“Talk to me, please. It’s dull, sitting by myself,” answered Frank, who had evidently been used to being made much of at home.
If he asked her to deliver a Latin oration, it would not have seemed a more impossible task to bashful Beth, but there was no place to run to, no Jo to hide behind now, and the poor boy looked so wistfully at her that she bravely resolved to try.
“What do you like to talk about?” she asked, fumbling over the cards and dropping half as she tried to tie them up.
“Well, I like to hear about cricket and boating and hunting,” said Frank, who had not yet learned to suit his amusements to his strength.
My heart! What shall I do? I don’t know anything about them, thought Beth, and forgetting the boy’s misfortune in her flurry, she said, hoping to make him talk, “I never saw any hunting, but I suppose you know all about it.”
“I did once, but I can never hunt again, for I got hurt leaping a confounded five-barred gate, so there are no more horses and hounds for me,” said Frank with a sigh that made Beth hate herself for her innocent blunder.
“Your deer are much prettier than our ugly buffaloes,” she said, turning to the prairies for help and feeling glad that she had read one of the boys’ books in which Jo delighted.
Buffaloes proved soothing and satisfactory, and in her eagerness to amuse another, Beth forgot herself, and was quite unconscious of her sisters’ surprise and delight at the unusual spectacle of Beth talking away to one of the dreadful boys, against whom she had begged protection.
“Bless her heart! She pities him, so she is good to him,” said Jo, beaming at her from the croquet ground.
“I always said she was a little saint,” added Meg, as if there could be no further doubt of it.
“I haven’t heard Frank laugh so much for ever so long,” said Grace to Amy, as they sat discussing dolls and making tea sets out of the acorn cups.
“My sister Beth is a very fastidious girl, when she likes to be,” said Amy, well pleased at Beth’s success. She meant ‘facinating’, but as Grace didn’t know the exact meaning of either word, fastidious sounded well and made a good impression.
An impromptu circus, fox and geese, and an amicable game of croquet finished the afternoon. At sunset the tent was struck, hampers packed, wickets pulled up, boats loaded, and the whole party floated down the river, singing at the tops of their voices. Ned, getting sentimental, warbled a serenade with the pensive refrain…
Alone, alone, ah! Woe, alone,
and at the lines…
We each are young, we each have a heart,
Oh, why should we stand thus coldly apart?
he looked at Meg with such a lackadiasical expression that she laughed outright and spoiled his song.
“How can you be so cruel to me?” he whispered, under cover of a lively chorus. “You’ve kept close to that starched-up Englishwoman all day, and now you snub me.”
“I didn’t mean to, but you looked so funny I really couldn’t help it,” replied Meg, passing over the first part of his reproach, for it was quite true that she had shunned him, remembering the Moffat party and the talk after it.
Ned was offended and turned to Sallie for consolation, saying to her rather pettishly, “There isn’t a bit of flirt in that girl, is there?”
“Not a particle, but she’s a dear,” returned Sallie, defending her friend even while confessing her shortcomings.
“She’s not a stricken deer anyway,” said Ned, trying to be witty, and succeeding as well as very young gentlemen usually do.
On the lawn where it had gathered, the little party separated with cordial good nights and good-bys, for the Vaughns were going to Canada. As the four sisters went home through the garden, Miss Kate looked after them, saying, without the patronizing tone in her voice, “In spite of their demonstrative manners, American girls are very nice when one knows them.”
“I quite agree with you,” said Mr. Brooke.