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   Chapter 33 No.33

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 4088

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

After driving through long streets, brilliant with shops of endless marvel, the coachman pulled up for the last time. It was a dull drizzly evening, with sudden windy gusts, and, in itself, dark as pitch. But Alec descended, cold and wet, in a brilliant light which flowed from the door of the hotel as if it had been the very essence of its structure. A porter took charge of his box, hoisted it on his back, and led the way to the address he gave him.

Notwithstanding the drizzle, and the angry rushes of the wind round the street-corners, the foot-pavements were filled with men and women, moving in different directions, like a double row of busy ants. Through queer short cuts that terribly bewildered the way, the porter led him to the house, and pushing the door open, went up two flights of stone stairs and knocked at a door on the landing. Alec was shown into a room where a good fire was blazing away with a continuous welcome; and when seated by it drinking his tea, he saw the whole world golden through the stained windows of his imagination.

But his satisfaction gradually passed into a vague longing after something else. Would human nature be more perfect were it capable of being satisfied with cakes and ale? Alec felt as if he had got to the borders of fairy-land, and something was going to happen. A door would open and admit him into the secret of the world. But the door was so long in opening, that he took to unpacking his box; when, as he jumped up to thank his mother for some peculiar remembrance of his likings, the whole affair suddenly changed to a rehearsal of death; and his longings for the remainder of the night were towards the past.

He rose in the morning with the feeling revived, that something intense was going on all arouud. But the door into life generally opens behind us, and a hand is put forth which draws us in backwards. The sole wisdom for man or boy who is haunted with the hovering of unseen wings, with the scent of unseen roses, and the subtle enticements of "melodies unheard,"

is work. If he follow any of those, they will vanish. But if he work, they will come unsought, and, while they come, he will believe that there is a fairy-land, where poets find their dreams, and prophets are laid hold of by their visions. The idle beat their heads against its walls, or mistake the entrance, and go down into the dark places of the earth.

Alec stood at the window, and peered down into the narrow street, through which, as in a channel between rocks burrowed into dwellings, ran the ceaseless torrent of traffic. He felt at first as if life at least had opened its gates, and he had been transported into the midst of its drama. But in a moment the show changed, turning first into a meaningless procession; then into a chaos of conflicting atoms; re-forming itself at last into an endlessly unfolding coil, no break in the continuity of which would ever reveal the hidden mechanism. For to no mere onlooker will Life any more than Fairy-land open its secret. A man must become an actor before he can be a true spectator.

Weary of standing at the window, he went and wandered about the streets. To his country-bred eyes they were full of marvels-which would soon be as common to those eyes as one of the furrowed fields on his father's farm. The youth who thinks the world his oyster, and opens it forthwith, finds no pearl therein.

What is this nimbus about the new? Is the marvel a mockery? Is the shine that of demon-gold? No. It is a winged glory that alights beside the youth; and, having gathered his eyes to itself, flits away to a further perch; there alights, there shines, thither entices. With outstretched hands the child of earth follows, to fall weeping at the foot of the gray disenchanted thing. But beyond, and again beyond, shines the lapwing of heaven-not, as a faithless generation thinks, to delude like them, but to lead the seeker home to the nest of the glory.

Last of all, Alec was forced to take refuge in his books.

The competition fell on the next day, and he gained a small bursary.

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