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   Chapter 23 NITA AT GRAY GABLES AGAIN.

They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 9741

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The sun was sinking out of sight, and the curlew's call came shrilly across the waves when Jack Dineheart's fishing-boat anchored in the bay, and a little cockle-shell of a row-boat brought him across to his mother's cabin.

She was watching for him eagerly and with amazed eyes, for when the sailor left the little boat he carried in his arms the form of a woman lying inert like one dead against his shoulder, while her face and head were shrouded in a large plaid shawl.

"Hush! not a word," he breathed hoarsely to his mother, with a warning nod toward the sailor who had rowed the boat across, and he strode to the cabin with his silent burden. When he laid the quiet figure down upon a lounge and withdrew the shawl from the face, Meg recoiled with a cry of wonder and alarm.

It was Nita-Nita, whom every one believed dead. She looked like a dead woman now. Her face and lips were white, and the long, black fringe of the thick, curly lashes lay heavily against her cheeks.

"Don't look so frightened. She is not dead," said Jack Dineheart roughly. "I drugged her to bring her here without an outcry-that is all. She'll come to presently, all right."

"But, Jack, where did you find her? I thought she was dead."

"Old woman, I can't stay to answer questions now. I've got to go back to my ship and steer her into harbor. I'll come back as soon as I can. And, in the meantime, don't you let her get away."

"I'll keep her all right," Meg replied, with one of her hideous grins, and then he went away, returning later to find her waiting for him on the steps outside.

"She has come to, and is almost crazy to get away, so I locked her in and came out here to wait for you," she said. He sat down close to her, and confided his story to her ears, ending with:

"I brought her over to my boat and told them all she was my crazy sister. Bill Skipper and his wife had seen her here four years ago, and so there was no one to contradict my story, and old Mother Skipper took care of her all the way, for she was sick and nearly died on the voyage."

"And what do you expect to do with her now?" grimly inquired old Meg.

A string of oaths broke from his lips, in the midst of which she distinguished an avowed determination to force Nita to become his wife.

"But you said she was married to that young swell."

"He's dead by now!" was the vicious reply. "And, whether he's dead or not, she shall marry me."

It was so dark Meg could not see his face, but she knew he was terribly in earnest. She sat silently musing several moments until he exclaimed irritably:

"Why don't you say something? You used to be as much up for the plan as I was."

"Things are different now, Jack," she answered in a troubled tone, and when he questioned her she told him the story of the night when the old miser had brought Nita to Gray Gables as his ward.

"Now, Jack, you know you can defy anybody in the world except old Miser Farnham, and you daren't do that. He claims her now, and all you can do is to let her go back up yonder to Gray Gables and queen it over us again," she ended bitterly.

She was frightened at the terrible explosion of wrath that followed her words. The man raved and stormed, and she, although a fury to every one else, cowered in silence under his wrath. She knew that in spite of himself he must yield to the mysterious power the old miser held over them both. From the cot where he lay half-dead in Bellevue, he seemed to reach out a hand in grim menacing that cowed burly Jack Dineheart into instant, though grumbling, obedience.

"If I had known this I would have drowned Nita in the sea before I would have brought her back here," he growled.

But when Meg proposed to take the girl immediately back to Gray Gables, he did not interpose the least objection. The woman unlocked the cabin-door and entered, finding Nita sobbing hysterically upon the old ragged lounge.

"Dry up that sniveling, girl, and come along with me up to Gray Gables!" she cried roughly.

Nita sprang up in trembling hope.

"Do you mean it, Meg? Oh, will you indeed be so kind?" she faltered.

"Yes, I mean it, and I hope you won't forget Jack and me for our goodness. We are poor as dirt, you know, and it's worth a pretty penny to rescue you from prison and bring you safe back to Pirate Beach," grunted the hag, making the most she could out of her son's enforced relinquishment of his prize.

"Oh, I will reward you richly! You and Jack shall have handfuls of gold to-morrow," promised the grateful girl, and, leaning on Meg's arm, for she was very weak, Nita left the cabin, and proceeded slowly toward Gray Gables.

She saw no more of her rough suitor, for, furious with disappointment, he had taken himself out of the way.

Nita's heart beat high with hope as she neared her home. Meg had not thought of telling her th

at Miser Farnham was yet alive, and the girl could think of nothing except how soon she would be reunited to her young husband.

More than six weeks had elapsed since Nita and Lizette had left Gray Gables for the yachting excursion with Dorian Mountcastle that had resulted so disastrously. Yet, how familiar everything looked as the girl went with weak, faltering footsteps up the broad steps into the lighted hall.

The broad front doors were wide open, and also the parlor door. From it came the sound of gay voices and merry laughter. Meg Dineheart, with a love of sensation, dragged Nita to this door.

The Courtneys had several city guests lingering still, and Donald Kayne had joined them but a short while before. He sat near the window, with a dull, dazed look on his face, speaking but little, and listening with an effort to the careless words of the guests.

Upon this scene broke the bent figure of the old fortune-teller, with Nita by her side.

Mrs. Courtney was entertaining a guest in her most stately manner, but the words she was uttering died unspoken on her lips, and she sprang up with a strangled cry of alarmed surprise:

"Nita Farnham!"

"Nita Farnham!" echoed Azalea, in appalled tones, as though she had seen a ghost.

Ere Nita could speak old Meg's thin, rasping voice broke upon the hubbub of surprise, exclaiming:

"Yes, it's Nita Farnham, ma'am, sure enough. She wasn't drowned at sea, in spite of the storm. My son saved her life, and brought her back to Pirate Beach to-night. I hope you're glad to see her back," and she pushed Nita into a chair near the door and retreated, leaving her charge alone among them.

The eyes of the guests were upon the Courtneys, and no matter how they felt, it was incumbent on them to welcome Nita in a cordial manner. Nita got two cold little pecks on the cheek from mother and daughter, and some little murmurs of affection that she took at their true valuation.

Introductions followed, but Nita was weary, and rose from her seat, saying faintly that she would go to her room.

Some one came forward and offered his arm, and she shrank and trembled when she perceived that it was Donald Kayne. He bent and whispered, inaudibly, to the others:

"Say nothing yet, I beseech you. I was mad to do what I did, but God only knows the suffering that drove me to desperation."

In spite of herself Nita's heart was touched with pity. He had treated her infamously, yet somehow she could not hate him. Her tender heart always ached over the secret she could not betray to him, and her dreams were often haunted by the name "Pepita," that he had uttered in such a tragic tone.

She raised her dark, reproachful eyes to his face, and whispered sadly:

"You need not fear me."

But she was trembling so that she could not touch his offered arm, and she looked appealingly at Mrs. Courtney.

"I would like for Mrs. Hill to attend me to my room," she said gently.

"My dear girl, the housekeeper has an evening out, but I will attend you myself," was the affectionate reply, and Mrs. Courtney, coming forward, led Nita up-stairs and unlocked the door of her room.

"Mrs. Hill found it necessary to lock your room," she said. "That old woman you came with to-night has been prowling about here trying to steal something."

She pushed open the windows and let in the cool air. Then she lighted a lamp, adding carelessly:

"Everything is just as you left it, my dear. Although we believed you dead, it seemed best to trouble nothing until after your guardian's recovery."

Nita had sunk down wearily upon a lounge, her dark head falling among the satin pillows, but at those words she rose up with a startled cry:

"My-my-guardian!"

Mrs. Courtney, settling herself cozily into an easy chair, replied blandly:

"Oh, I forgot you went away with Dorian that day, and did not hear about Miser Farnham's terrible accident."

"But, yes, I did, Mrs. Courtney, oh, yes. They told me on the yacht that night. Captain Van Hise told me-that my guardian had been killed on the elevated railroad," Nita cried eagerly, breathlessly.

"He was mistaken," Mrs. Courtney answered placidly. "He was severely wounded, and it was believed that he would certainly die, but he is still alive at Bellevue Hospital, and although nothing but a wreck still, the doctors and nurses say that he will be sure to recover."

She never forgot the white horror of the girl's face, nor the anguish of despair in her eyes.

"Alive?" cried Nita wildly, "alive? Why, how can that be? I am married to Dorian, you know!"

"Yes; and it was a very reprehensible affair, I think," Mrs. Courtney answered stiffly. "An elopement always carries with it the odor of disgrace."

But Nita was deaf to her words of blame. With a stifled moan of the bitterest despair, she fell back unconscious.

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