coldly.

She lifted her eyes and gazed at him defiantly.

“You mean that you would do so?” he said, interpreting her look aright.

“Yes, for it would be my duty to rid my neighborhood of such a
scourge,” she replied, very low.

Then there was a minute of perfect silence. The long lashes drooped
upon her cheeks as the handsome outlaw studied her face.

Bowles came in with a small furnace filled with glowing coals, then
silently withdrew.

“Draw near to the fire and dry your wet clothing,” said the chief,
abruptly.

“There would be no use,” Jaquelina answered, coldly, “I shall be
drenched through going home.”

“You seem quite certain of going,” he said, amused at her persistency.
“I fear you will be disappointed, Miss Meredith. I regret the fact of
Bowles bringing you here very much, and I shall order him to apologize
to you for doing so. But I must tell you that my own safety demands
that I shall keep you a prisoner in this cave until such time as we
shall decide to leave the neighborhood, when, if you shall still
persist in refusing my hand, I may, perhaps, release you.”

Jaquelina made an impulsive rush toward the heavy curtains that shut in
the comfortable apartment from the outer darkness of the cave, but the
voice of the outlaw arrested her with her hand upon the thick hanging.

“I should not advise you to attempt leaving without my consent, Miss
Meredith. I have sentries stationed through the cave. You would
scarcely find them so courteous as myself!”

The white hands fell from the heavy curtains in dismay. Jaquelina
remembered the rude, officious Bowles, and accepted the outlaw’s
statement as true. She looked at him in surprise and disgust.

“Why do you who appear to have the instincts and the training of a
gentleman, herd with such ruffians?” she asked.

“Promise to marry me, and I will tell you why,” he replied. “I will
give up this life and try to become that which you said just now I
might have been. Miss Meredith, I am in serious earnest. Become my
wife, and I swear to you that you shall not have one wish ungratified.
I am wealthy. I will take you away to some fair, bright clime where my
history is all unknown. Costly jewels, splendid silks and laces–all
that the heart of woman desires–shall be yours, with the adoration of
a heart as true as truth.”

“I care nothing for these things,” Jaquelina answered, crimsoning with
anger and disdain; “you have had my answer. Sooner than link my fate
with one so wicked and crime-stained as your own, I would die here at
your feet!”

“Do I, then, appear so utterly vile in the clear eyes of a pure
woman?” inquired the outlaw chief, in a voice strangely tinctured with
melancholy.

Jaquelina had drawn near the glowing furnace of coals, unconsciously
attracted by the warmth that stole deliciously over her drenched and
shivering frame.

She was too young and untouched by real sorrow to understand the vague
remorse and pathos that quivered in the man’s low voice. Yet when she
answered “yes,” it was a trifle more gently and kindly.

“I could never teach you to love me, then?” he said, questioningly.

“No,” the girl said, decidedly, with her curly head set sidewise, and
such an owlish gravity about her that the outlaw chief, who seemed
“to be all things by turns, and nothing long,” felt his risibilities
excited, and laughed outright.

“Why do you laugh?” she inquired, with an air of offended dignity.

“I beg your pardon, Miss Meredith, for my rudeness,” he said, “but as
you stood there with the steam from your drenched clothing rising over
your head, and the furnace blazing at your feet, you reminded me so
comically of one of Shakespeare’s witches that I was forced to laugh.”

Jaquelina was thoroughly angry. To be laughed at by this man whom she
scorned, was too much.

She stepped back into the darkest and coldest corner of the room, and
stood there in silent, dignified displeasure.

“Pray do not allow my silly jest to drive you away from the fire,” he
exclaimed, anxiously. “Let me entreat you to return.”

But his captive had sunk down upon the floor, and buried her face in
her hands.

Folding his arms across his breast, the outlaw chief walked up and down
across the soft, echoless carpet, his gloomy eyes fixed immovably upon
the little crouching figure with the graceful head bowed on the clasped
hands.

Jaquelina looked very childish and forlorn as she crouched there.

Quite suddenly she broke into a perfectly audible sob of grief and
self-pity.

“I shall miss Violet Earle’s party after all. And I had been so happy
over it!”

It was the cry of a child over a broken toy, yet its artless pathos
pierced the man’s heart. He went quickly and knelt down beside her.

“Little one, what is this that you grieve for?” he asked, almost
tenderly; “tell me?”

“It is only–only,” sobbed the girl, “that you will cause me to lose
the happiest hour of my life.”

“Poor child! and life has so few happy hours,” said the outlaw chief.
“Tell me what it is you lament so much. Perhaps I may relent.”

“It was Miss Violet Earle’s lawn-party to-morrow night,” sobbed
Jaquelina. “She had invited me. I–I was never at a party in my life,
and I wanted so much to see what it was like.”

The listener frowned, then smiled beneath his concealing mask.

“Do not weep for that,” he said. “I will tell you what every party is
like, little girl. A party is an occasion when somebody else has a
prettier dress than yours, and somebody else dances with your favorite
beau once more than you did, and when you get home you are mad, and say
you wouldn’t have gone if you had known it, so there!”

“I don’t believe it,” wept Jaquelina, obstinately, “at least, not all
of it. It may be true about the dress. I _know_ Violet Earle’s will be
_ever so much_ prettier than mine, but I should never, never wish I had
not gone there.”

Ah, Jaquelina, Jaquelina! If those dark eyes, dimmed now with childish
tears, could but have pierced the secret of the untried future!

“She is but a simple child,” the outlaw said to himself, pityingly.
“Only a little wild bird. I have caged it, but it would never sing for
me. I must let it fly back to its nest.”

He touched the girl’s damp, clinging curls lightly.

“Miss Meredith, look up at me,” he said.

Jaquelina lifted her wet eyes inquiringly.

“Cannot you leave me in peace?” she asked, shrinking from his light
touch impatiently.

He did not appear to notice the pretty, childish petulance.

“Little bird,” he said, “I will give you your freedom if you will
promise me just one thing–you will not reveal the secret of this
cavern retreat to my enemies? It is the only price by which you can
purchase freedom.”

“Since it is my only chance of release, I must needs keep the secret,”
Jaquelina said; reluctantly. “What shall I tell them?”

“Only say that you were lost in the woods, and that the outlaw chief
guided you to the road again,” he replied.

“Very well,” she replied; “but I warn you that if ever I see you
elsewhere I will attempt to capture you.”

He looked at the frank, determined face half-reproachfully a moment,
then laughed at the threat.

Ten minutes after he was riding by Jaquelina’s side through the stormy
woods.

When the first faint beams of daylight glimmered in the cloudy east, he
watched her riding safely toward home, mounted on the faithful Black
Bess.

“Good-by, Miss Meredith,” he had said, as they parted. “When you think
of the outlaw whose love you scorned, do not forget that the bravest
thing a brave man can do is to voluntarily resign the one fair woman
who holds his heart.”

But Jaquelina, with a cold and haughty bow, rode silently away.

“All the people we invited are here, mamma,” said Violet Earle, “all
except Jaquelina Meredith. Do you think she will come?”

Laurel Hill, the beautiful home of the Earles, was in a blaze of
light and gayety. The handsome, roomy mansion, with its wide and long
piazzas and large bay windows, was lighted “from garret to basement,”
and thrown open to the guests. The beautiful green lawn, with its
sprinkling of laurel trees that gave the place its name, was almost as
light as day with the glitter of colored lamps and Chinese lanterns.

A pretty summer-house in the center of the lawn was decorated with
garlands of cedar and fluttering silken banners. It was here that
Violet was standing when she spoke to her mother.

She looked very sweet and winning as she stood there, the light shining
down on the fair, flushed face, and on the golden ringlets looped back
with sprays of lilies-of-the-valley nestling among dark green leaves.

She wore a soft, filmy white robe, and a wide sash of pale-blue satin
was knotted carelessly around the slender waist. The pretty dimpled
neck and arms were quite bare, and golden ornaments, studded with
pearls and turquoise, gleamed upon their whiteness.

Mrs. Earle, looking very fair and graceful in silver-gray silk and
pale, gleaming pearls, looked admiringly at her lovely daughter.

“No, I am afraid Jaquelina will not come,” she said; “one of the
neighbors was telling me just now that she was lost in the woods last
night and thoroughly drenched by the rain, so it is just possible she
may be ill. Had you not heard it, dear?”

“Yes; Mr. Brown told me,” answered Violet. “And only think, mamma, she
met the captain of the outlaws, and he guided her to the road. Was it
not romantic? I should not have expected such courtesy from such a
dreadful man.”

“It was perfectly shameful for Mrs. Meredith to have sent her for the
doctor at midnight,” said Mrs. Earle, warmly. “They tell me there was
no real necessity for such a thing. The child only had a common attack
of croup, which any sensible mother would have known how to subdue with
simple domestic remedies. Mr. Brown, their near neighbor, tells me it
is playing about the floor, as well as usual, to-day.”

“Poor Lina! That terrible man might have killed her,” said pretty
Violet, with a shudder.

“Look, Violet–who is that coming now?” said Mrs. Earle suddenly.

Violet looked hastily.

“Oh,” she said, “it is Mr. Meredith–he is bringing her after all.”

The farmer came up the steps, Jaquelina following in his wake, a veil
tied about her head, a thin summer shawl wrapped about her shoulders.

“They told me I should find you here. I have brought my niece to the
party, Mrs. Earle. She had a cold, but I couldn’t persuade her to stay
at home,” he said. “I will go back, now, as wife and Dollie are alone,
but if you’ll tell me when the party will be over, I’ll bring back the
mare for Lina.”

“You need not trouble about that,” Mrs. Earle replied as he turned
away. “I’ll see that she gets back safely, Mr. Meredith.”

Then she turned to Jaquelina, who stood beside Violet, gazing with
timid delight at the illuminated lawn and the moving groups of people.

“You may lay aside your wraps, dear,” she said, kindly. “I hope you
will enjoy our little party.”

“I _know_ I shall,” the girl answered, gazing around her with sparkling
eyes. “Oh! Mrs. Earle, how beautiful it all is. It seems just like
fairyland!”

Mrs. Earle smiled indulgently as she helped her to remove the plain
shawl and veil that enveloped her; then she started back with a little
cry of surprise that was faintly re-echoed by Violet.

Jaquelina’s sensitive lips quivered; her dark eyes filled with quick
tears.

“I was afraid the dress would not do,” she said, falteringly. “I will
put on my wraps and go home again, Mrs. Earle.”

She was turning toward the steps, but Violet caught her arm.

“Oh, you little goose!” she said, laughing, “come back. Where _did_ you
get such a sweet dress?”

“_Is_ it pretty? Will it do, indeed?” asked Jaquelina, radiant.

“It is lovely,” Mrs. Earle said, kindly. “It makes you look extremely
pretty, my dear.”

“_Pretty_ is faint praise, mother,” said her handsome son, as he came
up the steps, and overheard the words. “Miss Lina, how do you do? You
have blossomed into a beauty since I last saw you.”

His college-mate, who had come up the steps with him, peered over his
shoulder at the “beauty.”

He saw a shy, lovely face with dewy-crimson lips, and large, dark eyes
with long, black lashes like fringed curtains–chestnut curls, tinged
with gold, clustering about a low, broad brow and proudly-set head–a
quaint, pretty dress of yellowish India muslin with lace and satin
ribbons fluttering about it.

Nothing more quaintly sweet and pretty than the dress and its wearer
could have been imagined.

Jaquelina gave her hand shyly a moment to Walter Earle, then he stepped
aside to introduce her to his friend.

“Miss Meredith, allow me to present to you my friend, Ronald
Valchester.”

Jaquelina bowed to a tall, grave-looking man with dark hair thrown
carelessly back from a high, white brow, and twilight-colored
eyes–blue-gray in quiet moments, starry-black in moments of excitement.

He touched the girl’s slim, brown hand lightly with his firm, white
one, then stepped quietly aside a moment later, and allowed Walter
Earle to lead her out upon the lawn.

“My friend is not what you would call a lady’s-man,” Walter said to
her. “He is a dreamy student, quite absorbed in his books, and yet the
best friend and the bravest that man ever had. He is very intellectual,
and leads in everything at college. We are all proud of him there.
Miss Meredith, you have read of men who stood head and shoulders above
their fellows? Valchester is one of them. I could tell you a hundred
delightful things that he has done if you—-”

“Walter, I’ll never forgive you if you say another word,” said
Valchester’s voice behind them.

Walter turned and saw his friend walking after him with Violet clinging
to his arm.

“Listeners never hear good of themselves,” he retorted, to cover his
embarrassment at being overheard.

“The old adage is falsified in this case,” laughed Valchester, “and for
fear of not coming up to the ideal you have raised in Miss Meredith’s
mind, I shall always tread on thorns in her presence.”

Walter Earle laughed lightly at the careless metaphor.

“Then the path will be rose-strewn, too,” he said, “for where there are
thorns there are roses.”

“Talking of roses,” said Violet, “reminds me to ask you, Lina, where
are the flowers I told you to wear? You forgot them.”

“No, I did not,” said the girl. “I must tell you the truth, Violet; I
did not have the time to gather a single flower. I was late as it was;
for you see Aunt Meredith needed me so long I could scarcely get away.
But I thought perhaps you could spare me a flower.”

“As many as you like,” said Violet, generously. “What will you have?
Here we are at the flower-beds. Make your own selection.”

“I am afraid of the gardener,” laughed Jaquelina, shrinking back from
the trim and well-kept flower-beds. “I will take anything you choose to
give me.”

“Daisies would suit you,” said Walter Earle, looking at the sweet, shy
face.

“Scarlet geraniums or roses,” said Violet, thinking how beautifully
they would contrast with the dark eyes and the white dress.

Ronald Valchester studied the drooping face attentively, as the dark
eyes gazed at the brilliant flowers, the dark, curling lashes shading
the rose-flushed cheek.

“Passion-flowers, I think,” he said, and gathered a cluster of the
bright flowers from the trellis and offered them to her. She took them
with a slight bow, and fastened them in her belt.

What had Ronald Valchester, the gifted, thoughtful student, read in the
lovely, innocent face of the simple girl that had prompted him to offer
her passion-flowers for her type?

Walter Earle looked surprised, but he set it down as one of
Valchester’s odd freaks, and told Jaquelina that the flowers were very
becoming.

Violet said that roses would have looked prettier. Then she gathered
some dewy violets and pinned them on his coat with pretty, careless
coquetry.

“Lina, we are going to have a dance on the lawn,” said the latter. “Do
you like to dance?”

“No,” said Jaquelina, and the fitful color came and went in her cheeks.

“Why not?” Violet said, surprised.

“Because I do not know how to dance,” Jaquelina said, so timidly and
naively that Walter Earle and Ronald Valchester laughed. Then Walter
said, good-naturedly:

“Oh, that is nothing. You must dance with me. I will show you how to do
the steps and the figures.”

“You are sure I shall not appear awkward?” she asked, her sensitive
pride on the alert.

“You could not be awkward if you tried ever so hard,” said the gallant
young collegiate, captivated by the artless shyness and prettiness of
the little girl whom at first he had only meant to patronize.

So they danced together.

Jaquelina fell into it all so naturally and happily that no one felt
inclined to laugh at her when now and then she made a misstep, or
caused a whole quadrille to blunder.

She was so ashamed and penitent over her little mistakes that it was a
pleasure to set her right and forgive her. We pardon so many errors in
youth and beauty.

After awhile Ronald Valchester, dancing with Violet, said, carelessly:

“Your friend, Miss Meredith, is exceedingly pretty–is she not, Miss
Earle?”

Violet looked across at Jaquelina, who was dancing with someone whom
Walter had introduced to her–a handsome, manly young fellow, who
seemed to admire his partner very much. She was startled at the radiant
beauty that happiness had kindled in Jaquelina’s changeful face.

“She is not always so pretty,” Violet said, quickly; “it is the effect
of the moonlight and lamplight! You should see her at home by daylight.
She is tanned and sunburned, and terribly shabby. Would you believe
she is wearing her dead mother’s wedding-dress to-night?”

“I should not have thought it,” he said. “It is a very nice dress, is
it not?” and he looked more carefully at the girl who was dancing in
her dead mother’s wedding-dress with the passion-flowers half falling
from the satin girdle that bound the slender waist–the girl who was
so pretty and happy in the lamplight and moonlight, and so tanned and
shabby by daylight.

“I have heard of ‘gas-light beauties,’ Miss Earle,” he said carelessly.
“I suppose Miss Meredith must belong to that class.”

Violet felt uncomfortable, she could not have told why, for she had
only spoken what she felt to be true.

“Yes,” she answered, “I suppose so. I have known Lina Meredith all
my life, or nearly, but I never thought her pretty until to-night.
To-morrow we will call upon her at her own home. You may see for
yourself how different she will appear.”

“I shall be pleased to go–thank you,” said Ronald Valchester. “Is Miss
Meredith the only daughter?”

Violet looked at him surprised.

“Why, of course,” she began, then stopped, and said deprecatingly: “I
have, perhaps, done Lina an injustice in speaking of her as I have to
you, Mr. Valchester. I thought you knew that she is an orphan. It isn’t
her fault that she must go shabby and neglected. She is poor, and has
no one to love her.”

Violet looked very pretty in the thoughtful student’s eyes just
then–much prettier than she had five minutes ago. As he clasped the
little hand in the winding figures of the gay dance, he thought that
the touch of womanly pity in her voice was very winning.

More than once he looked at the slender figure of Jaquelina, as it
whirled past him lightly, with a new interest in his eyes. She had
been simply a pretty, interesting girl to him before, in whose radiant
face he had vaguely read something that prompted him to give her the
passion-flowers.

Now the vibrating chord of sympathy in his nature had been touched by
those simple words: “She has no one to love her.”

When that dance was over and Violet had been claimed by another
partner, he went up to Jaquelina.

“You have not danced with me yet,” he said. “Will you give me the next
dance, Miss Meredith?”

“You must excuse me, Mr. Valchester,” she replied, with a smile, “I
have promised the next dance to your friend, Mr. Earle.”

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