(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

In those days, Lavengro and Isopel Berners traveled the English highroads together. Lavengro was a scholar who had become a gypsy tinker, and Isopel, whom he called Belle, was a strapping woman of the roads and dingles. One night, they rescued a coachman whose carriage had overturned in a swollen stream, and, while they waited for daylight, he entertained them with the story of his life. In the morning, Lavengro forged a new linchpin for the broken wheel, and the coachman continued on his way. The Man in Black, a Catholic priest whom Lavengro had met before, visited Lavengro again that evening, and the two of them discussed and argued the merits of Catholicism and Protestantism, with an occasional remark from Belle.

The next morning, Lavengro informed Belle that Jasper Petulengro and his band of gypsies had camped nearby during the night and that he was going to invite Mr. and Mrs. Petulengro for breakfast. Lavengro’s gypsy friend refused his invitation, however, saying that he and his wife would pay a visit later in the day when they were better settled. On the next Sunday, they all went to church together. Following the service, Jasper and Lavengro began a lengthy discussion on morals.

Belle had indicated to Lavengro that she thought it time their paths separated. When she informed him that she was going on a journey, he feared she was leaving for good, but she told him she would come back before too long. One evening while she was gone, Lavengro had a long talk with Ursula, Mrs. Petulengro’s sister, and he then learned her story. She had been married some years before. Her husband, escaping from a constable, had met with an unfortunate accident and had drowned. She had been a widow until just two days before, when she had married Sylvester, another member of the gypsy band and a widower with two children. Lavengro and Ursula discussed many subjects, including morals, virtue, marriage customs, and words. It was about the meanings of some of the gypsy words that Lavengro wanted most to talk with Ursula.

Belle returned that night. The next day Lavengro, who had thought the matter over in her absence, asked Belle to marry him and to migrate with him to America. When she told him that she could not give him her answer immediately, he planned to attend a fair in a nearby village the next day. Belle agreed to consider his proposal during his absence and to give him her reply when he returned. At the fair, Lavengro saw a horse that he desired, but he did not have the money to buy the animal and refused to borrow the money from Jasper, who was willing to lend it to him.

When Lavengro returned to the dingle, Belle had disappeared. At first, he thought she had gone only on a short journey, but when two days went by and she did not appear, he began to fear she would not return. A few days later, he received a letter from her, telling him that on her previous short journey she had made arrangements to dispose of all her goods and go to America. When he proposed to...

(The entire section is 1227 words.)