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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