Her lips felt dry.
“Yes, I will.”
“You will consider it?”
“No. I mean yes. Yes, I will marry you, Gideon.”
“Well!” he said, beaming broadly.
They just sat for a moment looking at each other, letting the situation sink in. Then Gideon took her other hand and slowly raised her to her feet and they kissed, shyly and gently.
* * * *
The post office was situated halfway up the hill that rose from the harbour. At the crest of the hill was St Margaret’s church and St Margaret’s school.
At the very moment Gideon Reed was declaring his love, Mary Jordan was standing in front of her class in the school.
She looked at the small heads bowed over their arithmetic books. There was the occasional chew on a pencil or a sudden frantic use of a rubber.
She kept glancing at the diamond ring on her finger. She and Paul had chosen it in a jeweller’s in Glasgow. In the coming spring she would be Mrs Mary Bryant, the minister’s wife up at the manse.
In a store room in the old school a Calor gas fire was always kept lit in a constant battle against the damp.
Someone, while opening a cupboard, had pushed the gas fire to one side to gain access and then had failed to push it back into its original position.
It now stood directly underneath a window-ledge. On the ledge was balanced a pile of overlapping foolscap paper.
A corner of a page began to tinge brown. The scorch spread. Then the tip of a tongue of flame licked the paper and the tongue of flame lengthened.
The paper was quickly devoured but then the flame leaped hungrily on to the hem of a nylon curtain, then began to feast on the old, cracked paintwork of the window-frame.
The flames reached the ceiling of the room and began to expand and crackle.
Mary’s classroom was next to the store room. In the class next to hers the infants were singing.
“Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea
Silver buckles at his knee
He’ll come back and marry me
Bonnie Bobby Shafto.”
The flames were curling round the open door of the store room and black smoke swirled down the corridor.
* * * *
Andrew was doing some paperwork at the kitchen table. He glanced over at the kitchen clock, then stood up and went to the open back door.
Cassie was on her knees working in a flower-bed.
“I’ll go and meet Jess at school,” he called.
“Lovely. I’ll put the kettle on,” she replied.
He left the house, knowing he was early.
Then Andrew heard a smoke alarm from somewhere close. . .