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Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 6034

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


One morning, about two months from the beginning of the session, after the students had been reading for some time in the Greek class, the professor was seen, not unexpectedly to part of the assembly, to look up at the ceiling with sudden discomposure. There had been a heavy fall of snow in the night, and one of the students, whose organ of humour had gained at the expense of that of veneration, had, before the arrival of the professor, gathered a ball of the snow, and thrown it against the ceiling with such forceful precision, that it stuck right over the centre of the chair. This was perhaps the first time that such a trick had been dared in the first class, belonging more properly to the advanced depravity of the second or third. When the air began to get warm, the snow began to drop upon the head of the old professor; and this was the cause of his troubled glance at the ceiling. But the moment he looked up, Alec, seeing what was the matter, and feeling all his natural loyalty roused, sprang from his seat, and rushing out of the class-room, returned with a long broom which the sacrist had been using to clear foot-paths across the quadrangle. The professor left his chair, and Alec springing on the desk, swept the snow from the ceiling. He then wiped the seat with his handkerchief and returned to his place. The gratitude of the old man shone in his eyes. True, he would only have had to send for the sacrist to rescue him; but here was an atonement for the insult, offered by one of the students themselves.

"Thank you, Mr Forbes," he stammered; "I am ek?ek?ek-exceedingly obliged to you."

The professor was a curious, kindly little man-lame, with a brown wig, a wrinkled face, and a long mouth, of which he only made use of the half on the right side to stammer out humorous and often witty sayings-at least so they appeared to those who had grace enough to respect his position and his age. As often as reference is made in my hearing to Charles Lamb and his stutter, up comes the face of dear old Professor Fraser, and I hear him once more stammering out some joke, the very fun of which had its source in kindliness. Somehow the stutter never interfered with the point of the joke: that always came with a rush. He seemed, while hesitating on some unimportant syllable, to be arranging what was to follow and strike the blow.

"Gentlemen," he continued upon this occasion, "the Scripture says you're to heap c-c-c-coals of fire on your enemy's head. When you are to heap drops of water on your friend's w-w-wig, the Scripture doesn't say."

The same evening Alec received a note from him asking him to breakfast with him the following morning, which was Saturday, and consequently a holiday. It was usual with the professors to invite a dozen or so of the students to breakfast on Saturdays, but on this occasion Alec was the sole guest.

As soon as he entered the room, Mr Fraser hobbled to meet him, with outstretched hand of welcome, and a kindly grin on his face.

"Mr For

bes," he said, "I h-h-hope well of you; for you can respect an old man. I'm very glad to see you. I hope you've brought an appetite with you. Sit down. Always respect old age, Mr Forbes. You'll be old yourself some day-and you won't like it any more than I do. I've had my young days, though, and I mustn't grumble."

And here he smiled; but it was a sad smile, and a tear gathered in the corner of one of his old eyes. He caught up a globular silver tea-pot, and began to fill the tea-cups. Apparently the reflection of his own face in the tea-pot was too comical to resist, for the old man presently broke into what was half a laugh and half a grin, and, without in any way accounting for it, went on talking quite merrily for the rest of the meal.

"My mother told me," said Alec at length, "in a letter I had from her yesterday, that your brother, sir, had married a cousin of hers."

"What! what! Are you a son of Mr Forbes of Howglen?"

"Yes, sir."

"You young rascal! Why didn't your mother send you to me?"

"She didn't like to trouble you, I suppose, sir."

"People like me, that haven't any relations, must make the most of the relations they have. I am in no danger of being troubled that way. You've heard of my poor brother's death?"

"No, sir."

"He died last year. He was a clergyman, you know. When you come up next session, I hope to show you his daughter-your cousin, you know. She is coming to live with me. People that don't marry don't deserve to have children. But I'm going to have one after all. She's at school now. What do you think of turning to, Mr Forbes?"

"I haven't thought much about it yet, sir."

"Ah! I daresay not. If I were you, I would be a doctor. If you're honest, you're sure to do some good. I think you're just the man for a doctor now-you respect your fellow-men. You don't laugh at old age, Mr Forbes."

And so the kind garrulous old man went on, talking about everything except Greek. For that he had no enthusiasm. Indeed, he did not know enough to have, by possibility, any feeling about it. What he did know, however, he taught well, and very conscientiously.

This was the first time that Alec's thoughts had been turned towards a profession. The more he thought about it the better he liked the idea of being a doctor; till at length, after one or two talks about it with Mr Fraser, he resolved, notwithstanding that the session was considerably advanced, to attend the anatomical course for the rest of it. The Greek and Latin were tolerably easy to him, and it would be so much time gained if he entered the first medical class at once. He need not stand the examination except he liked, and the fee was not by any means large. His mother was more than satisfied with the proposal, and, although what seemed a trifle to Alec was of some consequence to her, she sent him at once the necessary supplies. Mr Fraser smoothed the way for him with the professor, and he was soon busy making up his distance by a close study of the class-books.

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