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   Chapter 13 SECRET PLANS.

They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 7370

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Dorian turned quickly back to Nita, without observing that Azalea Courtney had slipped through the door in pursuit of Mr. Kayne. The little beauty's heart was seething with rage and pain over Dorian's announcement that Nita was his promised wife, and in Donald Kayne's anger she saw a chance of revenge by joining forces with him in persecuting the young girl. Following him down the steps to the shadowy grounds, she detained him.

"Oh, Mr. Kayne, wait, please! I-I want to speak to you," she purred.

He turned impatiently, and frowned. He knew Azalea well, and despised her as thoroughly as did Dorian Mountcastle. Yet when she came across his path to tempt him like a serpent, he listened.

"Oh, Mr. Kayne, I know I can help you to find out about that ring if you will accept my services," she continued.

Donald Kayne looked keenly into the lifted face, whose luminous blue eyes glittered wickedly in the moonlight, and that look decided him. He drew her arm through his, and they walked on among the tall shrubberies, in earnest conversation.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Courtney, as soon as the others were gone, walked over to Dorian and Nita, and said stiffly:

"Permit me to offer you both my best wishes for your happiness, although the affair is very hasty, is it not? And do you think your guardian will approve, Miss Farnham?"

Instantly, Nita, who had been drooping wearily in her chair, lifted her head with a terrified cry.

"He must not know. Oh, Mrs. Courtney, you will not betray me!"

"Betray you, child? What strange words! Of course your guardian must know this."

"I shall write him at once, madam," began Dorian haughtily, but, to his surprise, Nita faltered, imploringly:

"No, no, Dorian; he need not know it for a little while. He will think, like Mrs. Courtney, that we were too hasty. He will not approve!"

"I am sure he will not," echoed the chaperon decidedly.

And the young man looked irresolutely from one speaker to the other. Nita knew, with a woman's keen instinct, that she could manage her lover, but she was not so sure of Mrs. Courtney. So it was to the lady she addressed herself first.

"Oh, Mrs. Courtney, be kind to me," she pleaded. "My guardian is a hard, stern, old man. He will be so angry, if he learns the truth, that he will separate me at once from Dorian. I pray you be kind to us. Let us be happy together just a little while first, and I will never cease to be grateful."

Mrs. Courtney revolved the matter in her mind a moment, but it was no sympathy with the lovers, only keen self-interest that decided her to grant Nita's earnest prayer. With apparent suavity, she said:

"I know I am doing wrong, but I am too tender-hearted to refuse the plea of such devoted hearts, so I will promise to keep the secret for a while; but in order that Mr. Farnham shall not hear of it, it will be best not to let the engagement be known yet to any one else beside the few who are in the secret. Let it be kept especially from the servants, who may be paid spies in their master's employ."

Mrs. Courtney had tried to make all the servants believe that Dorian was engaged to Azalea, and she felt she could not bear their silent amusement when the truth came out.

"Do you not agree with me?" she asked anxiously.

"Yes, and a thousand thanks for your goodness!" cried Nita gratefully.

But Dorian looked profoundly disappointed.

"I should have liked to communicate with Mr. Farnham and have my happiness assured at once," he said. "But I waive my preference for a time in deference to my liege-lady."

And he bowed to Nita with the grace of a prince.

"And, now," added Mrs. Courtney, with an amiability

she was far from feeling, "you two may perhaps like to be alone a little while, so I will ask to be excused."

And laughing lightly, she glided away, eager to seek her daughter whom she expected to find in hysterics up-stairs.

Dorian knelt almost reverently before Nita, and lifted her cold little hand to his lips.

"God bless you, my own true love! May you never repent that you gave yourself to me!" he cried fervently.

For answer, Nita suddenly lifted her drooping form, and threw herself with passionate abandon into his eager arms, clasping his neck and hiding her face on his shoulder, sobbing and shuddering in an alarming, hysterical fashion.

Dorian embraced her tenderly, and at length kissed away her tears, leading her to a seat by the window, where the cool sea-breeze fanned her heated brow and cheeks. He did not dream that golden-haired Azalea was crouching stealthily in the thick shrubberies outside, and listening eagerly to their words.

"My darling, you must not be frightened at Donald Kayne's threats. He shall pay dearly for his insolence to you," he said, with flashing eyes.

"Oh, do not harm him, for I forgive him," cried Nita eagerly. "I am sorry for him, too; I would give worlds to tell him the secret he wishes to know, only I cannot-dare not," and she shuddered wildly.

"It seemed strange that you would not grant his wish," Dorian exclaimed uneasily; and she sighed.

"There are many strange things about me, Dorian, and I fear you will some day repent that you ever loved me."

"Never!" he replied, with a passionate kiss that made the listening Azalea tremble with jealous wrath.

"But," he continued tenderly, "I wish you would allow me to get your guardian's consent at once to our engagement. Only think, my darling, how pleasant it would be to be married very soon, and go abroad in this lovely summer weather on our wedding-tour."

"Married! Married!" cried Nita, quailing as from a blow. "Oh, we mustn't think of that yet, Dorian-we mustn't, indeed. My guardian would never permit it. I will tell you the truth. He has other views for me. I believe he would kill me before he would permit me to marry you."

"Then we will elope, and forestall his refusal."

"Oh, no, no, no, my dearest! We cannot do that. Oh, Dorian, do not be in such a frightful hurry to marry me. I will not listen to such a thing for a whole year! We must just love each other and be very, very patient for a year, and-then-we will talk about marriage," Nita cried tremblingly, and with pallid lips.

The listening Azalea smiled, incredulously at Nita's protests, and murmured:

"She is pretending to be coy, the coquette. But it is not true that she is in no hurry to marry him. She will doubtless elope with him in a week. But why does she put such stress on a year-a whole year?" and the words sunk deep in Azalea's memory to be recalled in fateful after days.

It was crowded with the elements of tragedy and despair, the love-story of Nita! And while struggling desperately for just a little happiness, she was forging the fetters of a cruel fate. Weak and loving, she said to herself:

"What can it matter if I love him just a little while? A few loving words and kisses, that will be all my sin, and it seems to me that even the angels might pity me for so small a wrong. I am cheating Miser Farnham of nothing, for I shall never be his wife in reality. When the day comes for him to claim me, I shall be lying dead. His offer only put off my death one year longer."

And kneeling by her bed that night, Nita innocently thanked God for Dorian's love, and prayed that she might have just a few months of happiness.

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