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   Chapter 28 THE OTHER CLAIMANT.

They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 12698

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The sensation was three days old before it came to Donald Kayne's knowledge. He had been out on one of his favorite yachting expeditions. Wild, restless, moody, he loved the sea, with its fierce unrest. It seemed like his own nature, restless and stormy.

He came back to New York, and, taking up a newspaper at his club, was attracted by some sensational headlines at the top of a column, and proceeded to read the whole story with breathless interest.

It came upon him like a terrible shock. Within the hour he was on his way to Pirate Beach. When he came in sight of Gray Gables, he beheld a funeral cortège moving away from its doors. Miser Farnham was being borne to the graveyard to his eternal rest, followed by old Meg Dineheart as chief mourner.

By the side of the old woman rode her son, the burly sailor who had come into port a few hours previous, and professed to be quite shocked at the news of the murder.

To several persons he professed profound regret, saying that the miser had been a lifelong friend of his mother, and had often befriended himself, having made him a present of his little fishing-bark.

Donald Kayne watched the funeral procession winding its solemn way along the sands, then rode on to Gray Gables to see the Courtneys.

They met him with effusion. They had much to tell him of that shocking girl, Nita; how badly she had treated her old husband, and how she had deceived poor Dorian Mountcastle. And they did not fail to tell him of Azalea's engagement to the titled Englishman, who was soon to follow her to the United States.

Donald Kayne listened eagerly to everything. At the end of it all he offered Azalea his polite congratulations, and asked if Dorian had turned against Nita, or if he believed in her still. When they told him that Dorian believed in her still, and had employed a lawyer to defend her at the trial, his face changed, and he said warmly:

"Dorian was always noble."

Then they tried to draw him out, to find out what he thought of the case, but he would not say one word either way. He was entirely non-committal. They were piqued, remembering his old enmity against Nita, and his threats of revenge. Surely he ought to rejoice now at the proud girl's fall.

"Where is Dorian now?" he asked, and they told him that Dorian and Captain Van Hise had taken quarters near the jail where Nita was confined, that they might visit her every day. They had tried to get her out on bail, but had been refused.

"You have been to see her?" he asked, knowing well what the answer would be.

"My dear Mr. Kayne, a murderess!" and Mrs. Courtney lifted her aristocratic hands in dismay.

"That remains to be proven, you know!" he said quietly, and arose to take leave.

They pressed him to remain, but he told them he wanted to see old Meg again. He might return in the evening. He went slowly through the grounds, haunted by the memory of the apparition he had seen on his last visit to Gray Gables. Was it real, or a phantasm of a tortured fancy? He could not decide.

"Oh, Pepita, Pepita! only to unravel the mystery of your fate, and the mystery of your flight, what would I not give?" he groaned.

He loitered on the lonely shore. The surf rolled up to his feet with a hollow murmur, and receded. Far off, the tapering white sails of an outwardbound ship glimmered on the horizon like a fading hope, and was lost to sight.

He was well armed this time, and carried a goodly store of gold, believing that both were necessary to the success of his mission to old Meg. Suddenly, the sunset light faded out, and the sky grew dark with storm-clouds, while a fast-rising gale began to toss the waves into hurrying foam.

"Ah! a little bit of a storm. I must hasten my steps," he thought, and walked on briskly, but it grew dark ere he reached the cabin, and the sound of voices from the open doorway arrested his steps.

"She is talking to some one. I will wait," he decided, drawing back, and then he heard:

"If we play our cards well, Jack, she will certainly be hanged, and we can manage to claim all the money."

"But what about the other claimant, mom?-the woman you told me of that came here almost fifteen years ago in search of the little Nita, that you hid until she was gone? What if she turns up and unearths the whole plot? She would get all, for old Farnham said she was Juan de Castro's own sister."

"She will never turn up, Jack, for she followed the miser up to Gray Gables, and I believe he murdered her, for she has never been seen since, and there was a man here not many months ago who offered me untold gold if I would tell him aught of the missing woman."

At those portentous words from the old fortune-teller to her son, Donald Kayne reeled backward with a smothered cry of agony.

For almost fifteen years a little spark of hope had glowed faintly in his heart. Surely, surely, he would some day find the woman once so madly loved and so strangely lost out of his life!

Alas! old Meg's revelation to her son had trampled out the last spark of hope. No need of his gold to buy her secret now. It was his for nothing.

So Pepita had come to Pirate Beach in search of a child-of Nita? What was the child to her that she had risked so much and suffered death for its sake? In learning so much of the missing woman, Donald Kayne had stumbled upon another mystery. Old Meg had spoken of a plot. Who were the actors concerned in it?

She had spoken of a treasure, too, that she and her son might claim if Nita were hanged. What was it? Where was it? And who was Nita? No one could believe that she was anything to the old wretch who had accused her to the authorities of the miser's murder.

His thoughts flew to the hapless girl at whose feet he had prayed in vain for the secret of the serpent-ring. His mind grew clearer now, and seemed to pierce the mystery.

The miser had murdered Pepita-so Meg believed. Then he had given Nita the serpent-ring, and no doubt bound her by a promise not to betray the giver.

And Pepita! What had been her fate? Where was she now? Were her unburied bones whitening in some unknown vault at Gray Gables? It came to him suddenly that it must be so, for that night when she had appeared to him she had vanished into air against the basement wall.

"She is there, and I will pull do

wn every stone in that old house but what I will find my darling," he groaned, and as these thoughts flashed through his mind he heard Jack Dineheart continuing:

"A man offered you money for the secret, you say? I hope you were not such a fool as to betray it."

"Not I-I was too sharp for that," grinned Meg, and then Donald Kayne knew that but for the information he had gathered by accident, he would never have been able to learn the secret of Pepita's fate.

He silently thanked Heaven that had sent him there so opportunely to hear the conversation that was not intended for his ears. He lingered, hoping to hear more, but the lowering storm-clouds suddenly poured out a torrent of rain, and Jack, muttering a curse on the elements, arose and shut the cabin door.

Donald Kayne, drenched to the skin, staggered away from the place, buffeted by the mad elements, but almost unconscious of it all in the excitement of his mind.

He was thinking profoundly of all that he had heard, and muttered fiercely again:

"I will tear down every stone at Gray Gables but what I will find my darling, and give her poor bones decent burial, so that at last she may rest in peace in her lonely grave."

Heedless of the warring elements, and with his heart on fire with pain, he trudged on toward his hotel, not caring to claim the hospitality of Gray Gables in his present drenched condition.

The secret he had just heard had given a new, remorseful impetus to his thoughts. They were painfully divided between Pepita dead and Nita living. What connection was there between the two women, and what wrong had Nita suffered at the hands of the old miser and Meg? Therein lay a mystery he longed to fathom.

A great revulsion had come over him. He had persecuted Nita and avowed himself her enemy. He realized now that he had wronged an innocent, helpless girl by his cruelty and hasty judgment.

How nobly she had behaved toward him. To no one had she confided the story of her imprisonment at Fortune's Bay; no one dreamed but that it was Jack Dineheart who had saved her life and brought her home. By her silence when revenge was in her power she had nobly punished her foe.

"May Heaven help me to atone and win her pardon," he prayed.

And at the earliest hour permissible on the morrow he went to the prison.

To the last hour of his life he never forgot the thrill of pain at his heart when he first beheld Nita sitting in that dejected attitude with her dark head bowed so wearily, and her small hands folded in her lap. The serpent-ring still gleamed on her wasted finger; but it woke no anger in him now, only intense emotion.

She rose mechanically at his entrance, but no smile lit up the sadness of her great dark eyes. She knew him only as her foe; she believed that he had come to exult over her misery.

But just as he had knelt to her a year ago Donald Kayne knelt now, and bending his proud head, kissed the hem of her gray gown.

"Nita-Miss Farnham-I crave your pardon for the past," he murmured humbly.

She was so taken by surprise she could only stare at him with parted lips, from which there came no speech, and he continued:

"I deserve no pity from you, I know, but my heart is torn with remorse for my fault, and the desire of my life is to prove my repentance for my sin. I hope, too, that I may be able to serve you in your undeserved trouble. Will you-can you pardon the past, and be my friend?"

The heavy eyes grew brighter, and she held out her little hand.

"I forgive you, and I am glad to be friends with you," she answered nobly, and it seemed to him she was more angel than woman. He sat down beside her then, and, after thanking her, with moist eyes, for her goodness, made her his confidant in the affair of last night, ending frankly:

"I came here to ask you if you will permit me to explore Gray Gables, in the hope of finding out what I have sought to know so long. I tell you frankly I have sworn to pull down every stone in that old house, but that I will find Pepita. But I am very rich, Nita, and if I tear it down I will rebuild it again."

She gazed at him with eager, sympathetic eyes, and answered:

"What you have told me, sir, makes me believe that I have been the victim of a foul wrong at the hands of old Meg and Farnham, and since he is dead now there can no longer exist any reason for the silence I swore to keep over his secret. I will confide to you the story of the serpent-ring."

And then and there she told him of the day when she had lost her way in the dark old corridors and blundered upon the miser's secret-the gold-vault and the skeleton-woman.

She never forgot his smothered groan of despair when the awful story had been rehearsed. It haunted her long after he had gone, and her heart was so full of pain that in sympathy for him she almost forgot her own sorrows.

At length Dorian came to make the brief daily visit permitted by the authorities, and then she told him of her visitor, and his overtures of friendship.

Dorian frowned darkly at first when she spoke of his old friend and later foe, but Nita said in that sweet, irresistible voice of hers:

"Dorian, I forgave him, and so must you, dear."

"It is impossible--" he began, but one look from the tender eyes stopped his speech.

"It is not impossible, Dorian. Why, you forgave me for deceiving you so dreadfully, and so you can forgive him, too. Only think what he suffered, and how frantic he must have been over my seeming obstinacy. But now he repents everything, and I know from what he said that he is going to help find the real murderer if he can. And, dear, he used to love you and you loved him. Ah, Dorian, won't you make up your quarrel with him, and be at peace? If you love me, do not refuse me."

She coaxed until he promised to seek Donald Kayne and resume the old friendship; then she gave him her whole confidence, and he knew at last how the men on Kayne's yacht had saved her life the night she and Lizette had been washed overboard by the stormy billows. He was most indignant when he learned that she had been imprisoned at Fortune's Bay, but again her soft entreaties stemmed the current of his wrath.

"He was mad with grief and pain, do not forget that, Dorian, nor his repentance now," she murmured, with sweet forgiveness.

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