Yet the fact which Mr Finlay would in those days have considered so unimaginable remained; it had come into being and it remained. The chief interest of his life, the chief human interest, did lie in his relations with Advena Murchison. He might challenge it, but he could not move it; he might explain, but he could not alter it. And there had come no point at which it would have occurred to him to do either. When at last he had seen how simple and possible it was to enjoy Miss Murchison’s companionship upon unoccupied evenings he had begun to do it with eagerness and zest, the greater because Elgin offered him practically no other. Dr Drummond lived, for purposes of intellectual contact, at the other end of the century. the other clergy and professional men of the town were separated from Finlay by all the mental predispositions that rose from the virgin soil. He was, as Mrs Murchison said, a great gawk of a fellow; he had little adaptability; he was not of those who spend a year or two in the New World and go back with a trans-Atlantic accent, either of tongue or of mind. Where he saw a lack of dignity, of consideration, or of restraint, he did not insensibly become less dignified or considerate or restrained to smooth out perceptible differences; nor was he constituted to absorb the qualities of those defects, and enrich his nature by the geniality, the shrewdness, the quick mental movement that stood on the other side of the account. He cherished in secret an admiration for the young men of Elgin, with their unappeasable energy and their indomitable optimism, but he could not translate it in any language of sympathy and but for Advena his soul would have gone uncomforted and alone.
Advena, as we know, was his companion. Seeing herself just that, constantly content to be just that, she walked beside him closer than he knew. She had her woman’s prescience and trusted it. Her own heart, all sweetly alive, counselled her to patience; her instincts laid her in bonds to concealment. She knew, she was sure; so sure that she could play sometimes, smiling, with her living heart—
The nightingale was not yet heard
For the rose was not yet blown,
she could say of his; and what was that but play, and tender laughter, at the expense of her own? And then, perhaps, looking up from the same book, she would whisper, alone in her room—