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   Chapter 15 A DUEL ON THE BEACH.

They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 8578

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Mr. Irwin was a nervous, timid man, and the two women clinging to him alarmed him almost as much as did the mysterious shots from the shore. He saw the captain of the yacht hovering near, and beckoned him frantically to his assistance. The jolly sailor approached and exclaimed:

"Ladies, ladies, you need not feel the least alarm. It's only somebody shooting seagulls."

This plausible excuse had an instant effect on the mistress and maid. They released the trembling Irwin, and Nita blushingly apologized for her extreme nervousness. In a few minutes more the captain observed:

"I hear the dip of the oars. Mr. Mountcastle is returning."

And so it proved. But, alas, for Nita, Dorian was not returning as he went. He lay prostrate in the bottom of the boat, an attentive surgeon bending over him, while Van Hise plied the oars with ease and skill.

The yacht captain, who had been straining his eyes across the rapidly darkening water, turned and whispered to Lizette:

"You had better take your mistress into the cabin now, for there has been a duel over there between Mr. Kayne and Mr. Mountcastle, and--"

But he never finished the sentence, for Nita's quick ears had overheard, and she fell upon the deck with a shriek of despair.

"Dorian is dead!"

But Dorian was not dead, although severely wounded. It was Donald Kayne who lay upon the shore stiff and stark, slain by his friend for a woman's sake.

The accursed serpent ring had already borne ghastly fruit, just as the chuckling old miser had foreseen when he forced Nita to wear it as the price of life and liberty.

"A most deplorable affair," Captain Van Hise said later, when telling the horrified Irwin about it. "You see, Kayne had said something reflecting on the lady Dorian is to marry, and so he challenged him. I was his second, and Kayne came down with his own second and the two surgeons on his own yacht, so both principals were ready for instant flight if the authorities got wind of the duel. Kayne's yacht is at the regular landing, half a mile from here, and my friend came to this point to take up the lady, and also to be handy to the dueling-ground over yonder. Well, it was a gallant affair. They fought at ten paces with navy revolvers. Both escaped the first fire, but at the second, Donald Kayne fell dead and Dorian severely wounded. And, sure enough, the authorities were down on us. We just barely got our man into the boat and pulled out before they galloped on horseback to the meeting-place, and hallooed after our party."

Mr. Irwin was startled, distressed, indignant.

"This is most outrageous!" he exclaimed. "I have been grossly deceived by your friend. He employed me to perform a marriage ceremony, not to attend him to a dueling-ground."

"The marriage all in good time, reverend sir. The duel was merely an episode by the way," returned Captain Van Hise airily.

"But I shall be mixed up in this notorious affair. It will do me incalculable injury. I demand to be set ashore at once," groaned the timorous preacher.

"Impossible, my dear sir, dearly as I would love to oblige you. The yacht is already under way escaping pursuit. Besides, you may be needed presently to soothe the last hours of a dying sinner, which is even more important than the tying of a matrimonial knot, I take it; so be tranquil, please. No harm shall come to you from this."

The clergyman saw that all remonstrances were useless; he must accept the situation.

"And you believe that Mr. Mountcastle will die?" he asked in a tone of awe.

"Can't say, but hope not. The doctor is dressing his wound now-shoulder-ball went clean through. Poor fellow's having hard luck lately! Stabbed and left for dead on the beach three weeks ago, and barely out of bed when he came to New York to challenge Kayne. Yes, dismal affair, very, but couldn't be helped, you know."

The half-crazed Nita had already been told part of the truth by Captain Van Hise.

"Donald Kayne was mortally wounded, we fear," was the way he put it about Dorian's opponent.

She lay weeping bitterly in the cabin attended by faithful Lizette. The surgeon would not let her see Dorian yet in spite of her prayers.

"The wound is not necessarily dangerous, but he is weak from loss of blood, and so agi

tated that he cannot bear any excitement," he said.

But when the wound was dressed, and he was resting easily, he was permitted a few minutes' conversation with Captain Van Hise. Then the jolly soldier said ruefully:

"I can't refuse you, Dorian, since the surgeon won't let you talk for yourself, but, by Jupiter, I'd rather face the enemy's guns any day than that girl with this story! What a cheek you must have had to plan such a thing!"

"She will forgive me even if she refuses to grant my prayer," answered Dorian, for he knew women better than the gallant captain, who had wooed the goddess of war more assiduously than the goddess of love.

So it came to pass that while the yacht Nita skimmed lightly over the moon-lighted waters, Captain Van Hise sat in the cabin with her namesake, floundering through a story that would, he fully believed, enrage her so that she would never, never marry Dorian, and, more than likely, would never even forgive him.

"He is so weak and nervous, Miss Farnham, the surgeon won't let him do his own talking, so, as I've been his confidant in the whole affair, he has sent me to tell you-to tell you--" The doughty warrior broke down and mopped his damp brow, murmuring under his breath:

"Blamed if I don't wish myself well out of this!"

"To tell me--" echoed Nita, with heart-piercing anxiety. And thus encouraged, he returned to the charge:

"You'll understand it all better, my dear young lady, when I tell you that Dorian has always been a spoiled boy-had everything he wanted all his life-cousin of mine, known him from boyhood-so, of course, he was frantic when you vowed you wouldn't marry him for a whole year-eternity, you know, to a man in love. Don't blame me, please! but as soon as the details of the duel was arranged, Dorian planned to elope with you."

"Oh, Heaven!" cried Nita, in wildest alarm, and her face became ashen.

"Don't excite yourself-please don't, Miss Farnham," cried the soldier anxiously. "Or at least let me get through first, then rave if you will."

Lizette moved nearer to her young lady's side in mute distress, and he went on eagerly:

"Didn't you think it strange, Dorian's inviting you to go yachting with him by moonlight? Bless you! he brought along a preacher-Irwin, you know-to marry you to-night; that is, of course, if you were willing-no gentleman would want to marry a lady without her consent. You see, he didn't expect to get wounded in the duel, and-oh, a mere episode that-and so, if you'll excuse my bluntness-here we are at sea, afraid to go back because the authorities are after us about the duel, and it might be best to stay away till the excitement blows over. And Dorian is wounded, and maybe you would think it real romantic to nurse him. Now would you be willing-so Dorian sent me to ask you-to marry him now!"

He drew breath and looked at her apprehensively. Lizette had uttered a smothered little shriek, but Nita sat speechless and terrified, as if she had seen a ghost. All in a moment the enormity of her folly and her sin rushed over her.

Oh, why had she let him love her? Why had she, in her weakness, drifted into this sea of difficulty. She gasped for breath; she felt like one drowning; and the doughty captain murmured cajolingly:

"Although Dorian has acted very impetuously, and you have a perfect right to be angry, still I know the poor boy would be dreadfully broken up if you refused his prayer. And Irwin, too-poor fellow!-he did not know how dreadfully uncertain the affair was, and would be so very much disappointed."

"This is cruel, cruel!" Nita murmured. "I told Dorian my-my-guardian--"

"Yes, I know, Miss Farnham; but the impulsive boy thought it would be great fun to outwit your crusty old guardian. You weren't fond of him, anyway, were you?"-anxiously.

She began to murmur something about duty and obedience, but he broke in, almost curtly:

"You owe him neither now, my dear young lady. Oh, how can I tell you? Only, I don't suppose you ever cared much for the-ahem!-disreputable old party-miser, and all that-but the truth is, there was an accident on the elevated road to-day, and Charles Farnham was badly injured and taken to the hospital. Just before we left New York we got news of his death."

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