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   Chapter 49 No.49

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 10786

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The next day saw Alec walking by the side of Kate mounted on his pony, up a steep path to the top of one of the highest hills surrounding the valley. It was a wild hill, with hardly anything growing on it but heather, which would make it regal with purple in the autumn: no tree could stand the blasts that blew over that hill in winter. Having climbed to the topmost point, they stood and gazed. The country lay outstretched beneath in the glow of the June day, while around them flitted the cool airs of heaven. Above them rose the soaring blue of the June sky, with a white cloud or two floating in it, and a blue peak or two leaning its colour against it. Through the green grass and the green corn below crept two silvery threads, meeting far away and flowing in one-the two rivers which watered the valley of Strathglamour. Between the rivers lay the gray stone town, with its roofs of thatch and slate. One of its main streets stopped suddenly at the bridge with the three arches above Tibbie's cottage; and at the other end of the bridge lay the green fields.

The landscape was not one of the most beautiful, but it had a beauty of its own, which is all a country or a woman needs; and Kate sat gazing about her in evident delight. She had taken off her hat to feel the wind, and her hair fell in golden heaps upon her shoulders, and the wind and the sunbeams played at hide-and-seek in it.

In a moment the pleasure vanished from her face. It clouded over, while the country lay full in the sun. Her eyes no longer looked wide abroad, but expressed defeat and retirement. Listlessly she began to gather her hair together.

"Do you ever feel as if you could not get room enough, Alec?" she said, wearily.

"No, I don't," he answered, honestly and stupidly. "I have always as much as I want. I should have thought you would-up here."

"I did feel satisfied for a moment; but it was only a moment. It is all gone now. I shall never have room enough."

Alec had nothing to say in reply. He never had anything to give Kate but love; and now he gave her more love. It was all he was rich in. But she did not care for his riches. And so, after gazing a while, she turned towards the descent. Alec picked up her hat, and took his place at the pony's head. He was not so happy as he thought he should be. Somehow she was of another order, and he could not understand her-he could only worship her.

The whole of the hot afternoon they spent on the grass, whose mottling of white clover filled the wandering airs with the odours of the honey of Hymettus. And after tea Kate sang, and Alec drank every tone as if his soul lived by hearing.

In this region the sun works long after hours in the summer, and they went out to see him go down weary. They leaned together over the gate and looked at the level glory, which now burned red and dim. Lamp of life, it burns all night long in the eternal night of the universe, to chase the primeval darkness from the great entrance hall of the "human mortals."

"What a long shadow everything throws!" said Kate. "When the shadows gather all together, and melt into one, then it is night. Look how the light creeps about the roots of the grass on the ridge, as if it were looking for something between the shadows. They are both going to die. Now they begin."

The sun diminished to a star-a spark of crimson fire, and vanished. As if he had sunk in a pool of air, and made it overflow, a gentle ripple of wind blew from the sunset over the grass. They could see the grass bending and swaying and bathing in its coolness before it came to them. It blew on their faces at length, and whispered something they could not understand, making Kate think of her mother, and Alec of Kate.

Now that same breeze blew upon Tibbie and Annie, as they sat in the patch of meadow by the cottage, between the river and the litster's dam. It made Tibbie think of death, the opener of sleeping eyes, the uplifter of hanging hands. For Tibbie's darkness was the shadow of her grave, on the further border of which the light was breaking in music. Death and resurrection were the same thing to blind old Tibbie.

When the gentle, washing wind blew upon Annie, she thought of the wind that bloweth were it listeth; and that, if ever the Spirit of God blew upon her, she would feel it just like that wind of summer sunset-so cool, so blessed, so gentle, so living! And was it not God that breathed that wind upon her? Was he not even then breathing his Spirit into the soul of that woman-child?

It blew upon Andrew Constable, as he stood in his shop-door, the easy labour of his day all but over. And he said to his little weasel-faced, douce, old-fashioned child who stood leaning against the other door-cheek:

"That's a fine caller bit blastie, Isie! Dinna ye like to fin' 't blawin' upo' yer het cheeks, dawtie?"

And she answered,

"Ay, I like it weel, daddie; but it min's me some upo' the winter."

And Andrew looked anxiously at the pale face of his child, who, at six years old, in the month of June, had no business to know that there was any winter. But she was the child of elderly parents, and had not been born in time; so that she was now in reality about twenty.

It blew upon Robert Bruce, who had just run out into the yard, to see how his potatoes and cabbages were coming on. He said

"It's some cauld," and ran in

again to put on his hat.

Alec and Kate, I have said, stood looking into the darkening field. A great flock of rooks which filled the air with their rooky gossip, was flying straight home to an old gray ruin just visible amongst some ancient trees. They had been gathering worms and grubs all day, and now it was bed time. They felt, through all their black feathers, the coolness of that evening breeze which came from the cloudy mausoleum already built over the grave of the down-gone sun.

Kate hearing them rejoicing far overhead, searched for them in the darkening sky, found them, and watched their flight, till the black specks were dissolved in the distance. They are not the most poetic of birds, but in a darkening country twilight, over silent fields, they blend into the general tone, till even their noisy caw suggests repose. But it was room Kate wanted, not rest. She would know one day, however, that room and rest are the same, and that the longings for both spring from the same need.

"What place is that in the trees?" she asked.

"The old Castle of Glamerton," answered Alec. "Would you like to go and see it?"

"Yes; very much."

"We'll go to-morrow, then."

"The dew is beginning to fall, Kate," said Mrs Forbes, who now joined them. "You had better come in."

Alec lingered behind. An unknown emotion drew his heart towards the earth. He would see her go to sleep in the twilight, which was now beginning to brood over her, as with the brown wings of a lovely dull-hued hen-bird. The daisies were all asleep, spotting the green grass with stars of carmine; for their closed red tips, like the finger-points of two fairy hands, tenderly joined together, pointed up in little cones to keep the yellow stars warm within, that they might shine bright when the great star of day came to look for them. The light of the down-gone sun, the garment of Aurora, which, so short would be her rest, she had not drawn close around her on her couch, floated up on the horizon, and swept slowly northwards, lightly upborne on that pale sea of delicate green and gold, to flicker all night around the northern coast of the sky, and, streaming up in the heavens, melt at last in the glory of the uprisen Titan. The trees stood still and shadowy as clouds, but breathing out mysterious odours. The stars overhead, half-molten away in the ghostly light that would not go, were yet busy at their night-work, ministering to the dark sides of the other worlds. There was no moon. A wide stillness and peace, as of a heart at rest, filled space, and lying upon the human souls with a persistent quietness that might be felt, made them know what might be theirs. Now and then a bird sprang out with a sudden tremor of leaves, suddenly stilled. But the bats came and went in silence, like feelings yet unembodied in thoughts, vanishing before the sight had time to be startled at their appearing. All was marvel. And the marvel of all was there-where the light glimmered faintly through the foliage. He approached the house with an awe akin to that with which an old poetic Egyptian drew near to the chamber of the goddess Isis.

He entered, and his Isis was laughing merrily.

In the morning, great sun-crested clouds with dark sides hung overhead; and while they sat at breakfast, one of those glorious showers, each of whose great drops carries a sun-spark in its heart, fell on the walks with a tumult of gentle noises, and on the grass almost as silently as if it had been another mossy cloud. The leaves of the ivy hanging over the windows quivered and shook, each for itself, beneath the drops; and between the drops, one of which would have beaten him to the earth, wound and darted in safety a great humble bee.

Kate and Alec went to the open window and looked out on the rainy world, breathing the odours released from the grass and the ground. Alec turned from the window to Kate's face, and saw upon it a keen, yet solemn delight. But as he gazed, he saw a cloud come over it. The arched upper lip dropped sadly upon the other, and she looked troubled and cold. Instinctively he glanced out again for the cause. The rain had become thick and small, and a light opposing wind disordered its descent with broken and crossing lines.

This change from a summer to a winter rain had altered Kate's mood, and her face was now, as always, a reflex of the face of nature.

"Shut the window, please Alec," she said, with a shiver.

"We'll have a fire directly," said Alec.

"No, no," returned Kate, trying to smile. "Just fetch me a shawl from the closet in my room."

Alec had not been in his own room since Kate came. He entered it with a kind of gentle awe, and stood just within the door, gazing as if rebuked.

From a pair of tiny shoes under the dressing-table, radiated a whole roomful of feminity. He was almost afraid to go further, and would not have dared to look in the mirror. In three days her mere presence had made the room marvellous.

Recovering himself, he hastened to the cloaet, got the shawl, and went down the stair three steps at a time.

"Couldn't you find it, Alec?" said Kate.

"Oh! yes; I found it at once," answered Alec, blushing to the eyes.

I wonder whether Kate guessed what made the boy blush. But it does not matter much now. She did look curiously at him for a moment.

"Just help me with my shawl," she said.

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