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- Henrietta's Wish - 20/48 -
"I? Well, I believe it was rather naughty of me to laugh at him, for persuade him I did not, but if you had but seen him in the point I did, and known how absurd you two poor disconsolate creatures looked, you would not have been able to help it. And how was I to know that he would go into the only dangerous place he could find, just by way of bravado? I could have beaten myself when I saw that, but it is all safe, and no harm done."
"There is your papa displeased with him."
"O, I will settle that; I will tell him it was half of it my fault, and beg him to say nothing about it. And as for Fred--I should like to make a charade of fool-hardy, with a personal application. Did you ever act a charade, Henrietta?"
"Never; I scarcely know what it is."
"O charming, charming! What rare fun we will have! I wish I had not told you of fool-hardy, for now we can't have that, but this evening, O, this evening, I am no Queen Bee if you do not see what will amaze you! Alex! Alex! Where is the boy? I must speak to you this instant."
Pouncing upon Alexander, she drew him a little behind the others, and was presently engaged in an eager low-voiced conference, apparently persuading him to something much against his inclination, but Henrietta was not sufficiently happy to bestow much curiosity on the subject. All her thoughts were with Fred, and she had not long been in Church before all her mother's fears seemed to have passed to her. Her mother had recovered her serenity, and was able to trust her boy in the hands of his Heavenly Father, while Henrietta, haunted by the remembrance of many a moral tale, was tormenting herself with the expectation of retribution, and dwelling on a fancied figure of her brother lifted senseless out of the water, with closed eyes and dripping hair.
With all her faults, Queen Bee was a good-natured, generous little thing, and it was not what every one would have done, when, as soon as she returned from Church, she followed her father to the study, saying, "Papa, you must not be displeased with Fred, for he was very much plagued, and he only had just begun when you came."
"The other boys had been teasing him?"
"Dick had been laughing at him, saying his mamma would not let him go on the ice, and that, you know, was past all bearing. And honestly, it was my fault too; I laughed, not at that joke, of course, for it was only worthy of Dick himself, but at poor Fred's own disconsolate looks."
"Was not his case unpleasant enough, without your making it worse?"
"Of course, papa, I ought to have been more considerate, but you know how easily I am run away with by high spirits."
"And I know you have the power to restrain them, Beatrice. You have no right to talk of being run away with, as if you were helpless."
"I know it is very wrong; I often think I will check myself, but there are many speeches which, when once they come to my lips, are irresistible, or seem so. However, I will not try to justify myself; I know I was to blame, only you must not be angry with Fred, for it really did seem rather unreasonable to keep him there parading about with Henrietta and Jessie, when the ice was quite safe for everybody else."
"I am not angry with him, Bee; I cannot but be sorry that he gave way to the temptation, but there was so much to excuse him, that I shall not show any further displeasure. He is often in a very vexatious position for a boy of his age. I can imagine nothing more galling than these restraints."
"And cannot you--" said Beatrice, stopping short.
"Speak to your aunt? I will not make her miserable. Anything she thinks right she will do, at whatever cost to herself, and for that very reason I will not interfere. It is a great deal better for Fred that his amusement should be sacrificed to her peace, than her peace to his amusement."
"Yet surely this cannot go on for life," said Beatrice, as if she was half afraid to hazard the remark.
"Never mind the future. She will grow more used to the other boys, and gain more confidence in Fred. Things will right themselves, if we do not set them wrong. And now, mark me. You are not a mere child, who can plead the excuse of thoughtlessness for leading him into mischief; you know the greatness of the sin of disobedience, and the fearful responsibility incurred by conducing to it in others. Do not help to lead him astray for the sake of--of vanity--of amusement."
Something in the manner in which he pronounced these words conveyed to Beatrice a sense of the emptiness and worthlessness of her motives, and she answered earnestly, "I was wrong, papa; I know it is a love of saying clever things that often leads me wrong. It was so to-day, for I could have stopped myself, but for the pleasure of making fun. It is vanity, and I will try to subdue it."
Beatrice had a sort of candid way of reasoning about her faults, and would blame herself, and examine her motives in a manner which disarmed reproof by forestalling it. She was perfectly sincere, yet it was self-deception, for it was not as if it was herself whom she was analysing, but rather as if it was some character in a book; indeed, she would have described herself almost exactly as she is here described, except that her delineation would have been much more clever and more exact. She would not have spared herself--for this reason, that her own character was more a study to her than a reality, her faults rather circumstances than sins; it was her mind, rather than her soul, that reflected and made resolutions, or more correctly, what would have been resolutions, if they had possessed any real earnestness, and not been done, as it were, mechanically, because they became the occasion.
The conversation was concluded by the sound of the luncheon bell, and she ran up to take off her bonnet, her thoughts taking the following course: "I am very sorry; it is too bad to tease poor Fred, cruel and wrong, and all that, only if he would not look absurd! It is too droll to see how provoked he is, when I take the least notice of Alex, and after all, I don't think he cares for me half as much as Alex does, only it flatters his vanity. Those great boys are really quite as vain as girls, not Alex though, good downright fellow, who would do anything for me, and I have put him to a hard proof to-night. What a capital thought those charades are! Fred will meet the others on common, nay, on superior ground, and there will be none of these foolish questions who can be most manly mad. Fred is really a fine spirited fellow though, and I thought papa could not find it in his heart to be angry with him. How capitally he will act, and how lovely Henrietta will look! I must make them take to the charades, it will be so very delightful, and keep Fred quite out of mischief, which will set Aunt Mary at ease. And how amused grandpapa will be! What shall it be to- night? What Alex can manage to act tolerably. Ce n'est que le premier pas qui conte, and the premier pas must be with our best foot foremost. I give myself credit for the thought; it will make all smooth."
These meditations occupied her during a hasty toilette and a still more rapid descent, and were abruptly concluded by her alighting from her swinging jump down the last four steps close to Fred himself, who was standing by the hall fire with a gloomy expression of countenance, which with inconsiderate good nature she hastened to remove. "Don't look dismal, Freddy; I have told papa all about it, and he does not mind it. Cheer up, you adventurous knight, I have some glorious fun for you this evening."
Not mind it! The impression thus conveyed to one but too willing to receive it, was that Uncle Geoffrey, that external conscience, thought him excused from attending to unreasonable prohibitions. Away went all the wholesome self-reproach which he had begun to feel, away went all fear of Uncle Geoffrey's eye, all compunction in meeting his mother, and he entered the dining-room in such lively spirits that his uncle was vexed to see him so unconcerned, and his mother felt sure that her entreaty had not been disregarded. She never heard to the contrary, for she liked better to trust than to ask questions, and he, like far too many boys, did not think concealment blameable where there was no actual falsehood.
All the time they were at table, Queen Bee was in one of her states of wild restlessness, and the instant she was at liberty she flew away, and was seen no more that afternoon, except in certain flittings into different apartments, where she appeared for a moment or two with some extraordinary and mysterious request. First she popped upon grandpapa, and with the expense of a little coaxing and teasing, obtained from him the loan of his Deputy-Lieutenant's uniform; then she darted into the drawing-room, on hearing Uncle Roger's voice, and conjured him not to forget to give a little note to Alex, containing these words, "Willy must wear his cap without a peak. Bring Roger's dirk, and above all, beg, borrow, or steal, Uncle Roger's fishing boots." Her next descent was upon Aunt Mary, in her own room: "Aunt, would you do me a great favour, and ask no questions, nor tell Henrietta? Do just lend me the three little marabout feathers which you had in your cap yesterday evening. Only for this one evening, and I'll take great care."
"I am sure, my dear, you are very welcome to them; I do not feel like myself in such finery," said Mrs. Frederick Langford, smiling, as Beatrice took possession of the elegant little white cap, which she had the discretion to carry to Bennet, its lawful protector, to be bereft of its plumed honours. Bennet, an old friend of nursery days, was in the secret of her plans for the evening; her head-quarters were in the work-room, which had often served her as a playroom in days gone by, and Judith, gratified by a visit from "Miss Bee," dived for her sake into boxes and drawers, amid hoards where none but Judith would have dared to rummage.
All this might ultimately be for Henrietta's entertainment, but at present it did not much conduce towards it, as she was left to her own resources in the drawing-room. She practised a little, worked a little, listened to a consultation between grandpapa and Uncle Roger, about the new pig-sty, wrote it down in her list when they went into the study to ask Uncle Geoffrey's advice, tried to talk over things in general with her mamma, but found it impossible with grandmamma continually coming in and out of the room, yawned, wondered what Busy Bee was about, felt deserted, gave up work, and had just found an entertaining book, when grandmamma came in, and invited her to visit the poultry yard. She readily accepted, but for want of Queen Bee to
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