Their intimacy had never been conspicuous, and their determination to make no change in it could be carried out without attracting attention. It was very dear to them, that determination. They saw it as a test, as an ideal. Last of all, perhaps, as an alleviation. They were both too much encumbered with ideas to move simply, quickly, on the impulse of passion. They looked at it through the wrong end of the glass, and thought they put it farther away. They believed that their relation comprised, would always comprise, the best of life. It was matter for discussion singularly attractive; they allowed themselves upon it wide scope in theory. They could speak of it in the heroic temper, without sadness or bitterness; the thing was to tear away the veil and look fate in the face. The great thing, perhaps, was to speak of it while still they could give themselves leave; a day would arrive, they acknowledged with averted eyes, when dumbness would be more becoming. Meanwhile, Mrs Murchison would have found it hard to sustain her charge against them that they talked of nothing but books and authors; the philosophy of life, as they were intensely creating it, was more entrancing than any book or any author. Simply and definitely, and to their own satisfaction, they had abandoned the natural demands of their state; they lived in its exaltation and were far from accidents. Deep in both of them was a kind of protective nobility; I will not say it cost them nothing, but it turned the scenes between them into comedy of the better sort, the kind that deserves the relief of stone or bronze. Advena, had she heard it, would have repelled Dr Drummond’s warning with indignation. If it were so possible to keep their friendship on an unfaltering level then, with the latitude they had. what danger could attend them later, when the social law would support them, divide them, protect them? Dr Drummond, suspecting all, looked grimly on, and from November to March found no need to invite Mr Finlay to occupy the pulpit of Knox Church.
They had come to full knowledge that night of their long walk in the dark together; but even then, in the rush and shock and glory of it, they had held apart; and their broken avowals had crossed with difficulty from one to the other. The whole fabric of circumstance was between them, to realize and to explore; later surveys, as we know, had not reduced it. They gave it great credit as a barrier; I suppose because it kept them out of each other’s arms. It had done that.
It was Advena, I fear, who insisted most that they should continue upon terms of happy debt to one another, the balance always changing, the account never closed and rendered. She no doubt felt that she might impose the terms; she had unconsciously the sense of greater sacrifice, and knew that she had been mistress of the situation long before he was aware of it. He agreed with joy and with misgiving; he saw with enthusiasm her high conception of their alliance, but sometimes wondered, poor fellow, whether he was right in letting it cover him. He came to the house as he had done before, as often as he could, and reproached himself that he could not, after all, come very often.