The fire snapped and the watch went on ticking.
“So Advena thought well of it all. Did she so?”
The young man raised his heavy eyes and looked unflinchingly at Dr Drummond.
“Miss Murchison,” he said, “is the only other person to whom I have confided the matter. I have written, fixing that date, with her approval—at her desire. Not immediately. I took time to—think it over. Then it seemed better to arrange for the ladies reception first, so before posting I have come to you.”
“Then the letter has not gone?”
“It is in my pocket.”
“Finlay, you will have a cigar? I don’t smoke myself; my throat won’t stand it; but I understand these are passable. Grant left them here. He’s a chimney, that man Grant. At it day and night.”
This was a sacrifice. Dr Drummond hated tobacco, the smell of it, the ash of it, the time consumed in it. There was no need at all to offer Finlay one of the Reverend Grant’s cigars. Propitiation must indeed be desired when the incense is abhorred. But Finlay declined to smoke. The Doctor, with his hands buried deep in his trousers pockets, where something metallic clinked in them, began to pace and turn. His mouth had the set it wore when he handled a difficult motion in the General Assembly.
“I’m surprised to hear that, Finlay; though it may be well not to be surprised at what a woman will say—or won’t say.”
“Surprised?” said the younger man confusedly. “Why should anyone be surprised?”
“I know her well. I’ve watched her grow up. I remember her mother’s trouble because she would scratch the paint on the pew in front of her with the nails in her little boots. John Murchison sang in the choir in those days. He had a fine bass voice; he has it still. And Mrs Murchison had to keep the family in order by herself. It was sometimes as much as she could do, poor woman. They sat near the front, and many a good hard look I used to give them while I was preaching. Knox Church was a different place then. The choir sat in the back gallery, and we had a precentor, a fine fellow—he lost an arm at Ridgway in the Fenian raid. Well I mind him and the frown he would put on when he took up the fork. But, for that matter, every man Jack in the choir had a frown on in the singing, though the bass fellows would be the fiercest. We’ve been twice enlarged since, and the organist has long been a salaried professional. But I doubt whether the praise of God is any heartier than it was when it followed Peter Craig’s tuning-fork. Aye. You’d always hear John Murchison’s note in the finish.”
Finlay was listening with the look of a charmed animal. Dr Drummond’s voice was never more vibrant, more moving, more compelling than when he called up the past; and here to Finlay the past was itself enchanted.