The character of David Hughes, twin brother of Sarah Hughes, has been a part of the Dancing Priest series from the beginning. In Dancing Priest, the first novel, it was David who had decided to do a study year abroad in Scotland, dragging his sister along with him. David was the scholar in the family, and at the University of Edinburgh he was studying Scottish history. Because of a fire at his dormitory, David ends up rooming with Michael Kent and Tommy McFarland, even though they’re two years older. And it’s Tommy’s girlfriend Ellen who fixes David up on a blind date with Betsy, whom he’d eventually marry.
The character of David Hughes served as something of a counterpoint to Michael and Tommy. They’ve been friends since they were six years old and have roomed together at St. Andrews during their entire time at university. David is the quiet American, the scholarly outsider, contrasting with the outgoing McFarland and the self-confident and often-quite-candid Michael. McFarland is an outspoken champion of Scotland and Scottish independence; David is the young man who’s been in love with Scotland from afar and is now living exactly where he wants to live.
David and Sarah experience family upheaval when their father turns his back and cuts off all communication with them and their older brother Scott, a doctor in San Francisco. As a result, the Hughes twins spend Christmas at McLarens, the home of Ian and Iris McLaren, the guardians for Michael. While there, David helps Ian, an equine veterinarian, deliver a foal.
David has very small roles in the next three books in the series, but I always felt he deserved something more. The opportunity for that arrived with Dancing Prince.
Some 30 years have passed since the first novel. David is a history professor at the University of St. Andrews. He and Betsy have two now-grown children. Over the years, it is David who has become a key figure in the life of Thomas Kent-Hughes, the youngest of Michael and Sarah’s children.
As Michael grows more estranged from Tommy, David unintentionally helps to fill the gap, to the point where Tommy feels closer to his uncle than to his own father. Early in the story, Tommy and his father experience one of the many crises in their relationship, and it’s to David in St. Andrews to whom Tommy flees from London. When it’s time for college, Tommy will select St. Andrews, and a large part of the reason is that David teaches there.
In many significant ways, Tommy becomes part of the Hughes family, and he clearly feels more comfortable with his uncle than with his father. Tommy looks more like his uncle than he does Michael, and he’s often mistaken for David’s son. They share a love of scholarship, and early on David is guiding Tommy in his pursuit of Norse and Icelandic languages. And it’s a reciprocal relationship. When David’s own son experiences a breakdown, it’s Tommy to whom David turns for help.
The character of David was a quiet, stabilizing one from the beginning. Those characters rarely get center stage is stories and novels. Dancing Prince offered the opportunity to bring David out of the background and give him a significant part in the story. And, as it turns out, it will be a crucial part that he plays. Michael will eventually tell Tommy that he owes David a debt he can never repay, “for being there for you when I wasn’t.” David is something of an unsung hero of the Dancing Priest stories, and it was gratifying to give him his due.
Top photograph by Shipman Northcutt via Unsplash. Used with permission.