Meg went to the Court one evening

This is the last letter you will receive from the dell wherein I have
camped so long. The days of my roving are over. No longer shall I
trudge beside Simon through the long summer days, nor camp under the
stars, nor read Lavengro by the red light of an outdoor fire. Shortly
will you behold me as a sober, married man, and as such I must conform
to the prejudices of civilization. The consulate of Plancus is at an
end, my friend, and the days of Bohemian wanderings are over. I would
regret them even more than I do, were not the present happier than the
past.

Great events have taken place since I last advised you of my
adventures. I shall never disbelieve in palmistry again, nor shall I,
even in the smallest degree, doubt the power of Romany hags to
forecast the future. If you remember, I was doubtful in my last letter
as to the chances of further fulfilment of Mother Jericho’s
prediction. I am a sceptic no longer, for, in the most marvellous way,
every word of it has come true. What think you of that? “There are
more things in heaven or earth—-” But the quotation is threadbare. I
shall not insult your understanding by repeating the whole.

I now know all the mysteries, Jack, which have so long puzzled me. I
was right in supposing there was a connection between Tim, Miss
Linisfarne, and Dr. Merle. There is a very close connection which
concerns Meg and concerns me. What it is you shall now hear, so
prepare your sceptical mind for tales of wonder.

In my last epistle I told you how Miss Linisfarne stood aloof
when her plans were overturned, and shut herself up in the Court.
Meg–tender-hearted girl as she is–regretted that one to whom she
owed much should be thus estranged and lonely. She consulted both Mr.
Jarner and myself as to the advisability of seeking a reconciliation
with Miss Linisfarne, and we–suspecting no danger–approved of her
resolution. Would that we had forbidden the visit, for it led to
nothing but evil! Yet it fulfilled the prophecy, so I suppose was to
be. Certainly it was out of our powers to advert the decrees of Fate.
Fire and flame–false father–false mother! There is the riddle, Jack,
and here is the interpretation thereof.

Meg went to the Court one evening, at six o’clock, and saw Miss
Linisfarne, who professed herself glad to be reconciled. Nay, more,
she pretended to approve of the marriage, and said she would give Meg
a wedding present. This was none other than the portrait of my
ancestor, Sir Alurde, whom I so greatly resemble. It was very kind of
her offering it to Meg, especially as it belonged to me! But, mark
you, the cunning of the woman! She asserted that she had seen me in
the interval, and had asked and obtained my permission to give the
portrait. This statement, I need hardly tell you, was pure invention.

Naturally enough Meg believed her story, and went with her to the west
wing, where Miss Linisfarne had removed the picture. It was in a small
room, slashed to pieces, and in that room the mad woman–for she was
quite mad–locked up my poor darling, and set fire to the place.
Whether it was by accident or design, I do not know; but she soon had
the Court in a blaze. It is now completely gutted, and only the bare
walls stand to show where the house once stood. The home of my
ancestors is gone, but I care nothing for that. Meg is safe, and for
that alone I am thankful.

Tinker Tim was at the fire, and saved Miss Linisfarne. I rescued Meg
by the merest accident. The brave girl wrenched out the bars of her
prison-house, and climbed out. I saw her hanging on to the ivy which
overgrows this part of the house, and by some miracle–for I cannot
tell you how I did it–I extricated her from the perilous situation.
We went to see after Miss Linisfarne, and then received a surprise.

I know you won’t believe it, Jack, for I was sceptical myself, until
convinced by hearing the story in detail. Meg is not the daughter of
Dr. Merle. You must remember how I wondered that so fine a nature, so
beautiful a girl, could have for parent so contemptible a specimen of
humanity. My wonder was legitimate. She is not Merle’s daughter, but
the child of Miss Linisfarne and Tinker Tim. There, sir, what do you
think of that for a startling piece of news? I am so astonished myself
that as yet I can hardly believe it. Nevertheless, it is perfectly
true. Here is the story. More wonderful than any yet invented by
fiction-mongers.

Some twenty-five, or it may be more, years ago Tinker Tim–whose other
name, by the way, is Lovel–was a handsome young gipsy. He was more
ambitious than the rest of his race, and wished to be great. A strange
thing for a Romany, for, as a rule, they are content with their humble
condition and wandering life. Tim, however, left the tents of his
people and went among the Gorgios. He had plenty of money left to him
by his father, who was a noted prizefighter. He told no one that he
was a gipsy, and, owing to his foreign looks, was supposed to be some
Eastern prince. This is not to be wondered at, for, as you know, the
Romany originally came from India many hundred years ago. Desiring to
learn what pleasure there was in the life of a Gorgio, Tim encouraged
the idea, and by a lavish use of his money managed to see a good deal
of society. All this sounds extraordinary, but I believe it to be
true. Though only a vagabond gipsy, Tim is a splendid looking man, and
has a remarkably keen brain. I can quite well imagine that he could
pass himself off for an Eastern prince, and gull society for at least
a season. This is what occurred. He was much made of by the
fashionable world, and while the lion of the season met with Miss
Linisfarne.

She was then just twenty years of ago, and a very beautiful woman. She
fell in love with Tim and he with her. I do not know the details of
the courtship, but it ended in a secret marriage performed by a Church
of England clergyman. Tim would not be married publicly by a parson,
as it would destroy his pretensions as an Eastern prince, and Miss
Linisfarne would not be married in any other way. They compromised by
a secret marriage, and Tim met his wife on the Continent, where they
lived for some time. No one, not even the parents of Miss Linisfarne,
knew of the marriage, and as she was abroad with a companion, secretly
bribed to keep the marriage quiet, no harm was suspected. Then Tim, in
a moment of weakness, told his wife that he was no prince, but only a
wandering gipsy. To his surprise her love turned to hate. She
considered that she had been tricked, as it had been her desire when
the marriage was avowed to appear in London as a princess. She was an
ambitious woman, and the discovery of the truth made her wrathful.
Both she and her husband had fiery tempers, so in the end they parted.
Miss Linisfarne returned to her people, and Tim was left abroad,
vowing to revenge himself on his hardhearted wife. You can guess what
that revenge was.

About this time Merle, or rather Mallard, came into the story. He was
a wealthy young doctor, madly in love with Miss Linisfarne. She,
finding she was about to become a mother, accepted his addresses in
order to conceal the disgrace. To her parents she confessed the truth,
and they, deeming the ceremony with Tim no true marriage, as he was a
gipsy, urged on the match with Mallard. All would have gone well had
it taken place at once; but Mallard was called away to Italy, where
his father was dying, and when he returned Miss Linisfarne had
disappeared. The parents refused to tell this lover where she was;
but, having unlimited money at his command, he had no difficulty in
finding her hiding place. There he learned the truth, for he found she
had given birth to a female child. She cynically avowed her connection
with Tim, and drove Mallard mad for the time being. He had not at any
time a strong brain, and the shock proved too much for him, so for
three years he was in a lunatic asylum. When Miss Linisfarne returned
to London, and told her parents all, they were so enraged at her folly
and disgrace, that they exiled her to Farbis Court, where she spent
the remainder of her miserable life. Much as I condemn her conduct, I
must confess to a feeling of pity for the agony she endured all those
years in the lonely house. If she sinned, she was bitterly punished.

When Mallard came out of the asylum he was a complete wreck, and did
not mend matters by taking to opium. He wandered about the world for
two years, but found no peace. Then he formed a design of withdrawing
from a world which had no further charms for him, since his life had
been ruined by a woman. Yet he still loved Miss Linisfarne, and went
down to the village where he had learned the truth. He found Miss
Linisfarne had gone away, but the child, now five years of age, was
still there, and with the child a gipsy who asserted he was the
father. This of course was Tim, and with his strong will he soon
obtained an ascendency over the weak mind of Mallard. Tim wished to
force the mother to bring up her child and train it according to her
duty, yet all the time remain in ignorance of the truth. He heard that
Miss Linisfarne had gone to Farbis Court, and therefore proposed to
Mallard that, as he wished to retire from the world, he also should go
there under an assumed name, and adopt Meg–so the child was named–as
his daughter. At first Mallard refused, but in the end yielded. The
use of opium had already rendered him a tool in the hands of the
gipsy, and when Meg was five years of age she was taken down to Farbis
with her adopted father.

Their life there you know. Dr. Merle, as he called himself, gave way
entirely to his vice of laudanum drinking, and Meg was brought up by
the vicar and Miss Linisfarne. Tim, hovering constantly about Farbis,
was delighted at the success of his plot. The mother was fulfilling
her maternal duties towards the child she had forsaken, and was quite
ignorant of the relationship existing between them. Merle never saw
her all the time he lived at Farbis, as Tim forbade him to seek her,
fearful lest she should learn or guess the truth. Can you imagine a
more dramatic situation, Jack? A husband, a wife, a lover, and a
child. The husband forcing the lover to father his child, the mother
bringing up her own daughter, and training her according to her duty,
yet all the while remaining in ignorance of the relationship. Name any
novel that can match that, my friend.

How Meg grew up beautiful and strong, how she was educated by her
unsuspecting mother and the vicar, I have told you in my former
letters. Tim watched over her all the time. What his plans were with
regard to his wife I know not. She thought him dead; but he doubtless
intended to undeceive her on that point. I suppose he would have
confessed his plot some time, and let the mother have her daughter.
But the treachery of Miss Linisfarne led to an untimely explanation,
and Tim has not told me what he intended to have done had the
catastrophe not taken place. It seems horrible that the mother should
have plotted the death of her daughter; but, as I said before, she did
not know the truth, and, as she is dead, it were kindness to say no
more about her.

When Meg was nearly twenty years of age, Tim consulted with Merle as
to getting her married. He was proud of his daughter, and wished her
to make a good match. Merle could offer no suggestion, as there was no
suitor worthy of the girl in the district. Then Chance intervened, and
sent Tim the very husband he wanted for his daughter. At this point I
come into the story, as you can guess.

It appears that a gipsy was getting a caravan built at the shop where
mine was being constructed. He heard that I intended to take to the
life of the roads for a time, and knowing that I owned Farbis, where
Tim’s tribe was encamped–for these vagrants learn things in the most
wonderful way–told the Tinker of my proposed expedition. Tim at once
selected me as a husband for Meg, thinking truly that if he could only
inveigle me to Farbis the girl’s beauty would do the rest. Hence his
plot. It was he who instructed the gipsies to urge me to visit Farbis,
and when I was on my way thither, stationed Mother Jericho in the pine
wood to prophesy about Joy coming up through the Gates of Dawn. The
visit you know! I met Meg at the Gates of Dawn–fell in love with her,
and hope to marry her. Tim’s plot has been completely successful. Now
you can understand Mother Jericho’s talk, and Tim’s hints, and Merle’s
fears. The gipsies knew I was Lord Ardleigh all the time, and, though
I did not know it, I was surrounded on all sides by people anxious for
me to marry Meg. Mother Jericho’s prophecy was but the wishes of Tim
put into words.

Yet not all of it! I can understand the prediction as to my meeting
Meg–as to the false father and the false mother–that was all
designed. But how did the old hag know that Miss Linisfarne would fall
in love with me, and what reason had she to foretell fire and flame?
No one thought the wretched woman would set fire to the Court. That
part of the prophecy I cannot understand, therefore I must admit I
have a certain belief in palmistry.

Well, Jack, the end has come. I know all, and, knowing all, am quite
content to marry Meg, half-gipsy though she be. Miss Linisfarne is
dead, as I told you, so she will be no trouble. Tim prefers his life
of tent and road, as his one experiment among the Gorgios ended so
disastrously. Yet I hope to see a good deal of him in the future, for
though he is but a gipsy, I tell you he is a father-in-law to be proud
of.

By Jarner’s advice, and with Tim’s consent, this strange story is to
be told to no one but yourself. There would be no use in publishing it
abroad, and Meg will marry me as the daughter of Dr. Merle. That
wretched creature will not live long, I fear, as he is in so shattered
a condition. He has left all his money to Meg, which is only what she
deserves. It will be settled on herself when the marriage takes place.
Strange to say, he is nearly as wealthy as I am.

I am coming up to town to see my lawyers, and make settlements on my
future wife. Then I will ask you to come here with me in the spring,
and see me married to Meg by Parson Jarner. You shall be best man, and
Tim shall give the bride away. That office he reserves to himself, and
absolutely refuses to give it to Dr. Merle.

Miss Linisfarne is buried, and the Court is destroyed. I shall not
rebuild it, but devote any surplus moneys I have to the use of the
parish. I mean to raise the villagers out of their present wretched
condition, to repair the church and augment the income of Parson
Jarner. He, dear old man, refuses to leave Farbis, as he has grown to
love the place and the people. So he shall be my almoner, and when my
wife and I weary of being Lord and Lady Ardleigh, we shall come down
to Farbis to be Dan and Meg. Tim and Parson Jarner and Mother Jericho
will be there to welcome us, and we will revive the old Bohemian days
which are now at an end.

The old lady is in high glee at the fulfilment of her prophecy, as she
well may be. It has given me a pearl of womanhood for my wife. I loved
Meg from the first moment I saw her coming up through the Gates of
Dawn. All our troubles are, I hope, over, sorrow has departed, and joy
has come. I do not think I can do better than end this letter with a
verse of Meg’s song. It can stand in lieu of a signature.

“The red light flames in the eastern skies,
The dew lies heavy on lea and lawn,
Grief with her anguish of midnight flies,
And Joy comes up through the Gates of Dawn.”

Continue Reading

THE GIPSY’S PROPHECY

Dear Jack,
If this letter is wild, and incoherent, and rhapsodical, be sparing of
your astonishment and blame. A scribe in my state of mind is not
responsible for his epistles. Therefore be patient and read this
letter carefully, for herein you will find a reason for these excuses.
If you do not find my explanation all-sufficient, then you are not the
sympathetic friend I took you for. What, indeed, is the use of
friendship if it does not encourage and sympathize and congratulate?
Were you in love–which you are not, judging from your cynical
letters–I would patiently listen to your maunderings, so hearken to
mine. If you wonder at this preamble learn the reason in three
sentences. I love her! She loves me! We are engaged. Here I consider
you have an ample explanation.

Now, do not repeat that time-honoured sneer, “I told you so,” and
chuckle cynically over my capture by Cupid. It is true that he has
chained me, but I glory in such bonds. Did you but see her face and
hear her voice you would no longer wonder at my surrender. Who
conquers Mars may be beaten by Venus. There is a classical nut for
your cracking.

Doubtless you consider events have moved speedily, seeing I have thus
wooed and won my future wife in so short a space of time. You are
perfectly right in such supposition. The events of a year have been
crammed into seven days. Every hour has brought forth a surprise, and
the result is–as above. My position has been anything but pleasant of
late; but now I trust my troubles are over, though, according to the
unfulfilled portion of Mother Jericho’s prophecy, the worst are still
to come. A pleasant prospect, truly! but one rendered endurable by my
present happiness.

Miss Linisfarne is the parent of my troubles and happiness. I told you
about her in my last letters. A faded beauty in ill-health, who is my
tenant at the Court. Ignorant of my identity, she thought I was simply
a decayed gentleman, reduced to poverty and to the shelter of a
caravan. With that inconsistency which is so noticeable a feature of
the sex, she ignored my vagabondage, and, in the character of a
broken-down gentleman, invited me to the Court. For some inexplicable
reason she took a violent fancy to me, and ultimately proposed to
marry me. You look surprised, and frown,–the first, at the
information; the second, that I should impart it to you, and thus
betray a woman’s folly.

As a matter of fact, unless I tell you all I can tell you nothing, and
so must be content to accept your censure. I would not speak of such a
thing to others; but to you, who are my second self, and have been the
receptacle of my confidences since we were at Eton, I am surely
justified in making the revelation. And, after all, my friend, you can
put away those wire-drawn notions of honour, as Miss Linisfarne is not
worthy of being considered in any way. She is a base and designing
woman. You must agree with this estimate of her character–harsh
though it seems–when I tell you that she tried to lower Meg in my
eyes, and almost succeeded in blackening my character to Meg. Such
uncalled-for malignancy is, to my mind, worthy of blame. She must be
beaten with her own weapons, punished for her spiteful behaviour, and
generally condemned–at all events in this letter, which is strictly
confidential.

It is useless for me to attempt to fathom her character. Originally it
may have been a noble one, but twenty years of solitude have warped it
strangely. Dr. Merle, who is the father of Meg, made a confession to
me the other day. He heard a rumour that I was to marry Miss
Linisfarne, and thereupon came to tell me that I was not to do so. He
justified this declaration by the confession that his real name was
Mallard–that he had been engaged to Miss Linisfarne twenty years ago,
and that she had ruined his life. More than this he refused to tell
me, but said Tinker Tim could reveal all. The gipsy declined
confession until I married Meg; so, as I intend to do so shortly, I
hope to be fully informed of all these mysteries. As I surmised, there
is a connection between Tim and Dr. Merle and Miss Linisfarne; but
what it is I cannot guess, so must possess my soul in patience until
the gipsy chooses to open his mouth.

After my interview with Merle–or Mallard, as that is his real name–I
received a message from Miss Linisfarne asking me to call and see her.
I went unwillingly, as I was by no means prepossessed in her favour by
the revelation of the doctor. The interview was of the most painful
character. She said that Meg was engaged to a certain Byrne of
Silkstone, and finally offered me her hand, her name, and her wealth.
I refused all three, and, not knowing how to extricate myself from so
awkward a position, uttered the name of Mallard. Its effect was
magical. She fainted, and I, having committed her to the care of her
housekeeper, hastened away. I need hardly say that nothing will induce
me to set foot again in her house.

Much perplexed at my position, I consulted Mr. Jarner, as he is gifted
with good common sense, and is remarkably shrewd in giving advice. He
ascribed her strange conduct to hysteria, and said there was no truth
in her assertion that Meg was engaged–nay, more, that Byrne of
Silkstone was a myth. Why Miss Linisfarne should tell such falsehoods
and offer to marry me I cannot say; but, as I remarked before, it is
useless to attempt to fathom her character. My own opinion is, that
seclusion has tended to unhinge her mind and destroy her self-control.
No sane person would have acted as she has done. From charity,
therefore, let us give her the benefit of the doubt, and say that she
is mad.

Yet there is a method in her madness which is hurtful to those whom
she designs to injure. I am one of those unfortunates. When she found
that I refused to marry, her love changed to hate, and she is a living
example of the truth of Congreve’s couplet–

“Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”

With a view, therefore, to blast my happiness, she sought Meg, and
lied to her as she did to me. Declared that I wished to marry her for
the sake of her wealth, that I was a base villain, an escaped
criminal, a nameless outcast, and made me out to be the most abandoned
of mankind. Meg retorted with spirit, and defended me, but could not
help thinking that there might be some truth in these accusations. I
can hardly blame her for such belief. She knew nothing, or
comparatively nothing of me, whereas Miss Linisfarne has been her
friend and benefactress for years.

Unfortunately for Miss Linisfarne and fortunately for myself, I
chanced to meet Meg at the Gates of Dawn, and speedily disabused her
mind of all those malignant accusations. I denied that I had asked
Miss Linisfarne to marry me because I wanted her money, and, in proof
of the absurdity of such an idea, confessed my name and rank. Before
doing so, however, I asked Meg to be my wife, and she, believing my
bare word, accepted my offer. Can you wonder, then, that I should love
and honour and esteem a woman who was prepared to marry a nameless
outcast for his own worth? She is as simple and loving as a child, and
I consider myself the most fortunate of men in winning her golden
heart. What is rank, or title, or wealth compared with such pure love!
She loves me, not my worldly advantages. Confess now, cynic as you
are, that I have chosen wisely. Ah, Jack, the noblest gift that God
can bestow on a man is the gift of a pure good woman’s heart. I have
gained this pearl without price, and henceforth have nothing better to
gain from heaven.

Meg was somewhat alarmed at finding I was King Cophetua in disguise.
The title frightens her, and she is afraid she will not be worthy of
such high rank. Not worthy, indeed! Could I place a crown instead of a
coronet on her brow, it would be far below her deserts. She is a noble
brave pure woman, who will enable me to fight the battle of life, and
do what good lies in my power. I have no fear of her sinking under the
burden of nobility, as did that puling minx who married the Lord of
Burleigh. When Meg becomes more accustomed to the idea, when she is my
wife, you will see that she will bear her honours nobly. Her beauty,
her heart, her talents, her charms all fit her for such a station.
Even you, Jack, fastidious as you are, will confess that I have the
fairest and most loyal wife in the three kingdoms–ay, in the world.

But enough of these rhapsodies, of which you must be tired. Let me
descend from heaven to earth, and talk of meaner things. Dr. Merle
gave his consent in a scared sort of way, and did not seem to know
what to make of it. He is a poor feeble creature, with a brain sodden
with the drug he takes. Notwithstanding my offer to provide for him,
he declared his intention of remaining at Farbis, which, after all, I
think is the best place for him. He is more fitted for a hermitage
than for the world, as his vice has overmastered his brain and mind
and has ruined his will and self-control. Every time I see him, I
wonder how such a puny creature ever became the father of Meg. The
late Mrs. Merle, or rather Mrs. Mallard, must have been a fine
creature. I asked Meg about her, but she does not remember her mother,
who died during her infancy. As Meg is close on twenty, this remark
proves to me that Merle was not so inconsolable over the treachery of
Miss Linisfarne as he pretends to be, for he must have married very
soon after she jilted him. I can only suppose that he was disappointed
in his wife, and, when she died, came to Farbis with his child to be
in the neighbourhood of his first love. Yet he never attempted to see
her, nor does Miss Linisfarne know that Dr. Merle is the lover of her
youth. From his speedy marriage and subsequent retirement to Farbis
you can see how feeble is his character. There is not a drop of his
blood in the veins of Meg. That true fearless nature must be inherited
from her mother. But how could a woman like Meg have married a rat
like Merle! This thing puzzles me greatly.

Mr. Jarner was delighted with my success, and congratulated me on
gaining the heart of Meg. He considers me the most fortunate of men,
and insisted on my drinking the best half of a bottle of port, in
honour of the event. He is a splendid old man, and quite a character.
With all his love of horses and dogs and sporting, he is deeply
religious, and holds a fairer creed than many of those who use their
outward holiness to cloak a mean soul. None other than he shall marry
Meg and I. If you like to come down and be best man, just say so. I
assure you Jarner is a parson worth meeting.

I don’t know if Miss Linisfarne has learned of our engagement. She
must be greatly angered at the downfall of her scheme to part us. At
all events, she gives no sign, but remains shut up at the Court. Meg
is sorry for her, as is only natural; but I cannot feel it in my heart
to pity so malignant a creature. Unless, indeed, she is mad, which
puts a different complexion on the affair.

As soon as my engagement was an accomplished fact, I went in search of
Tinker Tim to tell him of it, and ask for an explanation of the
mysteries. Unfortunately he has gone away on business connected with
his fighting propensities, and will not be back for a week. However, I
saw Mother Jericho, and told her of the accomplishment of her
prophecy. She chuckled and leered like a wicked old fairy godmother,
then damped my joy by hinting that my troubles were not yet over.

“A false father, a false mother. Fire and flame, and brave deeds,” she
croaked,–“all these must be before you take your dearie to church.
But you’ll win through it all, and be happy. Your children and
grandchildren shall sit on your knee, and she shall be by your side
for forty years and more.”

Can you conceive anything more perplexing? Having seen the first part
of her prophecy fulfilled, I am bound to believe the second. Evil is
coming, but it can only come through Miss Linisfarne. She is malignant
enough for anything, but at present gives no sign of her intentions.
What do you make of the prophecy, Jack? “False father, false mother,
fire and flame, and brave deeds.” It is a riddle of the Sphinx. I can
only leave its solution to Tim; but, at all events, I am happy to
think that peace will come in the end. One does not appreciate joy
without sorrow, so I am willing to undergo the troubles prophesied by
the sibyl for the sake of being blessed with the last part of the
prediction. All these ills are to take place before marriage, and, as
I propose to be wedded in the autumn, there is not much time for their
fulfilment. “False father, false mother, fire, flame, and brave
deeds”–I leave the solution to your quick wits, my friend.

Here I must close this long letter. Write and congratulate me, and say
if you will come down to assist at the termination of my strange
wooing. I am so happy, Jack, that I can write no more, so must leave
you to guess the joy of your attached friend–

ARDLEIGH.

It is difficult, nay impossible, to alter in one day the habit of
years. Meg had been accustomed to repair daily to Farbis Court from
her early girlhood, and, now that Miss Linisfarne had so pointedly
requested her to stay away, found her life disorganized. She still
roamed the moor, in the company of Dan, and was to all appearance
satisfied to see nothing of Miss Linisfarne; but in her heart she
regretted the breach between them, and missed greatly her daily visit.
Miss Linisfarne had behaved kindly for many years to the girl, and it
was not in the nature of Meg to cherish animosity towards one to whom
she owed much. Regarding her benefactress as a second mother, she was
disposed to overlook the past, and make the first advance towards a
reconciliation. This project she unfolded to Dan.

“I cannot bear to think of her all alone in that great house,” said
Meg, “and, as I owe her more than I can ever repay, it is only right
that I should see her.”

“I am afraid your visit will not be welcome,” said Dan, dubiously.
“She no longer looks on you as her _protégée_, remember, but as a
woman who has thwarted her desires.”

“Still, I shall call,” insisted Meg; “if she refuses to see me, or to
be reconciled, I can come away again. But at least I shall have done
my duty. Indeed, she has been like a mother to me. All I know is due
to her and to Mr. Jarner.”

“What does he say, Meg?”

“He thinks I ought to seek a reconciliation.”

“In that case, I approve of your visit. What the vicar says must be
right. Go and see Miss Linisfarne, my darling. It is like your kind
heart to overlook her behaviour.”

“Don’t speak so harshly of her, Lord Ardleigh.”

“For your sake, I won’t,” said Dan, promptly; “let us say no more
about her, Meg. Call when you please; but I fancy your embassy will be
unsuccessful.”

“Oh, I hope not! I trust not! In spite of all that has passed I love
her still, Lord Ardleigh.”

“Meg! You have called me Lord Ardleigh twice.”

“Oh, I forgot! Frank, then.”

“I don’t like Frank either. Call me Dan.”

“But I cannot go on calling you Dan all your life.”

“Why not? It is the name I like best, for under it I won your love.
And, indeed, Meg, I have been called Dan for so many months, that I no
longer know myself as Francis Breel, or as Lord Ardleigh.”

“Very well,” said Meg, coquettishly, “I shall call you Dan in private,
when you are very, very good. Oh, Dan.”

The reason of this exclamation can be easily imagined. He who fails to
guess it, is no true lover. Under the able tuition of Dan, the girl
soon learned to know what love was. They were ideal lovers, and no
quarrel occurred to mar the tranquillity of those golden days. Cupid
was king then, and they his humble worshippers and obedient subjects.

Having thus obtained the consent and approbation of Dan and the vicar,
Meg repaired to Farbis Court. It was rather late, and the dusk was
closing in, for she had been all the afternoon at the gipsy camp in
the company of her lover. He left her on the brow of the hill at her
own request, as she wished to see Miss Linisfarne that evening. Dan
wished her to postpone her visit until next day; but Meg was resolute.
She had already put off the call too long, and was determined to see
and comfort the lonely woman that very evening.

“It is only six o’clock, Dan,” she said, in answer to his entreaties,
“and I can easily be home before seven. It is three weeks since I saw
her, so I must go at once.”

“To-morrow morning—-”

“Then I shall be with you. You keep me by your side all day. If I do
not call in the evening, I shall not see her at all.”

“At least let me accompany you to the park gates.”

“No. There is no necessity. I can go myself, as I have always done. No
one will touch me in Farbis. Good night, Dan. No. Only one kiss.”

Thus they parted, and Meg ran down the hill in the twilight. Dan
watched her with some anxiety, and felt an unaccountable presentiment
of evil. He did not think for a moment that Miss Linisfarne would harm
the girl, else he would not have consented to her going to the Court.
But there was a sense of uneasiness in his breast, for which he could
not account. He looked towards Farbis Court, dark and forbidding under
the hill. The sight did not lighten his spirits.

“I hope I am wise in letting her go,” he said aloud. “Pshaw! Miss
Linisfarne is foolish, but not wicked. Meg is all right. But I’ll call
at the house after supper, and see if she is back, and also ask the
result of her mission. She will fail, I fear; Miss Linisfarne is not
the woman to forgive easily.”

Thus reassuring himself, he returned to his dell to prepare supper.
Nevertheless the presentiment of evil still lurked in his mind, and he
did not make so cheery a meal as usual. Had he only known what was
taking place at the Court at that moment, he would no longer have
wondered at his expectation of coming evil. It would have been wiser
to trust a sparrow to a cat, than Meg to the clutches of Miss
Linisfarne on that evening. A woman scorned is dangerous.

She was pacing up and down the long drawing-room, with clasped hands,
and a look of baffled rage on her face. Innumerable candles lighted
the room brilliantly, and were reflected in the dusty mirrors. Miss
Linisfarne, with dishevelled hair, looked at herself in the glass, and
laughed bitterly at the wreck of her beauty.

“No wonder he would not look at me,” she said despairingly. “Old and
haggard and wrinkled before my time. Had ever woman so miserable an
existence as mine? Will that unhappy episode of my life ever haunt me?
That man knows it, and knows Mallard. Then there is the other. Ah,
where is he? I was a fool to leave him; but I have been punished for
my folly–bitterly punished. Fierce as he was, surely the spectacle of
this wreck would satiate his hatred. But he is dead–dead. I have not
seen nor heard of him for twenty years. He is dead, with my dead
past.”

She paused and walked rapidly up and down the dusty room. In her loose
white robe she looked like a phantom. With her flashing eyes and
restless gestures, she seemed like a mad woman. In truth her brain was
not quite sane. Long seclusion and incessant fretting had rendered her
irresponsible, and she frequently gave way to fits of rage which were
scarcely to be distinguished from insanity. Ordinarily languid and
weak, she possessed at these times the strength of a man. She was
dangerous, and knew she was dangerous. She was mad, but did not know
it. Nor did any one else. Only when she was alone did she give way to
these paroxysms–as on the present occasion.

“If I only had that girl here, I would kill her!” she panted. “I would
crush her life out, and stamp out the beauty of her face! He loves her
beauty as once the other loved mine. Oh, that I could mar and spoil
it! I hate her! I hate her!”

Leaning against the wall, exhausted with her passions, she looked as
though in a dying condition. The fit was ended for the moment, and,
weak with her late exertion, she threw herself on her couch by the
oriel.

At that moment, Meg entered the room. She was astonished at the blaze
of light, and wondered where her friend could be.

“Miss Linisfarne! Miss Linisfarne!”

The woman on the couch heard and recognized the voice. A fierce thrill
of joy shot through her; but she did not move. She did not even raise
her face from the couch, but mentally repeated to herself–

“She is here! She is in my power!”

Unaware of the wrath which possessed her hostess, Meg came forward and
knelt by the couch. She was deeply sorry to find Miss Linisfarne in so
prostrate a condition, and strove to comfort her.

“Miss Linisfarne, it is I. It is Meg. I have come to see you, and tell
you how sorry I am that we quarrelled. Won’t you speak to me?”

By this time Miss Linisfarne was more composed, and, with the cunning
of a mad woman, concealed the hatred she felt for her visitor. Yet,
when she looked at Meg with glittering eyes, the girl started back
in horror. The invalid appeared dangerous; but of her Meg felt no
fear–as yet.

“Miss Linisfarne! Are you ill?”

“Ill, child? I am very ill,” replied Miss Linisfarne, in a hurried
voice. “See how bright my eyes are; feel how hot my hands are. Fever,
child–fever.”

“Lie down again, and let me get you a cooling drink–your medicine.”

“No medicine will do me any good, child. I am dying.”

“You must not talk like that, Miss Linisfarne,” said Meg, soothingly;
“you are only excited and feverish. Lie down again. Please do.”

“Why are you here?” asked Miss Linisfarne, taking no notice of the
gentle request.

“I came to say how sorry I am that—-”

“There, there, child–say no more about it.”

“You forgive me?”

“Yes. I forgive you. See, I kiss you. Of course I forgive you.”

She pressed a Judas kiss on Meg’s brow, where her lips seared like
fire. Glancing hurriedly round the room, she wondered how she could
harm the girl. Here, it was useless; the servants were within call,
they would hear here. She must get the girl to some other part of the
house, and there—- Yes. In that moment she formed a plan, and
proceeded to carry it out. No fox was so cunning as she, at that
moment.

“So you are to marry Lord Ardleigh, child?”

“Yes. You know him, then.”

“I was told–I was told. Ha! ha! No wonder he was like the picture of
Sir Alurde.”

“Sir Alurde is his ancestor,” said Meg, wondering at the strange
manner of her hostess.

“Yes, yes! And you are to be Lady Ardleigh! I am glad he means well,
child. Yes, I thought his doings were evil. Poor man! Ha, ha!”

“Dear Miss Linisfarne, lie down, and let me call the housekeeper.”

“No, no! I shall be better presently. Let me get up! I am quite
strong. Hush, child; not a word! Let me whisper in your ear! I have a
wedding present for you.”

“A present for me!”

“Yes, I am going to give you the portrait of Sir Alurde. I asked Lord
Ardleigh, and he said I could do so.”

“Have you seen him?” asked Meg, rather astonished that Dan had said
nothing to her about it.

“Yes, yes! The other day! Did he not tell you? I have had the portrait
taken from the gallery and placed in a room. It looks splendid, child!
Sir Alurde is a king among men. Come and see him.”

She sprang up from the couch, and seized a candle from one of the
sconces. Meg tried to restrain her; but Miss Linisfarne insisted in
going. In order to humour her, and in the hope that she might
afterwards be more amenable to reason, Meg agreed to accompany her;
and, with Miss Linisfarne leading the way, and bearing the candle,
they left the drawing-room. Meg had no idea that the woman was mad, as
she had no experience of lunacy. She certainly thought her conduct
strange, but felt no fear, and humoured her as she would a child. Had
she only guessed the truth, what horrors might have been averted!

Up the stairs went Miss Linisfarne, chuckling over the success of her
strategy. She led Meg far away from the inhabited portion of the house
to the west wing, which was shut up and barred. Evidently she had been
there lately, for a bunch of keys hung at her girdle, and with one of
these she unlocked the doors. In the darkness only made more profound
by the glimmer of that one candle, Meg began to feel a little afraid.

“Where are you taking me to, Miss Linisfarne?” she said, shrinking
back.

“To see Sir Alurde’s portrait! It is only a little way now! Come,
child! Come, I say!” she added, savagely seizing the girl’s wrist.
“You must see my wedding present. Ah, my dear, a bonny bride you will
make!”

Now, thoroughly terrified, Meg strove to release herself from the
clutch of her hostess, as she felt certain that something was wrong.
But Miss Linisfarne now had the strength of madness in her, and
hurried the girl along recklessly. The walls of the passage were hung
with faded arras, that bellied out with the wind. In the dim light of
the one candle the figures of huntsman and hawk and hound and tree
started out grotesquely. Meg would have fled, but could not get away.
Still retaining her presence of mind, she did not scream, but waited
for the first opportunity to escape.

Miss Linisfarne asked Meg to hold the candle, and, still clutching the
girl’s wrist, unlocked a door on the right. When it opened a breath of
chill air swept out. Pushing Meg in, she followed, and they found
themselves in a chamber of no great size, with one barred window.
Against the wall rested a picture in its gold frame.

“See, see! Sir Alurde’s portrait! Your lover’s portrait! My wedding
present,” cried Miss Linisfarne, snatching the candle from the girl.
“Look, child–look at him now!”

Meg uttered a cry of alarm! The picture was cut to pieces in the most
savage manner. She turned to fly, but Miss Linisfarne was before her.
With a jeering laugh she hurried out, and shut the door. Meg heard the
key turn in the lock, and then the voice of the woman, whom she now
knew was mad.

“Stay there! Stay there! You wretch! You robber! You took him from me!
Stay there in the dark, and look at his face now. Starve! starve and
die in your cell! Shout, no one will hear you–no one will know! Ha,
ha! How like you my wedding present?”

As Miss Linisfarne uttered these words she waved the candle wildly. It
touched the tapestry, and in a moment the moth-eaten stuff, dry as
tinder, was in a blaze. She saluted the fire with cries of joy. Meg
smelt the burning, and saw the vivid line of light under the door of
her cell. With a cry of alarm she hurried to the window and found it
barred, while outside in the passage the flames roared, and Miss
Linisfarne shrieked like the mad woman she was.

True to his resolve, Dan left his camp after supper in order to assure
himself that Meg had arrived safely at home. As he mounted the hill he
heard confused shouts, and, on looking upward, beheld an unusual glow
in the sky. Filled with fresh alarm at these portents he increased his
pace, and was soon on the summit of the ridge overlooking Farbis. To
his astonishment he saw that the Court was in flames, and that the
shouts were those of the villagers hastening to extinguish the
conflagration. Only for a moment did he survey the unaccustomed scene,
then ran down to the village at top speed.

“Great heavens!” he thought, “can that woman have killed Meg, and set
fire to the place to conceal her crime?”

This seemed to be the true explanation to his agitated mind, the more
so as, in racing down the street, he ran against a man wringing his
hands, and crying aloud. It was Dr. Merle.

“Where is Meg? Is she safe?” demanded Dan, pausing a moment in his
headlong career.

“No, no!” wailed Merle, “she went to see Miss Linisfarne. She is
at—-”

But Dan waited to hear no more. His worst forebodings appeared likely
to be realized; and, frantic with dread at the danger of Meg, he sped
on to the Court. He arrived in time to see the iron gates wrenched off
their hinges by the stalwart arms of the villagers, who afterwards
poured in through the gate. Carried along with the disorderly crowd up
the avenue, Dan found himself at the elbow of the vicar.

“Jarner, Jarner! Meg!”

“What of her?” asked the parson, with anxiety. “Is she not with her
father?”

“No! She went to the Court to see Miss Linisfarne.”

“Great heavens!” muttered Jarner, in alarm. “Can it be that—-”

“For God’s sake, Jarner, don’t suppose anything so horrible,” burst
out Dan; “it is impossible. Meg must be safe.”

“Safe in that!” said Jarner, pointing to the Court, at the back of
which red flames shot upward to the stars amid black clouds of smoke.

“If harm comes to her I’ll kill Miss Linisfarne.”

“I hope she has not killed herself! We must rescue both, if we can.”

“But the fire–the fire! Cannot it be put out?” cried Dan, as they
mounted the terrace.

“There is no water.”

Dan clenched his fists! It was horrible to think of the danger in
which Meg was placed. The few servants were gathered together on the
terrace, and the front door was wide open. In answer to the vicar’s
questions they said that both Miss Linisfarne and Meg were in the
house. The housekeeper had seen them go towards the west wing. It was
that part of the house that was on fire.

“I must save her,” said Dan, shaking himself free from Jarner’s grasp;
“let me go.”

He ran into the hall, and up the stairs. As he did so a huge form shot
past him, and he saw to his astonishment that it was Tim. The face of
the gipsy was quite pale, and he raced up the stairs with such
rapidity as even to distance Dan.

“Tim, Tim! Where is the west wing?”

“I know, rye! Follow me!”

The front of the house was quite safe, as the fire was confined to the
west wing, and they rapidly threaded a maze of corridors. Tim seemed
to know the way, and at length paused before a door. He tried to open
it, but found it locked.

“This leads to the west wing. They are in there. Help me to break it
down.”

Without answer Dan threw himself against the door. Strong as he was it
would not yield to his efforts. They could hear the crackling of the
flames, and trembled to think of the two women shut up in that
furnace. Tim put his shoulder to the door, and Dan assisted with all
his strength. It cracked and yielded and fell back. With a shout they
prepared to rush in, but were driven back by the fierce flames. The
whole interior of the corridor was in fire, and the smoke rolled out
in blinding clouds. Tim dropped on his hands and knees, and crept
forward. Dan heard him shout.

“What is it, Tim?”

“Here is one! Miss Linisfarne–Laura!”

In the excitement of the moment Dan gave no attention to the utterance
of Miss Linisfarne’s Christian name by the gipsy. He thought of
nothing but the girl he loved.

“Meg! Meg! Where is Meg?”

“I don’t know,” said Tim, who appeared at that instant, bearing in his
arms the inanimate body of Miss Linisfarne. “Let us take this one to a
place of safety.”

“But Meg! Meg will be burnt to death!” cried Dan, and made a frantic
rush forward. The flames sent him back, and he was almost stifled by
the smoke. It was utterly impossible to pass that barrier of flame in
search of Meg.

At right angles to where he stood there was a window. As the passage
was full of smoke, Dan darted to this, and smashed the glass. As the
cold air rushed in he thought he heard a cry. Without considering what
he was doing, he clambered out on to the sill of the window, and saw
the whole length of the west wing stretching towards the hill. The
flames flared upward through the roof, but the side was as yet
untouched by the fire. It was as bright as day, and, clinging to the
ivy some distance along, Dan saw the figure of a woman.

“Meg! Meg!” he shouted. “Hold on! I am here!”

“Dan, save me!”

She had succeeded in wrenching the bars from the window of her cell,
and had managed with difficulty to thrust herself through the
aperture. The effort had exhausted her strength, and now she was
clinging helplessly to the thick ivy which matted the walls. Overjoyed
at the sight of her still alive, Dan shouted encouragement, and
reflected how he could assist her. There was no time for him to go
round by the front door, as the flames were already shooting from some
of the windows of the west wing, and at any moment the fire might
scorch Meg.

He looked down and saw that an oak grew so close to the house that a
good spring would land him in its topmost branches, which were but a
little below the level of the window on the sill of which he stood. If
he failed he would fall a considerable distance on to a flagged
pavement, and run the risk of breaking his neck. In his cooler moments
he might have hesitated to tempt such a catastrophe, but the thought
of Meg’s peril steeled his nerves. Marking a great bough which would
bear his weight, he sprang from the window, and fortunately landed
among the branches of the tree. His head struck against the bough, and
he was almost stunned, but retained sufficient presence of mind to
grasp at whatever came within his reach.

After that effort all seemed like a dream. He heard Meg calling him
wildly, and, in some way, managed to scramble down the tree, though,
when he found himself on the ground, he could not explain how he got
there. His head felt giddy, and his clothes were torn to ribbons in
the fall. But there was no time to be lost, and he ran along the
flagged path to where he saw Meg, high above, clinging to the ivy. The
parasite formed a kind of natural ladder, but he dreaded to climb it,
lest he should grow giddy and fall. In desperation he looked around
for some means whereby to clear his head. A pool of stagnant water was
at hand, and, without a moment’s hesitation, he dipped his head
therein. The shock of the cold water restored him to his normal
condition, and the next moment he was scrambling up the ivy. The whole
time, from his spring into the oak and his clambering up the side of
the house, was not more than five minutes.

He was just in time, for Meg’s strength was rapidly giving way, and
hardly had he placed his disengaged arm round her waist than she
leaned half fainting on his breast with her whole weight. This threw
the strain on his right arm, and the ivy was almost torn from his
grasp. Fortunately, he had his feet firmly planted in the network
roots of the parasite, and so managed to hold firmly. Still, the
position was one of great peril, as the least false step would
precipitate both himself and his burden into the depths below.

“Meg, Meg!” he whispered vehemently, “clasp your arms round my neck
and hang on. I must have both hands free.”

Mechanically she did as she was told, as the momentary fainting-fit
had passed, and she now comprehended what was to be done. Free to use
both hands, Dan gripped the ivy firmly, planted his feet carefully,
and, with the girl clinging to his neck, managed with great difficulty
to make the descent. They reached the ground in safety.

“Thank God!” said Meg, looking up at the blazing ruin from which she
had so miraculously escaped. “My own darling, how brave you are! But
Miss Linisfarne?”

“Tim saved her. Let us go round to the terrace and show them that you
are alive. How did you get into the west wing, Meg?”

“Miss Linisfarne took me there, under the pretext that she wanted to
show me the portrait of Sir Alurde. Oh, Dan, she has cut it to pieces
because it resembled you!”

“I know she hates me, Meg. I was fearful lest she should do you harm,
and it seems that my presentiment was right.”

“She shut me up in the room, Dan, and then set fire to the place. The
window was barred, and I thought I was lost. Fortunately the bars were
old and rusty, so I was able to wrench them out and free myself. But
had you not come, I should have fallen.”

“My brave girl! There are not many who would have had such presence of
mind, Meg. Miss Linisfarne is a fiend. Can you walk now?”

“Yes; I am much stronger. Let us go at once.”

They hastened as quickly as possible round to the terrace, and found
Miss Linisfarne in the centre of the crowd. She was terribly burnt,
but conscious. The villagers welcomed Dan and Meg with cheers of
delight, and Jarner hastened forward. Before he could reach Meg,
however, Tim had passed him. With an ejaculation of thankfulness, he
seized the astonished girl in his arms and kissed her.

“Tim!” cried Dan, thoroughly enraged; “what right have you to—-”

“The right of a father,” said Tim, in a deep voice. “I am the husband
of yonder wretched woman, who tried to kill her own child.”

Both Dan and Meg looked at Jarner for an explanation. They were taken
by surprise at Tim’s speech, and could say nothing.

“It is true,” said Jarner, taking Meg tenderly in his arms. “I did not
know it till now. Nor did Miss Linisfarne dream that you were her
child, Meg. Had she known, this terrible catastrophe would not have
taken place.”

“Is she my mother?” faltered Meg; “but my father—-”

“I am your father,” said Tim, quietly. “Dr. Merle is only your
guardian. It is a long story, Meg. I acted for the best, but it has
turned out ill.”

“Meg, my child!” cried a feeble voice.

“Come,” said Dan, leading the girl towards the dying woman; “you must
see and forgive your mother.”

Miss Linisfarne was dying. Her body was terribly burnt, and she was
lying on the terrace wrapped in a blanket. The villagers were all in
the house saving the furniture, so only those intimately concerned
were present. The shock had driven the insanity out of Miss
Linisfarne’s brain, and she was now quite rational. As Meg knelt
beside her, she put out a feeble hand.

“Forgive!” she said faintly; “I was mad! I knew nothing, my child.”

“Oh, mother, mother! why did you not tell me I was your child?”

“She did not know,” said Tim, who was holding a cup of wine to the
lips of the woman he claimed as his wife. “I did not think her worthy
to know the truth, and so she never learned that it was her own
daughter she brought up.”

“Cruel! cruel!” murmured Miss Linisfarne. “Would nothing less than
twenty years of misery satiate your revenge?”

“No,” replied her husband, curtly.

“Do not reproach her,” said Jarner, in a gentle tone. “Do you not see
she is dying? I have sent for Dr. Merle. Here he comes!”

“Merle!” said Tim, with a frown. “No, not Merle, but Mallard.”

The feeble little doctor ran up to the group, and fell on his knees
beside Miss Linisfarne. She looked at him in amazement.

“Mallard!”

“Oh, Laura, Laura! After all these years!”

“Poor Richard!” murmured Miss Linisfarne. “I treated you badly; but I
have been punished. You can forgive me now?”

“I do! I do!–freely.”

“And Meg?”

“I forgive you, mother, and I love you,” said Meg, kissing her with
tears.

As she did so Miss Linisfarne’s head fell back. She was dead.

Continue Reading

CUPID IN ARCADY

In her then state of mind it needed but the assurance of Jarner that
Dan loved Meg to change Miss Linisfarne’s passive dislike of the girl
into active hatred. She had long been aware that Meg was her rival,
but this confirmation by a third party showed her how easily she might
lose her prize. At the same time, she was sufficiently clever to see
that Meg was quite unconscious of Dan’s devotion, and hoped, by taking
advantage of this fact, to draw him away from one presumably
indifferent to his regard. It was a difficult and delicate task, but
Miss Linisfarne deemed herself capable of carrying it through. Come
what may, she was resolved that Meg should not triumph.

To forward her schemes, it was necessary that she should have an
interview with Dan, and therefore sent a note to the dell requesting
him to call. The young man duly received the invitation, and, though
reluctant to visit a lady with whom his name was connected by gossip,
could not find sufficient grounds for refusal, and so sent back to say
that he would call at noon as desired. Had he known of Jarner’s
interview, he might have been placed on his guard, and so refused a
meeting which could only end in disaster; but Jarner was away on
parochial business, and Dan was quite ignorant of his danger.

Much as he distrusted Miss Linisfarne–for by her own acts she had
caused the gossip which had connected their names,–he did not think
she was so passionately in love with him as to overstep all bounds of
womanly modesty. He had laughed to scorn the notion of marriage put
forward by Tim and Dr. Merle, deeming it beyond all probability that a
gentlewoman would be so rash as to desire to link her fortunes with
those of a nameless vagrant. Although Tinker Tim and the vicar knew
his name, he was well assured that Miss Linisfarne was ignorant of it,
and so could see no reason to believe the rumour of marriage. Dan was
a cautious and astute young man, but in this case he had to measure
his wits against a woman. As a natural consequence, he failed. The
cleverest man is but a fool in some matters, when compared with even a
silly woman. Yet Dan came through the ordeal more creditably than he
might have expected.

Miss Linisfarne was by no means silly, and had all her plans prepared
for the subjugation of Dan. She intended to tell him that Meg’s
indifference was caused by the fact of her having another lover whom
she wished to marry. There not being a representative of this mythical
lover in the parish of Farbis, Miss Linisfarne decided to locate him
at a safe distance, where he could not be easily found. All this was
very clever, but she quite forgot that Dan’s insight into human nature
was as keen as her own, and that he would find it difficult to believe
that a mere child like Meg could keep secret so important a factor in
her life as a future marriage. Dan was honest and straightforward,
and, notwithstanding Miss Linisfarne’s fine-spun webs of sophistry,
contrived in the end to break through them, though not without
difficulty and pain. He failed in one respect, as his antagonist was a
woman and unscrupulous; but he was successful in the end, as his
strong love for Meg proved his safeguard against the wiles of this
enchantress.

Miss Linisfarne received him in her own particular corner of the
drawing-room. Knowing her ill health, Dan quite expected to find her
stretched languidly on the couch, but was astonished, as Jarner had
been, to find himself welcomed by a bright-eyed lady, alert and merry.
She presided over the tea-table and invited him to be seated. Nothing
loth–for his walk had given him an appetite–Dan drank tea and
devoured cakes, while Miss Linisfarne chatted to him on unimportant
subjects. She was too clever to introduce Meg’s name into the
conversation, lest his suspicions might be aroused, and left him to
make the first mention of the girl. This he did while talking of Mr.
Jarner, and discussing matters incidental to his sojourn at Farbis.

“I have enjoyed my stay here very very much, thank you, Miss
Linisfarne,” said Dan, in answer to a question. “You can judge of that
by the months I have been encamped in the dell.”

“And what have you most delighted in?” asked Miss Linisfarne, hoping
by this artful remark to lead him to talk of Meg.

“In Mr. Jarner. I have never met a character like him before.”

“No; a sporting parson is rather rare nowadays.”

“It’s not exactly his love of sport, but his whole character I admire.
He is a cross between Dr. Johnson and Squire Western. A bluff, honest,
hearty old man, who would put to shame many of our mincing, scented
clergy. I can well understand him doing what he told me he did the
other day.”

“What is that?”

“Why, he found his congregation was not large enough, and was in
danger of beginning the service, like Dean Swift, with ‘Dearly beloved
Roger,’ so he doffed his surplice and went out with his hunting crop
to thrash in a few listeners. Ay, and he succeeded too! He thrashed
the whole village. I can fancy how attentive that congregation must
have been.”

“He is very amusing,” said Miss Linisfarne, laughing at this anecdote;
“and has a good heart.”

“That he has,” assented Dan, heartily. “Look how kind he has been to
Meg. I do not know what she would have done without yourself and Mr.
Jarner.”

“Ob, I have done very little,” said Miss Linisfarne, carelessly. “It
was a great pleasure to me to help the poor child. I am afraid you
find her very rough and countrified?”

“Indeed, no. I think her perfection as she is. It would be a sin to
turn her into a fine London lady.”

“What do you know about London ladies?”

“What indeed!” said Dan, laughing to hide his confusion. “I am only a
vagabond.”

“I think we argued that question before, and disagreed upon it. You
are no vagabond, though it pleases you to pass as one. By the way, you
promised to tell me your name in a week or so. It is now two months
since then, and I am still ignorant of it.”

“I cannot tell you at present,” muttered Dan, awkwardly; “on some
future occasion I may.”

Miss Linisfarne was disappointed at this denial, but did not see her
way to press the matter. Nevertheless, she skilfully made use of the
opportunity to reintroduce the topic of Meg.

“It pleases you to be mysterious,” she said coldly, “and I trust your
motives are straightforward.”

“I think I can answer for them. With regard to whom?”

“Meg Merle! You are constantly with her, and I do not think that it is
right that you should be.”

“Why not?” asked Dan, with a frown. The significance of her tone
annoyed him.

“Well, for one thing, it is not right for the girl herself; for
another–her lover may take exception to your conduct.”

“Miss Linisfarne!”

He had leaped to his feet, and was looking at her with angry eyes. She
gazed at him with admiration, and thought she had never seen him look
so handsome; yet, undeterred by his wrath, persisted in her line of
conduct.

“Ah, you are astonished, I see. You did not know, then, that Meg was
engaged to be married?”

“I cannot believe it.”

“Nevertheless, it is true. That is why she is so indifferent to your
suit.”

“What do you mean?” said Dan, rather confused by the rapidity with
which she pressed the attack.

“Oh, I am not blind! I know you are in love with her. Your devotion is
quite useless, as you can see from her demeanour. She—-”

“That is innocence,” he interrupted roughly. “She does not know the
meaning of love. She has never thought of marriage. I do not–I cannot
believe that she is engaged. Her whole life gives the lie to such an
assertion.”

“You are discourteous.”

“I beg your pardon, I did not mean to be so,” he replied
apologetically; “but it is impossible. You must be mistaken.”

“Ask Mr. Byrne of Silkstone if I am mistaken. Meg may deny it, but
he—-”

“Why should she deny it? If she is engaged to be married to this
Silkstone man of whom you speak, there is no necessity to keep it
secret. But I tell you it cannot be. If it were so she would have told
me. She is an innocent child, who cannot keep a secret.”

“She kept this one, however.”

“Moreover, Mr. Jarner would have told me,” said Dan, not heeding the
taunt.

Miss Linisfarne lost her temper. She had counted on resistance, but
not on such a stubborn defence of Meg. Rising with flashing eyes, she
stepped up to Dan, and, throwing aside all restraint, burst out into
rapid speech. It was not wise for her to do so, but her love and
jealousy carried her away, and she spoke wildly, madly–as she never
would have spoken had she reflected for a moment.

“Are you blind, sir, that you so believe in this girl? I tell you, she
is engaged to be married. She does not love you–she will never love
you. Why should you lay your heart at her feet only to find it
spurned? Give it to me–I say, give it to me.”

“To you!” cried Dan, scarcely believing his ears.

“Yes. You now know my secret. I love you! I love you! I wish to
make you my husband. You are poor, but I am rich. Take me–take my
money–only leave that wretched girl and come to me, who truly loves
you.”

Dan stepped back a pace, and looked at her in amazement. Her face was
flushed, her eyes were unnaturally bright, and her whole body trembled
with emotion as she stretched out appealing hands to him. He was so
utterly astonished, that for the moment he did not know what to
say–what to do.

“I love you. Come to me,” she cried passionately. “You must see how I
am prepared to give up all for you.”

“But I–I am not–not worthy,” he stammered.

“You are in my eyes.”

“I am poor–nameless–unknown.”

“What is that to me? I am rich–take my money. I have a name–take it
as your own. With my name and my money you can make yourself known.
Only love me.”

It was an extremely awkward situation. Here was Dan, standing
helplessly before this impassionate woman, unable to move, almost
unable to speak. He faltered, stammered, hesitated, while she with
outstretched arms drew nearer. It was impossible to say how he would
have extricated himself from the dilemma, had not a memory of his
conversation with Merle flashed across his brain. He acted on the
impulse of the moment, and flung out a hand to keep her back.

“No. It is impossible. You are mad. Think of Mallard.”

“Mallard!”

“Of Richard Mallard, whom you deceived, and deserted, and ruined!”

Before the last words left his mouth, she had fallen fainting on the
floor. The name evidently recalled some painful memory, as Dan, on
remembering the anguish of Merle, guessed it would. He was sorry that
he had mentioned it, but, so awkwardly was he placed, that he saw no
way out of the position but to act in what he considered a brutal
fashion. It proved efficacious, for Miss Linisfarne lay at his feet in
a swoon, and he was free to go.

Ringing the bell hastily he committed the insensible woman to the care
of the astonished housekeeper, and rushed away with his brain on fire.

“She is mad! mad!” he said, as he ran down the avenue. “But what else
could I do? Mallard! Mallard and Merle! What does it all mean? Only
one person can solve the mystery of Miss Linisfarne, and that is
Tinker Tim.”

Miss Linisfarne recovered from her swoon to find that her machinations
had proved unsuccessful. She had lied in saying that Meg was engaged
to be married, and she had humiliated herself at the feet of a man who
scorned her. These things were sufficient in themselves to cause her
to repent of her folly, but, in place of learning a lesson from such
rebuffs, she became still more inflamed against the girl whom she
professed to love. Enraged by her failure and humiliation, she cast
about for some means whereby to punish Meg, whom she unjustly regarded
as the cause of her sufferings. No one was more prone than Miss
Linisfarne to lay the burden of her follies on others.

The reference by Dan to her lover of twenty years before, led her to
fancy that he knew more about her life than was actually the case. She
began to believe that this unknown man was well acquainted with the
shameful history which had led to her retirement, and had come down to
Farbis for the express purpose of recalling it to her mind. Ignorant
of the identity of Dr. Merle with Mallard, she could not conceive how
Dan had learned her secret, since she had confided it to no one in
Farbis. Yet it was known to him, as was apparent from his utterance of
the name, and he had used it in order to humiliate her to the dust.
Her mad love for him gave place to rage and resentment, and she longed
to find an opportunity to punish him for his disdain and knowledge.

On calm reflection, she saw that, by parting him from Meg, she could
render him miserable, and so resolved to see the girl, and, by lying
to her as she had to Dan, to effectually prevent their marriage. Well
aware that by her own acts she had prevented Meg from visiting at the
Court, she resolved to go in person to Dr. Merle’s house and see her
rival. Her plan of action was not clear in her mind, but all she
wanted was to achieve a lifelong separation between the pair. With
this amiable object she repaired that same afternoon, alone and on
foot, to the house of the doctor.

It had been Dan’s intention to speak personally to Meg; to demand from
her own lips a refutation of the lies uttered by Miss Linisfarne. But
on arriving at his camp he found a messenger from the vicar,
requesting him to come down to the village on that evening, and this
invitation Dan readily obeyed, as he was anxious to make a confidant
of the vicar, and to ask his advice with regard to the revelations
made by Tinker Tim, by Dr. Merle, and by Miss Linisfarne. He,
therefore, deemed it politic to postpone his visit to Meg until he had
seen the vicar, as in his future course he thought it would be wise to
be guided by the strong common sense of Jarner. Had he suspected Miss
Linisfarne’s intention of poisoning the mind of Meg, he might have
altered his plans; but, as it was, he was ignorant of her schemes and
quite unprepared to counteract her wiles. So far Fortune declared
itself in favour of the enemy.

When Miss Linisfarne was announced as waiting for an interview, Meg
was in the dark room with her father. She was astonished at the visit,
as she could not think what reason her benefactress could have for
calling on her. Dr. Merle was also surprised and very much alarmed, as
he thought that this unexpected appearance of the woman he loved was
due to a use made of his indiscreet revelations to Dan. With much
agitation he implored Meg not to let Miss Linisfarne see him, though,
with characteristic feebleness, he assigned merely selfish reasons for
this strange request.

“I am ill–very ill; she will only disturb me,” he reiterated
peevishly. “Why does she come here?”

“It is impossible to say, father,” said Meg, reflectively. “Perhaps
she is sorry she has treated me so ill, and wants me to return to the
Court.”

“Go, if she asks you, Meg; consent to anything, but do not let her see
me.”

“Don’t trouble yourself, father! I shall not let her enter this room.”

“She may force her way in,” replied Merle, in a terrified whisper;
“keep her away. Go and stop her.”

Meg departed as desired, not without some wonderment at the anxiety
displayed by her father. She put it down to his retiring disposition;
for, strange as it may appear, she knew nothing of Merle’s indulgence
in laudanum-drinking. He was ashamed to exhibit this vice before his
only child, and always locked himself in his room when indulging in a
debauch. Meg only knew these frequent retirements as caused by a
mysterious illness, and never for a moment suspected that they were
due to his own vices. Indeed, had she been told she would have been
none the wiser, as she was unacquainted with even the name of
laudanum. Merle’s refusal to see Miss Linisfarne was quite in keeping
with his usual habits; so, after a momentary wonder at his agitation,
Meg dismissed the subject from her mind, and went into the next room
to see her visitor.

Miss Linisfarne, arrayed in black, and thickly veiled, arose to meet
her, but did not come forward with any greeting. On the contrary, she
stood still as any statue, and looked steadily at the splendid beauty
of the young girl. It was so undeniable that she recognized the
inferiority of her faded charms at once, and sank back in her chair
with a sigh. This Meg interpreted as a sign of sorrow that they had
been parted, and with great tenderness took the hand of–as she deemed
her to be–her friend. The situation was not without a suspicion of
irony.

“I am so glad to see you, Miss Linisfarne,” she said, kissing the
elder woman. “I was afraid you were angry with me, and so kept away
from the Court.”

“It was for your own good, Meg, that I was angry.”

“For my own good!” repeated Meg, rather astounded at this assertion.
“What do you mean, Miss Linisfarne? Did I disobey you in anyway, that
you banished me from Farbis Court? Was my conduct distasteful to you,
that you so reproved me? What do you mean by saying your anger was for
my own good?”

Miss Linisfarne smiled under her veil at the indignation of the girl,
and uttered only one word in reply. It had not the effect she
anticipated.

“Dan!” she said, with much significance.

“What about Dan?” demanded Meg, in a puzzled tone.

“It was on his account I wished you to keep away from the Court.”

“I don’t understand!”

“No, poor child!” said Miss Linisfarne, in a pitying tone. “How can
you, with your youth and innocence and provincial education, be
expected to understand the baseness of man?”

“If you mean that Dan is base,” replied Meg, bluntly, “I don’t believe
it. He is as good a man as Mr. Jarner.”

“I am afraid not, Meg.”

“You need not be afraid, Miss Linisfarne. I have seen Dan daily for
the last three months, and every day I have grown to like him better.”

“Are you in love with him?” sneered Miss Linisfarne.

Meg laughed heartily. Such an idea had never entered her mind, and she
thought Miss Linisfarne was joking.

“Of course I am not in love with him,” she said, smiling; “why, we are
like brother and sister.”

“You think so, but he does not. I tell you, Meg, he is a dishonourable
man.”

“And I tell you he is not!”

“He has a brave defender, I see! But what do you say of a man who
professes to love two women at the same time?”

“I should call him a scoundrel. But such a thing is impossible. No one
can love two women at once.”

“Dan can,” retorted Miss Linisfarne, in a taunting manner; “he loves
you, and professes to love me.”

“Stop, stop!” cried Meg, with a bewildered expression of countenance.
“What do you say? Dan loves me?”

“Yes!”

“That is impossible! He has never, in any way, hinted at such a
thing.”

“No! Because he was afraid of my anger.”

“Of your anger!”

“Yes! He came to Farbis Court yesterday and declared that he loved
me–that he wished to make me his wife.”

“Oh, I cannot believe it,” said Meg, jealously.

“Nevertheless, it is true! He proposed to marry me; but I refused his
offer with scorn.”

“Why did you do that?”

Miss Linisfarne raised her veil, and showed a face inflamed with
anger. Having once committed herself, she did not measure her words,
and raged on without considering the harm she was doing. The belief
Meg had in Dan enraged her, and she was determined to blacken his
character in the girl’s eyes, so that any tenderness Meg might have
towards him should be crushed in its infancy.

“Why did I do that?” she cried, with rapid speech. “Because his offer
was an insult. He said that he loved you; in every action he has shown
that he loved you. Fool that you are, do you think a man would stay in
this place for weeks and weeks had he not been influenced by your
presence? He was in love with me also–the base, dishonourable
villain!”

“If so, why did he ask you to be his wife?” said Meg, calmly, though
her heart was beating wildly.

“Because he is a base and dishonourable man. He loved you for your
looks, child, but he wished to marry me for my money.”

“No, no!”

“I tell you it is true,” resumed Miss Linisfarne, vehemently. “Why
should I, who have been a mother to you, tell a falsehood? This man
has insulted us both. Now that I have repelled him he will come to you
with loving words, and you–what will you say?”

“If he has done what you say, I shall treat him with scorn.”

“Do you not believe me?”

“No, Miss Linisfarne, I do not,” replied Meg, facing round with great
indignation. “I do not believe your story. If Dan proposed to you he
does not love me. If he loves me as you say, he did not propose to
you. I shall know the truth from his own lips.”

“Will you ask him?” demanded Miss Linisfarne, rather alarmed at the
turn affairs had taken.

“Of course I shall ask him. And, what is more, I shall believe his
answer.”

“You love him, girl–you love him!”

“I do. Until you spoke I only felt like a sister to him, but now you
have put his conduct in a new light, and I feel what I never felt
before. I do love him, and on his answer shall depend the happiness or
the misery of my life.”

Thus Miss Linisfarne, by her jealousy, had brought about the very
catastrophe she desired to avoid. She recognized that her wiles were
worse than useless before the honest character of the girl, and
silently admitted that she was again beaten. She had failed with Dan,
now she failed with Meg. Only retreat remained.

“You fool!” she said cruelly. “Ask him, and believe his lies. Your
misery dates from that moment.”

She swept from the room with a haughty carriage, and left Meg
bewildered and afraid.

When Dan explained to Jarner the equivocal position in which he was
placed by the folly of Miss Linisfarne, the vicar urged him to end all
mysteries by declaring his name and rank. Also to ask Meg to be his
wife, and thus ascertain, beyond all question, the state of her
feelings. Miss Linisfarne’s story of an engagement to Byrne of
Silkstone was scouted by Jarner with much wrath.

“What can the woman be thinking of?” he said. “The whole story is
false–there is not even a man in Silkstone called Byrne. She must
have known that you would tell me this, and that I would be able to
deny it.”

“No doubt she thought that, in the revulsion of feeling caused by her
false word, I would ask her to marry me.”

“Very probably. I do not so much blame as pity her. The poor woman
suffers from hysteria. When she comes to her senses she will be sorry
enough for her behaviour.”

“I don’t know so much about that, sir. Remember, she is a woman with a
past. A woman with a past is capable of anything in the present.”

“Ay, but we know nothing of her past. She may be more sinned against
than sinning.”

“Merle–or, to use his real name, Mallard–does not seem to think so.”

“A poor creature that, my lord. A man who would sink, as he has done,
because a woman chose to jilt him, is a miserable specimen of
humanity. I should like to know his story.”

“So should I, and the story of Miss Linisfarne and of Tinker Tim.”

“The last-named person can gratify your curiosity,” said Jarner. “Take
my advice, and declare yourself. Then ask Meg to be your wife, and,
when all is accomplished, Tim will tell his story. I agree with you
that there is a mystery, but Tim holds the key thereto.”

“Perhaps Meg won’t accept me as her husband.”

“Try,” said the vicar, significantly, and pushed the young man out of
the room.

This action sounds inhospitable; but the hour was late and the vicar
weary, so he thus hinted strongly his wish to be alone. Dan, in nowise
offended, for he was used to the vicar’s blunt speech and blunt ways,
accepted the hint in its true spirit, and returned to his camp.

There was but little sleep for him that night. His thoughts were
principally taken up with the curious fulfilment of the prophecy of
Mother Jericho. Much as he despised superstition and ridiculed
palmistry, he could not but admit that the sibyl had forecast the
future with remarkable accuracy. She had predicted that he would meet
his fate at the Gates of Dawn, and there he had seen Meg, whom he now
designed to make his wife. The assertion that he would love one woman,
and be loved by another whom he would dislike, had been fulfilled to
the letter by the declaration of Miss Linisfarne. She had yellow hair
streaked with grey, and hence Mother Jericho’s warning to beware of
gold and silver. So far all had occurred exactly as she foretold; but
there was more to come. Miss Linisfarne was to seek to hurt him
through Meg, and there was fire and flame and brave deeds. Also a
false father, and a false mother. These yet unfulfilled events were a
source of great perplexity to him, and he determined to nullify at
least the first by at once declaring his passion to Meg. When they
understood one another, he hoped that Miss Linisfarne would be
powerless to harm him through his promised wife. But all this depended
on the acceptance or refusal of his suit by Meg.

After a restless night he walked down to the beach for a swim, and
left Simon and Peter to guard the dell. As he passed through the Gates
of Dawn, at the hour of sunrise, he beheld Meg coming up from the
seashore. Again the golden glory of the day burned behind her, but she
no longer sang, nor did she dance before the sun like Aurora. On the
contrary, her eyes were downcast, her face sorrowful, and she
attempted to pass Dan without a greeting. The omission vexed him, and
he blocked her path by standing before her. Courtesy forbade her to
force her way past him, so she paused irresolutely, and looked at him
reproachfully. Astonished at this unusual behaviour, and rightly
ascribing it to the influence of Miss Linisfarne, Dan was the first to
speak. He wasted no time in idle talk, but went straight to the point.

“Meg!” he said, looking at her anxiously, “what is the matter? Have I
offended you, that you would pass me by as a stranger?”

“I have nothing to say,” she murmured. “Let me pass, please.”

“Not till you tell me how I have been so unfortunate as to offend
you.”

“You have not offended me. I have no right to control your actions.”

“Then Miss Linisfarne has poisoned your mind against me.”

Meg lifted her eyes, and looked at him sorrowfully. Boldly as she had
defended him when absent, she could not help believing that there was
some truth in the assertions of Miss Linisfarne. Dan she had only
known for a few months, while Miss Linisfarne was the close friend of
years, therefore it was only natural she should attach more weight to
the assertions of the latter than to those of the former. Experience
only can instruct as to the proper estimate of a friendship.

“Miss Linisfarne told me all,” she said, with great dignity.

“All what?”

“Can you ask me?” replied Meg, reproachfully. “Does not your memory
recall your words and acts?”

“I really do not understand you,” said Dan, much bewildered by this
speech. “What have I said or done to you that you should thus reproach
me?”

“It is not what you said to me, Dan. I have no fault to find with you
in any way, as I told Miss Linisfarne. But she says you called at
Farbis Court, and—-”

“Go on,” said Dan, seeing she hesitated. “I admit I called at the
Court.”

“And there you asked Miss Linisfarne to be your wife.”

“I!”

It was all he could say, being dumbfounded by the accusation, which he
guessed was made by Miss Linisfarne.

With her face suffused with blushes, Meg continued to speak in a low,
nervous tone. Since she had discovered that she loved Dan, she felt
ill at ease in his presence, and the subject on which she was forced
to speak was uncongenial. The situation was most trying to a modest
girl like Meg; but her brave spirit did not falter in fulfilling what
she considered to be her duty. Therefore, much as she disliked the
task, she did not shrink from the performance. Dan guessed all this,
and admired her nerve.

“Yes. Miss Linisfarne told me how you wished to marry her for the sake
of her fortune. She said you were poor and nameless, and that you
wished to improve your condition by marriage. Oh, Dan, I never thought
you were so base!”

“Nor am I,” he replied, frankly. “It is quite untrue that I wish to
marry Miss Linisfarne. On the contrary—- But that is neither here
nor there. Though she has attempted to blacken my character in your
eyes, I shall say nothing against her. Do you believe this story,
Meg?”

“I told her I did not; but—-” She faltered, and looked away.

Angered at the opinion she held of him, which was so galling to his
proud nature, Dan caught her hands.

“Look me in the eyes, Meg, and say if you believe me to be so base.”

“I don’t think you are base; but you might be tempted—-”

“True; but not by Miss Linisfarne. You know better than that, Meg,
I’ll swear. Look me in the eyes, and tell me if you believe this
story.”

In the steady eyes which met hers, Meg read the truth. All the lies of
Miss Linisfarne faded from her memory. With the instinct of a true and
loving heart, she recognized that Dan spoke the truth.

“I believe you, Dan,” she said, frankly. “Miss Linisfarne made a
mistake.”

“Miss Linisfarne is—- Well, well! never mind her at present. No, you
need not try to get away, Meg. I have to ask you a question. Can you
not guess what it is?”

“No. I–that is—-”

“I see you can. Yes, Meg. Poor and friendless and nameless and
homeless as I am, I wish you to be my wife.”

“Your wife!”

“My loved and honoured wife. It is you that have kept me so long at
Farbis. I care nothing for Miss Linisfarne or her money, and a great
deal for you. Dearest, can you accept my love?”

“But I am poor, and—-”

“Well! Am I not poor also? I can only offer you a caravan! Come, Meg,
will you be a poor man’s wife? You do not speak. They say that silence
gives consent. Meg, dearest wife!”

He drew her unresistingly towards him, and with flushed cheeks and
bright eyes she lay passively in his arms. He bent down to whisper–

“Will you be my wife, Meg?”

She looked up into his face, but uttered no word. Nor was speech
needed, for he saw in her eyes the answer he desired. There, in the
lonely Gates of Dawn, where he had first met her, did he touch her
lips with his own. A great joy filled the hearts of both. Emotion
rendered them dumb, and they could only look silently into one
another’s eyes.

“Meg, my darling wife!”

“Dan!”

“Remember, I am a poor wanderer, and you will have a hard life!”

“Not if it is passed with you,” she whispered.

“I haven’t even a name!”

“Take mine. I love you, Dan! I did not know it till Miss Linisfarne
spoke. Then, when I thought you were to be hers, I felt angered. I
knew then that you were everything to me. In a single moment the whole
of my life seemed to change, and all because I love you.”

“My darling!”

He kissed her again. But why strive to describe the indescribable? To
relate a love episode is foolish. Words are too poor to tell all. It
were better to let the reader imagine the looks, and words, and joy of
these two. They felt in that moment the perfect happiness which comes
but once in a lifetime to man or woman. Earth was heaven, and they the
angels who dwelt therein. After a sacred silence, which lasted it
seemed ages, Dan was the first to speak. Having gained his end, he was
now ready to make confession.

“Meg, I have told you a falsehood.”

She drew away quickly with a startled look in her eyes, and faltered
out the first thought in her mind.

“Miss Linisfarne?”

“No, no; it has nothing to do with Miss Linisfarne. Do not look so
shocked. It is not a very dreadful story. Do you know who I am, Meg?”

“Yes; you are Dan.”

“No; I am not Dan. Nor am I poor; nor am I a vagrant. I wooed you as a
poor man because I wanted a wife who loved me for myself. You have
done so, my dearest, and now I can confess my deception. My name
is–can you not guess?”

“No. How strangely you speak! Tell me! Who are you?”

“Meg, Meg! whom do I resemble?”

“Sir Alurde,” said she, quickly. Then, with a sudden light breaking in
on her mind, “Then he was your ancestor?”

“Ah, you have guessed my secret. Yes, Meg, my real name is Francis
Breel.”

“Lord Ardleigh!”

“Precisely. And you, my dearest, who took poor Dan for his own worth,
will be Lady Ardleigh of Farbis Court.”

Continue Reading

THE DAYS PASS BY

That evening, Dan paid a visit to Mr. Jarner in order to confess his
newly born passion. After the rebuff he had received from Miss
Linisfarne, he judged it as well to enlist the sympathy of the vicar,
so that if the one retarded the other would speed his wooing. Miss
Linisfarne had taken up a distinctly hostile attitude towards Meg. She
monopolized Dan all the tea-time, and seemed displeased when he
addressed the girl even in the most casual manner. Dan was quite
unaware of her reason for acting thus, and so wished to seek the
advice and assistance of Mr. Jarner.

The vicar was installed in the oaken parlour, and, according to his
usual custom, had placed himself at the open window with his beer and
his long clay pipe. There was no light in the room save what was given
by the soft twilight. Dan hailed his host outside, and was bidden to
enter with hearty hospitality.

“Hey, lad, I’m glad to see you,” said Mr. Jarner, in his usual loud
voice; “come inside–come inside. A tankard and a pipe and a chat ye
shall have. Down, Jane! Down, Mike!”–this to the yapping terriers.
“Come in, my lord.”

“Hush!” said Dan, pausing on the threshold of the parlour; “not that
name here.”

“Ay, ay! I forgot. It is Dan I’m to call you. Sit ye down. Yonder’s
the chair. Wait, and I’ll light up.”

“Not on my account, sir,” said his visitor, seating himself on the
window seat. “Let us sit down here and enjoy the beauty of the
evening. It is good to live on days like these. You remember Keble on
the evening, vicar?”

“Ay, sir; Keble and Cowper. Both knew the quiet of eventide. Isn’t
that a pretty picture, sir?”–the vicar pronounced it ‘pratty.’ “Yon’s
the church tower black against the clear glow of the sky. Bats and
owls are abroad; I’ve been watching their flittings. And hark, if you
have a soul for music, Dan.”

“The nightingale!”

“He’s in the thicket yonder, and sings his evening hymn nightly to me.
To think that yonder strain is but an invitation to battle–the cock
nightingale calling to his rival!”

“Then all the sorrow of the bird—-”

“Comes from the poets. Poetic invention, sir! though I don’t deny the
ideal view is finer than the real. But we can talk of birds and beasts
another time. What brings you here, Dan?”

“A desire for your company, vicar.”

“Pooh-pooh, sir! Am I a young maiden that ye should come slipping
through the dark to talk with me? You’ve–ay, ay, here’s a tankard for
you, Dan. Come, drink up!”

“To tell you the truth, Mr. Jarner, I wish to speak seriously with
you,” said Dan, after they had pledged each other in ale.

“Is it about those mysteries, Dan? Have you found out anything new?”

“I have seen Miss Linisfarne.”

The vicar laid down his pipe on the window sill, and, with his hands
on his knees, stared in surprise at his visitor. The news astonished
him.

“You–seen–Miss–Linisfarne!” said he, with a pause between each
word. Dan nodded thrice to assure him that such was the case. Whereat
the vicar picked up his pipe again, and proceeded to proclaim his
wonderment. “It is the first time she has seen a stranger for years.
How did you chance on her, may I ask?”

“Meg took me to the Court to see the picture of Sir Alurde Breel, and,
while we were looking at it, Miss Linisfarne made her appearance.”

“Ay?”

“She was most agreeable, and very curious to know who I was.”

“Did you gratify her curiosity, Dan?” demanded the vicar, with a
twinkle in his eye. His short acquaintance with Lord Ardleigh had
shown him something of the young man’s character.

“No, sir. I managed to keep my secret with some difficulty, so she
made another attempt to find it out, and asked me to tea.”

“Preserve us!” cried Jarner, breaking his pipe in his astonishment;
“if this is not the most remarkable thing I have heard. Tea at Farbis
Court, and you a stranger! In all the years I have known Miss
Linisfarne, I have never broken bread under her roof. Look after
yourself, lad. There’s woman’s guile at work. If you don’t take care
of yourself, the old lady will marry you. You’ll be mated, my lord,
before you know where you are. There is no trusting Eve’s daughters,”
finished the vicar, rising to get a fresh pipe.

“I’ll be married soon, no doubt, Mr. Jarner, but not to Miss
Linisfarne.”

In the glow of the match, with which the vicar was lighting his new
pipe, Dan saw that his face had suddenly grown serious.

“Are you talking of Meg, my lord?”

“Yes. Of whom else should I talk? I am in love with Meg, sir, and,
with your assistance, hope to make her my wife.”

“Is this a joke, my lord?” demanded Mr. Jarner, sternly.

“I was never more serious in my life.”

“Then you’re a lunatic, sir–a crazy person! What?–what? To love a
woman you’ve seen but twice–to—-”

“Pardon me! I’ve seen her four times.”

“When, and where?”

“First, at the Gates of Dawn. Second, on the crest of the ridge.
Third, at afternoon tea, in my dell, yesterday. Fourth, to-day at
Farbis Court.”

“My lord–my lord, you—-”

“Don’t call me ‘my lord’!”

“Ay, but I shall, my lord. This is a serious matter, and it behoves
you to talk with me in your true colours. As a priest, my Lord
Ardleigh, I tell you that it is wrong for you to behave so!”

“I don’t understand you, sir,” said Dan, placidly. He was not at all
put out by the vicar’s anger, which he considered just enough, in the
parson’s present state of misapprehension.

“She has been to your dell, sir–alone.”

“Don’t go too far, sir! You have no right to judge me without a
hearing!”

“The Lord forgive me if I am harsh!” said Jarner, wiping his forehead;
“but the girl is dear to me, and I would not have a hair of her head
harmed for all the gold of Ophir. I listen, my lord.”

“There is not much to tell, Mr. Jarner. Meg had tea with me in the
dell; and it was there I fell in love with her.”

“You cannot love so suddenly, sir! This is a young man’s fancy!”

“Indeed, no! I am in love with her beauty, her heart, and her noble
character. Can you blame me?”

“No! It is natural that you should love so fine a creature. But so
soon–so soon! Ay, there’s the rub, my lord! Easy in–easy out!”

“My dear vicar, if you had constructed an ideal, and suddenly found it
realized in the flesh, would you not fall in love with it forthwith?”

“Probably, my lord–probably!”

“Well, that is what I have done. For years I have sought a woman like
Meg, in the hope of making her my wife. Now I have found her, I am not
inclined to let her go.”

“But your rank–your relatives.”

“A fig for both, my dear sir. I shall woo, and, I hope, win, under the
name of Dan, and as to my relatives, I can settle with them. Believe
me, Mr. Jarner, Meg will make a noble Countess of Ardleigh.”

“That is true!–that is true! A heart of gold, my lord–of gold
unalloyed!”

“From what I have seen of her, from what you have told me of her, I
see well that I can find no better mate. If she will accept me as her
husband, vicar, I shall feel proud and happy. You see, sir, the
gipsy’s prophecy is coming true, after all.”

Mr. Jarner wiped his eyes. He was deeply affected for the moment, for,
knowing the merits of Meg, he wished her to marry a man worthy of her.
Such a one Dan appeared to be, for, lord or no lord, he was an honest,
noble young fellow, whom any girl might be proud to have at her feet.
It was greatly to Mr. Jarner’s credit that Dan’s rank weighed not one
iota in his estimation of the situation.

“Good! good!” said Jarner, gripping Dan’s hand; “if it is no fancy,
but real, enduring love, I’ll help you, my lord. But,” he added,
springing to his full height, “if you play her false—-”

“I shall not play her false,” rejoined Dan, seriously. “On my honour,
I swear that she shall be my wife.”

The vicar would have replied, but at that moment a whistle rang out in
the garden. Jarner raised his head and listened. It was repeated.

“Not a word more, Dan,” said he, hurriedly; “here is Tinker Tim, I
know his whistle–we will talk of this again. Be honest and true, and
I shall be your friend.”

They had just time to exchange a hearty hand-shake, when Tim’s huge
bulk appeared at the window. The dogs barked furiously; but, nothing
dismayed, the gipsy thrust in his mighty shoulders, and nodded to the
gentlemen.

“Evening to both o’ ye,” said Tim, familiarly. “I looked in at your
dell, young man, but the fire was out and you also. Hy! passin, I’ve
got ye the dorg.”

“What, another dog?” laughed Dan, as the gipsy hauled a fox-terrier
pup out of his pocket. “Why, vicar, you must have a dozen.”

“Nay, five only! This makes the sixth,” replied Jarner, taking the dog
from Tim. “Light the lamp, Dan, and we’ll have a look at this one.”

Thereafter ensued an argument over the dog, its breed, its price, and
its condition, between the vicar and Tim. Dan listened with great
amusement, and the buyer and seller went at it hard, the one trying to
get the better of the other. At length a satisfactory bargain was
concluded, and Tim, before taking his departure, accepted a drink of
ale from the hospitable clergyman.

“I’ll go with you, Tim,” said Dan, putting on his cap; “it will be
company up to my dell.”

“Right, rye!” replied the Tinker, draining the tankard. “Good night t’
ye, my noble gentleman,” he added, nodding to Jarner.

“Come and see me to-morrow; we will resume our conversation.”

This was the parting salutation of Jarner to Dan, and after he
promised to call, he strode away with Tim into the darkness. At the
top of the ridge, Dan halted to look down at the Gates of Dawn, which
reared themselves like the portals of night in the gloom. Tim chuckled
and clapped his companion heavily on the shoulder.

“What about the prophecy, my lord?” said he, in a dry voice.

“My lord!” repeated Dan, starting. “What, you know?”

“I know that you are Lord Ardleigh, and that the prophecy of the
Mother is fulfilled.”

Summer was giving place to autumn, and still Lord Ardleigh lingered at
Farbis. A constant succession of fine days enabled him to continue his
outdoor life; and so many weeks had he dwelt in the dell, that he
quite looked on it in the light of a home. Instructed and guided by
Meg, who was proficient in woodcraft, he soon became conversant with
moors and valleys, and pine woods and adjacent hamlets. For miles
round he explored the country, and learned the fascination exercised
on the thoughtful mind by the barren hills. Those summer days were
henceforth to rank among the pleasant memories of his life; and with
reason, for were they not the days of his wooing? Who forgets the time
when Cupid was king?

It may be questioned whether he would have professed such ardent
admiration of Bohemianism, had not Meg been with him daily from morn
till sunset. She was his companion in all excursions, and treated him
in a sisterly fashion. Such chilly affection he was far from
relishing, being deeply in love, but the time was not yet ripe for him
to speak. Meg had still to learn the pains and sweetness of love, but
such knowledge had not yet come to her. In vain did Dan, by looks and
words, endeavour to touch her heart. She could not understand, and
though she professed to like him greatly, gave no sign of experiencing
any deeper feeling. Her namesake Diana were scarce colder than this
rustic maiden.

“She is like Undine,” complained Dan to his friend the vicar; “she has
no soul.”

“No heart, you mean,” replied Jarner, dryly; “there you are wrong. She
has a warm and loving heart. Never a tale of poverty but—-”

“I know all that, sir; but I want her heart to melt to my tale, not to
the whining of a sturdy mendicant.”

“I am afraid I cannot instruct you how to gain her affection, my lord;
I have never felt the tender passion myself. Ho! ho! You come to a bad
adviser when you seek my opinion on such points.”

This was but cold comfort, and Dan went away in despair. He likened
his case to that of Pygmalion, and then took courage from such
comparison, remembering that even the marble statue turned to warm
flesh and blood in the end. Meanwhile, he followed his divinity about
the hills, and hoped that he would gain her heart in the days to come.
His wish was gratified, but in a most unexpected fashion. It was the
jealous tongue of Miss Linisfarne, that first opened the eyes of Meg,
and changed her from girl to woman.

Dan was not offensively conceited. He entertained a reasonably good
opinion of his looks and capabilities, but did not deem himself an
Apollo with whom every woman was bound to fall in love. Yet,
resolutely as he strove to thrust the notion from him, he became aware
in more ways than one that Miss Linisfarne looked on him with great
favour. Whether it was his appearance or his conversation he was
unable to determine, but the pale lady of Farbis Court showed him
plainly that he had taken her heart by storm. In place of lying
for hours on her couch or limiting her walk to terrace and
picture-gallery, she became almost as great a pedestrian as Meg. She
invited Dan to the Court on every possible occasion, she followed him
to the dell on the pretext of wishing to see his caravan, and
frequently formed an undesirable third in those excursions on the
moorlands. And, to put the matter beyond all doubt, she showed by her
altered demeanour that she was wildly jealous of Meg.

Dan began to find his life anything but pleasant. He did not love Miss
Linisfarne, whom he looked on as quite an old woman, and objected
strongly to her incessant attentions. She never left him alone for a
single moment, and was always finding pretexts to be in his company.
At first he laughed at such madness, but soon began to weary of his
elderly admirer, the more so as she took to treating Meg in a very
unpleasant fashion. With the instinct of a jealous woman she saw that
Dan was in love with Meg, and since she could not revenge herself on
the man, took every opportunity of doing so on the girl. She subjected
her to all kinds of petty spite, sneered at her masculine habits, and
always sent her out of the room when Dan happened to be at the Court.
Meg resented this behaviour, though she was far from guessing the
cause, and so went but seldom to see her benefactress. On his part
Dan, learning from experience that Meg was not to be found as formerly
at the Court, kept away also, and thus inflamed Miss Linisfarne’s
heart with rage and envy. So far had her unrequited passion carried
her that she was rapidly approaching a stage when she might be
expected to be dangerous. Dan noted this fact, and kept as much as
possible from intruding on her privacy. The remedy was worse than the
disease.

Like the ostrich which thinks itself unseen because its head is thrust
into the sand, Miss Linisfarne never deemed that her passion was
patent to all Farbis. The villagers saw it, and made remarks on her
age and folly; Mr. Jarner noticed it and frowned, and a rumour even
reached Dr. Merle in the seclusion of his house. Only Meg was
ignorant, for no one dared to say a word about Miss Linisfarne in her
hearing. She was too mindful of former benefits to hear her
benefactress blamed in the smallest degree.

The last to hear of it was Mother Jericho, and she mentioned it to
Tinker Tim as a good joke. Instead of looking on it as such, the gipsy
scowled and swore, and finally went to the dell in search of Dan. Why
he should trouble himself about Miss Linisfarne and her follies it is
impossible to say; but he certainly spoke freely to Dan on the
subject.

“Morning, rye,” said he, striding into the dell like Hercules. “What’s
all this about the old woman?”

Ardleigh looked up in surprise. He was astonished to hear the tone in
which Tim spoke, and resented the scowl with which the gipsy greeted
him.

“What do you mean, Tim?” he asked coldly.

“She told me,” said the Tinker, jerking his thumb over his shoulder,
“that the old lady at the Court wants t’ marry ye.”

“That is news to me! And how did she, by whom you no doubt mean Mother
Jericho, learn this?”

“It’s all over the place. Miss Linisfarne wants to become your wife.”

Dan did not know whether to laugh or to frown. Although he was aware
that there was some truth in the rumour, he was by no means inclined
to admit as much to Tim; the more so as the attitude of the gipsy was
distinctly hostile, and he eyed Dan in a gloomy and threatening
manner.

“Is it true, rye?” he demanded savagely.

“What business is it of yours, even if it is true?” said Dan,
wrathfully, springing to his feet.

“It’s every business,” retorted the tinker, scowling; “it is–it
is—- By Heaven!” he cried, his passion breaking loose, “I’ll twist
her neck!”

“Twist Miss Linisfarne’s neck?”

“Ay! That I shall!”

Dan advanced, and, laying his hand on the giant’s shoulder, looked at
him curiously. The man was strongly moved, though by what Dan could
not conjecture. Such an unexpected display of anger was all of a piece
with the other mysteries connected with Miss Linisfarne.

“See here, my man,” said Dan, deliberately; “we had better understand
one another. I allow no man to speak to me as you have done. You are
keeping something from me.”

“It’s a lie!” said Tim, hoarsely.

Dan, in nowise moved by the insult, persisted in his questioning.
“It’s the truth. How did you know my name?”

“That’s my business.”

“And mine also. I was directed to Farbis by your kinsfolk. I was met
here by Mother Jericho, and a few weeks ago you called me by my name.
Now you are angry because my name is connected with Miss Linisfarne’s
by lying gossip.”

“Is it lying gossip?” asked Tim, eagerly ignoring the rest of the
speech.

“Of course it is. I am in love with Meg. Do you think I want to marry
Miss Linisfarne, who is old enough to be my mother?”

Tim drew his hand across his brow, and heaved a sigh of relief. The
declaration was evidently a great relief to him. He tried to evade an
answer to the other questions by talking about Meg.

“It was for the girl’s sake, rye,” said he, hurriedly. “I know you
love her, and that she loves you, so I didn’t want ye to love the old
woman.”

“That is untrue, Tim. I love Meg, but she does not love me.”

“She will some day, rye.”

“Mind your own business, my man,” said Dan, sharply. “Meg has nothing
to do with you, or you with her. What I wish to know is, why you
threaten ill to Miss Linisfarne?”

“I can’t tell ye–I can’t tell ye.”

“You must; and also how you came to know my name.”

“Ho! ho! rye! That’s easy. A pal o’ mine had a cart made at the place
where your caravan was built. He saw it there, and asked whose it was,
so, when they said Lord Ardleigh, he passed the word round our people
that a rye was on the wing.”

“So you knew who I was from the first?” said Dan, in a vexed tone.

“Ay, that I did, my lord, and Mother Jericho also.”

“Had such knowledge anything to do with her prophecy?”

“No.”

In spite of this denial, Tim looked so uneasy that Dan felt sure he
was not speaking the truth. Determined to know it at any cost, he was
about to ask a leading question, when Tim caught his hand and clapped
him on the shoulder.

“Don’t ask me any questions, rye. When the time comes, I’ll tell ye
all.”

“All what?”

“All these things ye wish to know–about the old lady and Dr. Merle
and the prophecy.”

“When will the time come?”

“On the day ye take Meg to church,” said Tim, and with a significant
nod marched away.

Dan did not attempt to stay him, but stood reflectively looking at the
ground.

“I’ll speak to Jarner again,” he said, thoughtfully; “in spite of what
he says, there is some mystery about Meg. If Jarner doesn’t know it,
Dr. Merle does. I’ll see him.”

He lifted up his eyes, and saw the very man of whom he spoke coming
down the path.

It was with considerable astonishment that Dan saw Dr. Merle
approaching the dell. That so habitual a recluse should break through
his customary rules, and visit a comparative stranger showed that he
must be influenced by a powerful motive. What that motive might be Dan
was unable to conjecture, but hurriedly fixed on the only reason
likely to account for the unexpected presence of his guest. It might
be, Dan thought, that Merle had heard rumours of his attentions to
Meg; and, therefore, had come to demand an explanation. This Dan was
quite prepared to give, and, indeed, rather congratulated himself on
the opportunity thus afforded of placing matters on a proper footing.
His expectation was vain, for it soon appeared from the ensuing
conversation that Merle had sought an interview for an entirely
different purpose.

Although it was a warm day, the wretched creature shivered as he came
down the path, and blinked his eyes constantly in the unaccustomed
sunshine. For so many years he had lived in that darkened room, that
the access of light and the keen air rendered him uncomfortable. He
was wrapped up as though it were winter, and crawled feebly along with
the aid of a staff. With his pallid face, loose mouth, and red-rimmed
eyes, he looked a most pitiable object, and Dan secretly wondered that
this decrepit wreck should be the father of so splendid a specimen of
womanhood as Meg.

“A most undesirable father-in-law,” said Dan to himself, as he went
forward to assist his visitor. “But there is one comfort–he cannot
live much longer. Even now he looks as though about to tumble into his
grave.”

In order to pay this visit Merle had evidently omitted to take his
usual dose of laudanum; but in place of such abstinence rendering his
brain clear, it made him weak and irritable. The sudden cessation of
the drug unstrung his nerves and clouded his intellect, so that he
sank on the log, to which Dan conducted him, in a state of mental and
physical collapse. His breath came in quick gasps, his hands trembled,
and his lean body shook as with the palsy. In all his experience, Dan
had never seen so degenerate a specimen of the human race. Much as he
despised him, yet he could not refrain from pitying the creature. He
was so weak and prostrate and broken up.

All this time Merle said nothing, his whole attention being taken up
in getting himself settled. When on the log, he coughed, and wiped the
perspiration off his brow, and shivered and shook, until able to
speak. It was quite five minutes before he could do so, and all the
time Dan, after a brief word of welcome, held his peace, and eyed his
visitor with strong curiosity.

“Ow, ow!” coughed Merle, weakly. “What a hill that is to climb! I
haven’t climbed one for years. Why do you live in this out-of-the-way
place? It is quite a journey from my house.”

“Why did you not send word that you wished to see me, Dr. Merle?” said
Dan, gently. “Had you done so I should have called at your house, and
so saved you the journey.”

“I didn’t want you to call, young man. Meg would have asked the reason
of your visit, and I do not wish her to know what I have to say.”

“Indeed! Does it then concern her?” said Dan, anxiously.

“No! It has nothing to do with her,” retorted Merle, querulously; “why
should it? I wish to speak of myself, and of Miss Linisfarne, and of
you.”

“Well, and what have you to say?” asked Dan, guessing from this speech
that the errand had something to do with the rumours pervading Farbis.

“You must not be offended, young man.”

“I can safely promise you that,” said Dan, with veiled contempt;
“nothing you could say would offend me. Pray proceed, Dr. Merle! I am
all attention.”

“It is said that you are in love with Miss Linisfarne!”

“So I have heard before.”

“Is it true?” demanded Merle, eagerly, putting out one shaking
hand–“is it true?”

Dan did not answer at once. That two such different individuals as
Tinker Tim and Dr. Merle should display emotion in regard to Miss
Linisfarne astonished him greatly. He could not conceive what
influence that faded old woman could exercise over the recluse and the
gipsy; the more so as neither, so far as he knew, had ever set eyes on
the lady. It had been impossible to get the truth out of Tim; but
there was a possibility of forcing a weak creature like Merle to
explain himself. This Dan determined to do, and so spoke with
forethought and deliberation.

“Is it true?” said Merle again, seeing that the young man kept silent.

“Before I answer that question I must ask you to explain your
connection with Miss Linisfarne.”

Merle stared at him with a terrified expression, and could hardly
force his dry lips to speak. When he did manage to find his tongue it
was to tell an untruth.

“I have no connection with Miss Linisfarne. All the time she has been
in Farbis I have never seen her.”

“Then why trouble to ask if I love her?”

“Because you have no right to love her,” replied Merle, vehemently. “I
forbid you–I forbid you! I shall speak to Tinker Tim. I–I—-”

His voice faltered and died away in his throat, for Dan had seized him
by the shoulder, and was speaking to him in a very peremptory manner.

“There must be an end to this, Dr. Merle,” he said decisively. “I
cannot allow you to meddle with my private affairs without having some
explanation. You spoke of Miss Linisfarne–you speak of Tinker Tim.
Between the three of you there is some understanding. Now, what is
it?”

“I daren’t tell,” whimpered the wretched creature, thoroughly
frightened by this vehemence. “There is nothing–nothing.”

“Yes, there is! Out with it, sir. Before you leave this place I must
know.”

Merle half arose from his seat as to escape; but Dan, now thoroughly
angry at what he regarded as an unjustifiable interference, forced him
down. The man snarled and muttered. Like a rat driven into a corner he
turned at bay.

“I shan’t tell you!”

“I’ll drop you into the well if you don’t,” said Dan, grimly. “I’m not
going to have you and Tim interfering with my business without knowing
your reasons.”

“Has Tim been here?”

“He left as you came. I wonder you did not meet him. And he asked me
the same question as you have done. What business is it of yours or of
his if I marry Miss Linisfarne? It has nothing to do with you.”

“Yes, it has–yes, it has! I love her–I love her!”

“How can that be, when, by your own confession, you never saw her till
you came to Farbis?”

“I didn’t say that! I said that I had not seen her since she came to
Farbis.”

“Indeed! Then you knew her before she settled at the Court?”

“Yes! I–that is–oh, don’t ask me any more!” said Merle, in an
hysterical manner. “I can’t tell you. If Tinker Tim knew he would kill
me.”

The alarm of the man was so genuine that Dan soothed him with soft
words, as one would soothe a frightened child. And, indeed, Merle was
little else, for the pernicious drug had effectually destroyed his
manhood, and converted him into a nervous, irresponsible being.

“Don’t be afraid, Merle,” said Dan, quietly; “no one shall hurt you. I
can protect you from Tim; only tell me all!”

“I cannot tell you about Tim, for I know hardly anything of him. But I
can tell you my own story.”

“Very good; do so! Tim has promised to tell me his later on.
Meanwhile, let me hear yours. You say you knew Miss Linisfarne?”

“Yes, twenty-three years ago, it may be more. I have quite lost count
of time.”

“I don’t wonder at that,” said Dan, gravely.

“I–I only use it to soothe my pain,” said Merle, hurriedly. “It makes
me dream, and forget the past. If you only knew how I have been
tortured–how I am tortured by memory–how burdensome my life is to
me, you would not grudge me the drug which enables me to bear my
accursed existence.”

“Why are you tortured by memory? Have you committed a crime?”

“No! Do I look like a criminal! My sole crime is in having loved this
woman too well. My name is not Merle–what it is does not matter.
Three and twenty years ago I was a man, not a creature like I am now;
but a man with a career before me. I met with Laura Linisfarne and
loved her. She said she loved me, and then we were engaged. I lived in
a fool’s paradise for some months, and then found out her treachery,
her wickedness. She ruined my life; she made me an outcast and a
bye-word. I followed her here–to the exile to which her sin had
condemned her. For years I have not seen her, but watched over her
agony. For every pang I have felt, she has likewise suffered, for she
has no opium to dull the stings of memory. If she says she loves you,
she lies. She is a viper, a devil, a fiend! Were I strong enough, I
would kill her! I was a man once–now look at me!”

He sprang to his feet and stretched out his arms. A look of fury
distorted his face, and he shook like a reed.

“Look at me!” he cried. “This is he that was once Richard Mallard!”

“Ah! Mallard–not Merle.”

“Oh, what have I said–what have I said?” cried Merle, with a sudden
revulsion of feeling. “I did not mean to tell you my name, I–I—-”

“Hush, hush, no harm is done.”

“You know my secret; I shall tell you no more. Let me go–let me go.
If you would know more, ask Tim. He can tell you why I came here–how
bitterly I have suffered at the hands of that woman. And now she would
marry you. Avoid her–avoid her, or she will ruin you as she has done
me!”

“She will not marry me. I don’t love her,” said Dan, slowly. “I am in
love with your daughter Meg; I want to marry her.”

Merle looked at him with a dazed expression, then tossed up his arms,
and, with a sudden access of strength, ran away up the path, laughing
hysterically.

“Ha! ha! you love my daughter,” he cried, shrilly. “Go and tell Laura
so! It will make her suffer. After all these years her sin has found
her out. Go! go! tell her all! It will fill the measure of my
revenge.”

He disappeared, still laughing loudly, and Dan could hear the echoes
of that cruel mirth dying away in the distance. Astonished as he was
at the way in which Merle had received his announcement, he made no
attempt to follow; but, without changing his position, reflected on
his course of action. His decision was soon made.

“I shall see Jarner,” he said, “and then Miss Linisfarne.”

It was the custom of Mr. Jarner to visit at Farbis Court once a week.
He pitied the loneliness of Miss Linisfarne, and did all in his power
to divert her from melancholy reflections, by attempting to interest
her in the duties of his three parishes. His weekly conversations were
generally of a parochial character, and, eager to propitiate her only
friend, Miss Linisfarne feigned an interest in these local affairs,
which she was far from feeling. Still, they introduced a new element
into her life, and gave her an opportunity of enjoying the society of
the vicar, for which she was ever grateful. Meg was constantly with
her; but, though Miss Linisfarne liked such companionship, she
relished infinitely more the calls of Mr. Jarner. She was more
inclined to the society of men than to that of her own sex.

The unexpected appearance of Dan at Farbis wrought a revolution in her
quiet life. Here was a handsome young gentleman–for she had no doubt
on that point–who conversed intelligently, and who had plenty of time
at his disposal to idle away at Farbis Court. Deprived for so many
years of such congenial companionship, Miss Linisfarne welcomed Dan
with enthusiasm, and made him free of her house. As has before been
stated, she was jealous of Dan’s partiality for Meg; and, having shown
the girl plainly that she did not wish a third in their conversations,
managed to keep her out of the road. But, alas for her plans! When Dan
found that the presence of Meg in the dreary drawing-room was no
longer to be counted on, he ceased to visit the Court, as was his
custom.

With the instinct of a jealous woman, Miss Linisfarne guessed the
reason of his non-appearance, and was deeply angered that he should so
scorn her. But she was by no means disposed to abandon him without a
struggle, for, strange as it may appear, this faded beauty was really
in love with the young man. Had she not been so, she would scarcely
have made up her mind to marry him, and this is what she now intended
to do. After due deliberation, she determined to bestow herself and
her fortune on this unknown vagrant.

Such a resolution was inconceivably rash, for she knew absolutely
nothing about him. That he was a gentleman she was convinced, but was
quite ignorant of his character, name, station, or wealth. To marry an
adventurer, was what she intended; and, though she tried to salve her
conscience with the reflection that one so handsome must be desirable
in all other respects, yet she could not help feeling that it would be
as well to discover his antecedents before committing herself further.
To this end she sent for the vicar, in the belief that he, if any one,
would know something of this attractive stranger. If the inquiry
proved satisfactory, she was resolved to make him her husband. To such
a pitch of rashness did her mad passion bear her.

Jarner guessed that the coming interview had something to do with Dan,
as he also had heard the rumour of Miss Linisfarne’s infatuation. Also
he had been present when Dan was visiting, and had seen the eager
looks of the lady at her guest. Needless to say he greatly disapproved
of the way in which she was behaving, and resolved to speak his mind
at the interview, should it turn on the subject. And, indeed, as Miss
Linisfarne had never sent for him before, he was perfectly certain
that it was for the purpose of asking him to aid in her schemes that
she invited his presence. This the vicar did not intend to do, as he
by no means desired to break off the projected match between Dan and
Meg.

On his arrival at the Court, he was shown up to the picture-gallery,
where he found Miss Linisfarne seated before the portrait of Sir
Alurde. This was her favourite resort, for which she had quite
deserted the drawing-room. For hours she gazed on that face which so
resembled that of the man she loved, and glanced occasionally at a
book on her lap, which set forth the history of the Elizabethan. This
history she had found in the library, and on reading it had discovered
that Sir Alurde and the vagrant possessed many traits in common. Yet,
strange to say, it never crossed her mind that there must be a reason
for such resemblance, nor did she guess that Sir Alurde was the
ancestor of the man who chose to call himself Dan. Had she made such a
discovery, it would have given her no pleasure, as she saw that Dan
was not in love with her, and trusted to his poverty and her wealth to
bring about the desired marriage.

The vicar contracted his brows as he saw how infatuated she was with
the picture, for he also was aware of the resemblance. Meg had told
him as a jest, and now that he knew that Dan was Lord Ardleigh, he no
longer wondered at the likeness. But it was not at the portrait he
looked, but at Miss Linisfarne. The change in her appearance quite
astonished him, for she seemed years younger, and in the flush of her
mad passion had almost regained the beauty of her youth. When Jarner
appeared, she arose, with a bright smile, and came towards him with
outstretched hands.

“You are much stronger, I see,” said Jarner, in reply to her greeting.
“That comes of walking in the open air, and of mixing more with your
fellow-creatures. Hey, ma’m! There is nothing like exercise and
society for bringing back the roses to pale cheeks.”

“I think it is more than exercise or society,” replied Miss
Linisfarne, joyously, and glanced at the portrait.

The vicar glanced also, but wilfully chose to misinterpret her
meaning. It was his intention to make her confession as difficult as
possible, and, if there was any chance, to avert it altogether.

“Hey, ma’m! Are you in love with Sir Alurde?”

“No. Not with Sir Alurde,” said Miss Linisfarne, pointedly; “but with
some one who greatly resembles him.”

“And who may that be?” asked Jarner, dryly.

“Cannot you guess? I have sent for you in order to speak on this very
subject.”

The vicar pretended to search his memory, and shook his head with
feigned vexation.

“No, Miss Linisfarne; I cannot guess with whom you are infatuated.”

“Infatuated, sir!” she cried, starting to her feet.

“Does the word displease you, ma’m?”

“It is hardly courteous. Is love so ridiculous in a woman that you
should hesitate to use the word?”

“Love!” repeated Jarner, reflectively. “I think you told me, Miss
Linisfarne, that you had loved many years ago, and had lost your
lover.”

“I did,” said she, paling at the irony of his accent.

“Pardon me, if my memory fails,” he continued; “but you also informed
me that your love ended in disaster–that your heart was dead, and
that for such reason you buried yourself in our solitudes.”,

Miss Linisfarne covered her face with her hands. All the joy had died
out of her eyes, and she looked the miserable woman she was.

“For twenty years and more you have lived here,” continued Jarner,
ponderously, “and all that time have remained faithful to the memory
of that early passion. With the details you have not seen fit to
honour me; but I can guess your story.”

She lifted her haggard face in surprise, but he took no notice of the
action.

“You loved and lost, ma’m, and so sought to be constant in this
solitude to your dead lover. For twenty years you have been faithful.
Why, then,” added the vicar, pointing to the picture,–“why, then, let
that displace his image in your heart? It is sacrilege to the dead.”

“You do not understand!”

“Ay, ma’m, I understand well enough. I also have noted the resemblance
which chains you to that portrait. You love the young man who calls
himself Dan.”

“I do!” she cried with a bright flush. “Is there dishonour in such a
love?”

“Ay, to the dead!”

“Tush! You know not of what you speak, sir. I have not made you my
father confessor. I love this man. What have you to say against it? He
is handsome, he is a gentleman, he is of a noble nature.”

“I grant all that, but—-”

“Make no objections, Mr. Jarner, for they carry no weight with me. I
love now as I never loved before. You smile! You think I am too old to
set my heart on him, but I tell you that I love this man fondly, and I
shall marry him.”

“Marry him!”

“Why not?” said she, pressing her hands on her heaving breast. “Do you
know anything against him?”

“No, indeed; still—-”

“Then there can be no obstacle to my union with him. He is poor, but I
am rich. If he has no name of his own, he can take mine. What obstacle
is there to our union?”

“The greatest of all,” answered Jarner, dryly; “he loves another
woman.”

“Meg!”

“Ah! you have seen as much. Yes, he loves Meg Merle, and wishes to
make her his wife.”

“That he shall never do! Will he prefer that unformed girl to me–her
poverty to my wealth? She shall not marry him. I love him, and will
surrender him to no rival. Rival! Ha, is it I who call that girl a
rival!”

“Yes, it is you; and it were wiser if you did not. She is fond of you,
Miss Linisfarne; you have brought her up; she looks on you as a
mother—-”

“Mother!”

“Yes, as a mother. So do not ruin her life, and destroy the memory of
your kindness by seeking to marry this man. He is not for you, but for
Meg.”

“I shall not give him up,” she said, doggedly; “mine he shall be. Do
you think that, after all these years of sorrow, I shall willingly
surrender the only chance of joy that has come to me? He shall be my
husband.”

The vicar picked up his hat as to go, and bowed. “In that case, ma’m,
I need not remain. I disapprove altogether of your infatuation, and
shall do my best to thwart your schemes. One woman only shall he
marry,–Margaret Merle.”

“You seem very interested in this match,” sneered Miss Linisfarne. “Is
it of your making?”

“No. It is his own desire.”

“Who is this man?” she asked, abruptly. “Do you know his name?”

“I do, madam, but I shall not tell it to you.”

“Mr. Jarner—-”

“No more, ma’m! I have wasted too many words as it is. You shall not
interrupt the course of true love. He is not for you, but for Meg
Merle.”

She strove to detain him, but he strode away, deeply angered at her
pertinacity. She stamped her foot, and looked at the picture of Sir
Alurde.

“Meg shall never marry you,” she said, thinking of Dan,–“never!
never! never!”

Continue Reading

AN ELIZABETHAN ANCESTOR

If Dan had hoped to lead a solitary life he found out his mistake at
the end of his first week’s camping. It became known far and wide that
he was of a hospitable nature, with the result that the dell was
visited frequently by all the idle scamps in the neighbourhood. Some
came with aggressive looks and demanded money, and food, and clothes,
and Heaven only knows what else; but Dan disposed of these folk by
offering to fight them. As they rarely cared to accept the challenge,
they left speedily, with many curses, and those who did engage were
thoroughly thrashed, so in the end such ruffians gave the dell a wide
berth. Never was the Augean stable swept cleaner than was the dell of
bullies and rogues and would-be thieves, by its muscular occupant.

The gipsies often looked in to see how he was getting on, but these
were privileged guests. Dan had partaken of their bread and salt, so
was by no means chary of his own; moreover, they were instinctively
polite, and never by any chance stole his belongings. He was therefore
glad to see their brown faces, and made them heartily welcome. They
were charmed to think that the great gentleman–as they insisted on
calling Dan–should affect the life of the road, and, had he but known
the Romany tongue, would doubtless have accepted him as their brother.
But Dan had other things to think of besides learning the black
language, and so there remained a gulf between him and the vagrants.
He was with them but not of them.

When the villagers straggled up from Farbis, with looks of dull
surprise at his comfortable camp, Dan did his best to put them at
their ease. But the bucolic character does not lend itself readily to
friendly intercourse, and he gave up the task in despair. They ate and
drank at his expense, grinned and wondered, but never ventured to
offer an opinion. Between such and the keen-faced gipsies there was a
difference as wide as that between eagle and barn-door fowl. Dan grew
weary of their dull company, and gave them to understand as much, so
they gradually ceased to persecute him with visits.

Mother Jericho, Tim, and Parson Jarner were constantly in the dell
both by day and by night; but Meg never came, though over four days
had elapsed since their meeting. At length she made her appearance
late in the afternoon, and found Dan making ready to visit the gipsy
camp. When he saw her coming down the path he changed his mind, and,
cap in hand, went forward to receive her with all honour.

“Welcome to the dell, Meg,” said he, extending a hand ceremoniously;
“permit me to lead you to a seat by the fire.”

“I thank you greatly, Sir Charles Grandison,” she answered gravely,
accepting the offer; and in such formal fashion was conducted to the
log, where she sat down, and laughed.

“Are you surprised to see me, Dan?”

“Not at all! You promised to pay me a visit.”

“So I did; but I nearly changed my mind for lack of a chaperon.”

“What do you know of chaperons?” said Dan, with an amused smile. “We
don’t require such spoil-sports here.”

“Miss Linisfarne said it was wrong for me to visit you without an
elderly lady to take charge of me,” said the visitor, demurely.

“Indeed!” replied Dan, feeling unaccountably nettled at this
uncalled-for interference. “Then why did she not come herself?”

“She never goes anywhere–poor soul,” said Meg, with a sigh; “you must
not be angry at her. I was only joking about a chaperon; I rather
think I can look after myself.”

“I rather think so too,” answered her host, glancing at the proud face
of the young girl; “but, to quieten your scruples, let us call this
dell Arcady. In Arcady chaperons are unneeded and unknown.”

“I hope tea and bread-and-butter are not unknown,” said Meg, quaintly;
“for I have been on the moors all day, and came here for the selfish
purpose of begging a meal.”

“You shall have one fit for a queen. Order what you like, and I shall
place it before you.”

“You are, then, the Genie of the Ring?” retorted Meg, laughing; “but I
think I can place you at a disadvantage. Suppose I call for champagne
and oysters?”

“Oh, come, now, you must be reasonable. Though, indeed,” added Dan,
with a sudden remembrance of his cellar, “I can supply you with
champagne. Oysters I have not–not even tinned ones.”

“No, no!” cried Meg, as he advanced towards the caravan. “Please do
not trouble. I was only joking. I never tasted champagne in my life.”

“All the more reason that you should begin now.”

“Genie of the Ring,” said Meg, gaily, “come back! I forbid you to give
me anything stronger than tea. I shall have tea and bread-and-butter
and jam.”

“What kind of jam?” asked Dan, laughing.

“I like strawberry best.”

“Good! I can provide you with that. We will have afternoon-tea, Meg,
after the fashion of high society.”

But no society tea could have been as pleasant as that meal in the
open air beside the wood fire. The dell was filled with golden
sunshine, and the blue sky arched itself like a hollow sapphire over
the green trees. A gentle wind whispered through the leaves, and the
drowsy voice of the distant sea boomed like the solemn notes of an
organ. Singing birds were in the pine wood, swallows darted through
the sky, and bees and grasshoppers and humming wasps made the dell
vocal with murmurous sound. Dan counted that day as one of the most
perfect of his life; one to be marked with a white stone.

Meg was hungry, and not afraid of displaying her appetite. She
made the tea with the assistance of Dan, and cut a pile of
bread-and-butter, which in conjunction with the strawberry jam
vanished like snow before them. It was a happy meal, for during its
progress host and guest jested and laughed as though they had known
each other all their lives. When the meal was ended Dan lighted his
pipe and threw himself at Meg’s feet as she sat on the log. He looked
up into her wonderful eyes and began to feel that he was falling in
love with this child of nature. But she, yet fancy-free, smiled
innocently at his ardent gaze, and, overflowing with life and
happiness, burst into song.

“I was a maid of Arcady,
And you a shepherd, brown and merry;
We danced together o’er the lea,
And plucked the rose and leaf and berry;
For life was gay and sweet and free
Within the vales of Arcady.

“But, ah! those days are over, dear,
And you and I are sadly parted;
No longer make we merry cheer,
But wander lonely, broken hearted;
For life is sad and dark to me,
So far from happy Arcady.

“Yet, if the gods are kind, perchance
Again will come the golden weather,
And hand in hand we’ll gaily dance
With love across the purple heather.
Ah, joy, how happy shall we be
When once again in Arcady.”

“Many thanks for so charming a song,” murmured Dan, when she ended;
“but why lament what is not? You are still in Arcady, remember.”

“And you?”

“I have been away, but have returned. This is the golden weather,
yonder is the purple heather, and you and I are together.”

A flush overspread her face, and the laughter died from lips and eyes.
Dan spoke more ardently than he intended, and his glance rested on her
with such fire that she trembled. The song had revealed to Dan in one
instant that he was in love with this dryad, and, in the sudden rush
of passion to his heart, he hardly knew what he said or did. She sat
with downcast eyes, and put out her hand with a sudden gesture as
though to keep off something she feared. After that brief outburst of
passion, which lent ardour to his words and fire to his glance, reason
reasserted her sway, and Dan felt shame-faced at so far forgetting
himself. With ready wit he turned off his speech as a jest, though the
throbbing of his heart gave the lie to his utterance.

“Of course I speak in rhyme,” he said, forcing himself to talk calmly,
“and but repeat the sentiments of your song. Where did you find such
pretty words?”

Meg by this time had recovered herself. The smile came back to her
lips, the sense of dread passed away, and she was able to reply to his
question in her usual spirit. Yet that moment left its effect behind
it, and implanted in her heart a germ to grow and spread in the near
future. She was ignorant of the change for the moment, yet even then
felt vaguely that something had occurred to change the face of things.

“I found the words in an old book at Farbis Court,” she replied
quietly.

“A Carolian lyric, no doubt,” said Dan, carelessly. “They have a
slight flavour of Suckling and Rochester. Probably they are by some
rhyming ancestor of the Breels.”

“Perhaps Sir Alurde was the poet.”

“Eh? You put the verses back to Elizabeth? No. They smack more of the
Restoration than of Gloriana’s reign. But, talking of Sir Alurde, when
are you going to show me my double?”

“Come to-morrow to the park gates, at two o’clock, and I will take you
to the picture-gallery.”

“But Miss Linisfarne?”

“Oh, she will not mind! I told her all about you, Dan.”

“I trust you drew a flattering portrait?”

“So flattering that I shall not repeat my description.”

“From such reticence I guess what you have said,” replied Dan,
laughing. “Will I see Miss Linisfarne?”

“No. She never sees any one.”

“Why not?”

“I cannot tell you. Perhaps it is because she has lost her beauty.”

“Was she beautiful?”

“Oh, very, very beautiful!” said Meg, earnestly. “She showed me her
portrait, and I never saw anything so lovely in my life.”

“Ah! Then you have not looked in the glass lately,” observed Dan,
rashly.

Meg jumped up quickly, and frowned. Again that fear made itself felt.

“You should not jest with me. I don’t like it.”

“On my word of honour, I am not jesting.”

His ardent gaze corroborated those words, and, with a sudden feeling
of dread, she ran past him, and flitted rapidly up the path. Dan
feared that he had offended her, and this fear became certainty the
next moment. She fled like an angered goddess.

“Meg, Meg!” he cried earnestly; “don’t run away! Don’t be angry with
me! What have I done?”

The girl turned at the top of the path, and the sunlight fell on her
face. She looked rather scared than angry, but frowned when she saw
him take a step forward as to follow. With an imperative gesture she
bade him halt, and the next moment vanished from his sight. Then Dan
raged at himself loudly.

“Oh, I am a beast and a brute and a dishonourable wretch!” said he,
dashing down his cap. “How could I be such a fool as to frighten her?
Yet how could I help it? The thing came on me all of a sudden. She won
my heart from me with her song. I suspected this before, but now I am
certain. Mother Jericho’s prophecy is fulfilled. I am in love! I have
met my fate!”

From the near wood floated the fragment of the song–

“Ah, joy, how happy shall we be,
When once again in Arcady.”

“It is an omen,” said Dan, thankfully, and was greatly comforted.

My Dear Jack,
Do not be surprised at getting a second letter from me before you have
answered the first. This epistle is not so much a mark of friendship
and remembrance as an outlet for the emotions of my soul. I want a
sympathetic person to whom I can confide my thoughts, and as none is
nearer than yourself, I make use of the penny post for the easing of
my mind.

No doubt this beginning will astonish you greatly; but the end is
still more astonishing, so hold yourself in reserve for the revelation
of a startling secret. As yet it is only a few hours old, and you are
the first person to whom it is to be confided. And rightly so,
for to whom else would I reveal it but to you, my Jonathan, my
Pylades–my–my–any other bosom friend, of whom history makes
mention. Jack, I am in–but, no, let me break it gently, lest the
shock prove too much for your nerves.

Have you read of the Lord of Burleigh, Jack? Do you know the legend of
King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid? Of course you do, and have, with
me, sneered at and disbelieved in the possibility of such love
episodes. For my share in such doubts I am now being punished. I am
hoist on my own petard. I am the eagle pierced by a shaft feathered
from his own plumage. Call me no more Lord Ardleigh, but the Lord of
Burleigh, and dub me Cophetua, for a jest, for I also have fallen a
victim to cunning Cupid. She—-

Now you can guess my secret from the last word. No need to burden you
with explanations. You know all. Who else but a lover would say “She,”
and expect to be understood without further remark? Yes, Jack, it has
come! I am in love. In love, Jack, with an angel–don’t wrinkle your
brows, cynic!–and her name is Diana of Farbis. I have seen her to-day
for the third time, and, after a weak attempt to fight against Fate, I
have succumbed. The gipsy hag is right! I have met my fate at the
Gates of Dawn. Joy has come up through them, and I–unworthy creature
that I am–am rewarded far beyond my deserts. I should here quote
poetry, as prose is too feeble to express my meaning; but I refrain
lest you should refuse to finish this letter. I know how impatient you
are over rhyme sans reason.

In sober serious earnest, Jack, I am rather bewildered by the novel
sensation of being in love. When I first met this girl, I simply
caught a glimpse of a lovely face which I admired in an artistic way
as one admires a fine picture or a perfect statue. At our second
meeting she spoke to me, and I felt drawn towards her in the most
extraordinary manner. She babbled little else than nonsense, yet I
preferred such to the most sensible speeches. Thus does love make
fools of us all. Not that I then believed myself to be in love–though
I had a faint fear that it might be so. With the third meeting came
the full knowledge of my passion. To-day, Meg–that is her name–came
to my dell and had afternoon tea. We were in Arcady for the moment,
and she sang some foolish strain of love and parting. When she
finished I knew I was in danger. When she left me, after an interval
of talk more or less idle, I recognized the truth–that I was in love.

Pray do not shake your head, and say that I have loved before. This is
no counterfeit Eros, but the god himself, in all the glory of his
divinity. It is not a subject to be laughed at, and if you do not
sympathize with me at this crisis of my life, then never more be
Pylades of mine. If she be all I take her to be–and I do not speak
without due knowledge–then my quest is ended, and I have found the
ideal woman of my dreams.

To revert a moment to the commonplace details of life. Did I tell you
I have here met with a sporting divine! Well, then, I have; and he is
one of the most delightful persons I have come into contact with
outside a novel.

Trollope could have handled him with admirable skill, though I am
afraid my rustic clergyman would have shocked Mrs. Proudie. He is the
vicar of this place, and is a ponderous red-faced divine, after the
style of Dr. Johnson. He shakes a large head, frowns with bushy
eyebrows, and rolls out “sir” in the real Boswell style. Two
fox-terriers attend him constantly, like familiar spirits, and he is
learned in horse-dealing, in riding, in veterinary surgery, and other
things relating to the equine part of creation. Peter introduced me to
this prop of the Church by fighting with the ecclesiastical terriers.
When the dogs were pacified, the masters, parson and vagabond,
fraternized over foaming tankards of noble ale. He is a bachelor, and
mostly dwells in an untidy back-parlour, which must have been taken
from Tom Jones. I’ll swear that Squire Western dwelt in such a one.

Mr. Jarner paid me a visit yesterday and told me all about Meg. She is
a _protégée_ of his, and I fancy he rather disapproved of the deep
interest I manifested in the rustic beauty. To calm his apprehensions,
I told him who I was, and assured him of my honesty of purpose. I
declared myself an honest man. This last he considered was better than
being a lord, and, to tell you the truth, I think so myself. Since I
doffed my title, Jack, and consorted with my fellow-creatures, I have
learned many things of which I would otherwise have been ignorant. If
I woo Meg–and I intend to do so–it will be after the fashion of the
Lord of Burleigh, not as a landscape painter, but as a simple
gentleman rather out at elbows. As such I shall have at least a chance
of being loved for myself.

I have many things to tell you, but shall reserve them till our
meeting in the near future. Were I to commit them to paper this letter
would never come to an end. There are certain mysteries connected with
the girl I love, which I am trying to fathom. Jarner gives me his
assistance, and I have a staunch friend in him. Whether we will be
successful yet remains to be seen.

To-morrow I go to Farbis Court! No, I am not calling on Miss
Linisfarne, as the old lady lives as secluded as a nun. I am going at
the invitation of Meg, who proposes to show me the portrait of a
certain Sir Alurde Breel, whom she says I greatly resemble. That is
not inexplicable, seeing he is an Elizabethan ancestor of mine. Meg
does not know this, and is greatly puzzled over what she considers a
freak of nature. I believe she is half in love with Sir Alurde, and,
as I resemble him so closely, the atavism may perhaps be a help to my
wooing.

It is no light task I have undertaken, Jack. Meg is so innocent, so
utterly simple, that it seems like a sacrilege to disturb her
tranquillity with love tales. She has no more idea of love than had
Miranda before she met Ferdinand. Yet, if my memory serves me,
Prospero’s daughter found no difficulty in loving the shipwrecked
Prince. I don’t suppose any woman does find a difficulty when the
knowledge of the passion comes to her. How could they, when, as Horace
says, they learn it before their A, B, C. But Horace is a wicked old
pagan, and I blush to quote him in connection with my spotless Una.

Oh, Jack, if you only see what pretty ways she has, and how charmingly
she can smile! “All heaven is in that smile.” And her singing! Jack,
she has a voice like a nightingale. Pshaw! no nightingale can trill
like her. I am fathoms deep in love, Jack,–fathoms deep. I should
like to tell her all I feel, yet must be wary and delicate in my
attentions. She is as timid as a dove, and may fly like one, should I
speak too boldly. Even the admiration in my eyes offended her to-day,
though I swear I looked not with ruffian passion in her face. As soon
would I think of killing myself in the midst of my newly found
happiness, as of cherishing an unworthy thought of this Diana.

I must pause here, as my passion is carrying me beyond all bounds, and
I wax poetical. I dare say you think it would be as well for me to
talk less poetry and more common sense. You are right, and I will try
to do so; but it is as hard for a lover to be practical, as it is for
a poet to stay Pegasus when his wings are spread.

After love comes marriage, and I can fancy your grave looks at the
idea of my making Meg Merle my wife. From a worldly point of view I
admit that I might do better. She is only the daughter of a country
doctor, and has not a penny to her name. But, Jack, she has more than
money or rank. She has beauty, and honesty, and a noble soul. If you
only heard the vicar talk about her! and, from what little I have
seen, I endorse every word of his eulogy. Where would I meet with such
another? Shall I discard this pearl simply because I gave myself the
trouble to be born a lord? No, my friend, a thousand times no! I shall
have many opportunities of seeing Meg, and if she is all Jarner says
and all I take her to be, then will I make her Lady Ardleigh–that is,
if she is willing to bless me with her hand and heart. As to the
opinion of society, I care no more for that than you do. I have always
gone my own way and done what I thought was right, even at the cost of
being considered priggish and eccentric. I do not need more money, and
would rather take a penniless wife like Meg than marry the artificial
daughter of a millionaire. Marriage is a sacrament, not a compact.
Would you have me give my title in exchange for filthy lucre, Jack?
Perish the idea! Rather would I remain a bachelor for the rest of my
life. My relations may shriek about misalliance, but what care I for
their clamour? You stand by me, Jack, and I shall have no fear but
that all will yet be well.

“And all this,” say you, with a grin, “before he knows if the girl
will take him.” Ay! that’s the rub. Remember, I woo unassisted by
title or wealth. I woo as plain Dan of the caravan, and have to trust
to my own tongue and overmastering passion. She may refuse me, but I
don’t think she will. Already she has hung out a red flag on her
cheeks, and who knows but what my wooing may speed more merrily than I
think? At all events, Jack, I have a staunch friend in old Jarner. He
will help me win this shy nymph, if no one else will; but, on the
whole, I prefer to trust to my unassisted self for success.

Here I must close; I could go on writing all night, but out of mercy
for you I shall end. Read “Romeo and Juliet,” and you will form some
faint conception of my feelings. You laugh! He jests at scars who
never felt a wound. Ha! ha! I had you in the trap there, friend Jack.
But no more–this letter grows tedious, so I end it, and retire to
dream of her who makes my hell a heaven.

Jack! Jack! you have lost the friend of your youth; for I am now
stabbed by a wench’s black eye. You, too, will go the same way, though
you have railed at love as heartily as did–

Your friend
ARDLEIGH.

P.S.–Jack, she is an angel. I am not good enough for her.

“Have you been waiting long?” asked Meg, swinging a large key.

“Close on an hour,” replied Dan, ruefully; “I never passed so tedious
a sixty minutes in my life.”

Meg laughed, and clinked the key against the iron bars. She was on one
side of the gate, and he was on the other, but they could see and
smile, which was a better fate than befell Pyramus and Thisbe when
divided by that cruel wall. Dan felt as though he were on the eve of
storming an enchanted castle to release a spellbound princess. He
mentioned this fancy to Meg, who raised her eyebrows.

“You must be thinking of Miss Linisfarne then,” she said, “for no
imprisoned princess would possess a key.”

“Very well, Meg, let us change the fairy story, and say that you are
Bluebeard’s wife. She had a key, and made bad use of it. But are you
going to keep me outside Paradise?”

“Paradise!” repeated Meg, not seeing the veiled compliment. “Why do
you call the park Paradise?”

After his bad fortune of the previous day, Dan was careful not to hurt
her susceptibilities, and explained his compliment in a most prosaic
fashion. Were he to speak plainly, she might refuse him admittance.

“Paradise,” said he gravely, “is a Persian word, and signifies a large
enclosure filled with wild beasts.”

“That is not a pretty thing to say, seeing that I am in this
enclosure.”

“Oh! if you want compliments, I—-”

“No, no! I want no compliments,” she cried hastily, putting the key in
the lock; “you must not think I am so foolish as to believe all you
say.”

“Do I, then, talk such sad nonsense?”

“I’m afraid so. Pray do not talk any more, but enter into your
wild-beast enclosure.”

The heavy gates opened with a rumble, and Dan stepped in. When he was
on the right side Meg locked the gates once more. He was rather amused
at so useless a precaution.

“Are you afraid of thieves here?”

“No. But Miss Linisfarne does not like strangers to enter the park.
She will let no one see her.”

“A female veiled prophet! Why does she live so secluded?”

“I don’t know!” said Meg, coldly; “she never told me, and I do not ask
questions.”

“That is a hint for me to be silent, I suppose. Well, I won’t inquire
further.”

They were walking up the grass-grown avenue, and Dan was amazed at the
savageness of the place. Meg was quite used to it, and saw nothing
strange in the desolation. It did not seem to lower her spirits, but
rather had the opposite effect, as she began to whistle. A very pretty
whistle she had, and executed an operatic air with much precision and
sweetness. Dan laughed. She was so unconventional that he could not
help his merriment.

“Why do you laugh, Daniel?” said Meg, severely.

“I beg your pardon, but I never heard a young lady whistle before.”

“Oh, I know it is wrong–Miss Linisfarne is always scolding me; but I
cannot break off the habit. Are you shocked?”

“By no means. I am charmed.”

“Another compliment. If you make any more I shall leave you, sir.”

“What, in this tropical jungle! Do not be so cruel. Remember I am a
stranger, and entitled to hospitality.”

Meg looked at him doubtfully, not understanding such irony; but Dan
looked so grave when he spoke, that she passed over his remark in
silence.

“This is the house,” she said, as they turned a corner and came within
view of Farbis Court; “and yonder is Miss Linisfarne, walking on the
terrace.”

Before them stretched the long façade of Farbis Court, looking
desolate and ruinous in the strong light of the afternoon. A figure in
white was slowly pacing up and down the terrace, but as they advanced
towards the steps vanished into the house. Dan turned to his companion
for an explanation.

“She sees you are a stranger,” said Meg, gravely, “and will now shut
herself up in her own room till you leave.”

“Has she—- Oh, I beg your pardon; I must not ask questions. But your
Miss Linisfarne is a most mysterious lady. One would think she had
committed a crime.”

“Ah! You have been listening to foolish tales in the village.”

“On my honour, I have not. It was a mere idea.”

“Avery incorrect one,” said the girl, who seemed offended at the
imputation cast on her benefactress. “Do not say anything about Miss
Linisfarne when you are inside. She may overhear you.”

“Not if she stays in her room.”

His guide laughed, but vouchsafed no explanation of her merriment. She
knew perfectly well that Miss Linisfarne would be close beside them,
to examine Dan thoroughly, but this information she did not think it
wise to impart to her companion. Laying her finger on her lips to
command silence, she led him into the dusky hall, and closed the great
door with a resonant crash.

It was the first time that Dan had set foot in the house of his
ancestors, and he looked curiously at his surroundings. The hall was
flagged with black and white marble in a diamond pattern, and on all
sides arose tall white pillars, which vanished in the obscurity of the
roof. Indeed, the whole house was pervaded by a twilight atmosphere,
which Dan guessed was caused by the dirty state of the windows and the
lavish use of stained glass. It smelt mouldy, and their footsteps
echoed in the large empty spaces in a most dreary fashion. One could
well imagine it to be filled with ghostly company at night.

“Do phantoms haunt this place?” whispered Dan, as they ascended the
wide staircase. “I can well imagine lords and ladies in silks and
satins and powdered hair and slender canes coming out in the
darkness.”

“I never saw any of them,” replied Meg, in a matter-of-fact tone; “and
I have been all over the house at midnight. Surely you don’t believe
in ghosts!”

“No. But I could forgive any one who did while dwelling in this
house.”

“It _is_ rather dreary,” said Meg, casting a careless look around. “I
wonder Lord Ardleigh doesn’t pull the place down. But I don’t suppose
he knows he possesses the mansion.”

“Why not?”

“Because he would not neglect it so much if he did. Why doesn’t he
come down and stay here, and see what he can do to help the weavers of
Farbis? He is very wealthy, you know.”

“Is he, indeed?” said Dan, greatly amused at having himself discussed
so openly.

“Very wealthy; but he wastes all his money in London.”

“You do not care for him, I see.”

“I think he ought to be more alive to the responsibilities of his
position,” said Meg, primly. “What are you laughing at now?”

“Is that sentiment your own?” said Dan, ignoring the question.

“No. It is Mr. Jarner’s. But we can talk of this later on. Here is the
picture-gallery.”

It was a dreary-looking place; and Dan shuddered as he walked under
the rows of frowning portraits. These were his ancestors–these men in
armour, these stern-faced Puritans, these sad-looking ladies. Farbis
Court and its desolation seemed to cast a shadow over all. He felt
like a culprit under the menacing gaze of knight and dame.

“Upon my word, they are a melancholy lot!” said their graceless
descendant. “I don’t think they approve of my intrusion. I don’t see a
merry face among them.”

“Sir Alurde is merry-faced.”

“As I am his double, I am glad that he is. I should not care to wear
such sour looks. Where is the gentleman?”

“You are standing close to him.”

Dan turned with a start, as though he expected to find a ghost at his
elbow, and beheld a picture of himself on the wall. The resemblance
was very striking, and he wondered that Meg did not guess he was Lord
Ardleigh, with such a proof before her.

“You might have sat for it,” said Meg, looking from Sir Alurde to Dan.

“I am glad to hear you say so. I assure you I had no idea I was so
good-looking.”

“Oh, indeed, you are very good-looking, Dan.”

The man of the world blushed at the praise of this rustic maiden, and
held up a protesting hand. He was standing by a window, and the light
striking on his face emphasised his resemblance to Sir Alurde in a
startling manner.

“You will make me vain if you talk so,” he said, smiling. “I see you
admire Sir Alurde.”

“I do; I am quite in love with him.”

Before Dan could make capital out of this remark by introducing
himself, he was startled by a long-drawn sigh which sounded close at
hand.

“Is that you, Meg?”

“No; what do you mean?”

“Did you sigh?”

“Of course not. Why should I sigh?”

“Then it must have been one of those ghosts we were talking about. I
certainly heard some one sighing.”

Meg knew well enough that Miss Linisfarne was close at hand, and,
fearful lest her companion should make some allusion to her, hastily
beckoned him away.

“Come up here, Dan. I wish to show you a very pretty lady.”

“Yourself?” said he, laughing; whereat she frowned and stamped her
foot.

“Why will you talk so! It is a Lady Ardleigh of the Restoration. She
is—-”

“A doll,” said Dan, contemptuously, looking at the simpering
beauty,–“a china doll. Surely you don’t think her beautiful! She has
no soul.”

“What do you mean?”

“Mean? Why, that she has never loved. You can see it in her face.”

“I have never loved, Dan, and I don’t think myself a china doll, I
assure you.”

“Oh, but you are a—-”

The words died away on Dan’s lips, as a tall figure advanced slowly
down the gallery. It was a woman who had once been very beautiful, but
who was now a wreck of her former self. She looked steadily at Dan,
and then glanced at Meg.

“Miss Linisfarne!” said the girl, transfixed with astonishment.

For the space of a minute, or it might be more, they looked at one
another–Miss Linisfarne at Dan, he and Meg at Miss Linisfarne. It was
so contrary to her usual custom to thus show herself to a stranger,
that Meg might well be excused for being tongue-tied with
astonishment. The languid creature whom Meg knew and pitied had
disappeared as by magic, and in her place stood a bright-eyed,
cheek-flushed being, who had regained for the moment the lost
loveliness of her prime. Unable to guess the reason of this
rejuvenescence, Meg could only look at her benefactress with parted
lips and amazed eyes.

Miss Linisfarne took no heed of her presence, but examined Dan in a
leisurely manner, as though he were as indifferent to her regard as
was Sir Alurde in his frame behind. Man of the world as Dan was, the
eager scrutiny of this woman made him vaguely resentful, and he was
amazed at the lack of delicacy which could permit her to signify so
openly her admiration for a stranger. It seemed an insult to Meg that
she should look at him with such brazen assurance; and, indifferently
as he returned her gaze, he felt indignant at her demeanour. Meg was
the first of the trio to break silence. She mistook Miss Linisfarne’s
examination of Dan for anger at his intrusion, and hastened to excuse
him.

“Do not be angry, Miss Linisfarne,” she said breathlessly. “I wished
to show Dan the picture of Sir Alurde, and—-

“I am not angry, child,” interrupted Miss Linisfarne. “Why should I be
angry? I gave you permission to show the gallery to this gentleman.”

“Pardon me, madam, I do not claim to be a gentleman,” said Dan, still
resentful of her unwomanly scrutiny.

“That may be so, sir,” answered Miss Linisfarne, coldly; “but you must
permit me to form my own opinion. Keep your secret, if it pleases you
to do so. In due time you will no doubt reveal your identity.”

She spoke with such significance that Dan felt uneasy lest, owing to
his resemblance to Sir Alurde, she should guess his name and rank.
Gifted with a keener appreciation of culture than either Meg or the
vicar, she saw at once through his flimsy disguise. She did not know
he was Lord Ardleigh, but felt convinced that he was of gentle birth.
He felt himself unmasked, yet was by no means ready to concede the
point.

“You flatter me, Miss Linisfarne,” said he, bowing. “I trust I shall
continue to deserve your good opinion.”

Miss Linisfarne smiled, but did not make any immediate reply to this
ironic remark. The appearance of Dan and the evident mystery connected
with his residence at Farbis piqued her curiosity, so she invented a
pretext for getting Meg out of the way, in order to discover if
possible who and what he was.

“Meg, my dear,” she said, turning to the girl, “perhaps your friend
would like a cup of tea. Tell the housekeeper to get it ready in my
room.”

Dan bowed his acceptance of this invitation, being as curious to talk
with Miss Linisfarne as she was with him. The unusual hospitality
added to Meg’s perplexity, but, not daring to ask Miss Linisfarne’s
reasons, she tripped away to carry out the order. When her footsteps
died away, Miss Linisfarne turned again towards Dan, and their eyes
met. A duel of words was inevitable, as each wished to know the secret
of the other. Conscious of this, Dan tried to gain the advantage by
speaking first.

“It is very kind of you to ask me to sit down with you, Miss
Linisfarne. May I ask you a question?”

She seated herself in the chair under Sir Alurde’s picture, and
signified her consent with a smiling nod. The coming war of words
braced her nerves and aroused her from the lethargy of years. She felt
like a new creature.

“Is it your custom to entertain all vagrants who come here?” asked
Dan, with feigned simplicity.

“Yes, when they are vagrants like you, sir. Come, Dan–since it
pleases you to call yourself by that hideous name,–let me know why
you have come to Farbis.”

“To see the portrait of Sir Alurde.”

“You resemble it greatly,” said Miss Linisfarne, annoyed at this
evasion. “One would think you were connected with the Breels.”

“You flatter me,” said he again, feeling that this chance observation
was too near the mark to be pleasant.

“Why will you not be candid with me?” asked Miss Linisfarne, in a
vexed tone.

Dan hesitated. He was astonished at the way in which she threw off all
reserve and spoke to him. It was on the tip of his tongue to point out
that it was not her business to ask questions about a stranger; but
she guessed his thoughts, and commented on them frankly.

“I see what is in your mind, sir. You think that I have no business to
ask impertinent questions, but I assure you I have every right to do
so.”

“I do not understand. I am afraid I am dull.”

“Not at all! You quite see my position. I am the chaperon, guardian,
protectress–what you will–of Meg. She is an innocent girl, who knows
nothing of the world, and it is my duty to look after her.”

“Why should you impute unworthy motives to me?”

“I impute no motives,” replied Miss Linisfarne, calmly; “but I ask
myself, why is a gentleman philandering in this lonely place disguised
as a vagrant? What reply can you make to that question, sir?”

“Simply that I travel for my pleasure, and do not feel inclined to
reveal my name.”

“Did you come down to Farbis with any purpose in your mind?”

“No; I did not know the place at all. I came by chance, and, as Farbis
pleases me, I propose to stay here for a week or so.”

“For what purpose?”

Dan shrugged his shoulders to intimate that his purpose was not worth
mentioning. This was rude, but Miss Linisfarne invited the discourtesy
by the persistency with which she sought to know what did not concern
her. Perhaps the hint was taken, for, after a meditative pause, she
apologized for her curiosity.

“The strangeness of our position must excuse the absence of the
convenances, sir. It is not the custom for ladies and gentlemen to
talk at the first meeting as we are now doing. But it is so rare to
find a stranger in these parts, that you must excuse my very natural
curiosity. Again, there is Meg to consider.”

She waited for an answer, but none came. Dan was considering if it
would be wise to confess that he loved the girl, but, on second
thoughts, decided to postpone such information. It would seem
ridiculous in the eyes of Miss Linisfarne that he should profess to
love Meg when he had only seen her three times. On the face of it the
statement was absurd. He did not think so, being intoxicated with
love; but the cooler judgment of Miss Linisfarne might look at it in
quite a different light, therefore he had sense enough to hold his
tongue.

“You must not meet Meg any more,” said Miss Linisfarne, seeing he did
not reply.

“Can you not see?” was the impatient answer. “She is a child, and you
a man of the world. If she falls in love with you it will disturb her
peace of mind. Would it be fair to do so?”

“Can I not see Meg in your presence?”

“I shall think about it,” said Miss Linisfarne, thoughtfully.
“Meanwhile, now that we have met, you can call again if you choose to
do so. I am a lonely woman, and your presence will give me great
pleasure.”

Dan felt rather embarrassed at this generous offer of friendship. He
could not understand how Miss Linisfarne could be so rash in welcoming
a stranger, who, for all she knew, might prove anything but a
desirable acquaintance. He set it down to her long seclusion from the
world, and a natural craving for society at any price. There was no
hesitation on his part in accepting her offer, as he wished to see as
much of Meg as he was able, and, as the girl was constantly at the
Court, it would give him many opportunities of speaking with her.

“I shall be delighted to call, Miss Linisfarne; and I promise you I
shall appear more respectably dressed when I again make my
appearance.”

“Will you leave your card on the occasion of your next visit?” she
asked meaningly.

“I am afraid that would not be much use, madam,” he answered, avoiding
the trap so skilfully laid. “You know my name.”

“Your travelling name only.”

“It will suffice for Farbis.”

“That may be, sir, but will it suffice for me?”

Pushed into a corner, Dan hardly knew what reply to make. She was
evidently determined to force him to speak, but he was fully as
obstinate as she, and doggedly refused to gratify her desire. Yet not
wishing to appear rude, he temporized.

“In a week or so I shall tell you my name, if you still desire to know
it, Miss Linisfarne.”

“You promise that?” she said eagerly.

“I promise you faithfully,” he answered, knowing well that did he wish
to enlist her in his wooing it would be shortly necessary to confess
all to her, as he had already done to Jarner. Then he tried to
discover her secret, and, in his turn, asked questions. She proved to
be as clever as he in baffling curiosity.

“Do you know Dr. Merle, madam?”

“Only by name. I have never seen him, though when ill I have
frequently sent for him. I cannot understand his refusal to come, but
put it down to the fact that he is as great an invalid as myself, and
as rarely leaves his house.”

“Have you met with Meg’s friends, the gipsies?”

“No, sir. Do I not tell you that I never go beyond the park gates? I
am dead to the world. As I asked you so many questions you have,
perhaps, a right to retaliate, but I must request you to ask no more.”

“I beg your pardon. As you observed, the strangeness of our meeting
must excuse the absence of the convenances. Here is Meg returning.”

“Who said you might call her Meg?”

“She did. I would not have done so without her permission.”

“You should not have taken advantage of that permission, sir. She is a
child, and knows no better; but you—-”

“Will be more careful in the future. Do not let us quarrel again, Miss
Linisfarne.”

She was most unaccountably angry at his familiarity with her
_protégée_, but his last remark, and the smile with which it was made,
seemed to quieten her wrath. She controlled herself with a strong
effort, and saluted Meg gaily–

“Well, child, is the tea ready?”

“Quite ready, Miss Linisfarne Are you hungry, Dan?”

“Yes, Miss Merle.”

“Miss Merle? Why ‘Miss Merle’?”

“By my request, Meg,” said Miss Linisfarne, angrily. “You are too old,
child, for a gentleman to call you by your Christian name. Give me
your arm, sir. I am too weak to walk down the stairs unaided.”

Dan walked about with Miss Linisfarne, and Meg, much dismayed at the
outburst of her benefactress, lagged in the rear. He glanced over his
shoulder, and saw that she by no means approved of the way in which
Miss Linisfarne had taken possession of him. He wondered, also, at the
position in which he found himself, but ceased to think it strange
when he learned the cause. That first visit to the Court plunged him
into troubles of which he had no conception. Yet he never regretted
his acquaintance with Miss Linisfarne, in spite of the trouble, as he
learned many things of importance to his future of which he would
otherwise have remained ignorant. In this case out of evil came good.

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