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   Chapter 5 A PLOT TO WIN A LOVER.

They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 6569

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Mrs. Courtney, sitting at a desk in her own room the morning after the arrival at Pirate Beach, was busy writing a letter to her daughter, who had been absent from New York when Miser Farnham had called at her lodgings and electrified her with the welcome offer to become the chaperon of his beautiful ward.

After acquainting her daughter with these facts and the later ones of the night's happenings, Mrs. Courtney added:

"Now, prepare for a joyful surprise, my dear Azalea. A happy fate has thrown Dorian Mountcastle across your path again. It is he whom Miss Farnham so romantically saved, and although he has a mysterious wound in the side which will cause several weeks of confinement, the doctor thinks he can pull him safely through. Of course, I shall nurse him assiduously, and I want you to drop everything and come home. That girl is quite ill to-day, feverish and delirious from her exposure last night. Before she is well enough to come down and see Dorian Mountcastle, you will have a chance to cut her out with him. Our former acquaintance will be to your advantage, too, for there is some secrecy about Miss Farnham's antecedents that I don't at all approve. Well, if you can only secure the prize, we can soon drop this other affair; so come quickly, my dear daughter, for I know your heart seconds my wishes in this matter."

It was barely twenty-four hours later that Nita's maid said to her mistress, who was still too ill to leave her bed:

"Mrs. Courtney's daughter, Miss Azalea, came to-day."

"Is she pretty?" asked Nita-always a girl's first question about another one.

"She is a little thing with blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and golden hair. The housekeeper was just telling me that these Courtneys used to be grand rich people, and that they are old friends of this Mr. Dorian Mountcastle."

"Old friends," murmured the invalid, and her heart gave an inexplicable throb of pain.

"And," continued Lizette, "Mrs. Hill says Mrs. Courtney is perfectly devoted to the young man, and just takes the nursing right out of her hands."

Nita smiled a little contemptuously, for Mrs. Courtney had made her but two formal visits, into both of which she had infused a sarcastic disapproval of the girl's nocturnal wandering.

"Oh, Mrs. Courtney, it was an irresistible impulse stronger than myself that led me out. Indeed, I think God sent me to save Mr. Mountcastle's life," the girl had cried reverently.

Mrs. Courtney had smiled in a sort of cold derision.

"Never go out alone like that again. I would never forgive my daughter, Azalea, for doing anything so highly improper," she had replied stiffly.

And now Azalea had arrived upon the scene, and the housekeeper had bluntly told Lizette that the lady was preparing to throw her pretty daughter at the young man's head.

"But it won't work, for he's always talking about Miss Farnham, and begging to see her to thank her for her bravery. He told me he took her for a real angel when he first opened his eyes down there by the water and saw her face!" cried Mrs. Hill, and Lizette returned:

"And when Miss Nita was delirious last night, she kept calling his name: 'Dorian, Dorian, Dorian,' like they were old acquaintances. I think myself, it's a case of love at first sight on both

sides."

"And so do I, Lizette."

And, kindly, romantic souls that they were, they took a keen, womanly delight in this incipient love-affair. Miss Farnham had saved Mr. Mountcastle's life, and in novel-lore this romantic incident always led up to love and marriage.

It was noon the next day before Nita saw Azalea. A bewitching golden-haired vision in a white morning-gown, with floating blue ribbons, that matched the color of her large, turquoise-blue eyes, and brought out clearly the rose-pink tinting of her soft skin-this was the fairy that floated into Nita's room alone, and murmured gushingly:

"How do you do, Miss Farnham? Mama has been trying to keep me out, saying that you were too ill to be disturbed. But you must not mind me, will you? I am only Azalea! May I call you Nita?" Dropping suddenly on her knees, she kissed Nita's feverish cheek. "I love you, you brave heroine!" she cried.

Nita could only smile, for Azalea gave her no chance to speak. She went on cooingly:

"I want to whisper a sweet secret to you, dear. I love you already, because-well, because you saved Dorian's life. When I came yesterday and found him here, I almost fainted with surprise and joy. Do you understand, Nita? Dorian and I were-lovers-once-but afterward we were cruelly parted. But now, we have made it up, and are happy. But only think, dearest, if you had not saved his life that night I should have gone mourning him all my days. God bless you, Nita."

Strange that those words of blessing almost sounded like a curse in Nita's ears. She shrank from the red lips that again caressed her cheek, and murmured coldly:

"Pray, take a seat, Miss Courtney."

"Do I weary you, poor dear?" sinking gracefully into an arm-chair. "Oh, how dreadfully ill you look; I suppose you will be in bed for weeks."

"I am going to sit up to-morrow."

"Surely not so soon, dear. I don't think mama will permit you."

"I beg your pardon, I shall not ask her leave, Lizette is my nurse"-quietly.

"But I thought mama ought to be consulted. She is your chaperon, you know"-wheedingly.

"I am very wilful, Miss Courtney, and intend to have my own way. I am better, and there is no need of my remaining in bed longer than to-morrow. Then, too, I have a guest, you should remember, and courtesy demands that I should greet him as soon as possible."

"Although a perfect stranger to you. But, perhaps, mama will not consider it correct form for you to visit the invalid," almost sneered Azalea.

"You have called on him, I presume"-pointedly.

"Why, of course"-flushing slightly-"but that is very different. I have known Dorian a long time."

"Ah, and I saved his life," replied Nita quietly.

Their glances met, the artful blue ones, the defiant black ones-in their hearts they knew themselves sworn foes. Nita saw through the girl before her, her artfulness, her assumptions, and despised her already.

"Can it be true that Dorian Mountcastle loves this pretty, shallow girl?" she wondered, with inexplicable anger and bitterness. She thought him a thousand times too good and noble for Azalea, and felt a sudden passionate longing to be free of the hated fetters that held her in thrall that she might measure lances with her for the prize of his heart.

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