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It may appear strange to some of my renders that Alec should fall into this pit immediately upon the solemn warning of his friend. He had listened to the story alone; he had never felt the warning: he had never felt the danger. Had he not himself in his own hands? He was not fond of whisky. He could take it or leave it. And so he took it; and finding that there was some comfort in it, took it again and again, seeking the society in which it was the vivifying element.--Need I depict the fine gradations by which he sank--gradations though fine yet so numerous that, in a space of time almost too brief for credit, the bleared eye, the soiled garments, and the disordered hair, would reveal how the night had been spent, and the clear-browed boy looked a sullen, troubled, dissatisfied youth? The vice had laid hold of him like a fast-wreathing, many-folded serpent. He had never had any conscious religion. His life had never looked up to its source. All that was good in him was good of itself, not of him. So it was easy to go down, with grief staring at him over the edge of the pit. All return to the unific rectitude of a manly life must be in the face of a scorching past and a dank future--and those he could not face.
And as his life thus ebbed away from him, his feelings towards Beauchamp grew more and more bitter, approximating in character to those of Beauchamp towards him. And he soon became resolved to have his revenge on him, though it was long before he could make up his mind as to what the revenge should be.
Beauchamp avoided him constantly.
And Mr Cupples was haunting him unseen. The strong-minded, wise-headed, weak-willed little poet, wrapped in a coat of darkness, dogged the footsteps of a great handsome, good-natured, ordinary-gifted wretch, who could never make him any return but affection, and had now withdrawn all interchange of common friendship in order that he might go the downward road unchecked. Cupples was driven almost distracted. He drank harder than ever, but with less satisfaction than ever, for he only grew the more miserable. He thought of writing to Alec's mother, but, with the indecision of a drunkard, he could not make up his mind, and pondered over every side of the question, till he was lost in a maze of incapacity.
Bad went to worse. Vice grew upon vice.
There are facts in human life which human artists cannot touch. The great Artist can weave them into the grand whole of his Picture, but to the human eye they look too ugly and too painful. Even the man who can do the deeds dares not represent them. Mothers have to know such facts of their sons, and such facts of women like themselves.
Alec had fallen amongst a set of men who would not be satisfied till he should be as low as they--till there should be nothing left in him to remind them that they had once been better. The circle in which he began to drink had gradually contracted about him. The better sort had fallen away, and the worse had remained--chiefly older men than he, men who had come near to the enjoyment of vileness for its own sake, if that be possible, and who certainly enjoyed making others like themselves. Encouraged by their laughter and approbation, Alec began to emulate them, and would soon have had very little to learn if things had not taken a turn. A great hand is sometimes laid even on the fly-wheel of life's engine.
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