FictionForest

Chapter 6 – A Circulating Library

Louisa May AlcottNov 05, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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After supper that night, Bab and Betty sat in the old porch playing with
Josephus and Belinda, and discussing the events of the day; for the
appearance of the strange boy and his dog had been a most exciting
occurrence in their quiet lives. They had seen nothing of him since
morning, as he took his meals at the Squire’s, and was at work with Pat
in a distant field when the children passed. Sancho had stuck closely to
his master, evidently rather bewildered by the new order of things, and
bound to see that no harm happened to Ben.

"I wish they’d come. It’s sundown, and I heard the cows mooing, so I
know they have gone home," said Betty, impatiently; for she regarded the
new-comer in the light of an entertaining book, and wished to read on as
fast as possible.

"I’m going to learn the signs he makes when he wants Sancho to dance;
then we can have fun with him whenever we like. He’s the dearest dog I
ever saw!" answered Bab, who was fonder of animals than her sister.

"Ma said – Ow, what’s that?" cried Betty with a start, as something
bumped against the gate outside; and in a moment Ben’s head peeped over
the top as he swung himself up to the iron arch, in the middle of which
was the empty lantern frame.

"Please to locate, gentlemen; please to locate. The performance is about
to begin with the great Flyin’ Coopid act, in which Master Bloomsbury
has appeared before the crowned heads of Europe. Pronounced by all
beholders the most remarkable youthful progidy agoin’. Hooray! here we
are!"

Having rattled off the familiar speech in Mr. Smithers’s elegant manner,
Ben begin to cut up such capers that even a party of dignified hens,
going down the avenue to bed, paused to look on with clucks of
astonishment, evidently fancying that salt had set him to fluttering and
tumbling as it did them. Never had the old gate beheld such antics,
though it had seen gay doings in its time; for of all the boys who had
climbed over it, not one had ever stood on his head upon each of the big
balls which ornamented the posts, hung by his heels from the arch, gone
round and round like a wheel with the bar for an axis, played a tattoo
with his toes while holding on by his chin, walked about the wall on his
hands, or closed the entertainment by festooning himself in an airy
posture over the side of the lantern frame, and kissing his hand to the
audience as a well-bred Cupid is supposed to do on making his bow.

The little girls clapped and stamped enthusiastically, while Sancho, who
had been calmly surveying the show, barked his approval as he leaped up
to snap at Ben’s feet.

"Come down and tell what you did up at the Squire’s. Was he cross? Did
you have to work hard? Do you like it?" asked Bab, when the noise had
subsided.

"It’s cooler up here," answered Ben, composing himself in the frame, and
fanning his hot face with a green spray broken from the tall bushes
rustling odorously all about him. "I did all sorts of jobs. The old
gentleman wasn’t cross; he gave me a dime, and I like him first-rate.
But I just hate ‘Carrots; ‘ he swears at a feller, and fired a stick of
wood at me. Guess I’ll pay him off when I get a chance."

Fumbling in his pocket to show the bright dime, he found the torn page,
and remembered the thirst for information which had seized him in the
morning. "Look here, tell me about this, will you? What are these chaps
up to? The ink has spoilt all but the picture and this bit of reading. I
want to know what it means. Take it to ’em, Sanch."

The dog caught the leaf as it fluttered to the ground, and carrying it
carefully in his mouth, deposited it at the feet of the little girls,
seating himself before them with an air of deep interest. Bab and Betty
picked it up and read it aloud in unison, while Ben leaned from his
perch to listen and learn.

"’When day dawned, land was visible. A pleasant land it was. There
were gay flowers, and tall trees with leaves and fruit, such as they had
never seen before. On the shore were unclad copper-colored men, gazing
with wonder at the Spanish ships. They took them for great birds, the
white sails for their wings, and the Spaniards for superior beings
brought down from heaven on their backs."

"Why, that’s Columbus finding San Salvador. Don’t you know about him?"
demanded Bab, as if she were one of the "superior beings," and
intimately acquainted with the immortal Christopher.

"No, I don’t. Who was he any way? I s’pose that’s him paddlin’ ahead;
but which of the Injuns is Sam Salvindoor?" asked Ben, rather ashamed of
his ignorance, but bent on finding out now he had begun.

"My gracious! twelve years old and not know your Quackenbos!" laughed
Bab, much amused, but rather glad to find that she could teach the
"whirligig boy" something, for she considered him a remarkable creature.

"I don’t care a bit for your quackin’ boss, whoever he is. Tell about
this fine feller with the ships; I like him," persisted Ben.

So Bab, with frequent interruptions and hints from Betty, told the
wonderful tale in a simple way, which made it easy to understand; for
she liked history, and had a lively tongue of her own.

"I’d like to read some more. Would my ten cents buy a book?" asked Ben,
anxious to learn a little since Bab laughed at him.

"No, indeed! I’ll lend you mine when I’m not using it, and tell you all
about it," promised Bab; forgetting that she did not know "all about it"
herself yet.

"I don’t have any time only evenings, and then may be you’ll want it,"
begun Ben, in whom the inky page had roused a strong curiosity.

"I do get my history in the evening, but you could have it mornings
before school."

"I shall have to go off early, so there won’t be any chance. Yes, there
will, – I’LL tell you how to do it. Let me read while I drive up the
cows. Squire likes ’em to eat slow along the road, so’s to keep the
grass short and save mowin’. Pat said so, and I could do history instead
of loafin’ round!" cried Ben full of this bright idea.

"How will I get my book back in time to recite?" asked Bab, prudently.

"Oh, I’ll leave it on the window-sill, or put it inside the door as I go
back. I’ll be real careful, and just as soon as I earn enough, I’ll buy
you a new one and take the old one. Will you?"

"Yes; but I’ll tell you a nicer way to do. Don’t put the book on the
window, ’cause teacher will see you; or inside the door, ’cause some one
may steal it. You put it in my cubby-house, right at the corner of the
wall nearest the big maple. You’ll find a cunning place between the
roots that stick up under the flat stone. That’s my closet, and I keep
things there. It’s the best cubby of all, and we take turns to have it."

"I’ll find it, and that’ll be a first-rate place," said Ben, much
gratified.

"I could put my reading-book in sometimes, if you’d like it. There’s
lots of pretty stories in it and pictures," proposed Betty, rather
timidly; for she wanted to share the benevolent project, but had little
to offer, not being as good a scholar as Bab.

"I’d like a ‘rithmetic better. I read tip-top, but I ain’t much on
‘rithmetic"; so, if you can spare yours, I might take a look at it. Now
I’m goin’ to earn wages, I ought to know about addin’ ’em up, and so
on," said Ben, with the air of a Vanderbilt oppressed with the care of
millions.

"I’ll teach you that. Betty doesn’t know much about sums. But she
spells splendidly, and is always at the head of her class. Teacher is
real proud of her, ’cause she never misses, and spells hard, fussy
words, like chi-rog-ra-phy and bron-chi-tis as easy as any thing."

Bab quite beamed with sisterly pride, and Betty smoothed down her apron
with modest satisfaction, for Bab seldom praised her, and she liked it
very much.

"I never went to school, so that’s the reason I ain’t smart. I can
write, though, better ‘n some of the boys up at school. I saw lots of
names on the shed door. See here, now," – and scrambling down, Ben
pulled out a cherished bit of chalk, and flourished off ten letters of
the alphabet, one on each of the dark stone slabs that paved the walk.

"Those are beautiful! I can’t make such curly ones. Who taught you to
do it?" asked Bab, as she and Betty walked up and down admiring them.

"Horse blankets," answered Ben, soberly.

"What!" cried both girls, stopping to stare.

"Our horses all had their names on their blankets, and I used to copy
’em. The wagons had signs, and I learned to read that way after father
taught me my letters off the red and yellow posters. First word I knew
was lion, ’cause I was always goin’ to see old Jubal in his cage. Father
was real proud when I read it right off. I can draw one, too."

Ben proceeded to depict an animal intended to represent his lost friend;
but Jubal would not have recognized his portrait, since it looked much
more like Sancho than the king of the forest. The children admired it
immensely, however, and Ben gave them a lesson in natural history which
was so interesting that it kept them busy and happy till bedtime; for
the boy described what he had seen in such lively language, and
illustrated in such a droll way, it was no wonder they were charmed.

 

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