A childless couple, he 40, she 39, feel a drifting apart in their marriage. They always wanted children, but pregnancy hadn’t happened. So, one Saturday night, they go out for dinner and play, in the New Town area of Edinburgh. When they arrive home, the phone is ringing, which, at that hour, usually means an emergency with a horse. The man is a horse veterinarian, and a good one, so good that he finds himself traveling all over Britain to attend to horses.
The phone call is not about a horse. It’s about a boy, a 6-year-old suddenly orphaned by the deaths of his parents in a car crash outside of London. The man learns that the boy is being driven to their home outside Edinburgh; he and his wife are the designated guardians. He’ll arrive within the hour.
The boy is the son of Henry and Anna Kent, who live a quiet life in southern England. Henry races horses, and his veterinarian is Ian McLaren. He had watched Ian work a near miracle when a valuable racehorse was injured. He had also come to know Ian McLaren the man, and it was to Ian and his wife Iris that Henry Kent entrusted his son Michael.
In Dancing King, the third novel in the Dancy Priest series, Ian McLaren has a small role, but it’s a critical one. Michael and his family come home to Edinburgh from London for Christmas, and it’s to Ian whom Michael turns for counsel and companionship. This is the man Michael thinks of as his “Da,” his memories of his real father being buried in time.
Michael seeks Ian out in the barn, where Ian is attending to horses. Conscious of his healing arm and shoulder injury, Michael does what he’s been doing since he was six – “mucking out the stable,” as Ian describes it. It’s something rather below the station of a king. But Michael, beset by doubts about his abilities and beginning to see enemies unexpectedly rising up, seeks refuge in the familiar – the mucking of hay and the rock that Ian represents.
Ian is a big man physically, tall, broad-shouldered, and barrel-chested. His red hair has gone to gray. He’s now in his late 60s, and he continues to work at his profession. His only concession to age was the hiring of an assistant – Roger Pitts, Michael’s cycling nemesis in Dancing Priest, the cyclist who disgraced himself at the Olympics. Michael had prevailed upon Ian to hire him, Roger also began veterinary studies, and he’s done so well that Ian is beginning to see his successor in his veterinary practice.
Ian and Iris are Presbyterians, “good Calvinists,” as Iris says. They raised Michael in their church, until he reached about 14 or 15, when he calmly informed them that he was being called to the ministry – in the Anglican Church. Ian didn’t know all of what was happening, but he sensed there was something larger at work. He knew Michael, and he knew Michael’s seriousness, and he and Iris had acquiesced in Michael’s decision. Ian may be a “good Calvinist,” but he doesn’t let sectarianism get in the way of what he can see is God’s plan.
It’s a private, tender moment in the barn, the young man feeling the burden of extraordinary responsibilities leaning upon the older man he considers his father. Ian offers insight, counsel, and laughter.
That moment is a picture of what we all want with our earthly fathers, and what we yearn for with our heavenly Father.
Top photograph by Eberhard Grossgasteiger via Unsplash. Used with permission.