Playing Beatie Bow

by

Ruth Park

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Playing Beatie Bow can help.

Playing Beatie Bow: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Though the little furry girl tries to lose Abigail as she winds through the streets and alleyways, Abigail pursues her—sometimes, when the little girl turns around to see if Abigail is still on her tail, her face is “distorted with panic.” The houses on the streets are closely cramped together, and as the night sky darkens above, Abigail’s path is lit only by dim lights from within the residences.
Abigail is somewhere new, strange, and disorienting. The little furry girl is the only connection she can see between where she came from and where she is now, and she clings to the idea that the girl has some kind of wisdom that will allow her to better understand her situation.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
Abigail finally catches up with the furry girl, but stops when she encounters a beggar with a wooden stump for a leg and becomes frightened. She presses on, and soon she is on Argyle Street—though it is a street she has walked a thousand times, she does not recognize it. Abigail runs through the slums, and as she does, people stare at her.
Abigail finds that though she is in the same place she was just moments ago, she is not, it seems, in the same time.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
Abigail pursues the furry girl to the doorway of a corner shop, and a familiar smell of burnt sugar stops her in her tracks. She hears chaotic noises coming from within, and then a tall figure—a man—bounds out of the doorway, screaming nonsense about “heathen devils” and knocking Abigail over as he runs into the street. Abigail hits her head hard on the edge of the doorstep. Other people burst from the doorway to come to her aid, but Abigail promptly faints.
Abigail dreamed of burnt sugar a few nights ago, and now finds herself in front of a confectionery, with the smell she dreamt of in the air. Abigail is further disoriented when an apparent madman knocks her over, stopping her in her tracks and waylaying her pursuit of the furry girl.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
Abigail awakens, but keeps her eyes shut, sensing that she is somewhere strange and foreign. She can smell a fire going in the room, and is aware that someone is holding her hand. She hears a woman’s voice, speaking in the same Scottish accent as the little furry girl, urge another person named Dovey to change Abigail’s bandage so that they can see how bad her head is.
Abigail does not know where she is, and as she attempts to orient herself as to her new surroundings, she employs the technique she has practiced for years—keeping her exterior completely unreadable.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
Get the entire Playing Beatie Bow LitChart as a printable PDF.
Playing Beatie Bow PDF
As hands move over her head, Abigail stays still and keeps her eyes shut. She feels confused and sick, and has a terrible pain in her ankle. She does not believe she is dreaming, but wonders briefly if she has gone out of her mind. Abigail listens as the women agree that her wound is clean, and discuss checking up on someone called Uncle Samuel, to see if he is “himself again.” The two women muse aloud that Abigail must be a lady, due to her soft hands and clean nails. Abigail’s ankle throbs, and she lets out a series of yelps and cries. At last, she opens her eyes and looks around the room. Above her is “one of the sweetest faces she ha[s] ever seen”—that of a young girl with a soft complexion.
Abigail reaches a point at which she cannot contain what is going on inside of her any longer—she is in pain, and she is frightened, and she needs to know where she is and what is going on. The conversation happening around her is too strange, and as the women tending to her speculate about who she is, Abigail becomes fearful of the way they’re talking about her.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The sweet-faced girl offers Abigail a sip of posset—a drink made of hot milk curdled with alcohol—promising that it will be good for her pain. Abigail drinks from the goblet of posset and is almost instantly lulled back into a drowsy, warm slumber. When she awakes again, she believes she is alone—her clothes have been replaced with a long, thick, uncomfortable nightdress. There is a warm compress against her ankle, and the furry girl is sitting on a stool beside her, so close that Abigail can see her freckles and her “excited” eyes. She sees that the little girl has a fierce, resolute face, and hands covered in scars and burns. Abigail struggles to maintain a calm exterior, and not let on that she is as confused, disoriented, and frightened as she really is.
Abigail’s green dress has been taken from her and replaced with an uncomfortable new garment. Abigail’s connection to where she came from has been replaced with something new, which signifies only discomfort and disorientation, and Abigail fears that all connection has been lost—until she sees the little furry girl at the edge of her bed, and realizes that she is not entirely unmoored from her previous reality.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
Abigail asks if a man with a sword really knocked her over in the street, and the little girl replies sadly that the man was her own father, who has “spells” of madness. Abigail asks the little girl her name, and she replies that it is Beatie Bow. Abigail tells the girl to stop joking—Beatie Bow is the name of a children’s game—but Beatie insists that this is her name: Beatrice May Bow. She tells Abigail that she is eleven years old, but small for her age due to a childhood fever. Beatie seizes Abigail’s arm and begs her not to tell Granny where she herself comes from—Beatie does not want Granny to assume that she has the “Gift.” She does not want it, she says, and is “afeared” of what it does.
Abigail at last realizes that she is face-to-face—and has been all along—with the famous Beatie Bow. Abigail is just as confused to why Beatie is the subject of the game as Beatie herself seems to be, but it is clear that Beatie, having meddled in time, is afraid of what her dalliance in the future has caused, both for herself and for Abigail.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
Abigail asks where they are, and Beatie tells her that she is in the best room of her father’s house, behind the confectionary shop. Abigail asks what country they are in, and Beatie, flabbergasted, replies that they are in the colony of New South Wales. Abigail sobs, unable to understand anything that is happening to her, and wishing for her mother and father.
Beatie holds the wisdom Abigail needs, but even as Beatie gives her the answers she has so wanted, Abigail finds herself unable to understand what is happening to her—Abigail’s own sense of power is greatly diminished.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
Beatie tells Abigail that she knows she shouldn’t have gone to watch the children’s game, but couldn’t help herself when she heard the children chanting her name—Beatie insists that she “didna know it could be done.” Abigail believes Beatie is talking in riddles. Beatie again urges Abigail to promise her that she won’t tell Granny how she found herself in this world, and threatens to punch Abigail “yeller and green” if she does not comply.
Beatie is both frightened and fiery in this passage, vacillating quickly between vulnerability and superiority as she attempts to explain to Abigail what has transpired, and the fact that she has seemingly traveled through time itself.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
An old woman and a young one enter the room—the younger girl limps, while the old woman stands tall and proud, “like a fairy godmother.” The old woman embraces Abigail and rocks her gently, and Abigail senses a profound goodness emanating from her. Abigail relaxes into Granny’s embrace, and Granny tells Beatie to go fetch Judah. A few minutes later, a tall young man enters the room and reports that his father is full of sorrow and fear over what he has done to Abigail. Judah urges Dovey to go look after him, then comes and sits next to Abigail. Granny tells Judah that she is afraid that his father will be in trouble if Abigail is truly injured, for Abigail is a lady. Abigail insists that she is not a lady, and sinks into her pillows, distraught.
Just as Abigail seems to be able to comprehend a part of what is happening her, more new elements to the situation are introduced. Abigail, realizing that she must be in the presence of a large, complex family, becomes overwhelmed, and even a little bit angry that no one seems to be listening to her or believing her.
Themes
Family, Duty, and Connection Theme Icon
Time and the Past Theme Icon
Judah offers Abigail a candy, and she sits up and accepts it. She looks around the room, and recognizes many items from her mother’s vintage shop. She sees a picture of Queen Victoria on the wall, and asks why there is a portrait of her and not Queen Elizabeth hanging; when Granny remarks that Abigail is confused, and that Queen Bess died “hundreds of years ago,” Abigail realizes that she is in Queen Victoria’s time—far in the past. She urges herself to stay calm, and not give herself away.
Abigail again employs her tactic of keeping her exterior calm even as her interior drifts into chaos. She realizes that she is further back in the past than she had imagined—so far back that the antiquated treasures she had always overlooked are now coming back to haunt her, forming her immediate present.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
Abigail asks to be helped over to the window, so that she can see where she is. Judah lifts her from her bed and brings her over to the shuttered window, and then instructs Beatie to open the shutters wide. As Abigail looks down at the street below, she marvels at how none of the buildings of modern-day Sydney have yet been constructed. Once again miserable and frightened, Abigail leans her face into Judah’s chest, and asks what year it is. Judah replies that it’s nearly the end of 1873, and then puts her back in the bed.
The truth of the realization that Beatie is not even in the twentieth century shocks Abigail. The version of Sydney she loves and has always taken for granted is gone, and in its place is a wild world that is completely unrecognizable, and thus deeply frightening to her.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
Dovey tucks Abigail back in, lamenting the fact that the poor girl seems to have lost her memory. Granny and Dovey speculate about where Abigail could have come from. Dovey believes Abigail to be an immigrant from a fine family, but Granny mutters something about Abigail being a “stranger.” As the two women continue their conversation at the door to the room, Beatie creeps closer to Abigail, staring at her with big eyes. Abigail whispers accusatorily to Beatie, telling her that she is the reason Abigail is here, but Beatie insists that it was Abigail who chose to follow her.
In the midst of all Abigail’s confusion, sadness, and disorientation, her contentious relationship with Beatie manages to come to the forefront. The girls seem to distrust one another and seek to blame each other for how things have shaken out. As the novel progresses, this uncertainty and even animosity will bloom in unexpected ways.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
Judah and Granny go downstairs, and Dovey comes back over to Abigail to place a hand on her forehead. She assures her that she has no fever, and her ankle will be better in the morning. She leaves to heat up some broth for Abigail, charging Beatie to stay and keep her company. Alone in the room with Beatie, Abigail whines that she wants to return to her own “place,” but Beatie insists that she doesn’t know where that is—she has no idea what happened, and never “went there” before she had the fever. One minute, Beatie says, she was in the lane, and the next she was able to see magnificent “towers and castles,” and heard children calling her name.
Though Abigail has believed that Beatie is in possession of the knowledge of how all this came to pass, Beatie reveals herself to be as clueless as Abigail herself as to what exactly has transpired, and how. Beatie was also as confused as Abigail is now when she first found herself in the present—the only difference is that Beatie was able to find her way back to her own time.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon
As Abigail listens to Beatie speak, she realizes that Natalie’s belief that the little furry girl was unhappy was true—Abigail wonders if the reason Beatie’s hair is cropped so short is due to her fever. Before she can ask Beatie about her life, though, Beatie asks if Abigail comes from “Elfland.” Abigail insists there is no Elfland, but Beatie says she believes Elfland is where Granny’s own great-great-grandmother picked up the “Gift.” Abigail replies that Beatie and her family are all crazy.
Beatie’s belief in the realm of the strange and the magical seems ridiculous to Abigail, who wants to quickly stamp out Beatie’s belief that she comes from some mystical, foreign land. Abigail thinks that Beatie and her family are crazy, but surely poor Beatie thinks the very same of Abigail at this point.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
Beatie asks Abigail how the playing children all knew her name, but Abigail insists she doesn’t know. Beatie shouts that she will find a way to make Abigail tell her, and will find a way to hear more about the “castles and palaces” and the “queer” things she saw in Abigail’s world. Abigail cruelly taunts Beatie, telling her that perhaps she has the Gift after all. Beatie goes pale. Abigail tells Beatie that if Beatie doesn’t take her back to where the two of them first met, she will tell Beatie’s Granny where she comes from, and who brought her here. Abigail then turns away from Beatie, wondering dully what the Gift even is before drifting off to sleep.
The central tension within Beatie’s character is her desire both to know more about the world she glimpsed briefly when she heard the children chanting her name and followed their voices, and her competing fear of engaging too much with the second sight that allowed her to get to the future in the first place. Abigail declares her intent to take advantage of that key weakness within Beatie, though she does not yet know the gravity of what she is dealing with.
Themes
Time and the Past Theme Icon
The Wisdom and Power of Children  Theme Icon