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   Chapter 26 YOU SHALL KNOW THE SECRET.

They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 14386

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In a shabby third-story room of a cheap apartment-house in New York, old Miser Farnham was sitting alone. The hideous old man was, if possible, even more forbidding than on that day in Central Park when the unhappy Nita had shuddered at the first sight of him, then yielded to his temptations, and became his reluctant bride.

The leering hideousness of his face a year ago was increased now by several livid scars received in the railway accident that had almost cost him his life, and his stooping frame was lean and gaunt, his shabby clothing hanging loosely on him.

Thin, grizzled locks straggled over his brow under the worn old hat that he wore habitually in-doors and out, and his keen, gray eyes gleamed with a diabolical light of triumph as they scanned the pages of a letter received several days previous from Mrs. Courtney.

"So she is coming home, my lovely bride," he chuckled to himself. "Coming home, and it lacks barely two weeks to the day when I shall claim her for my own. I wonder if she has come to her senses yet, and if she has concluded that life as an old man's darling with unlimited cash is better than the deep, dark river."

"More beautiful than ever, with a score of titled lovers," he read from Mrs. Courtney's sycophantic letter. "Ha, ha! to think of carrying her off from them all. To think of marrying Juan de Castro's daughter. It is a wonder he does not rise from the grave! Ugh! what if he should"-and he shrank and cowered in sudden fear, whining out-"I do not believe in ghosts."

The miser had one weakness. He believed in the supernatural, and feared it. Many a night he cowered beneath the counterpane, with his hand before his eyes, afraid to look out into the dark lest he encounter some menacing ghost from a wicked past.

The old man had reached the acme of his plans and hopes and ambitions. His marriage to Nita had secured things that else were doubtful. Let her but come now willingly or unwillingly to his arms, and the triumph of his life would be achieved.

He chuckled in fiendish glee, remembering these things, and thinking of the life he would lead with Nita, for he determined that then he would throw off his miserly habits and live in splendor.

What though all New York had sneered at Farnham, the miser, it would open its doors to the millionaire with the beautiful bride for whom titled lovers had sighed in vain, and with whom one of the richest men in New York had eloped in his yacht, creating the greatest sensation of the hour.

Yes, society would rave over her wealth and her beauty; and, by and by-if she used him well-perhaps it might be discovered that the unknown waif had descended from rich and high-born parents. Yes, this was just possible, if Nita should be kind to him. If she were not, if she were not-and he ground his teeth-woe to the heiress, her fate be on her own head.

Just then there came a swift and loud rat-tat upon his door. Visitors to Miser Farnham were things unknown. He started up, trembling. Again there sounded a loud, impatient knock. He advanced with faltering steps and threw open the door.

Before him stood two men. He had seen them both before, and as they stepped over the threshold of the room he confronted them with a snarl of hate.

"I know you both, Captain Van Hise and Mr. Mountcastle. What is your business with me?" he queried curtly.

Van Hise laughed sarcastically at this cool reception.

"Mr. Farnham, you certainly come to the point at once," he exclaimed airily, "so we will not delay what we came for. You know this gentleman, of course, as the husband of your lovely ward, Miss Farnham?"

He nodded at Dorian, and the old miser scowled.

"I have heard of the gentleman," he said angrily.

"Very well. Mr. Farnham, we have come here to ask if you have any objection to him as your ward's husband."

Dorian, with his hat in his hand, stepped in front of the old man, and gazed earnestly into his face.

What a contrast they presented, these two, Dorian in his fair beauty, and the grotesquely ugly, snarling old miser.

Van Hise's courteous question shook the old man with jealous rage, and he asked sullenly:

"What can my objections matter since he is already her husband? If the bond is a legal one, I have no power to break it."

Then Dorian spoke.

"We know that," he said in a troubled voice, yet with a frank, manly, half-appealing air. "Yet, strange to say, sir, my bride stands in such mysterious fear of your displeasure that she refuses to live with me-throws me off as if I had no claim on her loyalty."

"You have seen Nita? When?" queried Farnham, with a grin.

"In London, barely a week ago-our first interview since our marriage-night-and I sailed the next day to see you."

"To see me! Why? If she repudiates the marriage, what can I do?" insolently.

"You can remove the mysterious barrier you have placed between my darling's heart and mine. She loves me, but she fears you with a strange, unreasoning terror. She has told me that only for the report of your death she would not have married me at all. My God, sir! what is the secret of your malign power over the hapless girl?" demanded the unhappy young husband stormily.

Farnham glared back at him with a savage fury, as though he would be glad to rend him limb from limb. He put his clenched hands behind him, as though to restrain the wild beast in him.

"So you acknowledge my power over your bride? You would like to know the secret of it?" he hissed in a voice of exultant malice.

"Yes," groaned Dorian in a hollow voice.

And for a few moments there was silence. The miser took a few slow, meditative turns up and down the room. Suddenly, he turned back to Dorian, and said:

"You wish to know the secret of my power over Nita? Very well. I cannot gratify you to-night, but I will appoint a day not far distant for the important disclosure."

"But, my dear sir, my friend is positively ill with suspense, and the sooner you gratify his desire the sooner can the barrier to his happiness be removed," interposed Captain Van Hise suavely.

Farnham turned on him with a grim smile.

"You think the barrier can be removed, eh? We shall see," he said, laughing sardonically; then added: "Gladly would I gratify Mr. Mountcastle's wish to-night. In fact, I should be delighted to do so, but I am not at liberty to reveal the secret. I am bound by a solemn contract not to speak of it for one year. That year, gentlemen, expires on the tenth day of June-barely a week hence."

"We must wait, then," Dorian said, with a suppressed sigh, turning to go.

"One moment!" exclaimed the miser, lifting a detaining hand as he continued:

"When you came in I was reading a letter from Mrs. Courtney, in which she writes me that she will bring Nita home at once-in fact, will meet me at Pirate Beach the tenth of June, for the transaction of some very important business between my ward and myself. Gentlemen, I invite you also to meet me on the evening of the tenth of June, at my seaside home, Gray Gables, at Pirate Beach. You shall hear then, from Nita's own lips, the story of the barrier between your hearts, and then you can

judge better if it be removable. Will you come?"

"We will come," they both answered in a breath, and bowed themselves out, full of wonder and consternation, for the old miser's manner had impressed them both with grim forebodings.

* * *

The tide was coming in with its low, murmurous monotone, washing the silvery sands at Pirate Beach, and the moon was rising full-orbed and majestic, lighting the twilight scene into weird beauty.

It was the tenth of June, the fatal anniversary of Nita's marriage to the old miser-the anniversary of her meeting with Dorian, the one love of her life.

Up at Gray Gables lights flashed from all the windows, and rumor said that the travelers had come home. Far up the beach old Meg Dineheart was pacing back and forth, watching for her son's bark, that had been absent several months.

"Will Jack ever come home again, I wonder? It seems a year since he went," she muttered, with a touch of forlornness, for the one affection of her lonely life was big, burly Jack, her handsome, wicked son. She had been expecting him now for several days, and was growing uneasy and impatient at his strange delay. Suddenly, a rude hand gripped her shoulder, and whirled her around face to face with Farnham.

"Good evening, old lady! 'Pon my soul, you look quite romantic star-gazing here alone," he exclaimed gibingly.

"So you're back, you devil!" she hissed. "What fiend's errand are you on now, I wonder?"

"To ask you to congratulate me on my success in achieving the great ambition of my life, Meg."

"I don't know what you mean, Farnham."

"No, but I am here to tell you that the propitious fates have brought to me an hour of glorious triumph, and rewarded all my schemings with success. Come inside the house, and let me tell you the sequel of the story you heard one year ago to-night."

She turned toward the cabin, the old miser following closely, and neither noticed that Jack Dineheart's trim fishing-boat had come into sight, and was riding into anchor close to shore. When the door had closed upon the wicked pair of plotters, the sailor rowed over to land in a tiny little boat, and sprang lightly up the beach toward his mother's cabin.

"Poor old soul, I wonder if she's yet alive," he pondered.

And, stepping lightly to the smoke-grimed old window of the cabin, he peered through with bated breath for a sight of old Meg. He recoiled with a stifled cry just as Nita had done a year ago that night, for the self-same sight met his startled eyes.

Old Meg and Miser Farnham were seated by a table in earnest conversation.

"Humph! hatching some new mischief, I suppose," muttered Jack, bending his ear to a convenient knot-hole in order to catch their words.

The sea boomed on the shore, the moonlight silvered the waves, the wind sighed eerily round the old cabin, and the words that Jack Dineheart heard that hour paved the way for a fateful tragedy.

"You say that Nita has come home to Gray Gables, yet how can that be?" cried Meg. "It was only yesterday that I was up there, and Mrs. Hill, the old housekeeper, was wringing her hands and crying because she had seen in a New York paper several days old that Nita had killed herself in a London hotel by taking poison."

"It was true-and false," answered Farnham angrily. "I had a letter from Mrs. Courtney telling me all about it. She drank laudanum, and it threw her into a deep sleep. At first they thought she was dead, but a physician succeeded in rousing and restoring her to life, although she has been in a strange, dazed state ever since, and it is thought that she may never recover from the effects of the drug she used. But Mrs. Courtney telegraphed me this morning that they had arrived in New York from Europe, and would proceed immediately to Gray Gables."

Old Meg listened with keen interest to every word, then exclaimed:

"If Nita had committed suicide in the old, wretched days when she was my hard-worked slave I should not have wondered at it, but it puzzles me that she should attempt it now when she is rich and happy as old Farnham's ward."

With a gulp of rage he answered:

"I will tell you why she wished to die. She was married to a man she hated so much that she would die rather than live with him."

"Hated that handsome swell that she eloped with? I don't believe it. The girl loved the very ground he walked on!" cried Meg.

"Yes, she loved Dorian Mountcastle, but he was not her husband," answered the old man. "Listen, Meg, to one of the strangest stories you ever heard."

And, slowly, and with infinite gusto, as though he enjoyed the telling, he related to her the story of that day in Central Park when he had wooed and won beautiful Nita for his reluctant bride. She listened like one turned to stone; not a syllable escaped her, and he ended with ghoulish glee.

"As her husband all of Juan de Castro's wealth is legally mine. I can take open possession of it now, and if questions should be asked I can point to my bride, his daughter, as the lawful heiress."

She started from her trance of silence muttering hoarsely:

"You-you promised to marry me when you took possession of the spoil."

"Be patient, Meg. She will not live long, you ought to know that well. You have known some people who hated me, and then died mysteriously, did they not? Well, this girl, this dark-eyed beauty, she loathes me, and some day-not far distant, perhaps-I shall take deadly revenge for her scorn. But, first, to force her to my arms, to humble her haughty spirit, and break her proud heart. Then your turn will come, Meg. Be patient and wait."

"You are deceiving me, Farnham. You love the daughter as you loved the mother. You will never kill Juanita de Castro when she looks at you with her mother's eyes. You will grovel at her feet for a word of kindness, and Jack and I-Jack, your son, for whose sake I crave the treasure-we will be thrust aside, forgotten! No, no, you traitor, we will not," she rose up and shook her clawlike hands in his face, "no, we will not be trodden upon! We will have revenge, Jack and I will betray you."

He grasped and shook her violently till the breath was almost out of her body, then flung her roughly back into her seat.

"You cat who did my bidding-you and your villainous son-how dare you threaten me? One word from me and you both would swing from a scaffold!" he hissed furiously. "Hold your cursed tongue, or beware of my vengeance!" and with an oath he left the house and took his way toward Gray Gables.

Meg crouched like one dazed in a chair where her assailant had flung her, but Jack Dineheart did not go in to see if she were dead or alive. He followed the miser almost to the gate of Gray Gables with a stealthy, sullen stride, then, suddenly, flung himself on him with resistless fury, and bore him down to the ground.

"Oh, you wretch, you devil, to have married her, the girl you promised in her bonny childhood should be mine, my wife! Oh, you fiend, to take her from me! But I will save poor Nita and avenge myself. Here at the gates of fancied bliss, you die."

A keen blade flashed in the air, then sunk in the man's breast.

* * *

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