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   Chapter 25 LET US DIE TOGETHER.

They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 16267

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"A gentleman to see Miss Farnham."

Nita was in her ball-dress. There were pearls and diamonds at her throat, and in the wavy masses of her hair.

"Who?" she asked carelessly.

"He did not send his card; he said to tell you a friend. He is waiting in the private parlor."

Nita thought carelessly that it was one of her many lovers come to lay heart and hand and fortune at her feet, and get the same answer she had given others:

"I have no love to give."

She had a tender heart, but it vexed her when men wooed her.

"I am no coquette. I do not encourage them. Why will they not leave me alone?" she thought impatiently.

And it was on her lips to decline to see the caller. The next moment she reflected that if she declined to-night he would come again to-morrow. The unpleasant moment was only deferred.

"I will go, I will have it over!" she exclaimed, and took up her bouquet.

"I will pretend that I am in a great hurry to start to the ball," she thought.

As she entered the parlor a man stood at an open window, breathing in the sweetness of the fair spring night. As Nita softly closed the door he came forward into the light, and stood revealed, tall, fair, handsome-Dorian Mountcastle!

A thrilling heart-cry escaped from Nita's lips:

"Dorian!"

"Nita, my love, my bride!" cried the young man, and caught her in his arms, straining her fondly to his throbbing heart.

She did not resist him. How could she forego the ecstasy of that embrace, the warm, intoxicating sweetness of that kiss? For one moment she forgot the gulf between them. Her arms crept up about his neck and held him close and tenderly-her lips clung to his. Eden came back for a few moments to earth again. He pressed the beautiful form closely to his breast.

Ah, the gladness, the madness, after believing her dead and lost to him forever on earth, to find her once again, so beautiful, so tender, and so loving, alive in his arms. He drew her at last to a seat, and whispered lovingly:

"Speak to me, my darling. Let me be sure this is no dream!"

"No dream," she murmured happily, then asked, with a smile. "How came you to find me, Dorian?"

"My love, my bride, how beautiful you are," he murmured, "and to think that I believed you dead, drowned in the cruel sea!"

She gave a convulsive start, she drew back a little from him, the joy went out of her face. But there was a mist of actual tears-tears of joy-in Dorian's eyes, and he did not note the curious change on her face.

"Ah, Nita, how I have suffered!" he cried. "When they told me you were dead, and that it was your wraith I saw on the yacht that night at Fortune's Bay, I went mad with grief. They have told me that I tried to kill myself, that I raved like a madman. But I remembered nothing for weary days until the reawakening to memory of my loss. Ah, love, pardon me these wild words, but it seemed to me that without you I was in hell-in torment without hope of release! Then Van Hise brought me abroad, but, oh, the long, long months of dark despair that followed-I will not dwell on them, my darling, now that I have found you again. And is it not strange I was so long finding out the truth? You must have written me, of course, love. Is it not strange your letters did not reach me? And all the while, my precious one, you must have been wearying for me as I for you, is it not so, sweetheart?

"In Norway one night some fellows with us were speaking of beautiful women they had met, and your name was mentioned, my darling-your old name, Nita Farnham. I was struck speechless with emotion, but Van Hise, my true friend, came to the rescue. He asked questions, he learned where you were-you and the Courtneys. The news seemed too good to be true, but Van Hise and I left the party and traveled night and day to reach London, and find out if it were really my bride given back to me from the dead. Thank God, thank God, it is true, we are reunited never to part again!"

But, to his amazement, she drew back from his proffered kiss, she recoiled a little from him, whispering in a frightened voice:

"Do not make too sure of that, Dorian!"

Mountcastle threw back his handsome head with a happy laugh.

"No coquetry, my darling, it is quite too late for that," he replied gaily. "You are all my own, you know, and now that I have found you I shall never leave you again."

His arm tightened about her waist, his eyes beamed adoring love into hers, but she trembled and gasped in deadly fear as he held her close. She loved him madly, adoringly, but her soul was as pure as a white rose-leaf, and she knew that to remain with Dorian would be deadly sin.

Oh, why had he found her here? why had they met again, only to part in despair? Better if he had gone on believing her dead, as she would, alas! be soon. No thought came to her that it might be best to confess all to Dorian, and ask him to help her out of her terrible strait. She did not know that anything but death could absolve her from her wifely vows to her husband. She understood his malignant nature well enough to know that he would pursue her to the ends of the earth if she tried to escape him. And in her stainless purity she would sooner have died than seek refuge from him in Dorian's arms.

"Oh, Dorian, Dorian, it breaks my heart to tell you," she sobbed; "but-but our marriage was all a mistake, I-I can never be your wife."

"Are you going mad, my darling? You are my wife already, you know," he replied wonderingly.

"No, Dorian, no; it was all a mistake, I tell you. I told you always that I could never marry you while my guardian lived. Captain Van Hise told me that night that he was dead, and so I consented to be married. But there was a mistake. Mr. Farnham was not dead. He lives-he claims me-so I cannot be yours."

Dorian Mountcastle laughed at her childish fears.

"His death or his life makes no difference now," he replied soothingly. "You belong to me alone, and no power on earth can take you from me. Perhaps he has some hold on your fortune. Is that what you mean? Let him have every penny, Nita. I have enough."

"Dorian, words are useless. I never can be yours. We must part."

He looked at her in amazement. He grew impatient at what he considered a silly whim.

"I do not understand all these silly fancies, Nita," he burst out angrily. "Perhaps you have ceased to love me, perhaps you have repented our marriage-is it so?"

"Yes, I repent it," she replied despairingly.

A flood of jealous rage poured like molten lava through his veins.

"You have met some one you love better?" he cried, in a voice so strange from excess of keen emotion that it did not sound like his own.

"No; ah, no, my love, my Dorian," she moaned, and suddenly flung herself at his feet. "Oh, I love you. I love you. I love you," she cried passionately, as she knelt there with upraised eyes.

Startled by her emotion, he stooped to raise her, but she resisted the effort.

"No; let me kneel here humbly at your feet and thank you for your love while I implore your pardon for my weakness," she sobbed. "Oh, Dorian, there can never be any happiness for us, dearest, while Charles Farnham lives. If he were dead-if he were only dead-we might be happy. I wish that he had died that night when he was hurt. Oh, Dorian, he holds a power over me that you do not dream of. We must part, my own dear love, we must go our ways in life alone unless--"

She paused a moment, and searched his face with eager eyes.

"Ah, Dorian, do you love me very, very much?" she sighed.

"Better than the whole world, better than my own soul!" he answered fervently.

And a low sigh of gladness heaved her breast.

"A terrible temptation has come to me, Dorian. We love each other so well that life apart would be worse than death. And yet-yet-we must part. Oh, Dorian, let us foil our malignant fate. Let us die together."

Surely she must be going mad to talk in this strange fashion when there was nothing that could come between their wedded hearts, nothing that could keep them apart. He spoke to her soothingly, tenderly, but

she only became more wildly agitated.

"Do you think that I talk strangely?" she cried. "Oh, Dorian, I have heard and read of lovers who died in each other's arms rather than live apart. Let us follow their example. A drop of poison-poison that will kill easily, you know-and, locked in each other's arms, we may drift together-always together, darling-into heaven or hell, or whatever home God gives to reckless, broken-hearted lovers. What say you, Dorian? Shall it be so?"

And she gazed wildly into his horrified face.

Dorian gazed in mingled grief and horror at the beautiful girl. Surely she must be mad, he thought. Then his heart sank. Had her love turned from him in their long months of separation?

Dorian had a passionately jealous nature, and the fear of Nita's fickleness once admitted to his mind, caught fire and burned like a devouring flame. The girl's eager, beseeching eyes beheld all at once a strange change pass over his fair, handsome face, and, rising, he pushed her from him, crying out angrily:

"I understand you, Nita. In the months of our separation you have wearied of me. Do not deny it, for I will not listen to your protestations. A moment ago I thought you must be mad, now I perceive that there is method in your madness. You chafe at the tie that binds us together. You would fain be free, so you pretend this baseless fear of your guardian. Fickle heart, you have wrecked my life! I adored you, but you found my love only a weariness. Well, take your freedom! I go, never to molest you again."

The white, crouching figure lifted a pallid, woful face, and moaned:

"Oh, Dorian, will you leave me? Must I die alone?"

"Die!" the husband sneered angrily. "No, you will live to make some other fool happy a while, as you did me, then throw him over in this heartless fashion!"

All Dorian's old cynical distrust of woman's love was returning, supplemented by jealous agony too deep for words. It seemed to him that Nita was simply playing a part, pretending this unreasoning dread of her guardian's anger.

"Dorian, my love, forgive my weakness!" pleaded Nita wildly; but his eyes flashed back only a limitless wrath and scorn.

"Forgive you! no-not while life lasts! But-farewell forever!"

Then the door opened and closed-Dorian was gone in anger, and Nita was alone with her despair, her heart breaking with its heavy burden.

Slowly and wearily she dragged herself back to her room. She was glad the maid was not there to see her pale, changed face and crumpled ball-gown. She closed the door, and mechanically removed the bitter traces of tears from her face and rearranged her dress.

"For I must not stay away from the ball. That shallow Azalea would think I envied her triumph," she thought in bitter pride, and as one goes to the stake she accompanied the Courtneys to Lady Landon's ball, never telling them that Dorian had sought her out, and that she had sent him away from her, reckless and broken-hearted.

But when Dorian read of it all in the next day's papers that praised the beauty of Miss Farnham, the lovely American, and told how the Earl of Winthrop had paid her such devoted attention, he smiled in bitter mockery.

"It is just as I thought-there is a title in the case, and she means to repudiate me. American girls all run wild over coronets nowadays," he said bitterly, to Captain Van Hise, to whom he had confided the story of Nita's strange behavior.

Van Hise was frankly puzzled. He had believed in beautiful Nita, and he would not give up his faith yet. He remembered the night of the marriage, how she had refused her consent until he had told her that the old miser was dead.

"There is something very strange here. I honestly believe in her professed dread of her guardian," he said thoughtfully. "And as for the title, Dorian, you know how we were told of her coldness and indifference to all her suitors. No, she cares for no one but you, but she will let her guardian's influence wreck both your lives unless you take the matter frankly in hand. What say you? Shall we go home to New York, and have it out with the old miser? Beard the lion in his den, and find out the worst of his power. You consent? Good. We will sail this week."

Lady Landon's ball had indeed been a great success, and the Courtneys were highly elated over the admiration excited by Azalea's delicate blond beauty. Her future sister-in-law had been quite cordial, too, but in her secret heart she would have preferred the magnificent Nita with her calm manner and queenly beauty. She hinted as much to her brother, but he told her bitterly that Miss Farnham aspired to higher rank than a mere baronet, and the attentions of Lord Winthrop certainly lent color to the assertion.

The Courtneys were eager to return to the United States, whither they expected Sir George Merlin to follow them. They wanted to astonish their old set in New York with Azalea's grand match. Then, too, Mrs. Courtney did not desire to offend the old man who had ordered her with no uncertain sound to bring Nita home.

But her charge had set her face like a flint against returning. Rebellious and desperate thoughts were working in the young girl's mind. Why should she return to America? That was the question that tortured her night and day. She had resolved to die rather than live with her husband, and in a few more weeks the end of the year would come. A dreadful existence stretched before her-the price she must pay for this year of luxury-this year that might have been almost happy but for the madness of love that had come so suddenly and so irresistibly into her life.

"Oh, Dorian, Dorian, I loved you but to lose you-yet I cannot live without you-so I will end my life and its sorrows," she sobbed in the sleepless silence of the night. In her short, eventful life she had had few chances to make real friends, and she had no kins-people except old Meg Dineheart, who had declared herself on that first night at Pirate Beach to be her grandmother. For this reason Nita had protected her from arrest for her crimes, but she shuddered and grew heart-sick at the thought of sustaining any relationship to the wicked old hag, and often longed for a mother's love.

"I am alone in the world, with no right to love and happiness like other girls, and surely God will forgive me for ending my wretched life," she sobbed, and began to plan the way in which to end "life's fitful fever."

Mrs. Courtney thought it a strange whim when, instead of attending the opera one evening, Nita went to church. She knew afterward the meaning of the fancy she had combated all in vain. Nita went to church to pray and ask God's pardon for the wicked deed she was about to commit.

She smiled in mournful mockery when her worldly-minded chaperon tried to argue her out of going.

"Dear Mrs. Courtney, I can take my maid; I need not deprive you of the pleasure," she said sadly. "But as for me, I do not care for music to-night. I would rather hear some godly words and prayers."

"It is time enough for piety when you are old and gray," the woman said cynically, and Nita gave her a strange, sad glance.

"What if I do not live to grow old-if I die in my early youth?" she queried.

Mrs. Courtney shrugged her shoulders without replying; but after Nita had gone out, she said significantly to Azalea.

"I think she is suffering from a temporary aberration of the mind. You have noticed how quiet, almost morose, she has been lately. I shall take her home to her guardian without delay. There must be something wrong with her mind, the way she has carried on since she married Dorian."

But Nita had her way and went to church, and if ever a tortured soul, about to launch itself into eternity, prayed earnestly for the pity and pardon of Heaven, she did that night.

And the next morning Mrs. Courtney had a shock that she never forgot till her dying day. Nita's maid came rushing into her room with a pallid face and staring eyes.

"Oh, madam, I've found Miss Farnham dead in her bed with a bottle of poison by her side!" she almost shrieked.

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