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"I say, Forbes, you keep yourself all to yourself and old Cupples, away there in the new town. Come and take some supper with me to-night. It's my birthday, old boy."
"I don't do much in that way, you know, Gibby."
"Oh yes, I know. You're never jolly but amongst the shell-fish. At least that's what the Venall thinks of you. But for once in a way you might come."
"Well, I don't mind," said Alec, really not caring what came to him or of him, and glad of anything to occupy him with no-thinking. "When shall I come?"
"At seven. We'll have a night of it. To-morrow's Saturday."
It was hardly worth while to go home. He would not dine to-day. He would go and renew his grief by the ever-grieving sea. For his was a young love, and his sorrow was interesting to him: he embalmed his pangs in the amber of his consciousness. So he crossed the links to the desolate sandy shore; there let the sound of the waves enter the portals of his brain and fill all its hollow caves with their moaning; and then wandering back to the old city, stood at length over the keystone of the bridge, and looked down into the dark water below the Gothic arch.
He heard a footstep behind him on the bridge. Looking round he saw Beauchamp. Without reason or object, he walked up to him and barred his way. Beauchamp started, and drew back.
"Beauchamp," said Alec, "you are my devil."
"Granted," said Beauchamp, coolly, but on his guard.
"What are you about with my cousin?"
"What is that to you?"
"She is my cousin."
"I don't care. She's not mine."
"If you play her false, as you have played me--by heavens!--"
"Oh! I'll be very kind to her. You needn't be afraid. I only wanted to take down your damned impudence. You may go to her when you like."
Alec's answer was a blow, which Beauchamp was prepared for and avoided. Alec pursued the attack with a burning desire to give him the punishment he deserved. But he turned suddenly sick, and, although he afterwards recalled a wrestle, knee to knee, the first thing he was aware of was the cold waters of the river closing over him. The shock restored him. When he rose to the surface he swam down the stream, for the banks were precipitous in the neighbourhood of the bridge. At length he succeeded in landing, and set out for home. He had not gone far, however, before he grew very faint, and had to sit down on a door-step. Then he discovered that his arm was bleeding, and knew that Beauchamp had stabbed him. He contrived to tie it up after a fashion, and reached home without much more difficulty. Mr Cupples had not come in. So he got his landlady to tie up his arm for him, and then changed his clothes. Fortunately the wound, although long and deep, ran lengthways between the shoulder and elbow, on the outside of the arm, and so was not of a serious character. After he was dressed, feeling quite well, he set off to keep his engagement with Gilbert Gordon.
Now how could such a thing have taken place in the third decade of the nineteenth century?--The parapet was low and the struggle was fierce. I do not think that Beauchamp intended murder, for the consequences of murder must be a serious consideration to every gentleman. He came of a wild race, with whom a word and a steel blow had been linked for ages. And habits transmitted become instincts. He was of a cold temperament, and such a nature, once roused, is often less under control than one used to excitement: a saint will sometimes break through the bonds of the very virtue which has gained him all his repute. If we combine these considerations with the known hatred of Beauchamp, the story Alec told Cupples the next day may become in itself credible. Whether Beauchamp tried to throw him from the bridge may remain doubtful, for when the bodies of two men are locked in the wrestle of hate, their own souls do not know what they intend. Beauchamp must have sped home with the conscience of a murderer; and yet when Alec made his appearance in the class, most probably a revival of hatred was his first mental experience. But I have had no opportunity of studying the morbid anatomy of Beauchamp, and I do not care about him, save as he influences the current of this history. When he vanishes, I shall be glad to forget him.
Soon after Alec had left the house, Cupples came home with a hurried inquiry whether the landlady had seen anything of him. She told him as much as she knew, whereupon he went up-stairs to his Aeschylus, &c.
Alec said nothing about his adventure to any of his friends, for, like other Scotchmen young and old, he liked to keep things in his own hands till he knew what to do with them. At first, notwithstanding his loss of blood, he felt better than he had felt for some time; but in the course of the evening he grew so tired, and his brain grew so muddy and brown, that he was glad when he heard the order given for the boiling water. He had before now, although Mr Cupples had never become aware of the fact, partaken of the usual source of Scotch exhilaration, and had felt nothing the worse; and now heedless of Mr Cupples's elaborate warning--how could he be expected to mind it?--he mixed himself a tumbler eagerly. But although the earth brightened up under its influences, and a wider horizon opened about him than he had enjoyed for months before, yet half-frightened at the power of the beverage over his weakened frame, he had conscience enough to refuse a second tumbler, and rose early and went home.
The moment he entered the garret, Mr Cupples, who had already consumed his nightly portion, saw that he had been drinking. He looked at him with blue eyes, wide-opened, dismay and toddy combining to render them of uncertain vision.
"Eh, bantam! bantam!" he said, and sank back in his chair; "ye hae been at it in spite o' me."
And Mr Cupples burst into silent tears--no unusual phenomenon in men under the combined influences of emotion and drink. Notwithstanding his own elevated condition, Alec was shocked.
"Mr Cupples," he said, "I want to tell you all about it."
Mr Cupples took no notice. Alec began his story notwithstanding, and as he went on, his friend became attentive, inserting here and there an expletive to the disadvantage of Beauchamp, whose behaviour with regard to Kate he now learned for the first time. When Alec had finished, Cupples said solemnly:
"I warned ye against him, Alec. But a waur enemy nor Beauchamp has gotten a sickerer haud o' ye, I doobt. Do 'at he like, Beauchamp's dirk couldna hurt ye sae muckle as yer ain han', whan ye liftit the first glass to yer ain mou' the nicht. Ye hae despised a' my warnings. And sorrow and shame'll come o' 't. And I'll hae to beir a' the wyte o' 't. Yer mither'll jist hate me like the verra black taed that no woman can bide. Gang awa' to yer bed. I canna bide the sicht o' ye."
Alec went to bed, rebuked and distressed. But not having taken enough to hurt him much, he was unfortunately able, the next morning, to regard Mr Cupples's lecture from a ludicrous point of view. And what danger was he in more than the rest of the fellows, few of whom would refuse a tumbler of toddy, and fewer of whom were likely to get drunk?--Had not Alec been unhappy, he would have been in less danger than most of them; but he was unhappy.
And although the whisky had done him no great immediate injury, yet its reaction, combined with the loss of blood, made him restless all that day. So that, when the afternoon came, instead of going to Mr Cupples in the library, he joined some of the same set he had been with the evening before. And when he came home, instead of going up-stairs to Mr Cupples, he went straight to bed.
The next morning, while he was at breakfast, Mr Cupples made his appearance in his room.
"What cam' o' ye last nicht, bantam?" he asked kindly, but with evident uneasiness.
"I cam' hame some tired, and gaed straucht to my bed."
"But ye warna hame verra ear'."
"I wasna that late."
"Ye hae been drinkin' again. I ken by the luik o' yer een."
Alec had a very even temper. But a headache and a sore conscience together were enough to upset it. To be out of temper with oneself is to be out of temper with the universe.
"Did my mother commission you to look after me, Mr Cupples?" he asked, and could have dashed his head against the wall the next moment. But the look of pitying and yet deprecating concern in Mr Cupples's face fixed him so that he could say nothing.
Mr Cupples turned and walked slowly away, with only the words:
"Eh! bantam! bantam! The Lord hae pity upo' ye--and me too!"
He went out at the door bowed like an old man.
"Preserve's, Mr Cupples! What ails ye?" exclaimed his landlady meeting him in the passage.
"The whusky's disagreed wi' me," he said. "It's verra ill-faured o' 't. I'm sure I pay't ilka proper attention."
Then he went down the stairs, murmuring--
"Rainbows! Rainbows! Naething for me but rainbows! God help the laddie!"
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