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They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 6478

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

When Nita had left the room the housekeeper stood gazing with deep commiseration at the deathlike face of Dorian Mountcastle as it lay among the pillows.

"Not much use to send for a doctor, for he is certainly dead, poor fellow," she said aloud.

"Oh, what a pity!" exclaimed a voice at her side, and, turning abruptly, she saw a pretty young woman-Nita's maid, Lizette.

"Oh, Mrs. Hill, I hope he's not dead! Can I do anything to help you, please?"

"Why, Lizette, I did not know you were out of your bed, but I'm glad some one awoke you, for your mistress needs you very badly. Go up-stairs and attend to her while I wait here for the doctor."

Lizette went away obediently, and ascended the stairs to Nita's room, full of surprise at the strange happenings of this summer night at Pirate Beach.

Finding Nita's door ajar, she stepped over the threshold. Then she recoiled with a cry of surprise and terror.

A startling sight was before her eyes. Prostrate upon the floor lay her young mistress, and across her body was stretched the lean, lithe frame of an old witchlike woman, whose skinny claws gripped Nita's throat in a murderous clasp. The victim's face was purple and distorted.

The dim light that shone upon the scene showed also to the wondering maid the open chest of gold and the glittering coins scattered over the floor in reckless profusion, where the hag had dropped them in her spring upon Nita.

One moment's recoil of amazement and horror, then Lizette comprehended the full meaning of the scene-robbery and murder.

"Lord help me!" she exclaimed, and sprang upon the murderess, grasping her arms in a viselike hold, and tearing them apart from Nita's throat, although the hag struggled and snarled like a wild beast baffled of its prey.

Finding herself unable to regain her grip on the girl, she turned with a fierce howl upon her assailant. There was murder in Meg's heart, and she was determined to silence forever the witness to her attempt upon Nita's life.

But although she was strong and wiry, her lean frame soon weakened under the vigorous onslaught of her young and agile foe, and the struggle soon ended, for Lizette adroitly tripped her up, and she fell heavily, her head striking the corner of the iron-bound chest with a loud thud.

Then the maid turned to kneel down by her unconscious mistress. Nita lay motionless, but when Lizette put her ear against the girl's heart she was rejoiced to find that it was still throbbing faintly.

"Poor darling, that old fiend didn't quite kill her!" she cried joyfully, and set to work to revive her hapless mistress.

But Nita came back to life very slowly, and it was not until her wet garments were all removed and she was laid in her bed, that she opened a pair of languid dark eyes and met the affectionate gaze of the anxious maid.

"What has happened?" she breathed faintly, and Lizette explained, softening the whole affair as much as she could, not to excite the patient.

"You saved my life, Lizette," cried Nita gratefully. Then she shuddered at perceiving the unconscious form of the old fortune-teller.

"I'll see how much she's hurt now; I have been tending to you all this time," said the maid. "I don't suppos

e she's dead, but there's an awful cut on the side of her head. She will go to prison for this if she lives-oh, Lordy!" as the apparently dead woman suddenly opened her dazed eyes and lifted up her grizzled head. Lizette sprang to the door, and locked it.

"You don't get out of here except to go to prison, old woman," she observed, then brought water and sponges and bathed and bandaged the wounded head. Then she gave Meg a drink of cordial, and said:

"You're all right now. The cut ain't as bad as I thought at first. Well, now I'm going to send for an officer and hand you over on a charge of attempted robbery and murder."

The hag sprang to her feet, her sullen face ghastly in the dim light, her eyes lurid with hate.

"You shall not send me to prison," she hissed savagely.

"You will see!" cried the maid, stretching out her hand to the bell.

Meg's skinny, upraised arm arrested the movement.

"Wait. See what your mistress will say," she snarled, and, moving to the side of the bed, she bent down and whispered sharply for several minutes in Nita's ear.

A low cry of horror came from the bed, and the old harpy moved aside, muttering significantly:

"I knew when I told you that, you would let me go free. Indeed, I did not mean to touch you if I could get the gold without-but you took me by surprise."

Lizette looked at her mistress for orders.

"Miss Nita, you surely won't let the old hag escape?" she cried.

"Yes, open the door," Nita cried faintly, shudderingly.

"But, Miss Nita--"

"Let the woman go!" Nita repeated, and the maid reluctantly obeyed. Then Nita said faintly:

"Lizette, I am already your debtor for my life, and indeed you will find me grateful. Do me one more kindness. Keep the secret of this terrible adventure locked forever in your breast unless I give you leave to speak."

"Oh, Miss Nita, is it best to shield that old wretch from justice? She may come back again and carry off all your gold, and kill you, too."

"No, Lizette, she has sworn never to attempt it again, and you must keep it a secret. Gather up the gold, put it back in the chest, and lock it carefully away. But first take some for yourself."

"Oh, Miss Nita, I don't want any reward for saving your life."

"But I insist," murmured Nita sweetly. "Take five hundred dollars."

She saw the young woman's eyes grow suddenly eager.

"God bless you, Miss Nita. It means so much to me-oh, you can't think the good I can do with just two hundred dollars. I will take that much, no more, if you please, and, dear Miss Nita, I'll love you with every drop of my heart's blood to the end of my life for this. Oh, I will tell you all some day, my lady," and Lizette, sobbing like a little child, kissed Nita's white hand. Then she locked and carefully put away the chest of gold.

"For no one else must find out that you have such a treasure in this room," she said cautiously.

Then Nita sighed wearily:

"Oh, Lizette, I feel so tired and ill. My arms ache with pain, my whole body is stiff and sore. I should like to go to sleep, but first you must go down-stairs and bring me news of Dorian Mountcastle-if he is dead or alive, for surely the doctor must have come by this time."

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