He--he is not my grandfather.'
'Father, I should have said,' returned the hostess, sensible of having made an awkward mistake.
'Nor my father' said the young lady. 'Nor,' she added, slightly smiling with a quick perception of what the landlady was going to add, 'Nor my uncle. We are not related.'
'Oh dear me!' returned the landlady, still more embarrassed than before; 'how could I be so very much mistaken; knowing, as anybody in their proper senses might that when a gentleman is ill, he looks so much older than he really is? That I should have called you "Miss," too, ma'am!' But when she had proceeded thus far, she glanced involuntarily at the third finger of the young lady's left hand, and faltered again; for there was no ring upon it.
'When I told you we were not related,' said the other mildly, but not without confusion on her own part, 'I meant not in any way. Not even by marriage. Did you call me, Martin?'
'Call you?' cried the old man, looking quickly up, and hurriedly drawing beneath the coverlet the paper on which he had been writing. 'No.'
She had moved a pace or two towards the bed, but stopped immediately, and went no farther.
'No,' he repeated, with a petulant emphasis. 'Why do you ask me? If I had called you, what need for such a question?'
'It was the creaking of the sign outside, sir, I dare say,' observed the landlady; a suggestion by the way (as she felt a moment after she had made it), not at all complimentary to the voice of the old gentleman.
'No matter what, ma'am,' he rejoined: 'it wasn't I. Why how you stand there, Mary, as if I had the plague! But they're all afraid of me,' he added, leaning helplessly backward on his pillow; 'even she! There is a curse upon me. What else have I to look for?'
'Oh dear, no. Oh no, I'm sure,' said the good-tempered landlady, rising, and going towards him. 'Be of better cheer, sir. These are only sick fancies.'
'What are only sick fancies?' he retorted. 'What do you know about fancies? Who told you about fancies? The old story! Fancies!'
'Only see again there, how you take one up!' said the mistress of the Blue Dragon, with unimpaired good humour. 'Dear heart alive, there is no harm in the word, sir, if it is an old one. Folks in good health have their fancies, too, and strange ones, every day.'
Harmless as this speech appeared to be, it acted on the traveller's distrust, like oil on fire. He raised his head up in the bed, and, fixing on her two dark eyes whose brightness was exaggerated by the paleness of his hollow cheeks, as they in turn, together with his straggling locks of long grey hair, were rendered whiter by the tight black velvet skullcap which he wore, he searched her face intently.
'Ah! you begin too soon,' he said, in so low a voice that he seemed to be thinking it, rather than addressing her. 'But you lose no time. You do your errand, and you earn your fee. Now, who may be your client?'
The landlady looked in great astonishment at her whom he called Mary, and finding no rejoinder in the drooping face, looked back again at him. At first she had recoiled involuntarily, supposing him disordered in his mind; but the slow composure of his manner, and the settled purpose announced in his strong features, and gathering, most of all, about his puckered mouth, forbade the supposition.
'Come,' he said, 'tell me who is it? Being here, it is not very hard for me to guess, you may suppose.'
'Martin,' interposed the young lady, laying her hand upon his arm; 'reflect how short a time we have been in this house, and that even your name is unknown here.'
'Unless,' he said, 'you--' He was evidently tempted to express a suspicion of her having broken his confidence in favour of the landlady, but either remembering her tender nursing, or being moved in some sort by her face, he checked himself, and changing his uneasy posture in the bed, was silent.
'There!' said Mrs Lupin; for in that name the Blue Dragon was licensed to furnish entertainment, both to man and beast.