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THE doubt was practically decided before Anne had determined what to do. She was still at the window when the sitting-room door was thrown open, and Sir Patrick appeared, obsequiously shown in by Mr. Bishopriggs.
"Ye're kindly welcome, Sir Paitrick. Hech, Sirs! the sight of you is gude for sair eyne."
Sir Patrick turned and looked at Mr. Bishopriggs--as he might have looked at some troublesome insect which he had driven out of the window, and which had returned on him again.
"What, you scoundrel! have you drifted into an honest employment at last?"
Mr. Bishopriggs rubbed his hands cheerfully, and took his tone from his superior, with supple readiness
"Ye're always in the right of it, Sir Paitrick! Wut, raal wut in that aboot the honest employment, and me drifting into it. Lord's sake, Sir, hoo well ye wear!"
Dismissing Mr. Bishopriggs by a sign, Sir Patrick advanced to Anne.
"I am committing an intrusion, madam which must, I am afraid, appear unpardonable in your eyes," he said. "May I hope you will excuse me when I have made you acquainted with my motive?"
He spoke with scrupulous politeness. His knowledge of Anne was of the slightest possible kind. Like other men, he had felt the attraction of her unaffected grace and gentleness on the few occasions when he had been in her company--and that was all. If he had belonged to the present generation he would, under the circumstances, have fallen into one of the besetting sins of England in these days--the tendency (to borrow an illustration from the stage) to "strike an attitude" in the presence of a social emergency. A man of the present period, in Sir Patrick's position, would have struck an attitude of (what is called) chivalrous respect; and would have addressed Anne in a tone of ready-made sympathy, which it was simply impossible for a stranger really to feel. Sir Patrick affected nothing of the sort. One of the besetting sins of _his_ time was the habitual concealment of our better selves--upon the whole, a far less dangerous national error than the habitual advertisement of our better selves, which has become the practice, public and privately, of society in this age. Sir Patrick assumed, if anything, less sympathy on this occasion than he really felt. Courteous to all women, he was as courteous as usual to Anne--and no more.
"I am quite at a loss, Sir, to know what brings you to this place. The servant here informs me that you are one of a party of gentlemen who have just passed by the inn, and who have all gone on except yourself." In those guarded terms Anne opened the interview with the unwelcome visitor, on her side.
Sir Patrick admitted the fact, without betraying the slightest embarrassment.
"The servant is quite right," he said. "I am one of the party. And I have purposely allowed them to go on to the keeper's cottage without me. Having admitted this, may I count on receiving your permission to explain the motive of my visit?"
Necessarily suspicious of him, as coming from Windygates, Anne answered in few and formal words, as coldly as before.
"Explain it, Sir Patrick, if you please, as briefly as possible."
Sir Patrick bowed. He was not in the least offended; he was even (if the confession may be made without degrading him in the public estimation) privately amused. Conscious of having honestly presented himself at the inn in Anne's interests, as well as in the interests of the ladies at Windygates, it appealed to his sense of humor to find himself kept at arm's-length by the very woman whom he had come to benefit. The temptation was strong on him to treat his errand from his own whimsical point of view. He gravely took out his watch, and noted the time to a second, before he spoke again.
"I have an event to relate in which you are interested," he said. "And I have two messages to deliver, which I hope you will not object to receive. The event I undertake to describe in one minute. The messages I promise to dispose of in two minutes more. Total duration of this intrusion on your time--three minutes."
He placed a chair for Anne, and waited until she had permitted him, by a sign, to take a second chair for himself.
"We will begin with the event," he resumed. "Your arrival at this place is no secret at Windygates. You were seen on the foot-road to Craig Fernie by one of the female servants. And the inference naturally drawn is, that you were on your way to the inn. It may be important for you to know this; and I have taken the liberty of mentioning it accordingly." He consulted his watch. "Event related. Time, one minute."
He had excited her curiosity, to begin with. "Which of the women saw me?" she asked, impulsively.
Sir Patrick (watch in hand) declined to prolong the interview by answering any incidental inquiries which might arise in the course of it.
"Pardon me," he rejoined; "I am pledged to occupy three minutes only. I have no room for the woman. With your kind permission, I will get on to the messages next."
Anne remained silent. Sir Patrick went on.
"First message: 'Lady Lundie's compliments to her step-daughter's late governess--with whose married name she is not acquainted. Lady Lundie regrets to say that Sir Patrick, as head of the family, has threatened to return to Edinburgh, unless she consents to be guided by his advice in the course she pursues with the late governess. Lady Lundie, accordingly, foregoes her intention of calling at the Craig Fernie inn, to express her sentiments and make her inquiries in person, and commits to Sir Patrick the duty of expressing her sentiments; reserving to herself the right of making her inquiries at the next convenient opportunity. Through the medium of her brother-in-law, she begs to inform the late governess that all intercourse is at an end between them, and that she declines to act as reference in case of future emergency.'--Message textually correct. Expressive of Lady Lundie's view of your sudden departure from the house. Time, two minutes."
Anne's color rose. Anne's pride was up in arms on the spot.
"The impertinence of Lady Lundie's message is no more than I should have expected from her," she said. "I am only surprised at Sir Patrick's delivering it."
"Sir Patrick's motives will appear presently," rejoined the incorrigible old gentleman. "Second message: 'Blanche's fondest love. Is dying to be acquainted with Anne's husband, and to be informed of Anne's married name. Feels indescribable anxiety and apprehension on Anne's account. Insists on hearing from Anne immediately. Longs, as she never longed for any thing yet, to order her pony-chaise and drive full gallop to the inn. Yields, under irresistible pressure, to t he exertion of her guardian's authority, and commits the expression of her feelings to Sir Patrick, who is a born tyrant, and doesn't in the least mind breaking other people's hearts.' Sir Patrick, speaking for himself, places his sister-in-law's view and his niece's view, side by side, before the lady whom he has now the honor of addressing, and on whose confidence he is especially careful not to intrude. Reminds the lady that his influence at Windygates, however strenuously he may exert it, is not likely to last forever. Requests her to consider whether his sister-in-law's view and his niece's view in collision, may not lead to very undesirable domestic results; and leaves her to take the course which seems best to herself under those circumstances.--Second message delivered textually. Time, three minutes. A storm coming on. A quarter of an hour's ride from here to the shooting-cottage. Madam, I wish you good-evening."
He bowed lower than ever--and, without a word more, quietly left the room.
Anne's first impulse was (excusably enough, poor soul) an impulse of resentment.
"Thank you, Sir Patrick!" she said, with a bitter look at the closing door. "The sympathy of society with a friendless woman could hardly have been expressed in a more amusing way!"
The little irritation of the moment passed off with the moment. Anne's own intelligence and good sense showed her the position in its truer light.
She recognized in Sir Patrick's abrupt departure Sir Patrick's considerate resolution to spare her from entering into any details on the subject of her position at the inn. He had given her a friendly warning; and he had delicately left her to decide for herself as to the assistance which she might render him in maintaining tranquillity at Windygates. She went at once to a side-table in the room, on which writing materials were placed, and sat down to write to Blanche.
"I can do nothing with Lady Lundie," she thought. "But I have more influence than any body else over Blanche and I can prevent the collision between them which Sir Patrick dreads."
She began the letter. "My dearest Blanche, I have seen Sir Patrick, and he has given me your message. I will set your mind at ease about me as soon as I can. But, before I say any thing else, let me entreat you, as the greatest favor you can do to your sister and your friend, not to enter into any disputes about me with Lady Lundie, and not to commit the imprudence--the useless imprudence, my love--of coming here." She stopped--the paper swam before her eyes. "My own darling!" she thought, "who could have foreseen that I should ever shrink from the thought of seeing _you?"_ She sighed, and dipped the pen in the ink, and went on with the letter.
The sky darkened rapidly as the evening fell. The wind swept in fainter and fainter gusts across the dreary moor. Far and wide over the face of Nature the stillness was fast falling which tells of a coming storm.
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