Beatrice - H. Rider Haggard - ebook

Beatrice ebook

H. Rider Haggard

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Beatrice is one of the most emotional works written by Henry Rider Haggard. There are no crazy adventures, frightening battles or supernatural events, but there is everything for the soul, for easy reading. It tells of the ill-fated love between Beatrice Granger, an unmarried Welsh teacher, and Jeffrey Bingham, a wretchedly married lawyer who lives in London. It all starts after Beatrice saved Jeffrey’s life in a canoe accident during a huge storm. This is a story about a tangled love triangle, and possibly a pentagon.

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Liczba stron: 559

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Contents

Chapter 1. A Mist Wraith

Chapter 2. At The Bell Rock

Chapter 3. A Confession Of Faith

Chapter 4. The Watcher At The Door

Chapter 5. Elizabeth Is Thankful

Chapter 6. Owen Davies At Home

Chapter 7. A Matrimonial Tale

Chapter 8. Explanatory

Chapter 9. What Beatrice Dreamed

Chapter 10. Lady Honoria Makes Arrangements

Chapter 11. Beatrice Makes An Appointment

Chapter 12. The Writing On The Sand

Chapter 13. Geoffrey Lectures

Chapter 14. Drifting

Chapter 15. Only Good-Night

Chapter 16. The Flat Near The Edgware Road

Chapter 17. Geoffrey Wins His Case

Chapter 18. The Rising Star

Chapter 19. Geoffrey Has A Visitor

Chapter 20. Back At Bryngelly

Chapter 21. The Third Appeal

Chapter 22. A Night Of Storm

Chapter 23. A Dawn Of Rain

Chapter 24. Lady Honoria Takes The Field

Chapter 25. Elizabeth Shows Her Teeth

Chapter 26. What Beatrice Swore

Chapter 27. The House Of Commons

Chapter 28. I Will Wait For You

Chapter 29. A Woman’s Last Word

Chapter 30. Ave Atque Vale

Chapter 31. The Duchess’s Ball

Envoi

CHAPTER 1

A MIST WRAITH

The autumn afternoon was fading into evening. It had been cloudy weather, but the clouds had softened and broken up. Now they were lost in slowly darkening blue. The sea was perfectly and utterly still. It seemed to sleep, but in its sleep it still waxed with the rising tide. The eye could not mark its slow increase, but Beatrice, standing upon the farthest point of the Dog Rocks, idly noted that the long brown weeds which clung about their sides began to lift as the water took their weight, till at last the delicate pattern floated out and lay like a woman’s hair upon the green depth of sea. Meanwhile a mist was growing dense and soft upon the quiet waters. It was not blown up from the west, it simply grew like the twilight, making the silence yet more silent and blotting away the outlines of the land. Beatrice gave up studying the seaweed and watched the gathering of these fleecy hosts.

“What a curious evening,” she said aloud to herself, speaking in a low full voice. “I have not seen one like it since mother died, and that is seven years ago. I’ve grown since then, grown every way,” and she laughed somewhat sadly, and looked at her own reflection in the quiet water.

She could not have looked at anything more charming, for it would have been hard to find a girl of nobler mien than Beatrice Granger as on this her twenty-second birthday, she stood and gazed into that misty sea.

Of rather more than middle height, and modelled like a statue, strength and health seemed to radiate from her form. But it was her face with the stamp of intellect and power shadowing its woman’s loveliness that must have made her remarkable among women even more beautiful than herself. There are many girls who have rich brown hair, like some autumn leaf here and there just yellowing into gold, girls whose deep grey eyes can grow tender as a dove’s, or flash like the stirred waters of a northern sea, and whose bloom can bear comparison with the wilding rose. But few can show a face like that which upon this day first dawned on Geoffrey Bingham to his sorrow and his hope. It was strong and pure and sweet as the keen sea breath, and looking on it one must know that beneath this fair cloak lay a wit as fair. And yet it was all womanly; here was not the hard sexless stamp of the “cultured” female. She who owned it was capable of many things. She could love and she could suffer, and if need be, she could dare or die. It was to be read upon that lovely brow and face, and in the depths of those grey eyes–that is, by those to whom the book of character is open, and who wish to study it.

But Beatrice was not thinking of her loveliness as she gazed into the water. She knew that she was beautiful of course; her beauty was too obvious to be overlooked, and besides it had been brought home to her in several more or less disagreeable ways.

“Seven years,” she was thinking, “since the night of the ‘death fog;’ that was what old Edward called it, and so it was. I was only so high then,” and following her thoughts she touched herself upon the breast. “And I was happy too in my own way. Why can’t one always be fifteen, and believe everything one is told?” and she sighed. “Seven years and nothing done yet. Work, work, and nothing coming out of the work, and everything fading away. I think that life is very dreary when one has lost everything, and found nothing, and loves nobody. I wonder what it will be like in another seven years.”

She covered her eyes with her hands, and then taking them away, once more looked at the water. Such light as struggled through the fog was behind her, and the mist was thickening. At first she had some difficulty in tracing her own likeness upon the glassy surface, but gradually she marked its outline. It stretched away from her, and its appearance was as though she herself were lying on her back in the water wrapped about with the fleecy mist. “How curious it seems,” she thought; “what is it that reflection reminds me of with the white all round it?”

Next instant she gave a little cry and turned sharply away. She knew now. It recalled her mother as she had last seen her seven years ago.

CHAPTER 2

AT THE BELL ROCK

A mile or more away from where Beatrice stood and saw visions, and further up the coast-line, a second group of rocks, known from their colour as the Red Rocks, or sometimes, for another reason, as the Bell Rocks, juts out between half and three-quarters of a mile into the waters of the Welsh Bay that lies behind Rumball Point. At low tide these rocks are bare, so that a man may walk or wade to their extremity, but when the flood is full only one or two of the very largest can from time to time be seen projecting their weed-wreathed heads through the wash of the shore-bound waves. In certain sets of the wind and tide this is a terrible and most dangerous spot in rough weather, as more than one vessel have learnt to their cost. So long ago as 1780 a three-decker man-of-war went ashore there in a furious winter gale, and, with one exception, every living soul on board of her, to the number of seven hundred, was drowned. The one exception was a man in irons, who came safely and serenely ashore seated upon a piece of wreckage. Nobody ever knew how the shipwreck happened, least of all the survivor in irons, but the tradition of the terror of the scene yet lives in the district, and the spot where the bones of the drowned men still peep grimly through the sand is not unnaturally supposed to be haunted. Ever since this catastrophe a large bell (it was originally the bell of the ill-fated vessel itself, and still bears her name, “H.M.S. Thunder,” stamped upon its metal) has been fixed upon the highest rock, and in times of storm and at high tide sends its solemn note of warning booming across the deep.

But the bell was quiet now, and just beneath it, in the shadow of the rock whereon it was placed, a man half hidden in seaweed, with which he appeared to have purposely covered himself, was seated upon a piece of wreck. In appearance he was a very fine man, big-shouldered and broad limbed, and his age might have been thirty-five or a little more. Of his frame, however, what between the mist and the unpleasantly damp seaweed with which he was wreathed, not much was to be seen. But such light as there was fell upon his face as he peered eagerly over and round the rock, and glinted down the barrels of the double ten-bore gun which he held across his knee. It was a striking countenance, with its brownish eyes, dark peaked beard and strong features, very powerful and very able. And yet there was a certain softness in the face, which hovered round the region of the mouth like light at the edge of a dark cloud, hinting at gentle sunshine. But little of this was visible now. Geoffrey Bingham, barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple, M.A., was engaged with a very serious occupation. He was trying to shoot curlew as they passed over his hiding-place on their way to the mud banks where they feed further along the coast.

Now if there is a thing in the world which calls for the exercise of man’s every faculty it is curlew shooting in a mist. Perhaps he may wait for an hour or even two hours and see nothing, not even an oyster-catcher. Then at last from miles away comes the faint wild call of curlew on the wing. He strains his eyes, the call comes nearer, but nothing can he see. At last, seventy yards or more to the right, he catches sight of the flicker of beating wings, and, like a flash, they are gone. Again a call–the curlew are flighting. He looks and looks, in his excitement struggling to his feet and raising his head incautiously far above the sheltering rock. There they come, a great flock of thirty or more, bearing straight down on him, a hundred yards off–eighty–sixty–now. Up goes the gun, but alas and alas! they catch a glimpse of the light glinting on the barrels, and perhaps of the head behind them, and in another second they have broken and scattered this way and that way, twisting off like a wisp of gigantic snipe, to vanish with melancholy cries into the depth of mist.

This is bad, but the ardent sportsman sits down with a groan and waits, listening to the soft lap of the tide. And then at last virtue is rewarded. First of all two wild duck come over, cleaving the air like arrows. The mallard is missed, but the left barrel reaches the duck, and down it comes with a full and satisfying thud. Hardly have the cartridges been replaced when the wild cry of the curlew is once more heard–quite close this time. There they are, looming large against the fog. Bang! down goes the first and lies flapping among the rocks. Like a flash the second is away to the left. Bang! after him, and caught him too! Hark to the splash as he falls into the deep water fifty yards away. And then the mist closes in so densely that shooting is done with for the day. Well, that right and left has been worth three hours’ wait in the wet seaweed and the violent cold that may follow–that is, to any man who has a soul for true sport.

Just such an experience as this had befallen Geoffrey Bingham. He had bagged his wild duck and his brace of curlew–that is, he had bagged one of them, for the other was floating in the sea–when a sudden increase in the density of the mist put a stop to further operations. He shook the wet seaweed off his rough clothes, and, having lit a short briar pipe, set to work to hunt for the duck and the first curfew. He found them easily enough, and then, walking to the edge of the rocks, up the sides of which the tide was gradually creeping, peered into the mist to see if he could find the other. Presently the fog lifted a little, and he discovered the bird floating on the oily water about fifty yards away. A little to the left the rocks ran out in a peak, and he knew from experience that the tide setting towards the shore would carry the curlew past this peak. So he went to its extremity, sat down upon a big stone and waited. All this while the tide was rising fast, though, intent as he was upon bringing the curlew to bag, he did not pay much heed to it, forgetting that it was cutting him off from the land. At last, after more than half-an-hour of waiting, he caught sight of the curlew again, but, as bad luck would have it, it was still twenty yards or more from him and in deep water. He was determined, however, to get the bird if he could, for Geoffrey hated leaving his game, so he pulled up his trousers and set to work to wade towards it. For the first few steps all went well, but the fourth or fifth landed him in a hole that wet his right leg nearly up to the thigh and gave his ankle a severe twist. Reflecting that it would be very awkward if he sprained his ankle in such a lonely place, he beat a retreat, and bethought him, unless the curlew was to become food for the dog-fish, that he had better strip bodily and swim for it. This–for Geoffrey was a man of determined mind–he decided to do, and had already taken off his coat and waistcoat to that end, when suddenly some sort of a boat–he judged it to be a canoe from the slightness of its shape–loomed up in the mist before him. An idea struck him: the canoe or its occupant, if anybody could be insane enough to come out canoeing in such water, might fetch the curlew and save him a swim.

“Hi!” he shouted in stentorian tones. “Hullo there!”

“Yes,” answered a woman’s gentle voice across the waters.

“Oh,” he replied, struggling to get into his waistcoat again, for the voice told him that he was dealing with some befogged lady, “I’m sure I beg your pardon, but would you do me a favour? There is a dead curlew floating about, not ten yards from your boat. If you wouldn’t mind–”

A white hand was put forward, and the canoe glided on towards the bird. Presently the hand plunged downwards into the misty waters and the curlew was bagged. Then, while Geoffrey was still struggling with his waistcoat, the canoe sped towards him like a dream boat, and in another moment it was beneath his rock, and a sweet dim face was looking up into his own.

Now let us go back a little (alas! that the privilege should be peculiar to the recorder of things done), and see how it came about that Beatrice Granger was present to retrieve Geoffrey Bingham’s dead curlew.

Immediately after the unpleasant idea recorded in the last, or, to be more accurate, in the first chapter of this comedy, had impressed itself upon Beatrice’s mind, she came to the conclusion that she had seen enough of the Dog Rocks for one afternoon. Thereon, like a sensible person, she set herself to quit them in the same way that she had reached them, namely by means of a canoe. She got into her canoe safely enough, and paddled a little way out to sea, with a view of returning to the place whence she came. But the further she went out, and it was necessary that she should go some way on account of the rocks and the currents, the denser grew the fog. Sounds came through it indeed, but she could not clearly distinguish whence they came, till at last, well as she knew the coast, she grew confused as to whither she was heading. In this dilemma, while she rested on her paddle staring into the dense surrounding mist and keeping her grey eyes as wide open as nature would allow, and that was very wide, she heard the report of a gun behind her to the right. Arguing to herself that some wild-fowler on the water must have fired it who would be able to direct her, she turned the canoe round and paddled swiftly in the direction whence the sound came. Presently she heard the gun again; both barrels were fired, in there to the right, but some way off. She paddled on vigorously, but now no more shots came to guide her, therefore for a while her search was fruitless. At last, however, she saw something looming through the mist ahead; it was the Red Rocks, though she did not know it, and she drew near with caution till Geoffrey’s shout broke upon her ears.

She picked up the dead bird and paddled towards the dim figure who was evidently wrestling with something, she could not see what.

“Here is the curlew, sir,” she said.

“Oh, thank you,” answered the figure on the rock. “I am infinitely obliged to you. I was just going to swim for it, I can’t bear losing my game. It seems so cruel to shoot birds for nothing.”

“I dare say that you will not make much use of it now that you have got it,” said the gentle voice in the canoe. “Curlew are not very good eating.”

“That is scarcely the point,” replied the Crusoe on the rock. “The point is to bring them home. Après cela - “

“The birdstuffer?” said the voice.

“No,” answered Crusoe, “the cook–”

A laugh came back from the canoe–and then a question.

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