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Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 7365

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Excited, and unable to settle to his work, Alec ran upstairs to Mr Cupples, whom he had not seen for some days. He found him not more than half-way towards his diurnal goal.

"What's come o' you, bantam, this mony a day?" said Mr Cupples.

"I saw ye last Saturday," said Alec.

"Last Setterday week, ye mean," rejoined the librarian. "Hoo's the mathematics comin' on?"

"To tell the truth, I'm raither ahin' wi' them," answered Alec.

"I was thinkin' as muckle. Rainbows! Thae rainbows! And the anawtomy?"

"Nae jist stan'in' still a'thegither."

"That's weel. Ye haena been fa'in' asleep again ower the guddlet carcass o' an auld pauper-hae ye?"

Alec stared. He had never told any one of his adventure in the dissecting-room.

"I saw ye, my man. But I wasna the only ane that saw ye. Ye micht hae gotten a waur fleg gin I hadna come up, for Mr Beauchamp was takin' the bearin's o' ye throu the window, and whan I gaed up, he slippit awa' like a wraith. There ye lay, wi' yer heid back, and yer mou' open, as gin you and the deid man had been tryin' whilk wad sleep the soun'est. But ye hae ta'en to ither studies sin' syne. Ye hae a freah subject-a bonnie young ane. The Lord hae mercy upo' ye! The goddess o' the rainbow hersel's gotten a haud o' ye, and ye'll be seein' naething but rainbows for years to come.-Iris bigs bonnie brigs, but they hae nowther pier, nor buttress, nor key-stane, nor parapet. And no fit can gang ower them but her ain, and whan she steps aff, it's upo' men's herts, and yours can ill bide her fit, licht as it may be."

"What are ye propheseein' at, Mr Cupples?" said Alec, who did not more than half understand him.

"Verra weel. I'm no drunk yet," rejoined Mr Cupples, oracularly. "But that chield Beauchamp's no rainbow-that lat me tell ye. He'll do you a mischeef yet, gin ye dinna luik a' the shairper. I ken the breed o' him. He was luikin' at ye throu the window like a hungry deevil. And jist min' what ye're aboot wi' the lassie-she's rael bonnie-or ye may chance to get her into trouble, withoot ony wyte (fault) o' yer ain. Min' I'm tellin' ye. Gin ye'll tak my advice, ye'll tak a dose o' mathematics direckly. It's a fine alterative as weel as antidote, though maybe whusky's…..the verra broo o' the deevil's ain pot," he concluded, altering his tone entirely, and swallowing the rest of his glass at a gulp.

"What do ye want me to do?" asked Alec.

"To tak tent (care) o' Beauchamp. And meantime to rin doon for yer

Euclid and yer Hutton, and lat's see whaur ye are."

There was more ground for Mr Cupples's warning than Alec had the smallest idea of. He had concluded long ago that all possible relations, even those of enmity-practical enmity at least-were over between them, and that Mr Beauchamp considered the bejan sufficiently punished for thrashing him, by being deprived of his condescending notice for the rest of the ages. But so far was this from being the true state of the case, that, although Alec never suspected it, Beauchamp had in fact been dogging and haunting him from the very commencement of the session, and Mr Cupples had caught him in only one of many acts of the kind. In the anatomical class, where they continued to meet, he still attempted to keep up the old look of diadain, as if the lesson he had received had in no way altered their relative position. Had Alec known with what difficulty, and under what a load of galling recollection, he kept it up, he would have been heartily sorry for him. Beauchamp's whole consciousness was poisoned by the memory of that day. Incapable of regarding any one except in comparative relation to himself, the effort of his life had bee

n to maintain that feeling of superiority with which he started every new acquaintance; for occasionally a flash of foreign individuality would break through the husk of satisfaction in which he had inclosed himself, compelling him to feel that another man might have claims. And hitherto he had been very successful in patching up and keeping entire his eggshell of conceit. But that affair with Alec was a very bad business. Had Beauchamp been a coward, he would have suffered less from it. But he was no coward, though not quite so courageous as Hector, who yet turned and fled before Achilles. Without the upholding sense of duty, no man can be sure of his own behaviour, simply because he cannot be sure of his own nerves. Duty kept the red-cross knight "forlorne and left to losse," "haplesse and eke hopelesse,"

"Disarmd, disgraste, and inwardly dismayde,

And eke so faint in every joynt and vayne,"

from turning his back on the giant Orgoglio, and sent him pacing towards him with feeble steps instead. But although he was not wanting in mere animal courage, Beauchamp's pride always prevented him from engaging in any contest in which he was not sure of success, the thought of failure being to him unendurable. When he found that he had miscalculated the probabilities, he was instantly dismayed; and the blow he received on his mouth reminding his vanity of the danger his handsome face was in, he dropped his arms and declined further contest, comforting himself with the fancy of postponing his vengeance to a better opportunity.

But within an hour he knew that he had lost his chance, as certainly as he who omits the flood-tide of his fortune. He not only saw that he was disgraced, but felt in himself that he had been cowardly; and, more mortifying still, felt that, with respect to the clodhopper, he was cowardly now. He was afraid of him. Nor could he take refuge in the old satisfaction of despising him; for that he found no longer possible. He was on the contrary compelled to despise himself, an experience altogether new; so that his contempt for Alec changed into a fierce, slow-burning hate.

Now hate keeps its object present even more than the opposite passion. Love makes everything lovely; hate concentrates itself on the one thing hated. The very sound of Alec's voice became to the ears of Beauchamp what a filthy potion would have been to his palate. Every line of his countenance became to his eyes what a disgusting odour would have been to his nostrils. And yet the fascination of his hate, and his desire of revenge, kept Beauchamp's ears, eyes, and thoughts hovering about Forbes.

No way of gratifying his hatred, however, although he had been brooding over it all the previous summer, had presented itself till now. Now he saw the possibility of working a dear revenge. But even now, to work surely, he must delay long. Still the present consolation was great.

Nor is it wonderful that his pride should not protect him from the deeper disgrace of walking in underground ways. For there is nothing in the worship of self to teach a man to be noble. Honour even will one day fail him who has learned no higher principle. And although revenge be "a kind of wild justice," it loses the justice, and retains only the wildness, when it corrupts into hatred. Every feeling that Beauchamp had was swallowed up in the gulf eaten away by that worst of all canker-worms.

Notwithstanding the humiliation he had experienced, he retained as yet an unlimited confidence in some gifts which he supposed himself to possess by nature, and to be capable of using with unequalled art. And true hate, as well as true love, knows how to wait.

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