It was the old M'Adam who looked up. The thin lips were curled; a grin was crawling across the mocking face; and he wagged his head gently, as he looked at the speaker through the slits of his half-closed eyes.
"Mr. Hurnbert, I believe ye thocht me in earnest, 'deed and I do!" He leaned back in his chair and laughed softly. "Ye swallered it all down like best butter. Dear, dear! to think o' that!" Then, stretching forward:
"Mr. Hornbut, I was playin' wi' ye."
The parson's face, as he listened, was ugly to watch. He shot out a hand and grabbed the scoffer by his coat; then dropped it again and turned abruptly away.
As he passed through the door a little sneering voice called after him:
"Mr. Hornbut, I ask ye hoo you, a minister o' the Church of England, can reconcile it to yer conscience to think--though it be but for a minute--that there can be ony good in a man and him no churchgoer? Sir, ye're a heretic--not to say a heathen!" He sniggered to himself, and his hand crept to a half-emptied wine decanter.
An hour later, James Moore, his business with the squire completed, passed through the hail on his way out. Its only occupant was now M'Adam, and the Master walked straight up to his enemy.
"M'Adam," he said gruffly, holding out a sinewy hand, "I'd like to say--"