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They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 6676

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Dorian Mountcastle belonged to that gay, careless, half-Bohemian class of rich young men, who, without seriously offending the proprieties, manage to set at naught many of the petty conventionalities that obtain in their set, and enjoy themselves after their own fashion in a sort of come-and-go-as-you-please style.

He was five-and-twenty. His parents had both died before he was sixteen, and he had traveled extensively, five years with a tutor, and latterly alone. Many men envied him, and many women sighed for him-or for his fortune, he was not certain which.

Chance had brought the young man to Pirate Beach the night of Nita's arrival there. Two days before he had joined a yachting-party, but caprice, or disgust, at the machinations of a husband-hunting young lady on board, had inspired him with so keen a longing for escape, that he had prevailed on his friend to set him ashore, at an hour when plain people are just seeking their beds.

"I'll seek shelter presently at that imposing old mansion up there," he thought indifferently, and walked musingly along the shore, thinking in weary disdain of the woman who had persecuted him on his friend's yacht.

"And all for the Mountcastle gold, not at all for the owner," he muttered cynically. "How beautiful and heartless women are! Shall I never be loved for myself alone? No, I have proved that," and he turned his face to the sea with a short, angry laugh.

There glided toward him across the noiseless sands, like a spirit of evil, the bent and crouching form of an old woman, with a hideous, scarred face, and bright, furtive eyes. A catlike bound brought her within hearing of his last words, and she echoed his laugh with one more cynical and hard than his own.

Turning with a start of surprise, Dorian Mountcastle beheld the witch, and exclaimed, in a tone of comic despair:

"Ye gods, another female! Can I not escape them either on land or sea?"

"No, for a woman is destined to work you bitter woe, young sir," replied a cracked and gibing voice.

"A safe prophecy, madam. Woman has worked woe to man ever since Adam's day, and will no doubt continue it to the end of the chapter," laughed the young man, in a tone of careless raillery.

The scarred, hideous old hag was watching so greedily the flashing diamond on his hand that she forgot to answer him, until he touched her lightly, and asked mockingly:

"Are you so overcome with admiration that you cannot speak? Who lives up there in the great house?"

"They are new tenants-just arrived to-night. I know nothing about them, but the house is called Gray Gables, and belongs to an old man in New York. You must be a stranger, sir, not to know Gray Gables?"-with a glance of furtive inquiry.

"Yes, I am a stranger. I landed here from a yacht to-night," Dorian answered, with careless confidence. "I'll tell you the truth, old lady. Some women badgered me so that I was fain to jump overboard into the sea to avoid them, so my friend, the owner of the yacht, kindly consented to set me off here, where I'm as lonesome as Robinson Crusoe on his desert-island."

"You don't know anybody at Pirate Beach?" she suggested.

"Not a living soul but you, my friend-no, not even the name of the place until now. Pirate Beach! Jove, an unpleasantly suggestive name."

"There's nothing in

the name, though there might have been many years ago. There's no danger now, young sir"-wheedingly.

"Glad to hear it, I'm sure. Well, is there any hotel hereabout?"

"A matter of five miles or so on a lonely road."

"Too long a tramp for a lazy man. Maybe they will give me a bed up yonder."

A hoarse cry issued from the woman's lips, and, recoiling from him, she suddenly lifted her skinny right arm on high, and almost shrieked, so loud and uneven was her voice:

"Young man, venture not now or ever beneath the roof of Gray Gables. It is written in the stars that Fate threatens thee there!"

Dorian Mountcastle stared, then laughed at her tragic turn.

"So you are a sibyl? Come, read me a page from the mystic stars."

A piece of silver crossed her skinny palm, and she laughed in joy. There was more where that came from. She had caught the clink in his vest pocket. She laughed, then scowled.

"Oh, you may sneer," she cried angrily. "You do not believe that old Meg can read the stars, you jest at her art. But the time comes when you shall weep. Look up yonder at that old gray house, so dark and forbidding, among the trees. It has been accursed and uninhabited for years; but to-night I see in the shining stars a new shadow hovering, vulturelike, above it. You are mixed up in it-you, whom fate has sent here to-night. For you I read woe and despair. You will go mad for a woman's love!"

He laughed at her in keenest mockery, this Dorian Mountcastle, who was so tired of lovely woman and her deceitful wiles.

"You are cheating me, Madam Sibyl! I know the shallow sex too well to lose my head over any of them!" he exclaimed, in a voice of cynical melancholy, and, throwing her another coin, walked impatiently away to some little distance, standing with his back to her, and his moody face turned to the sea.

Meg, the fortune-teller, remained where he had left her several moments watching him with a strange, catlike intentness. Now and then she would throw a cautious glance around her, but there was no one in sight-no one but the young man yonder with the diamond gleaming on his hand, and his pockets full of gold-yes, gold, for the last piece he had thrown her was yellow and shining. A terrible cupidity was aroused in the old crone's breast.

As for Dorian Mountcastle; in his careless or cynical self-absorption he had already forgotten the woman and her wild predictions-a fatal forgetfulness. For, as Meg crouched there, on the shining sands, her lean claw slipped inside the long black cloak she wore, and clutched the hilt of a sharp knife she carried in her breast. A low grating chuckle escaped her lips-the laugh of a fiend-and she began to advance upon her unconscious prey.

With his back to her, and his hands in his pockets, he was watching the sea, and softly whistling a melancholy strain from a favorite opera.

Meg crept close, unheard, unseen, threw out a cautious foot, tripped him, and he fell backward on the wet sands, ere he could extricate his hands from his pockets.

That instant she sprang upon her helpless victim. The murderous knife glittered in the moonlight, then descending, sheathed itself deep in his breast. Dorian Mountcastle quivered all over, like one in the agonies of a violent death, then lay quiet, at the mercy of the murderess.

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