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   Chapter 36 No.36

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 4209

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The first day of his attendance in the dissecting-room was a memorable one, and had memorable consequences. He had considerable misgivings about the new experience he had to meet, and sought, by the concentration of his will, to prepare himself to encounter the inevitable with calmness, and, if possible, with seeming indifference. But he was not prepared after all for the disadvantage of entering a company already hardened to those peculiarities of the position for which a certain induration is as desirable as unavoidable.

When he entered the room, he found a group already gathered. He drew timidly towards the table on the other side, not daring to glance at something which lay upon it-"white with the whiteness of what is dead;" and, feeling as if all the men were looking at him, as indeed most of them were, kept staring, or trying to stare, at other things in the room. But all at once, from an irresistible impulse, he faced round, and looked at the table.

There lay the body of a woman, with a young sad face, beautiful in spite of a terrible scar on the forehead, which indicated too plainly with what brutal companions she had consorted. Alec's lip quivered, and his throat swelled with a painful sensation of choking. He turned away, and bit his lip hard to keep down his emotion.

The best quality he possessed was an entire and profound reverence for women. Indignation even was almost quelled in the shock he received, when one of the students, for the pleasure of sneering at his discomposure, and making a boast of his own superiority to such weakness, uttered a brutal jest. In vain the upturned face made its white appeal to the universe: a laugh billowed the silence about its head.

But no rudeness could hurt that motionless heart-no insult bring a blush on that pale face. The closed eyes, the abandoned hands seemed only to pray:

"Let me into the dark-out of the eyes of those men!"

Alec gave one sob in the vain effort to master the conflicting emotions of indignation and pity. It reverberated in the laugh which burst from the students of the healing art.

Almost quenched in the laugh he heard one word however, in the same voice which had made the jest-a voice he knew well enough-that of Patrick Beauchamp. His face blazed up; his eyes flashed; and he had made one step forward, when he was arrested by the still face of the dead woman, which, ghostly as the morning moon, returned no glow in the red sunlight of his wrath; and in reverence he restrained his anger. In another moment, the professor arrived.

During the lecture and accompanying demonstrations. Alec was deaf and blind from burning rage; in the midst of which, however, he almost forgot his own wrong in regarding that done to the dead. He became, in his own eyes, the champion of one whom nature and death had united to render defenceless. From the verge of a gulf more terrible than the grave, her cry had reached him, and he would rise to avenge her.

As soon as they came out, he walked up to Beauchamp.

"You called me a spoony," he said through his set teeth.

"I did," answered Beauchamp, with an admirable drawl of indifference.

Alec replied with a blow; whereupon Beauchamp knocked him down. But he was up in a moment; and, although his antagonist was both older and bigger, the elasticity of his perfect health soon began to tell. There was little science between them, and what there was lay on Beauchamp's side; yet he defended himself more and more feebly, for his wind had soon given way. At length, after receiving a terrible blow on the mouth, Beauchamp dropped his arms and turned his back; and Alec, after some hesitation, let him go without the parting kick which he was tempted to give him, and which he had so well deserved.

The men dispersed without remark, ashamed of themselves, and admiring the bumpkin-most of them were gentlemen enough for that; while each of the combatants retired unaccompanied to his own lodging-Alec with a black eye, which soon passed through yellow back to its own natural hue, and Beauchamp with a cut, the scar of which deepened the sneer on his upper lip, and was long his evil counsellor from the confessional of the mirror.

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