Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 128.djvu/804

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MATTHEW PRIOR.

waited a moment, and yet shown that I was angry too. I am always so silly whenever I try to be dignified. Of course if he was thinking of that, he was not likely to remember the oysters, and my hat, and all those stupid things, I wish I had stayed."

Entertaining the visitors is very hard on poor Bee this day.

The sportsmen do not come in till quite late—indeed, till the party are reassembling in evening attire.

They have had a six-mile drive home, and have shot three couple.

Dinner is announced as Blount walks in; and Lady Graeme is disconcerted, and the Miss Malcolms highly aggrieved, for he stalks straight along the middle of the room, without looking to right or to left, and offers his arm to Beatrix.

The previous evening he had been told to take in Miss Malcolm, and it might be supposed he would of himself know to do the same again.

Bee was sitting on the settee in the far-off window. With downcast eyes she takes the offered arm, dares not look at her mother or at any one as she passes, but follows mutely her father and Lady Susan Cathcart out of the room.

Such an unprecedented arrangement can have only one meaning in the Miss Malcolms' eyes. If it has gone as far as that, they have nothing to say; and recovering themselves, good-humouredly take each other in, after Major Cathcart and Mrs. Malcolm, Mr. Crichton-Blair and Miss Williams.

Arthur makes abundant compensation to his two fair neighbours as soon as he appears; the other delinquents pop into their places as the soup goes round, and the New Year's day dinner-party is the liveliest that can be imagined.

This is what Harry had reckoned upon.

He has Bee all to himself now; and though not a word of import has passed between them, she knows, and feels that he knows too, that the victory is his.

The decorations? Oh yes; they are going to put them up to-night; the boys have been culling out turnip-lanterns for the shrubbery, and the evergreens are in the outer hall now.

He may help, may he not? They will all help; they always do.

So in they all go among the piles of green—Bee first, with Charlotte and Lizzie on each side of her, Arthur, Blount, Jack, Tom, Charlie, and a young Cathcart following.

The first thing to be done is to tie the strings, next to select the boughs, then to hang them.

It is not particularly well done. Anderson and two of his men would do the whole far better in half an hour; but that is not the thing.

They enjoy it. The girls like trotting backwards and forwards, pricking their soft fingers, and tearing their fragile garments; the boys like standing on ladders and ordering about the pretty slaves.

All but Harry.

Harry has not mounted a step; but he and Beatrix have created a wonderful and complicated work of art in the bow-window, with which they will allow no one to interfere.

"Ah!" cries she, with a start.

"Let me see." He takes her hand. It was nothing but a holly-prick; but ere she can withdraw it, he has stooped forward and left another touch there.

Little Bee, do you understand now?

"My dear, I had no idea he was in earnest. Of course, if you and papa approve; but remember he is almost a stranger to us, and she is such a child—she has seen nothing of the world."

"If she were to see the world till she was fifty, mamma, she would never see a better fellow."

"That was not what I meant, dear Arthur. I have nothing in the world to say against him; I could only have wished, poor dear, that she were a little older, and had had some sort of experience."

"She would never get that down here, and she may as well get it under Harry's wing as any one's; he has had plenty, at any rate."

Yes, there is hope in that, and truth too. "Mamma," continues Arthur very seriously, and as if he had not said the same thing many times before, "can't you see what a good fellow Harry is? None of our fellows are like him: and he will be the very making of Bee, I know; for sometimes—he makes me—ashamed of myself."




From The Cornhill Magazine.

MATTHEW PRIOR.

Among the men of letters who have made the reign of the "good Queen Anne" (good perhaps, but dull ccrtainly) so famous in our annals, it is remarkable that Pope alone can be said to have wholly dedicated his life to literature. For him