“No. I satisfied myself about that—I had it searched for, under my own eye. The letter is stolen, Blanche; and Bishopriggs has got it. I have left a line for him, in Mrs. Inchbare’s care. The old rascal is missed already by the visitors at the inn, just as I told you he would be. His mistress is feeling the penalty of having been fool enough to vent her ill temper on her head-waiter. She lays the whole blame of the quarrel on Miss Silvester, of course. Bishopriggs neglected every body at the inn to wait on Miss Silvester. Bishopriggs was insolent on being remonstrated with, and Miss Silvester encouraged him—and so on. The result will be—now Miss Silvester has gone—that Bishopriggs will return to Craig Fernie before the autumn is over. We are sailing with wind and tide, my dear. Come, and learn to play whist.”
He rose to join the card-players. Blanche detained him.
“You haven’t told me one thing yet,” she said. “Whoever the man may be, is Anne married to him?”
“Whoever the man may be,” returned Sir Patrick, “he had better not attempt to marry any body else.”
So the niece unconsciously put the question, and so the uncle unconsciously gave the answer on which depended the whole happiness of Blanche’s life to come, The “man!” How lightly they both talked of the “man!” Would nothing happen to rouse the faintest suspicion—in their minds or in Arnold’s mind—that Arnold was the “man” himself?
“You mean that she is married?” said Blanche.
“I don’t go as far as that.”
“You mean that she is not married?”
“I don’t go so far as that.”
“Oh! the law!”
“Provoking, isn’t it, my dear? I can tell you, professionally, that (in my opinion) she has grounds to go on if she claims to be the man’s wife. That is what I meant by my answer; and, until we know more, that is all I can say.”
“When shall we know more? When shall we get the telegram?”
“Not for some hours yet. Come, and learn to play whist.”
“I think I would rather talk to Arnold, uncle, if you don’t mind.”
“By all means! But don’t talk to him about what I have been telling you to-night. He and Mr. Delamayn are old associates, remember; and he might blunder into telling his friend what his friend had better not know. Sad (isn’t it?) for me to be instilling these lessons of duplicity into the youthful mind. A wise person once said, ’The older a man gets the worse he gets.’ That wise person, my dear, had me in his eye, and was perfectly right.”
He mitigated the pain of that confession with a pinch of snuff, and went to the whist table to wait until the end of the rubber gave him a place at the game.
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIFTH.