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   Chapter 14 TWO PISTOL SHOTS.

They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 10308

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Before retiring, Dorian had written a letter to a friend in New York asking him to come down to Pirate Beach to see him. He hoped to be strong enough in a few days to go out, and with his heart on fire at the angry words Donald Kayne had rashly spoken to Nita, he was resolved on sending Kayne a challenge to a duel.

In the meantime, his perplexed thoughts ran constantly on Nita, the wonderful serpent-ring, Kayne's interest in it, and the young girl's mysterious refusal to explain how it came into her possession, and last, but not least, he was full of wonder at Nita's assertion that Miser Farnham would sooner kill her than permit her to marry him.

"That is very, very strange," mused Dorian. "Why should he object to me for Nita's husband? He lives in New York, and he must certainly know that I am considered an unexceptionable parti. I certainly shall not give up Nita if I have to elope with her, and thus defy her crusty old guardian."

It was strange how this new love had struck its vigorous roots deep down into Dorian's nature. Some loves he had had before, but they had burned themselves out in brief flirtations, and he had grown to distrust the sex. Then all at once he had come to a new era in life.

In the very depths of his soul Dorian felt that this was a resistless passion sweeping him before it like a feather on the waves.

Several days passed away very quietly and uneventfully-the quiet that precedes the storm. To the surprise and relief of the lovers no effort was made by the Courtneys to hinder the course of their true love. Azalea raved in secret, and smiled in public. Through Donald Kayne she hoped to avenge her fancied wrongs on both.

One day while lingering in the grounds with Nita, Dorian told her simply the story of his acquaintance with Azalea.

"We were once engaged," he said frankly, "and at the time she was rich. Not that I cared for that, but I always had an ardent desire to be loved for myself alone, and a dread of being married for my money. So I laid a clever plan to test Azalea's affection for me. I made her believe that I lost all my fortune by the failure of a bank. In reality I had lost only a few thousands, but that served my purpose, and the scheming Azalea immediately broke off with me, declaring that she could not marry a poor man. When I was gone she discovered the truth, and tried to win me back, but I had found out that I did not really love her after all, and I was too happy over my escape to be coaxed into her toils again. Soon after they lost all their wealth, and dropped out of society, and I never saw them again until I came to Pirate Beach. Azalea is a regular little cat, purring and deceitful, and I know now that I never really loved her, or I should not have been so anxious to put her to the test, or so glad when she proved faithless."

Nita did not tell him that Azalea had told her that she had made up her quarrel with Dorian; she felt that the disappointed girl had already sunk low enough in the eyes of her old lover.

She felt herself, too, as guilty as Azalea, for was she not deceiving Dorian herself?-deceiving him because she loved him so dearly, and could not deny herself the happiness within her reach.

"Although I can never marry him I want him to love me," she thought.

A week had passed. Dorian, growing impatient at the strange silence of the friend in New York to whom he had written, resolved to go to the city and see him.

At parting with Nita he begged her again to let him speak to her guardian at once. And again she became frightened at the bare idea, and tearfully refused her consent. Grieved and disappointed, he went away.

Nita was sad and lonely when Dorian had gone. She took to walking and boating with the faithful Lizette as her attendant, and the rich, warm air soon blew a lovely rose-tint into her pale cheeks, and a new sparkle into her eyes.

"Miss Nita, you have been getting prettier and prettier every day since I first saw you. It's no wonder Mr. Mountcastle is so much in love with you," cried the faithful maid, who, although she had not been told of the engagement, comprehended very well how matters stood.

"Hush, Lizette! Do you not know that Miss Courtney says that he is engaged to her?" replied Nita demurely.

"It isn't true, miss, and nobody believes her, for it's perfectly plain that he adores the ground you walk on; and who could blame him?" answered Lizette loyally.

The third day brought Nita a long love-letter from Dorian. When she had read and reread it many times, she blushingly kissed it, and hid it in her bosom. The next morning she said to Lizette:

"I have a secret. Mr. Mountcastle is coming back to-morrow evening. He is coming in his own yacht from New York, and he wants you and me, Lizette, to meet him on the beach, and take a moonlight trip-no one else to know it. Do you think it would be very wrong, Lizette?"

"Not with me along to take care of you, miss," promptly answered Lizette, who at twenty-five felt herself quite a mature person.

"Then we will go," cried Nita joyfully, thinking how romantic it would be to have a little moon

light sail with Dorian on his yacht. And there was nothing wrong about it with her maid for a companion, she thought.

She and Lizette slipped out at sunset the next evening, and as there was some time to wait they strolled along the beach toward old Meg's picturesque cabin, and suddenly came upon the old hag loitering idly along.

She scowled angrily when she saw the mistress and maid, and Nita bade Lizette drop back out of hearing.

"I wish to have a little private talk with old Meg," she exclaimed, and the fortune-teller said gruffly:

"I want nothing to say to you."

"No matter-I have business with you. Is it really true, Meg, what you told me that night when I made Lizette spare you?"

"Yes, it is true."

"I am sorry for it. I cannot see why Heaven ever chose to afflict me so cruelly. You cannot blame me for being sorry. Why, you are the most wicked old woman I ever saw. Are you not afraid that Mr. Mountcastle will have you punished for your attempt at robbery and murder that night?"

The hag broke into a torrent of curses and denials, but the listener said scornfully:

"He is certain it was you, although, at my request, he has not betrayed your attempt upon his life, but suffered people to think it was an unknown assailant."

"It would have been better if you had not saved him, Nita-far better," exclaimed the old woman, with sudden solemnity, and, falling into abject whining, she continued wheedingly:

"I did it out of kindness to him, Nita. He was on his way to Gray Gables, and I read in the stars that fate lowered over him there-a fate worse than death. I tried to spare him, but you saved him-saved him to repent it, maybe, till the last hour of your life! There is a strange doom hanging over you, Nita; I saw it in the stars last night, but I could not read it very clearly, and--"

"Miss Nita, it is time. Come," called Lizette shrilly, and, nodding to the old hag, Nita ran breathlessly away to watch for Dorian's yacht.

A boat brought Dorian ashore from the beautiful yacht that was already rechristened Nita, and he ran joyfully to greet his betrothed, sorry that Lizette was looking, and he could not steal a kiss.

He pressed her hand very tightly, however, and there was such a tender kiss in his eyes as they looked deep into hers that she blushed and dimpled exquisitely.

It was twilight now, and Dorian assisted her and Lizette into the boat and rowed them over to the yacht that was anchored as near as possible to the shore.

Nita felt a strange, tremulous thrill sweep over her-was it ecstasy or a premonition of evil?

Two gentlemen were standing on the deck of the yacht, and when they were safely on board Dorian introduced them to Nita as New York friends-Captain Van Hise and Mr. Irwin. They gazed in deepest admiration at the young girl's brilliant beauty, and, after a few moments' pleasant chatting, Captain Van Hise looked significantly at Dorian and observed:

"If you will set me ashore here, Mountcastle, I shall be infinitely obliged to you."

"With pleasure," the young man replied, and suddenly drew Nita away from them all into the little cabin.

"I must leave you for a few minutes just to set my friend ashore. You will not mind waiting, will you, darling?" he asked, as he drew her to his breast and kissed her fondly.

"It is strange you did not bring him ashore when you came for me," she answered.

"You see he had not asked me then. The presence of women on board may have driven him to sudden desperation as it did me once upon a time," he replied mischievously.

"Oh, I do not wish to alarm your friend. Let me return," she murmured, clinging to him.

"No, no, my darling, forgive my foolish jest!" he cried, and strained her to him with a solemn, yearning passion.

Blushing warmly, she escaped from his lingering caresses, and then he led her back on deck.

"Mr. Irwin will amuse you while you are waiting for me," he said, and then shook hands with the gentleman ere he climbed down the yacht's side to the little boat.

Captain Van Hise was carrying a black leather case, and he was very cheerful-two facts that would have impressed an initiated person. The two young women suspected nothing.

Mr. Irwin did not look especially attractive to a young girl's eyes. He was more than middle-aged, and his attire had a clerical cut in keeping with his formal gray whiskers. His voice, when he essayed a remark, was nervous, and the slight attempt at conversation fell through soon, for a sudden shadow had fallen over Nita.

In a few minutes she became very restless, and strained her eyes through the deep purple haze of twilight toward the shore.

"It is time for Dorian to return, but I do not hear the oars yet," she ventured tremulously.

At that moment there came across the water the sound of pistol-shots from the shore!

Nita and Lizette both shrieked simultaneously, and sprung to their feet. Mr. Irwin also arose in alarm.

Nita caught his arm in a convulsive grasp.

"Oh, what is it? I am so frightened!" she shuddered, and just then the sound came again-two pistol-shots across the water.

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