Playing Beatie Bow

by

Ruth Park

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Playing Beatie Bow: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Abigail, frightened, is about to duck out of the window and shut it when she hears a familiar voice call to her—it’s Judah. He tells her that he’s brought some of his shipmates with him, and that they’re going to throw down a line with a loop it in at pull her up. The men do so, and in moments Abigail is on the roof, limp and sweaty and frightened but safe at last. Abigail asks Judah how he knew where she was—he tells her that it was Granny who told him.
Abigail is saved—seemingly by Judah but, in truth, it is revealed, by Granny. In her deepest moment of need, Granny has helped Abigail and fulfilled a duty to her—even though Abigail was trying to escape, and landed herself in a horrible situation partly of her own making.
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Abigail, Judah, and his shipmates scurry across the roofs of nearby buildings, and the boys are impressed by Abigail’s swiftness and bravery. After they slide down off a sturdy roof into the street below, Abigail throws up. Though she is ashamed, Judah comforts her, telling her it’s a wonder she is even conscious considering all she’s been through. Judah gathers Abigail up in his arms, and the next thing Abigail knows, she is being carried through the door of the confectionery.
Abigail shows herself to be strong and capable as the others help her escape, but the moment she is brought back to safety, she finds herself crumpling, whatever power she had sapped from her by fear, anxiety, and the enormous relief of escaping a horrible fate.
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Judah takes Abigail upstairs and lays her down on her own bed. He asks Dovey how Granny is doing, and Dovey replies that she is “low.” Abigail tries to ask what is happening with Granny, but finds that she cannot speak. Dovey tells Abigail that she is in shock, and that her voice will return to her by the morning. Dovey asks Abigail if any of the “villains” who kidnapped her did anything bad to her—Abigail longs to tell the whole story, but instead simply shakes her head no. Judah tucks Abigail in and then goes to see Granny. Abigail is dazzled by the warmth and beauty of Judah’s smile, and longs to thank him for saving her, but can do nothing except squeeze his hand.
Abigail is in such a state of shock, and so weakened by what has happened to her, that she is unable to connect or communicate with the Bows. The Bows’ love for her is what ultimately saved her—despite the fact that in escaping she was, on some level, attempting to betray them and the hospitality and kindness they had shown her.
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Dovey gets Abigail ready for bed and leaves her alone, but Beatie enters the room and sits at the edge of Abigail’s bed. She angrily asks Abigail what came over her, and why she would have fled to the worst part of the neighborhood—especially when Beatie had given Abigail her “solemn word” that she would help her return to her own time. Abigail can make only a faint cry of protest before she is overtaken by sleep.
Beatie berates Abigail for having gone off on her own and gotten into trouble, but Abigail is too weak to fight the fiery little girl. Beatie has a point—she had committed herself to a duty to Abigail, and Abigail did not trust her, or the rest of the Bows, to follow through.
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In the morning, Abigail awakes to find Dovey kneeling at her bedside, praying that Abigail is still as “innocent as she was when she came to [the family’s] care.” Abigail asks Dovey how Granny is doing, and Dovey says Granny is not well at all. Abigail begins to cry, and laments aloud that she doesn’t understand anything about the Bows, the Talliskers, and the mysterious Gift. Dovey insists that Granny should be the one to explain everything to Abigail, but that she is in no state to do so, as she was “like a dead woman for two hours” while Abigail was missing.
Dovey has been worried about Abigail, and Abigail has been worried about Granny. This display of fear and emotion demonstrates the connections that have formed between Abigail and the Tallisker-Bow clan despite her attempts to escape them. Her feelings of concern, worry, and indeed love cannot be denied, and nor can those same feelings the Bows have for her.
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Abigail begs Dovey to confirm that she is the Stranger. When Dovey does, Abigail implores Dovey to see how isolated and frightened she is, not understanding anything about her role in the Bow and Tallisker families’ lives. Beatie creeps into the room and sits at the edge of Dovey’s bed, and Dovey, as she begins to explain the Gift, urges Beatie to keep quiet.
Abigail is completely in the dark, and has been since her arrival in 1873. She has been disoriented, confused, and uncertain for a long time now, and she begs Dovey to see the negative effects this has had on her. 
Themes
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Dovey explains that the Gift is not hereditary in the Bow family, but rather in the Tallisker clan. She explains, too, that Orkney is a “queer old place” where dwarves, fairies, and spirits often waylay travelers and shepherds and cast spells upon them. Granny’s seventh grandmother was taken by elves as a girl and returned with the ability to see the future—the precious Gift that grants its bearer foresight, healing powers, and secret wisdom. The Gift can be handed down by men in the family, but never possessed by them—it is only women who wield it. Despite the fact that she has been less in touch with the Gift in her old age, Granny has long been the bearer of a Prophecy, which tells of a Stranger who will come with something belonging to the Talliskers, and who will make the Gift strong again.
Dovey’s explanation of what is really going on in the Bow-Tallisker clan illuminates a lot for Abigail, but still ultimately leaves her with more questions than answers. Abigail realizes that she has a duty to the Bows—she is, she assumes, the Stranger—but does not yet know what that duty entails, how she will complete it, and, most importantly of all, whether she will ever be able to get back to her own time.
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Beatie pipes up, cursing the Gift; though she does not want it, she knows it is real. Beatie reminds Dovey of a time when she was sick, and had a dream of a yellow fever rag on the door—Abigail startles to remember she, too, had that very same dream. Beatie confesses that she had another dream—a dream of her own hands, without a ring on any finger, holding a heavy leather book.
Abigail is shown here to have an even deeper connection to the Bows—and to the mysterious Gift—than she thought. It is unclear how Abigail was able to share a dream with Beatie, but this seems to speak to the connection that already exists between the two girls.
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A wail comes from upstairs—it’s Gibbie, calling for the chamber-pot. Beatie offers to take it to Gibbie so that Abigail can go and see Granny. Dovey takes Abigail up to Granny’s room. The old woman in the bed is “scarcely recognizable,” and looks ancient and fatigued. Abigail goes to Granny’s bedside and apologizes for worrying and weakening her. Granny extends a hand to Abigail, and Abigail takes it.
Abigail realizes that the damage she has done to Granny is both unnecessary and completely her responsibility, and this puts her in a position of indebtedness toward Granny—but the way Abigail will pay this debt is something she cannot even imagine.
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Granny tells Abigail—and Dovey—that now is the time for truth. She asks Abigail if she indeed comes from another time, and Abigail nods, revealing the year of her birth. Granny asks if Abigail ever heard the names Tallisker or Bow in the future, and Abigail says she has not. Granny asks if anyone in Abigail’s family bears either name, and when Abigail again answers no, Granny marvels that despite her lack of connection to either family, she is indeed the Stranger. Abigail insists she’s not, and there’s been a mistake, but Granny knows the truth.
The fact that Abigail is the fated Stranger, despite her lack of any apparent connection to the Talliskers or the Bows, seems unlikely, but Granny is so sure—and Abigail now so sure of the power of Granny’s Gift—that Abigail must accept it as truth.
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Dovey whispers to Granny what Beatie saw in her dream, and Granny exclaims that it is the first part of the Prophecy proven. Granny explains that the Prophecy applies to every fifth generation, when the Gift is at risk. The Prophecy foretells that one member of the family is to be barren, and one is to die. Granny explains that as Dovey is the sole Tallisker child, and as only three Bow children remain, there are very few who can hand on the Gift to the future generations. Granny says that because of Beatie’s vision of her unringed hands, Beatie will be the barren one, and one of the rest of the children is to die—and die young. Dovey assumes it will be Gibbie.
The mythology of the Gift is shown in this passage to be more complicated than it seemed to be at first glance. There are strange, untamable forces at work here—forces that mirror the unpredictable mechanism of time itself.
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Abigail expresses her distaste for Granny’s talking about her family as if they are only pawns in some superstitious game. Abigail proclaims that she wants nothing to do with the Prophecy or the Gift, and longs to return to her own life. She insists she’s not the Stranger, and that the Talliskers and Bows must let her return home. Granny, however, tells Abigail that she cannot let her. Abigail tells her that she will run away again and again until she succeeds. Dovey, distressed, begs Abigail to stay until she has done whatever she needs to do, as the Stranger, to protect the Gift—Abigail is their only hope. She realizes that she is trapped.
Though Granny’s main directive is the preservation and strengthening of her family’s precious legacy, Abigail interprets her maneuvering as sly machinations that disregard the individuals within her family in service of a larger whole. But Granny is of a different time, and duty to family—not to any one person, herself included—is of paramount importance to her. Nothing Abigail says can change Granny’s mind.
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Related Quotes
Abigail attempts once again to convince the Tallisker women that she is not the Stranger—she was not in possession of anything belonging to the family when she was flung into the past—but then she remembers the conversation she heard Dovey and Granny having the first night she arrived, about the pattern they’d designed but not yet sewn. Abigail realizes they were talking all along about the bit of crochet on her dress. Dovey tells her that the Parnassus plant is common in Orkney, and the initials, A.T., stand for Alice Tallisker—Granny’s name. Abigail laments that the women have burnt the dress, and that now she will never be able to go home.
Abigail realizes with fascination and horror that she brought this duty upon herself, however unwittingly, by sewing the Tallisker lace to the collar of her green dress. Abigail has conscripted herself into the duty of the Bow-Tallisker clan, and now fears that she will be stuck in a hell of her own making forever.
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Abigail, angry, leaves the room and goes downstairs. Dovey follows her down, and attempts to embrace her, but Abigail tells Dovey that she is cruel—having known the pain of losing her own parents, Dovey is still conspiring with Granny to keep Abigail from hers. Dovey confesses that she lied to Abigail—the dress was not burnt, but was simply hidden away, and is very safe.
Dovey wants two things—she wants to help Granny preserve the gift, and she wants Abigail to like her, and to be part of the family. Dovey thus acts ambivalently at some points in service of obtaining these two competing goals.
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Abigail returns to Granny’s room and demands that Granny verify Dovey’s claim. Granny tells Abigail that when Abigail has completed whatever it is she needs to do in their time, she will return the dress to her, and allow her to go home. Abigail complains that she doesn’t know what she has to do. Granny reassures her that it will show itself in time, and that the Gift is more precious than any one of them—they all must devote themselves to its preservation.
Granny needs something from Abigail, and is holding hostage Abigail’s one connection to her own time until the deed is done. This seems duplicitous, but Granny holds her duty to her family above all else, and in this way is acting nobly in spite of everything.
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Abigail asks Granny why, if she herself has the Gift, she cannot see what is to come—Granny replies that she is old, and not as in touch with it as she once was. Abigail wonders privately to herself, then, how Granny knew she was tied up in the warehouse, and Granny replies aloud that she was able to see Abigail when Abigail called her. It was sending out her mind to search for Abigail, Granny says, that so weakened her.
Though Granny claims to be disconnected from the Gift, she is still clearly able to engage in some kinds of clairvoyance and foresight—she reads Abigail’s mind for a second time that night, despite the fact that doing so clearly has a malignant effect.
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Gibbie calls out for help again, and this time Abigail volunteers to go see to him. As she mounts the stairs to the attic, she is chilled by the fact that Granny answered a question she had not voiced aloud. Abigail goes over to the window, and Gibbie warns her not to open it lest he freeze to death. Abigail looks out on the yard behind the house, and sees two Chinese men doing laundry. She returns to sit at the edge of Gibbie’s bed, and asks if there is anything he wants to do to amuse himself. He reveals that sometimes Granny and Judah tell him stories, but just as his tone betrays his excitement, he catches himself and plaintively states that soon he will go up to Heaven and will have no need of stories.
Abigail is beginning to understand the true power of the Gift and the weight of the enormous legacy Granny is unfairly burdened with passing down all on her own. Abigail’s visit to Gibbie, despite her dislike of him, symbolizes that she is beginning to understand and accept the duty she now bears to the Bow family, at least to a small degree.
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Abigail asks Gibbie if he has ever heard the story of Treasure Island, and volunteers to tell it to him. As she begins, Abigail realizes that if Gibbie does not die, only Dovey and Judah are left to fulfill the second half of the prophecy, and momentarily pauses, letting the weight of her realization sink in. After a moment, Gibbie begs her to go on, and she does, but cannot stop herself from quietly fearing that it will be Judah who dies.
Abigail is beginning to wonder whether the Prophecy could really be true—and, if it is, how it will affect the family who has taken her in and shown her such graciousness. Here Abigail also starts to recognize her growing feelings for Judah, which are contrasted with her total apathy towards Gibbie’s fate.
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