If anyone had told Mr Hugh Finlay, while he was pursuing his rigorous path to the ideals of the University of Edinburgh, that the first notable interest of his life in the calling and the country to which even then he had given his future would lie in his relations with any woman, he would have treated the prediction as mere folly. To go far enough back in accounting for this one would arrive at the female sort, sterling and arid, that had presided over his childhood and represented the sex to his youth, the Aunt Lizzie, widowed and frugal and spare, who had brought him up; the Janet Wilson, who had washed and mended him from babyhood, good gaunt creature half-servant and half-friend—the mature respectable women and impossible blowsy girls of the Dumfriesshire village whence he came. With such as these relations, actual or imagined, could only be of the most practical kind, matters to be arranged on grounds of expediency, and certainly not of the first importance. The things of first importance—what you could do with your energy and your brains to beat out some microscopic good for the world, and what you could see and feel and realize in it of value to yourself—left little room for the feminine consideration in Finlay’s eyes; it was not a thing, simply, that existed there with any significance. Woman in her more attractive presentment, was a daughter of the poets, with an esoteric, or perhaps only a symbolic, or perhaps a merely decorative function; in any case, a creature that required an initiation to perceive her—a process to which Finlay would have been as unwilling as he was unlikely to submit. Not that he was destitute of ideals about women—they would have formed in that case a strange exception to his general outlook—but he saw them on a plane detached and impersonal, concerned with the preservation of society the maintenance of the home, the noble devotions of motherhood. Women had been known, historically, to be capable of lofty sentiments and fine actions: he would have been the last to withhold their due from women. But they were removed from the scope of his imagination, partly by the accidents I have mentioned and partly, no doubt, by a simple lack in him of the inclination to seek and to know them.
So that Christie Cameron, when she came to stay with his aunt in Bross during the few weeks after his ordination and before his departure for Canada, found a fair light for judgement and more than a reasonable disposition to acquiesce in the scale of her merits, as a woman, on the part of Hugh Finlay. He was familiar with the scale of her merits before she came; his Aunt Lizzie did little but run them up and down. When she arrived she answered to every item she was a good height, but not too tall; a nice figure of a woman, but not what you would call stout; a fresh-faced body whose excellent principles were written in every feature she had. She was five years older than Hugh,