Advena shook her head. “I think it unlikely,” she said.
“Then why would he be telling you?” inquired the elder lady, bluntly.
“He told me, I suppose, because I have the honour to be a friend of his,” Advena said, smiling. “But he is not a man, is he, who makes many friends? It is possible, I dare say, that he has mentioned it to no one else.”
Poor Advena! She had indeed uttered her ideal to unsympathetic ears—brought her pig, as her father would have said, to the wrong market. She sat before the ladies from Bross, Hugh Finlay’s only confidante. She sat handsome and upheld and not altogether penetrable, a kind of gipsy to their understanding, though indeed the Romany strain in her was beyond any divining of theirs. They, on their part, reposed in their clothes with all their bristles out—what else could have been expected of them?— convinced in their own minds that they had come not only to a growing but to a forward country.
Mrs Kilbannon was perhaps a little severe. “I wonder that we have not heard of you, Miss Murchison,” said she, “but we are happy to make the acquaintance of any of my nephew’s friends. You will have heard him preach, perhaps?”
“Often,” said Advena, rising. “We have no one here who can compare with him in preaching. There was very little reason why you should have heard of me. I am—of no importance.” She hesitated and fought for an instant with a trembling of the lip. “But now that you have been persuaded to be a part of our life here,” she said to Christie, “I thought I would like to come and offer you my friendship because it is his already. I hope—so much—that you will be happy here. It is a nice little place. And I want you to let me help you—about your house, and in every way that is possible. I am sure I can be of use.” She paused and looked at their still half-hostile faces. “I hope,” she faltered, “you don’t mind my—having come?”
“Not at all,” said Christie, and Mrs Kilbannon added, “I’m sure you mean it very kindly.”
A flash of the comedy of it shot up in Advena’s eyes. “Yes,” she said, “I do. Good-bye.”
If they had followed her departure they would have been further confounded to see her walk not quite steadily away; shaken with fantastic laughter. They looked instead at one another, as if to find the solution of the mystery where indeed it lay, in themselves.
“She doesn’t even belong to his congregation,” said Christie. “Just a friend, she said.”
“I expect the friendship’s mostly upon her side,” remarked Mrs Kilbannon. “She seemed frank enough about it. But I would see no necessity for encouraging her friendship on my own account, if I were in your place, Christie.”
“I think I’ll manage without it,” said Christie.