When Mrs Blencarrow's husband died a few years ago, his will left the management of the estate and the trusteeship of the children in her hands, adding as well her brothers' names as trustees, though this was more for form's sake than anything else. And since then (her eldest son still not of age), she has managed everything well with only a young man, Mr Brown the steward, to assist - a young man who belongs to a lower class and stays well in the background. Early in the novel there are hints that there is something more between Brown and Mrs Blencarrow.
And then comes the rumour - that Mrs Blencarrow's name was seen in the marriage register at Gretna Green. A young gossip spreads the rumour - but does not recall what name was coupled with Mrs Blencarrow's! As the rumour spreads, the implication is that she has done something shameful and should have "no right" to the estate or to the guardianship of her own children. The novel maintains its suspense as the reader wonders what and how much will be revealed, and what will be the outcome for Mrs Blencarrow.
Biographical and other notes
Young runaway couples often married at Gretna Green in Scotland - no clergyman was necessary, just two witnesses as the couple made their vows. Such marriages were looked down upon as irregular - see the topic Scotch Marriages below.
A similar story to The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow can be found in A Motley Crew (1901), a book by Margaret Oliphant's close friend Christina Rogerson Steevens - see the chapter "Sketches from Life" (sketch IV). It is possible Christina told this story to Mrs Oliphant, who used it as she had recently used another of Rogerson's true stories for her novel Kirsteen.
A Motley Crew also includes an amusing chapter entitled "Opinions of an Old Lady", based on one of Margaret Oliphant's stays with the Steevens at their country house in Surrey.
British publishing information
Periodical: Manchester Weekly Times & others 30 Nov - 28 Dec 1889