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.”

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