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   Chapter 48 No.48

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 5950

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Alec did not fall asleep so soon. The thought that Kate was in the house-asleep in the next room, kept him awake. Yet he woke the next morning earlier than usual. There were bands of golden light upon the wall, though Kate would not be awake for hours yet.

He sprung out of bed, and ran to the banks of the Glamour. Upon the cold morning stream the sun-rays fell slanting and gentle. He plunged in, and washed the dreams from his eyes with a dive, and a swim under water. Then he rose to the surface and swam slowly about under the overhanging willows, and earthy banks hollowed by the river's flow into cold damp caves, up into the brown shadows of which the water cast a flickering shimmer. Then he dressed himself, and lay down on the meadow grass, each blade of which shadowed its neighbour in the slant sunlight. Cool as it still was with the coldness of the vanished twilight, it yet felt warm to his bare feet, fresh from the waters that had crept down through the night from the high moor-lands. He fell fast asleep, and the sheep came and fed about him, as if he had been one of themselves. When he woke, the sun was high; and when he reached the house, he found his mother and Kate already seated at breakfast-Kate in the prettiest of cotton dresses, looking as fresh and country-like as the morning itself. The window was open, and through the encircling ivy, as through a filter of shadows, the air came fresh and cool. Beyond the shadow of the house lay the sunshine, a warm sea of brooding glory, of still power; not the power of flashing into storms of splendour beneath strange winds, but of waking up and cherishing to beauty the shy life that lay hidden in all remotest corners of the teeming earth.

"What are you going to do with Kate to-day, Alec?" said his mother.

"Whatever Kate likes," answered Alec.

"I have no choice," returned Kate. "I don't know yet what I have to choose between. I am in your hands, Alec."

It was the first time she had called him by his name, and a spear of sunshine seemed to quiver in his heart. He was restless as a hyena till she was ready. He then led her to the banks of the river, here low and grassy, with plenty of wild flowers, and a low babblement everywhere.

"This is delightful," said Kate. "I will come here as often as you like, and you shall read to me."

"What shall I read? Would you like one of Sir Walter's novels?"

"Just the thing."

Alec started at full speed for the house.

"Stop," cried Kate. "You are not going to leave me alone beside this-talking water?"

"I thought you liked the water," said Alec.

"Yes. But I don't want to be left alone beside it. I will go with you, and get some work."

She turned away from the stream with a strange backward look, and they walked home.

But as Kate showed some disinclination to return to the river-side, Alec put a seat for her near the house, in the shadow of a silver birch, and threw himself on the grass at her feet. The

re he began to read the Antiquary, only half understanding it, in the enchantment of knowing that he was lying at her feet, and had only to look up to see her eyes. At noon, Mrs Forbes sent them a dish of curds, and a great jug of cream, with oatcakes, and butter soft from the churn; and the rippling shadow of the birch played over the white curds and the golden butter as they ate.

Am I not now fairly afloat upon the gentle stream of an idyl? Shall I watch the banks as they glide past, and record each fairy-headed flower that looks at its image in the wave? Or shall I mow them down and sweep them together in a sentence?

I will gather a few of the flowers, and leave the rest. But first I will make a remark or two upon the young people.

Those amongst my readers who have had the happiness to lead innocent boy-lives, will know what a marvellous delight it was to Alec to have this girl near him in his own home and his own haunts. He never speculated on her character or nature, any more than Hamlet did about those of Ophelia before he was compelled to doubt womankind. His own principles were existent only in a latent condition, undeveloped from good impulses and kind sentiments. For instance: he would help any one whose necessity happened to make an impression upon him, but he never took pains to enter into the feelings of others-to understand them from their own point of view: he never had said to himself, "That is another me."

Correspondent to this condition were some of Kate's theories of life and its duties.

The question came up, whether a certain lady in fiction had done right in running away with her lover. Mrs Forbes made a rather decided remark on the subject. Kate said nothing, but her face glowed.

"Tell us what you think about it, Katie," said Mrs Forbes.

Katie was silent for a moment. Then with the air of a martyr, from whom the rack can only extort a fuller confession of his faith-though I fear she had no deeper gospel at the root of it than Byron had brought her-she answered:

"I think a woman must give up everything for love."

She was then precisely of the same opinion as Jean Paul's Linda in Titan.

"That is very true, I daresay," said Mrs Forbes; "but I fear you mean only one kind of love. Does a woman owe no love to her father or mother because she has a lover?"

To this plain question Kate made no reply, but her look changed to one of obstinacy.

Her mother died when she was a child, and her father had kept himself shut up in his study, leaving her chiefly to the care of a Shetland nurse, who told her Scandinavian stories from morning to night, with invention ever ready to supply any blank in the tablets of her memory.

Alec thought his mother's opinion the more to be approved, and Kate's the more to be admired; showing the lack of entireness in his nature, by thus dissociating the good and the admirable. That which is best cannot be less admirable than that which is not best.

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