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They Looked and Loved By Mrs. Alex McVeigh Miller Characters: 12330

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"But poor Lizette, did you ask him what had been her fate?" asked Dorian anxiously.

"Yes, he told me that Lizette jumped out of the window and sprained her ankle so badly that the doctor said she would not walk for months, so he was compelled to leave her at the Rhodus house. They promised to take the best of care of her, and he gave her money to pay them and to come back to Pirate Beach when she was able to travel. That is the last he has heard of her, but he will write and make inquiries. Oh, Dorian, I miss my good Lizette very much. She loved me dearly, and she would be such a comfort to me now, for since my trouble I do not seem to have but one woman friend, good Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper at Gray Gables."

"And she is a noble old soul, and her friendship is worth having," said Dorian. "But, darling, you will have two more kind friends soon, to stand by you in your trouble. You know I have no near female relatives, but Van Hise has a mother and sister, two of the noblest women in New York, who believe in you so thoroughly, and have such sympathy for you, that they have written him they are coming down here to-day to remain until after your trial, and help you to bear your trouble. Shall you like that, my darling?"

The tears were in her eyes as she listened to him. She had felt so lonely, so deserted, as if the whole world were against her; and the desertion of the Courtneys, their rancor and malice, had cut deeply to her heart.

She had been so good to them; she had loaded them with gifts and favors, and though she knew they did not love her, she had not believed them capable of such heartlessness as they had displayed in persecuting her, and yet staying on so coolly at Gray Gables without the shadow of a right.

Dorian and his soldier friend were most indignant. Van Hise told Nita frankly that as the widow of Charles Farnham, Gray Gables was her own property, and she ought to turn the Courtneys out. But Nita was too noble for paltry revenges. Somewhere in the blood of this girl, whose ancestry was yet unknown, ran a strain of blue blood.

"No, let them stay," she said. "If I could stoop to revenge myself for their treachery I should be as low and base as they are. Besides, I do not forget that the dear Lord is watching over me. I leave all in His hands."

And Captain Van Hise could say no more, but he thought admiringly:

"Jupiter, what a queen she is, and how proud Dorian must be of this grand creature!"

But the tears of joy came into her eyes when Dorian told her of the true woman friends who were on their way to her side.

"Now I love them already!" she cried fervently, and when they came she leaned her weary head on the motherly breast of the elder woman and sobbed like a weary child.

"I have never known a mother's love," she said, and Mrs. Van Hise answered tenderly:

"You shall never miss it again, dear."

"And I will be your sister," added Lena Van Hise, with sympathetic tears in her eyes.

She was a beautiful, slender, sixteen-year-old girl, and Nita, who was not yet nineteen, felt her whole heart attracted to her. In that dark and gloomy prison-cell there began that day a friendship that would last to the end of both their lives.

It was one of the proudest and happiest moments of Donald Kayne's life when Dorian sought him out and proffered anew the firm friendship that had been broken off by their quarrel and the duel. Tears stood in the eyes of both as they clasped hands, and Donald Kayne said huskily:

"I do not deserve this noble forgiveness from you and Nita, but I will do my best to deserve it."

"I am sure you will," was Dorian's hearty reply, for he knew his old friend's sterling worth.

Nita had given the unhappy man such minute directions as to finding the narrow stairway and closed door leading to the gold vault at Gray Gables that he did not think it would be necessary to pull down the old mansion, as he had vowed to do. He confided freely in Dorian and asked him to accompany him on the quest, saying frankly:

"With the gold that Nita saw in the chest I have nothing to do. Doubtless it is the treasure referred to in old Meg's confidences to her son, and of course it belongs to Nita. We must keep the secret of it most carefully until such time as she is ready to take possession of it. But in the woman whose dead body rests unburied in the vault I have a painful interest, the secret of which I will later confide to you. But until her poor bones are laid in the grave and her restless spirit is appeased, I can know no rest or peace."

"Her spirit!" whispered Dorian Mountcastle, in awe.

"Yes, she walks, for I have seen her in the grounds at Gray Gables, and she vanished into air against the basement wall. Poor Pepita, she was trying to lead me to her hiding-place then," groaned Donald Kayne.

"How strange it seems that our chief purpose now is to find and punish the murderer of Farnham, although there is no doubt but that the old villain met a well-deserved fate."

"I believe the guilty party is the wicked old fortune-teller," said Donald Kayne, and Dorian and Captain Van Hise, who were present, agreed with him.

"But we can find neither evidence of her crime nor any motive for it. She has proved, indeed, that she was his lifelong friend," added Dorian dejectedly, for the utter failure to find the least clue to the murderer of Miser Farnham depressed him very much.

He knew how terribly dark was the circumstantial evidence against Nita, and his soul rebelled against the only verdict by which it seemed possible she could escape conviction-emotional insanity.

"I will not believe that even in a moment of insanity, driven mad by her troubles, she could have committed such a terrible deed!" he cried over and over, but yet all the evidence pointed to Nita's guilt, and all the detectives he had set to work could not find a clue to the murderer, nor a single scrap of evidence on which to hang a warrant for charging old Meg with slaying her friend the miser.

Meantime the days flew by, and in less than a week the trial was to come off. There were strong, brave hearts working loy

ally in Nita's cause, and yet they quailed with fear.

The three friends decided to go that day to Gray Gables to search for the vault, but they determined to take no one into their confidence. It would not be safe to let the hiding-place of the miser's gold be known. As they walked toward Gray Gables they met Mrs. Courtney and her daughter promenading on the sands. Both were elaborately attired, and looked self-satisfied and happy.

Azalea met them with joyous smiles, and detained them several moments in friendly conversation, but when they had passed on the dimpling smiles faded from her face, and she said angrily:

"I hate them all for taking that girl's part and believing in her after all the evidence that proved her guilt."

The three friends proceeded to Gray Gables, and it was a perfectly easy task to induce Mrs. Hill to let them go into the room which Dorian had occupied during his illness there.

They locked the door, lighted a lamp, and proceeded to explore the corridors according to Nita's careful directions. Soon success crowned their efforts. The little narrow stairway was easily found, but the door at the foot resisted their efforts at first, but at last the bolts and bars yielded, and it burst asunder.

She was there waiting for them-poor Pepita, in the ghastly grimness of death! Dorian and Van Hise reverently drew aside the coarse gray blanket that covered the skeleton in the chair, and when Donald Kayne saw what remained of the beautiful woman once so madly loved, he fell in a swoon upon the floor.

It was some time before he was restored. Then he was like one dazed. He knelt by the chair with his head on the table, and sobs shook his strong frame.

Ranged around the walls were a dozen strong cedar chests heaped to the lids with Spanish gold coin. Upon a steel plate on the end of each chest was engraved the name: "Juan de Castro."

Nita had told them of the attempt that old Meg had once made upon her life, and the name by which she had called her then: "Juanita de Castro."

They looked significantly into each other's face.

"Her father's name and her father's gold," uttered Captain Van Hise, and choked back a sob at thought of the girl who, having been cheated out of her heritage of wealth and love, had been driven to despair by lack of bread.

"Some dark and hideous mystery lies back of all this," he said to Dorian.

And the young man answered sternly:

"And the key to it all lies, perhaps, in the hands of Meg Dineheart, the fortune-teller. Let us search carefully and perhaps we may find papers to throw some light on the mystery. If not, the strong hand of the law must be raised to force Meg to a full confession of the sin that deprived Nita of her heritage."

They searched carefully, but not a scrap of writing rewarded their efforts. After an hour they decided to leave the place for the time, taking with them the bones of the murdered woman. A roll of white silk that Donald Kayne had brought was wrapped about the skeleton, and he bore it in his arms to Dorian's room, where it was decided they should leave it until night, when it might be carried away unseen.

Then Dorian turned the key in the lock as they went out and dropped it in his pocket. He knew that Mrs. Hill would not object to his keeping it till night.

"Let us go at once to old Meg and force her into betraying the secret of Nita's parentage, and the whole conspiracy by which she has been so terribly wronged," suggested Captain Van Hise.

Dorian and his friend agreed, and they set off at a brisk pace for old Meg's cabin, determined to unearth the mystery if possible. But they were entirely ignorant of the fact that, while they were exploring the gold-vault at Gray Gables, the Courtneys had returned to the house, and that Azalea by accident had witnessed their departure.

Burning with curiosity, she flew to her mother with the story.

"There is something mysterious on foot surely," she said vindictively, and added, "I mean to get into that room and find out what Dorian Mountcastle has locked up there. I should like to get hold of some disgraceful secret of his and expose it to the world."

"Fie! fie! Azalea! that would not be ladylike!" answered her mother.

"I don't care, so that I get revenge on Dorian for the way he has treated me!" cried the jealous girl, eager to punish the lover who had found her out and scorned her.

"You had better let well enough alone," cried the more prudent mother, who was beginning to feel uneasy over their abandonment of Nita. She knew well that she deserved to be turned summarily out of Gray Gables, and feared to precipitate the blow by any interference in Dorian Mountcastle's affairs.

"I don't care what you say, or whether you help me or not, I'm going into that room and find out Dorian Mountcastle's secret!" she burst out excitedly.

"Very well, Azalea, but take my advice and send that meddlesome old housekeeper away on some errand first, for I know she hates you, and would be delighted to have something to tell Dorian about you," Mrs. Courtney answered coldly.

It did not take Azalea long to despatch Mrs. Hill, and then, armed with a bunch of keys, she proceeded on her errand. The door soon yielded, and with a little chuckle of triumph she glided in and closed the door, but without locking it, for she knew well that her mother was hovering near, consumed with secret curiosity.

Azalea wandered from object to object, but her eager eyes encountered nothing strange until by accident her glance roved over the bed. Then she saw the outlines of a long slender object beneath the coverlet.

"Pshaw! I won't be a coward!" she muttered, and thrust out a shaking white hand and turned down the covers.

Something lay there swathed round and round and round in folds of soft, thick white silk.

And catching hold of an end of silk, began to unwind it with rapid hands.

Another moment, and a startled shriek rent the air. Mrs. Courtney, tiptoeing outside, opened the door and darted in, horrified at her daughter's shrill scream of terror.

Upon the bed she beheld the ghastly skeleton.

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