Littell's Living Age/Volume 128/Issue 1658/Bee or Beatrix - Part I
From Blackwood's Magazine.
BEE OR BEATRIX.
"Holloa! Betty is gorgeous! Isn't she? Rather!"
Will the day ever dawn when brothers will be heard to speak as befits their humble station? Will sisters ever succeed in extracting from those chubby lips anything approaching to respectful language? Will Beatrix ever prevail with Tom?
We should say not.
To begin with, Bee is half-hearted about it. When there is no one else present, no spectator to see, no auditor to hear, she is ready to be Bet, Betty, Bee, anything and everything the boys choose to call her. She assists in their projects, overlooks their shortcomings, stand in the breach when the schoolroom revolts from the dining-room, and is a useful, humble, and efficient companion.
But down-stairs the scene changes.
Beatrix expects to be Beatrix.
She would, when there, fain exact from Jack, Tom, and Charlie, a degree of subservience, and likewise an amount of reticence, which the poor lads do not understand, and are not disposed to submit to. She thinks it mean of Charlie to tell aloud that she has been galloping barebacked on the pony all the afternoon, and frowns him down accordingly; whereas poor Charlie regards it as a feat worthy of mention, and wonders what his sister would be at!
Or Jack is the delinquent, he complains, in no undertones certainly, that Betty had forgotten to send his macintosh to be dried, after wearing it out in the rain. He did not mind her taking the macintosh, but she ought to have sent it to the kitchen when she came in.
Jack has a generous nature, and his complaint is just. It is therefore perfectly incomprehensible to him that Bee should crimson up to the eyes, as she gracefully lounges over her embroidery by Lady Adela's side, and that she should seize the moment when they meet alone in the gallery afterwards, to reproach him for his rudeness and stupidity.
Had he grudged her the use of his coat? Had he not gone without, himself, and got drenched, and never said a word about it? It is too bad to find fault with him for only wishing to have it dried; she knew they were going out in the boat after dinner, and that was why he cared; and if she did the same thing again, he would just hide the macintosh, and that was all about it.
Beatrix cannot make them comprehend.
She has only been emancipated from schoolroom bondage a few months ago, and it seems to her that she has overleapt a great barrier.
In her inmost soul she loves her old ways as dearly as ever; but she regards them in something the same light as a smuggler turned coast-guardsman may be supposed to view his former occupations.
They go against his conscience, but they are dear to his heart.
To tie flies, manufacture nets, and cower over bubbling pots of toffy in the back regions, is still delightful to our little Bee; and she has no intention of foregoing her haunts, though the coast-guardsman must perforce abjure his. Such doings need not be adverted to in polite circles. No one would ever suspect this graceful young model of fashion, if it were not for these boys, these dreadfully candid, superfluously communicative associates of hers.
Has she no means of keeping them quiet?
Many a time Miss Graeme sits on thorns in her pink embroidered muslin and pearls, hearing what she dares not confute, and is powerless to turn aside.
Afterwards comes an encounter, of course, even while her outraged feelings warn her that it is unavailing.
What can she mean? What have they done? What a goose she is to think of such rubbish!
And this happens so often that the boys are growing weary of it, and Beatrix too.
They are beginning to experience contempt for their sister, and she disgust at them.
How will it end?
"Betty is gorgeous! Isn't she? Rather!"
It is Tom who says it, Tom who opens his round eyes and his wide mouth, and emits the impassioned sentiment.
They had been having a most delightful afternoon in their great, comfortable, untidy den at the back of the house; and Beatrix, bedaubed with paste, and adhered to by many a curly shaving, the very heart and soul of the proceedings, had betaken herself off at the sound of the dressing-bell, more than half an hour before her brothers.
Five minutes sufficed for their toilet.
With shining, soapy faces, and unfastened sleeve-links, they had torn down in the wildest haste at the sharp summons of the second gong; but Bee had not appeared.
Dinner is announced, off they all file in procession, and as they pass, behold I the staircase is illuminated by a radiant vision, a picture.
Beatrix, all in white, with silver stars that shiver and quiver in the lamp-light; great fuchsia bells hanging over her fair neck; locket, bracelets, sparkling buckles peeping out on little white satin slippers, — Beatrix takes them all by storm, and Tom confesses it.
Old Sir Charles gives a grunt, and passes forward. He had almost forgotten who was coming that evening, but for nobody will he alter his own peculiar costume, his ancient, quaintly-cut swallowtail, black watered silk waistcoat, and light morning trousers, so out of all keeping that they nearly break Lady Graeme's heart every time that the incongruity strikes her afresh.
For no one will he change the huge black satin stock wound twice round his high, stiff, slightly frayed-out shirt-collar.
She says he looks a perfect guy; but he does not — he looks a very dear, kind, clean, funnily-dressed old gentleman.
But Lady Graeme disapproves still more of her daughter's appearance.
Rich and sober is her own attire, and the two extremes are unsuitable in her eyes.
"Bee, my dear!"
"This is too much, dear child. A family party, your brother and one other gentleman; indeed, you look over-dressed, my love."
"You forget Miss Williams, mamma; we are not quite alone. And Arthur is so particular, I thought you would be sorry if he complained."
"White satin slippers!" murmured Lady Graeme, in a low reproachful aside.
"Arthur always looks at my shoes the first thing. You know, mamma, he used to speak to you about them."
"There is a medium between shabbiness and smartness, Bee. Your untidiness at one time used to annoy me very much, but I had rather see even that than this excess of attention to dress. Those slippers are only fit for a ball; at least, for myself, I never wear white ones at a dinner-party. Of course under white dresses it is different —"
"That was exactly what I thought, mamma. Even my bronze ones did not look nice under this dress.""But why wear the dress at all, my dear? You have plenty of others, and your brother will think we have a house full of people. The best thing you can do is to change it after dinner."
Bee thinks otherwise.
She was prepared for something of this sort, and perhaps could have been down a little sooner, had she not thought it expedient to slip into the dining-room behind the others. They caught her a moment too soon.
She has quite made up her mind to wear the silver grenadine this evening.
Not without a qualm, it is true, a tremulous shaking of the resolution ere it settled down; but once fixed, such vibrations only serve to render the resolve more steady.
Our pretty Beatrix is, you see, a very young lady.
Trifles, questions which will appear to her of minute importance by-and-by, now loom before her fancy, mighty as giants.
Of the world she had seen next to nothing.
A presentation, a few weeks' uncertain and limited gaieties, for which Lady Graeme took her to a London hotel, and which neither of them enjoyed in the least; this, with a round of visits at country-houses in August and September, including the northern meeting, are all that Bee could point to, if she came to confession about that "season," and those "house parties," to which she so glibly alludes in conversation.
She makes the most of it, poor child!
She skims over the surface of her small experience so lightly, and prates in the half-acquired jargon of Belgravia so cleverly, that good Lady Graeme does not half like it, and wonders whether, after all, she was right in undertaking that expedition, which cost her such infinite trouble with Sir Charles, and for which the poor baronet had to pay so heavily.
She had felt it at the time to be her duty.
Even now she does not see what else she could have done. The children must have their day. All the other girlies of her acquaintance are either going through the same or have been so, and why not her Beatrix?
Here is Bee shut up for the winter in an old Scotch country-house, where she will see nobody, and be seen by nobody, until perhaps the New Club Ball may stir up Sir Charles to think he would enjoy meeting his old cronies once more; and they may spend a week or so in the rush of engagements which cluster round that important event in Auld Reekie, and that is all.
Is it fair to her young daughter on the threshold of life?
For herself, the gentle dame is quite content; her winter months are never dull, but she looks at Beatrix.
Yes; she is sure, quite sure, that she could have done nothing else; and still — Why should Bee be so different when she stays out to what she is at home?
Why should all these little airs and graces be packed up in her travelling-trunk to go with her, as regularly as are her dresses? and why should there be such a stock of them both?
A morning and evening garment for every day of the visit, no matter to whom, or for how long; such a fuss about her flowers and her ribbons, her hats to match, her gloves to contrast; and such attentions exacted from the maid, who rarely fastens a button for her at other times!
And when in the drawing-room, there is creeping over her a something — it is too vague to define, but it is not real, it is not inborn — an engrafted taint of artificiality, that just takes the edge off little Bee's attractiveness.
Even with the Malcolms, whom she has known so long, and the Cathcarts, who are the plainest and quietest of country folks, even before them, the small display goes on; and her mother hears the soft voice take a peculiar note, and marks certain turns of phrases, inflation of facts, suppressions, newly-acquired accentuations — in truth, a host of petty distortions, which seem even to trivial too think of, but which nevertheless cause her to twist her conscience inside-out to see if she can be to blame in any way for it all.
Of course, whenever there is company at their own old castle, it is the same; but for the last month visitors there have been rare.
With the exception of poor Miss Williams's annual visitation, indeed, they have been quite alone.
Betty has superseded Beatrix altogether in the boys' lips; and Betty has been as merry and pleasant and delightful a little household spirit as mother's heart could wish to see.
She walks and rides with her father, practises diligently every forenoon, and sings to them her sweet simple songs in the evenings; produces rough sketches of the November sunsets, wonders of art in the family estimation; and, above all, is great in the boating, the sea-fishing, the oyster-gathering, during those famous low tides which only come in the late autumn.
Macky, the old nurse, remonstrates against the last-named amusement — remonstrates, at least, against Miss Bee's being called before seven o'clock, and wandering so far and wide in her quest.
The oysters! Oh ay, she is glad to get the oysters, but they might be had nearer band; her mamma little thinks how far she goes; the water will be upon her some day; the mornings are getting too cold, she will catch (expressive phrase!) her death.
Betty turns a deaf ear, and the old woman's maunderinbs go for nothing.
Now they are preparing for the Christmas party, and already there is a change.
"Why in the world could Arthur not have waited till next week, when those other people are coming, instead of rushing down upon us in this wad, and bringing that Captain Blurt, Bluff, Blount, or whatever his name is, with him?"
Sir Charles does not like being put out of his way, and telegraphic messages are not at all in his line; but the sore which chafes him most is, that Arthur demands what he is uncertain of being able to comply with, and yet would ill like to refuse — a roe-drive for himself and his friend the very day after their arrival.
"Coming on Monday night with Blount. Not till late. Have a hunt for Tuesday."
So ran the telegram, and certainly it was a cool one.
They knew who Captain Blount was, had heard of him as one of Arthur's brother officers, but not a word of his coming to Castle Graeme till that morning.
One thing was good — they were not to arrive till late; and Lady Graeme breathed a sigh of relief as she read the words. Her housekeeping difficulties are great at this time of year, and potato-soup and Loch Fyne herrings would not commend themselves to the young guardsman as first courses, when his friend is there.
When alone, Arthur can make very short work of the soup, and will come back for herrings a second and a third time; but that is quite another thing.
Every one knows, down to the lowest scullery-maid, that when the captain, as he has been fondly styled since the day he held his commission, brings home a guest, they must look to their steel.
Nothing escapes his eye. Little omissions and economies which are winked at by the kind old laird and his gentle dame, had better not be tried before the rampant young autocrat, who is the real master of the house while he is in it; and Duncan shakes his head with twinkling humorous eyes, as he unfastens the second silver chest, and Macky bustles up again and again to her linen-press and her store-room, thinking, with fond, proud hearts, how they will catch it if everything is not quite to my lord's mind.
As for Bee, the telegram put her quite in a flutter. There were flowers to be got, few as there are in the greenhouse at present; rooms to be arranged above all, oysters to be brought in from her own reserve bed on the shore.
Who that had seen Betty Graeme when the tide was out that morning, tucking up her short skirts, putting aside the slippery tangle, and kneeling on the rocks, while with grave and anxious care she selected her oysters; who that had watched her afterwards bearing them, breathless and dripping, homeward — displaying her freight with honest pride at the window where her father sat — doing it all for herself because the boys were out, and doing it as well or better than any of them could, — would have dreamt that this dainty apparition at the evening dinner-table could be one and the same creature?
No harm, either, in the transformation, if only Beatrix will still be Betty at heart.
"If only," thinks Lady Graeme, "Arthur will not begin putting his foolish notions into her head, and if only Captain Blount will let her alone!" Captain Blount does let her alone, unexpectedly, unaccountably in the mother's eyes.
He has come down to shoot roes and wild-duck, and does not in the least heed Arthur's fears that he will find the old place dull, nor his insinuations that his sister would have had some girls down to meet them if she had known.
Arthur means to be questioned about the sister.
He would have described her as just out, and awfully run after, which he would have declared was the greatest nuisance, as he was expected to tool her about everywhere — with whatever else he supposes likely to enhance her consequence.
But his friend does not give him the chance.
He has never met Miss Graeme, and does not in the least care whether she has girls to meet them or not; nor indeed, to tell the truth, is he so passionately attached to Arthur as to be very deeply interested in his people at all: but he does like wild-duck shooting, and he fancies very much the idea of a roe-drive.
Sir Charles, however, he is taken with, in spite of himself. In spite of the black watered silk waistcoat and morning trousers too.Harry is a sportsman, and he can reverence a veteran in the craft.
All alive and interested now, although he had slept peacefully in his big armchair till the very moment of their arrival, the laird finds a ready listener in his son's friend.
That message from the keeper restored his equanimity; the hunt has been satisfactorily arranged, and his cares are at rest.
A ceaseless hum proceeds from the big chair. Beatrix wonders what they can find to say more, when over and over the same well-known names — Henry, Purdie, Westley Richards — recur in the conversation.
"I could tell you a curious thing, Captain Blount ——" A quarter of an hour passes.
"I remember something like that, Sir Charles." Another quarter of an hour.
Ten o'clock, the servants come in to prayers, and the evening is over.
Beatrix sweeps past the stranger with a stately little bend; he starts up and shakes hands, looks round to see how many more are coming, politely stands while every one is scuffling about, and, as they leave the room, sinks into his chair again, with "My uncle had a deer-forest" — and Bee laughs outright behind the door.
What a man!
On Arthur, however, his sister's careful toilet has not been thrown away.
He quite approves — he was proud to present her — she has made him capital tea; and he and his friend have had a warm reception.
All is as it should be; and accordingly our young man's brow is smooth: he patronizes his mother and pets his sister, good-humouredly regards the boys, who hang on his lips, and gaze into his face; and Lady Graeme's heart lightens — she really feels the joy of having her firstborn by her side; her husband's animation exhilarates her spirits, and Captain Blount is viewed through rose-coloured spectacles.
Sheep's-head for breakfast!
Arthur makes the best of it; supposes, aloud, that it is there out of compliment to his tastes; and puts nearly the half on his own plate.
As he passes to his chair from the side-table, he says to Blount, "You never saw this before!" and jocosely holds out the plate.
Honest Blount answers simply, "Thank you," and stretches forth his hand to take it.
Arthur stops short. "It is sheep's-head, Harry. You don't know what sheep's-head is."
"I am very fond of it — thanks."
Taken aback, Arthur goes to the side-board for more, and finds that Jack, Tom, and Charlie have swept off the remainder among them.
This is too bad.
He loves sheep's-head and is ashamed of it; and here he has to put up with the shame without the sheep's-head!
"Mamma, why don't we have breakfasts like everybody else? There is nothing but fish here — no omelets, nor curry, nor anything!" cried the young man, magnificently.
Lady Graeme looks down her plentiful board.
Eggs, scones, rolls, hot cakes, jams, marmalade, toast, bread-and-butter, in abundance — on the sideboard cold meats, fish, and game; what would the boy have?
She knows better than to argue with him, however: Arthur in this spirit is best let alone — the loss of the sheep's-head has ruffled his equanimity, and the pleasant mood of the previous evening is gone.
"Miserable tea!" he mutters.
To this also she turns a deaf ear.
"Bee, why don't you look after things? I hate to bring anybody here when everything is at sixes and sevens. Look at that spoon! Duncan doesn't keep the silver fit to be seen! You let everything go down when I am not here: every one does just as they please; and papa and mamma never say a word."
"Do be quiet, Arthur; Captain Blount will hear you."
"I told you I was going to bring him, and —— How was there no hot water in the bath-room this morning?" he breaks off abruptly.
"I don't know. How should I?" retorts Beatrix, with dignity.
"That's it. You don't know. Nobody ever does know about anything in this house. I suppose Macky won't know, either. Blount will think us the queerest lot. That he could not even get a hot bath!
"Oh, I suppose it was that pipe; I heard Macky talking about it, Arthur. The man has not come yet, and she was so put out; she said you would scold her. Don't say anything — it will be put right this week."
"Which means next week, or next month. As if she could not have got it done before now! It is always the way. Why was the man not had over yesterday?"
"I really do not know. How can you be so disagreeable?" cries poor Bee, her patience on the wane. "Speak about it yourself. How can I know about pipes and things?"
"Mamma ought to look after it," the rumbling undertone goes on. "Mamma never makes Macky do anything now. Do, for any sake, let us have a decent luncheon! hotchpot, and proper things. Blount is accustomed to having everything in the best style."
She dutifully acquiesces, and hopes he has now run himself out.
She is by no means so smart as on the evening before, and in this he finds a fresh grievance.
"That gown of yours is too light for this time of year. Velveteen is the thing. Why don't you have velveteen?"
"I have not got my winter things yet."
"And when do you mean to get them, pray?"
"Oh, by-and-by I shall send for some. It is so difficult down here, and after Christmas we shall have nobody."
"And you mean to wear that all the winter?"
"No, of course — I told you I thought it would do for just now; the weather is still so fine — you know it never is very cold here; and mamma thinks we shall go in to Edinburgh in February. I was waiting till then."
"Do go to a decent dressmaker, then. That woman of mamma's can't make anything fit to be seen. You should have seen those girls at the duke's; they had on the jolliest gowns every day."
"They were able to afford them, I daresay."
"Oh, that's all nonsense! A good gown is just as cheap to make up as a bad one ——"
"But a good dressmaker is not as cheap to go to as having them made up at home."
"They never turn you out the same."
"I know they don't." She is too generous to tell him how she smarts under this knowledge — nay, more, how she had almost written that order to Madame Vallotin, when her father's complaints of his extravagance made her stop.
Accordingly Arthur feels he has the best of it, and proceeds to deliver a homily to the purpose that economy consists in having the best of everything — things that last, you know, and always look well, and you are never ashamed of them, even if they get a little bit old-fashioned.
All very well, but when the young man of the family is of this opinion, it happens not infrequently that he puts it out of the power of the other members to act in accordance with it.
Bee would not hint this to Arthur for the world, but in her heart she rebels.
As for him, he is already in a better humour.
"You should have seen those girls at the duke's," he repeats. "Some of them were awfully nice."
"Oh, tell me about your visit there; you never wrote a word to us, and I wanted so much to hear. Now, begin; who were there?" cries Bee, brightening up.
So he begins — she is all attention; he is mollified, soothed: she questions, he rejoins with complacency, and by the time that breakfast is over, the sky is quite serene.
But one pair of loving eyes have cast more than one anxious glance towards her full-fledged nestlings, and a simple wile has been devised whereby Arthur and Bee may not be too often undisturbed in each other's company.
"My poor boy, he means no harm; but they are both so young, and she is so easily led. I had far rather see her romping with Jack and Charlie, as she did a year ago, than drinking in Arthur's foolish notions, and trying to be like the giddy girls he tells her about."
Bee has already begun to resume something of the Beatrix manner.
Arthur has been relating to her his adventures with one young lady in a dogcart, and showing the purse another has worked for him, while he declares he must not forget the gloves he owes to a third; each of the three is declared to be "awfully jolly and friendly," and she is given to understand that this is quite the approved thing.
So by way of being friendly, she is writing at the davenport when the young men come in, and looks up with a little simper, wondering why they are not yet gone? What can they mean by dawdling about in that way the whole morning; the day is half over!
This to Arthur — at Blount.Harry replies in good faith. "The beaters are only assembling now, Miss Graeme; we are not to start for a quarter of an hour. Are you coming to see us off?"
Miss Graeme laughs at the idea, but her more sophisticated brother approves.
"Come along, Bee; you can come to the top wood, at all events, and Jack will bring you home."
Jack. — "Catch me!"
"Well, she can stay with me, then, and I'll look after her — can't she, mamma?" says the young sovereign, graciously. Unless in a very bad temper, Arthur always extends his benign protection to his sister.
But will she he with him all the time? Is it not too far to walk? Bee is sure she is able for it? Thick boots? Galoshes?
Satisfied on these points, Lady Graeme has no objection; Arthur will be taken up with the sport, and she sees in Betty's dancing eyes her great desire.
A roe-hunt is nothing new to her, it is true, but she is too much an out-of-doors creature not to delight in the walk, and the sport, and the fun and excitement generally.
If only Captain Blount had not been going. His being there is a check upon them all. However, she will keep out of his way; and he cannot think her accompanying them very odd, or Arthur would not have proposed it.
Besides (Betty, not Beatrix, speaking), she does not care what he thinks!
Gladly she leaves her notes unwritten, tumbles them into the drawer, and in her glee at escaping runs headlong against Harry, who is standing outside the door, staring, with one eye shut, down the muzzle of his gun.
Bee, in running against the gun, knocks it from the eye, and it scrapes his cheek.
"I beg your pardon; I am so sorry I" cries she, joyously, and flies upstairs.
Harry Blount looks after her, for just half a minute, then he rubs his cheek, and stares down the gun-muzzle again.
Outside the beaters are gathering fast.
Duncan's wizened visage peers out of the hall-door, and hails M'Killop, the long-bodied policeman, who proposes to keep the boys in order, and has tried it in vain, at every hunt in the Castle Graeme drives, for the last ten or fifteen years.
The boys will not be kept in order; hut M'Killop enjoys the sport as much as any one of them, and the dinner after it too.
"M'Killop, will ye tak' onything?"
"Thank ye, Duncan; no' the noo. Are they ready yet?"
"They'll be ready soon enough. Sir Charles is gone ben, and he's aye to his time."
"Is that fat George o' yours to gang wi' us, Duncan?"
"He'll no' gang far, ye needna fear."
"Has he been on the hill, ever?"
"We'll gie him a taste o't, then. What stryngers hae ye in the hoose the day?"
"An Englisher wi' the captain, that's a'."
"Nane o' the Striven set?" in a disappointed tone.
"Nane but oorselves the day."
M'Killop administers chastisement to an explosive boy, and touches his cap to my lady at the window.
A voice from behind, and Arthur appears. "How are you, M'Killop? Are these all you have got for us to-day?" says he, grandly.
"'Deed, an' I thocht we had done pretty weel, captain. There's five-and-thairty here, and yonder's a wheen mair on the road."
"Yes. Not so had, after all. We have usually a great many more," observes Arthur to his friend; "but these will do the work, and that is all we want."
"A' we want, indeed!" mutters the policeman, indignantly; "an' me getting them thegither the haill o' yesterday! Sir Charles kens better."
Sir Charles comes out beaming all over.
"Hey, M'Killop! You have a fine set of lads here to-day. A splendid array, eh, Arthur? You see we can get up a hunt as well as ever, though you did give us such short notice. It was too bad of the captain, was it not, M'Killop?"
M'Killop grins, pacified and self-conscious; while Arthur talks to Blount as loudly as he can; and Beatrix, feeling a little ashamed of her brother, tries also to cover his confusion.
Then follows a rush from behind, Jack, Tom, and Charlie, exuberant, ecstatic, perfectly uncontrollable in their rejoicings.
"I say, papa, look at George. George is going! He! he! he!"
No one can help looking at George, of course. Duncan openly sniggers; M'Killop turns aside; and Blount, Arthur, and Beatrix on the door-steps glance at each other.
Six-foot-high George, the most solemn of footmen, is there, his fat white face surmounted by a fancy cap; his borrowed attire, if not unfit, at least unfitting, from top to toe; his hand grasping as grievous a crab-tree cudgel as ever did that of Giant Despair."George! you can't walk!" Sir Charles blurts out.
"I can try, Sir Charles." George in no wise disconcerted.
"Why, man" — begins his master, and bursts out a-laughing.
Then the whole of the boys set up a roar.
George reddens, half-inclined to cry.
"Never mind, then; come along!" cries the old gentleman, recovering; "and if you do walk, those legs of yours belie you. Now then, M'Killop. At the old place. Lead off!"
Off they march, scramble, run, and scuffle.
The gravel and the velvet turf in front is sadly cut up and trampled upon, but the laird's eye is bright and joyous. Lady Graeme, with Miss Williams — the poor, dull, uninteresting Miss Williams — with whom fate obliges her to pass this day in company, is standing at the window, and they salute her gaily as they pass.
What a morning it is
Brightly sparkles the frost upon the fir-trees, as it drips beneath the influence of the noonday sun. The sea is at its lowest, calm as glass, blue as the heavens above it, here and there twinkling in diamond points of light, anon covered from shore to shore with those long streaks that tell where the herring lie beneath.
All along the wet sands the gulls, curlews, and herons are feeding. A flock of ducks is sailing in and out among the rocks and headlands of the bay.
One solitary bird, large and white, hovers overhead in the blue picture-frame. Patiently it waits awhile, circles round, regains the former point, then flashes from its height, with a sharp report strikes the water — and the solan goose has seized its prey.
"Look, Captain Blount; you won't see a sight like that south of the Tweed! That fellow is come all the way from Ailsa to fish these waters. See, see, up he goes! cries the old sportsman, standing stock-still. "Up, up, up! now he has found his place again, and a bonnie fish in his maw, I'll warrant him! Did you hear the noise he made? Did you hear that clap?"
"Was that report from the bird?" cries Blount. "I thought it was a shot from the opposite shore."
"Ay, it was the bird. They seldom come as far as this till about this season of the year. Then you may see one by himself pretty frequently, sometimes two, not often more at a time."
They are walking on again, up through the narrow wood-paths, Sir Charles pointing hither and thither as he pours out tales of exploits past; and faster and faster he and Blount hurry along, till Bee and her brothers are left far behind.
When they reach the trysting-place every one is waiting. Confusion, talking, loitering ensues, but at last the main body start; a few efficient hands being told off to the passes.
Arthur and his sister depart for their station, and Captain Blount is marched off to his, under escort.
Arthur's pass is not far from the cottage, and is soon reached. He smokes, she walks up and down, and an hour goes by.
Occasionally wild whoops break out at different points, and the prolonged cry of the beaters is heard, now far in the distance, now startlingly close at hand, but nothing presents itself.
Bee feels it slightly monotonous, but does not like to say so, and another hour is gone.
"Two o'clock," says Arthur. "What in the world —"
Bang! a single report.
"That was Blount! That shot did execution! They will be here next!" cries Arthur, all excitement. "Keep quiet, Bee, and don't you stir. Come in behind this tree. Ah, that little wretch, Charlie what is he setting up his pipe for? Be quiet, you impertinent little ape!" snarls his brother, between his teeth.
Charlie continues to yell, yell, yell; Arthur is getting furious; suddenly comes a soft rustling, a gentle pit-pat on the mossy path: he puts out his hand and touches Beatrix. She has seen it already, the timid creature, all confused, trembling, and suspicious, creeping along the quiet opening which may prove a shelter from agony and death.
Ha! what is that? Something unusual, something dangerous? A piece of red among the green, a sparkle among the brackens.
Dare she venture on? One slender limb is extended, the graceful head is thrown upwards, the scared eyeballs search the prospect.
The ambuscade cowers motionless, Arthur's finger on the trigger; there comes a shout from above, and the doe bounds forward to her fate.
That shot needed not much of the sportsman's skill. Within ten yards of Beatrix she lies mortally wounded, the poor palpitating sides heave more and more faintly, the mouth opens and shuts in spasms of agony.Bee cannot look, nor speak, nor move.
"I'll soon settle you, my friend!" cries the happy hunter, taking out his knife.
"Oh, Arthur, don't!"
"What? you needn't look. It's all right. Put the poor animal out of its pain."
"Oh, do let it alone! let it die in peace." A sceptical laugh as he steps forward; she puts her hands before her eyes, and rushes into the wood.
"Where is your sister?"
It is Blount who has come up, joyously excited. "Mine is a buck, and the sweetest little head you ever saw! If Sir Charles will give it me, I mean to have it stuffed."
"A buck, is it? I heard you. I thought you were going to have all the luck. When it wasn't a right and left, I thought they must have moved off, and that it was that little fool Charlie who had done it! But the crittur knew better," says he, in high good-humour.
But where is your sister?"
"She has made off, I do believe. She would not stay to see the coup de grâce. Well, if the governor does his part, we shall have done a pretty good morning's work. Were the beaters near you?"
"Only once — that fat footman of yours holding out nobly: and oh! you should hear him call; the slow, pomposity with which he gives it forth, and his strut, strut, strut along — but no notion of giving in. He can't be a bad fellow."
"George? Oh, by no means, but I should have thought too much of a swell for this work. Now for luncheon — it is at the keeper's; and we have earned it, Harry, and no mistake."
"But where is your sister?"
"Oh, she will turn up; she's all right." (Bother these girls! what a nuisance they are!) "Come along."
"She can't go walking about the woods, you know, with all these guns about, and in that brown dress, too. We must find her."
"You look, then. I must go on and see that all is ready. Just wait a minute here, and she is sure to make her appearance."
"Can I miss the way?"
"Oh dear no. Besides, she knows it; but you had better come with me. Stop, I'll call. Bee! holloa!"
"I am here," comes a low voice from the fern, not very far off.
"And what did you give us such a fright for, then? Here were we just going off to hunt for you; at least Harry was. Come out here, you goose! we are going in to luncheon."
"Is — is the creature dead, Arthur?"
"Dead? Ages ago. Come out, I say."
She has been crouching on the wet ground behind a mossy rock, and comes forward with slow steps and a curiously white face.
"Well," exclaims her brother, "I did not think you had been such a silly! You have been at a hunt often enough before."
"I never saw one killed, and I never will come out again!" cried poor Beatrix.
Harry Blount is looking at her, and suddenly he seizes her arm, and exclaims, "Take care, Miss Graeme!" But he is too late: the colour has all left Bee's face, and she has sunk down sick and faint on the pathway.
What is to be done?
Arthur whistles in his consternation, Blount lifts her in his arms, and the two regard each other with a gaze of mute and helpless appeal.
Arthur has brandy, but no water — it is whiskey, by the way, as he is obliged to confess; but do they dare to give her this? If she were to choke! Neither of them knows what might happen, and Arthur looks at the bottle, and shakes it, and thinks he would like a mouthful himself, but puts it back in his pocket again.
"I'll tell you what, Harry. I'll run for the keeper's wife. You hold her there, and I sha'n't be gone a minute!"
Off he scampers, thankful to be free; while poor Blount, awkward and wretched, is left with his hapless burden.
"She is very pretty," he thinks. "Poor girl! What a shame it was to bring her, and how happy and jolly she was about coming! It was the sight of the blood, I know, just when she was tired and famishing. Now, who is to take her home? Not I. I must have one try in the next pass. Oh, she is coming round, is she?"
Yes; she opens her eyes, draws a breath, and puts her hand to her forehead, from which Harry has removed the hat.
Suddenly he twirls her round with velocity, putting himself between her eyes and the sad sight that had unnerved her before, and with the motion the maiden begins to feel something strange in her position.
Her senses return, and she rises to her feet.How thankful Blount is to hear footsteps coming! for Arthur has met Sir Charles, and the boys and keepers, all on their way to the cottage.
The doe is speedily removed; and Beatrix, whom her brothers regard with awe, is comforted and exhorted by her father.
"A sportsman's daughter, and can't stand a shot, Bee! Who would have believed it of you? What will mamma say? We must get you home somehow, as soon as we have had something to eat. One of the boys must go back with you."