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   Chapter 16 WITH THIS RING I THEE WED.

They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 16489

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"You have killed my mistress!" cried the maid angrily.

Nita had fallen unconscious at his feet.

"It is only a faint," he replied.

And between them she was soon restored to consciousness, although still dazed and white and trembling from the shock she had received.

Miser Farnham dead! She could scarcely realize it, and she tried hard to keep from feeling glad and happy over the startling news. It seemed cruel and wicked to rejoice over any one's death.

Captain Van Hise returned to the charge as soon as he thought she could bear it.

"Of course, if Dorian could have foreseen this he would not have planned to carry you off," he said. "But as things have fallen out, don't you think you had better forgive him and marry him to-night?"

"You are perfectly certain that Mr. Farnham is dead?" she asked him, with such shuddering anxiety that he knew how all depended on his answer, and hastened to reply:

"Perfectly certain. We had it from the best authority."

This was a white lie, but he considered it admissible in his friend's behalf. He had only heard the current rumor, but he did not suppose that the old man's death had any special bearing on Nita's marriage to Dorian, except that it seemed to him a very desirable thing that the objectionable guardian had been removed so opportunely from this mundane sphere.

"Not a very desirable connection for a lady in the position that Mrs. Dorian Mountcastle will occupy, for everybody in New York had heard of Miser Farnham, and his record was not a straight one," he mused, and thought he saw relenting in Nita's eyes.

"Oh, come with me to Dorian," he urged. "The surgeon has agreed to a brief interview, only you must be very calm and not excite him."

Lizette who, for a maid, was a very superior sort of person, beamed cordial approval.

"Miss Nita, I think the easiest way is to consent!" she cried. "If you refuse it may make him worse, and since you intend to marry him some time, anyway, what's the odds?"

"Yes, what's the odds?" echoed Van Hise cheerfully, and led her to Dorian.

She wondered in a dazed way if she ought to tell her lover the truth-tell him she had been married to the repulsive old miser, but her whole soul rose in rebellion against the humiliating confession.

She remembered how he had scorned Azalea because she would have married him for his money. No-no, he would despise her if he knew-he who had never known poverty and hunger and bitter need-that she had sold herself to the horrible old miser for a chest of gold.

When she saw Dorian lying in the berth so wan and pale, wounded in a chivalrous defense of her, she forgot everything else but that she loved him wildly-madly! Loved him with a love that was her doom.

Quite overcome, she sank upon her knees by Dorian's berth.

"Oh, my love, my love," she whispered, with her lips against his brow.

And then Dorian knew that the victory was won. If she had wavered for one moment his pale, handsome, suffering face had turned the scale in his favor.

And her dark eyes answered without words.

"You are an angel," he murmured. "Oh, Nita, I will pay you for this with a life's devotion. But I should have died of my wound, I think, very soon if you had said you would not marry me!"

"My dear Miss Farnham, permit me," said Captain Van Hise at this juncture.

He raised her gently, and placed her in a seat by Dorian.

"You were not to have much excitement, you know, Dorian, so let us have the agony over as soon as possible," he remarked genially.

And though Nita's heart leaped in sweet alarm, he gave her no respite, but went and brought the preacher, the surgeon, the captain, and Lizette.

Propped up by the surgeon's arm, Dorian held Nita's cold little hand in his, and a few solemn words made her his bride.

"'To have and to hold from this day forward,'" went on Irwin's solemn voice.

And directly the ring was slipped over Nita's third finger, and she was bending her stately head for her husband's kiss. Then they all congratulated the pair very quietly and retired, the surgeon lingering to give Dorian a sedative, after which he said gravely:

"Now, Mrs. Mountcastle, you may sit by your husband until he falls asleep, but no talking, remember, for he must have a long night's rest."

They were alone together. He looked up at her in grateful, adoring love.

"We are on our wedding-trip, darling," he murmured.

"Yes, Dorian. Now sleep," she whispered, as she placed her hand caressingly on his white brow. He closed his eyes, and the beautiful bride sat and watched him, her heart thrilling with passionate love and joy.

"He is mine-all mine-my darling husband!" she thought, with a thrill of thanksgiving that she had been turned aside that day in the park from the fell purpose of self-destruction. "It is always darkest just before dawn, and thus it was with me," she whispered in blissful unconsciousness of the lowering future.

By and by Lizette came to lead her away, and much as she would have preferred to remain by Dorian, she felt that the surgeon would be better pleased if she left him.

The sky was cloudy and the sea rough. Mr. Irwin and Captain Van Hise had succumbed to sea-sickness and were invisible. The captain of the yacht was busy, and the surgeon, after a few pleasant words, went down to watch over his patient.

"Miss Nita, dear, don't let's stay on deck. Seems like it's getting colder, and the wind is so high and the waves so rough they break over the deck. You'll get splashed all over if you don't come into the cabin."

"Not yet, Lizette, for I love old ocean in all his moods, and this is sublime. How the wind roars, and how fast the dark, ragged clouds drift over the moon, showing silver edges now and then, again all inky black. Isn't it grand?"

"It just frightens me so that I can't see anything pretty about it. Oh, dear, Miss Nita, ain't you afraid of the mountain waves rolling so fast? Seems like one of them will go right over the yacht presently, and bury us in the bottom of the sea."

Lizette shivered with fear, but Nita answered smilingly:

"No, I am not afraid, but, still I think we are going to have a little bit of a storm. Ah! did you see that lightning flash? Hark the thunder!"

Then the rain began to patter upon the deck, and both ran into the cabin, breathless with the wind and cool air, the maid lamenting:

"Oh, why did we come, why did we come? The yacht will be wrecked. We shall all be drowned!"

Nita tried to encourage the frightened creature, but all in vain, for the torrents of falling rain and the boom of the waves produced so much noise that they could not distinguish each other's voices.

"Oh, what shall we do? what shall we do?" shrieked the frightened maid, half-crazed with alarm. "I'll go to the captain this minute and beg him to take us back home."

Half-crazed by fear, she ran shrieking out upon the deck, and, at a sudden lurch of the yacht, fell prostrate. Nita followed, and stooped to help her to rise. What followed was told afterward with a white face of horror by the yacht captain who, just coming to seek them, became an eye-witness of a terrible tragedy, and himself narrowly escaped becoming a victim.

The night was inky-black, only for the fitful lightning flashes; the wind violent; the rain pouring in torrents, and he began to feel alarmed himself for the safety of the yacht and its passengers.

As Irwin and Van Hise were both suffering the agonies of sea-sickness, he thought of the two solitary women who might be frightened, and started to speak a word of comfort to them.

Staggering over the rocking deck toward the light that flickered from the cabin door, he beheld Lizette rush out shrieking with fear.

The yacht dipped down into the trough of a sea, and the maid lost her footing and fell prostrate. The next instant a blinding electric flash showed him Nita clinging to and trying to lift Lizette; then the bow of the yacht dipped lower still and the curving billow rose up high in air; then it broke over the deck in a fury and flung the man prostrate upon his face. He clutched at something-he never knew what-and the mighty mass of water swept over him.

The y

acht bounded upward again, and-but for the man clinging and gasping for dear life-the deck was swept bare.

On the wings of the sobbing gale came to him shrieks of despair from the two doomed women swept off into the sea.

A few minutes longer the storm raged wildly, then as if the elements had wreaked their fury, the sea grew calmer, the winds lulled, the rain ceased, the black clouds parted above, and silvery moon-rays fringed the rents with heavenly glory.

But to the little knot of men huddled upon the deck of the Nita watching the sea with agonized eyes came no sight of the lost ones-the fair bride and the faithful maid-who had been engulfed in the mighty mass of foaming waters.

They looked at each other with ashen faces, these sorrowful men; they spoke in despairing voices; they were wounded to the heart by this awful tragedy.

And the burden of their cry was that it would kill Dorian to learn the tragic fate of his bride.

"He must not know," said Doctor Ray, the surgeon. "Through all the tumult of the storm he has slept peacefully under the influence of a sedative, and it is likely he will rest quietly until morning. When he asks for his bride he must be told that she is ill of sea-sickness, with her maid in close attendance. This excuse must serve until he is convalescent. Let no man forget, for whoever should tell him the truth would be guilty of murder."

No one doubted it, and they acquiesced in his decision. So the long night passed, and the summer morning dawned with the balmy air and cloudless skies, but Dorian, when he waked, was feverish and out of his head.

They did not have to make any excuses to him about the lost one. In his delirium he seemed to forget her existence.

* * *

In the week that followed upon her compact with Donald Kayne, Azalea Courtney had not been able to gain a single clue to the mystery of Nita's possession of the serpent ring. She had duly communicated to him the conversation she had overheard that night between the lovers, but neither one could make anything out of Nita's words, except the natural agitation of a young girl who knows certainly that her guardian will disapprove of her heart's choice.

The week that followed, before Dorian went up to New York, was one of secret, silent, but exquisite torture to the baffled Azalea. Her plans and schemes for bringing about a misunderstanding between the lovers, and winning Dorian for herself, had failed utterly.

Dorian was so nearly well that he would not permit himself to be treated as an invalid. He took his meals with them in the dining-room; he spent his evenings in the drawing-room, and, although he listened to Azalea's songs and politely turned the pages of her music, she knew that she bored him inexpressibly, and that he was always glad to escape to his betrothed at the window, where she always sat, after turning her beautiful, grave face from them all, to gaze at the sea, and listen to its solemn tone, that was so much sweeter to her ears than Azalea's voice.

When Dorian turned from the piano, and went back to his love at the window, Azalea's heart would swell with jealous wrath until her voice would falter almost into silence, and the greatest aim of her life grew to be revenge upon Nita, who had won the prize she had worked for in vain.

Those golden summer days, while Dorian and Nita loitered in the old garden, laughing and pelting each other with roses like two gleeful children, or read poetry to each other in the honeysuckle bowers, Azalea could hardly bear her life, but she smiled on, like the Spartan boy, sure that, somehow or other, with Donald Kayne's assistance, she would find a way to torture the proud and happy lovers.

At last the end of the week and the love-making came, for Dorian went up to New York on that mission that was to prove so disastrous to all concerned.

And Nita, left alone with the two hostile women who barely masked their antagonism to her under a thin veneer of courtesy, relapsed into a profound melancholy. With Dorian by her side she could almost forget the dark shadow that clouded all her future with the blackness of despair.

Their mutual love, so strong, so pure, had the talismanic power to ward off evil and disquieting thoughts, but with Dorian away, Nita was haunted by vexing fears that would not down. Soon came the letter inviting Nita and her maid for the moonlight trip upon the yacht.

When Azalea saw her rival's flushed and happy face she grew almost frantic with secret rage. A longing seized upon her to know what Dorian had written in the letter that had brought back the fading roses to Nita's cheeks, and that light of gladness to her dark eyes.

When Nita and her maid went down to the shore at sunset Azalea stole up to the girl's room, determined to search for Dorian's letter. Nita had placed the precious missive in a silver jewel-case on her dressing-table, and, after a short search, Azalea found it, and flew to her mother with flaming cheeks.

"Read this," she panted breathlessly. "Oh, mama, all is lost! They are going to elope, I am sure!"

When Mrs. Courtney had read the letter she agreed with her daughter. Dorian and Nita had certainly planned an elopement.

"Oh, mama, you must not permit it! You can certainly assume that much authority! Come, come, let us go down to the beach and force her to return with us," cried the excited Azalea, and, carried away by her impetuosity, Mrs. Courtney obeyed.

But they were just a little late for the execution of their designs. Azalea was doomed to disappointment. Nita was already on board the yacht with her maid, and while yet at some little distance from the scene they became the startled witnesses of the duel fought upon the beach by the two enemies in the purple light of the gloaming with the sound of the solemn sea in their heedless ears.

With shrieks of fear Azalea flew toward the scene, but too late to interrupt the duelists. Captain Van Hise was already pushing off from shore the little boat with Dorian and the surgeon, and the officers of the law were surrounding the other group upon the shore, where Donald Kayne lay stretched out upon the silvery sands.

Upon the confused group Azalea broke with hysterical shrieks and cries, and soon all that she knew was told; Mrs. Courtney, coming up as soon as she could follow her lighter-footed daughter, confirmed the story of the elopement. To-morrow that and the duel would startle the world at large.

The officers of the law agreed that Donald Kayne should be taken back to New York on his own yacht, and then the group dispersed, Mrs. Courtney leading the hysterical Azalea back to Gray Gables, where she spent a wakeful night with her daughter, who actually threatened to commit suicide because Dorian had carried off Nita to make her his bride. But by morning Azalea was able to discuss the situation, and she agreed that it looked very discouraging for her mother.

"Mr. Farnham will be furiously angry with me for letting it happen, and I have no doubt that as soon as he reads it in the papers he will come down here to turn me out of the house," Mrs. Courtney complained bitterly, for this luxurious home was a palace compared to the humble lodgings in the city where she would be forced to return when she lost her well-paid position as chaperon to Miser Farnham's heiress.

"But, mama, you must, of course, insist upon receiving the whole year's salary," cried Azalea.

"Of course," replied her mother, and took up the morning paper, adjusted her glasses, and began to read.

"Is there anything about the duel?" eagerly inquired Azalea, from the couch, where she was enacting the part of a semi-invalid.

"No, nothing yet. Too soon, you know, Azalea; but, of course, all the evening papers will have it. Oh, good gracious, what is this! Accident yesterday afternoon on the elevated railroad, and several people killed and wounded. Azalea, listen to this:

"'Charles Farnham, very well known as a peculiar character of New York, called the miser, was seriously wounded, and at first reported killed, but revived a little, and was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he now lies in a semi-unconscious condition.'"

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