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
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
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
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
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–
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
“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.”
“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
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
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
“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,
“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
“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
“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 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
“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
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
“No, no!” wailed Merle, “she went to see Miss Linisfarne. She is
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
“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
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
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
“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
“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.
“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.”
“I forgive you, mother, and I love you,” said Meg, kissing her with
As she did so Miss Linisfarne’s head fell back. She was dead.