FictionForest

Chapter 18 – Bows And Arrows

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

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If Sancho’s abduction made a stir, one may easily imagine with what
warmth and interest he was welcomed back when his wrongs and wanderings
were known. For several days he held regular levees, that curious boys
and sympathizing girls might see and pity the changed and curtailed dog.
Sancho behaved with dignified affability, and sat upon his mat in the
coach-house pensively eying his guests, and patiently submitting to
their caresses; while Ben and Thorny took turns to tell the few tragical
facts which were not shrouded in the deepest mystery. If the interesting
sufferer could only have spoken, what thrilling adventures and
hair-breadth escapes he might have related. But, alas! he was dumb; and
the secrets of that memorable month never were revealed.

The lame paw soon healed, the dingy color slowly yielded to many
washings, the woolly coat began to knot up into little curls, a new
collar, handsomely marked, made him a respectable dog, and Sancho was
himself again. But it was evident that his sufferings were not
forgotten; his once sweet temper was a trifle soured; and, with a few
exceptions, he had lost his faith in mankind. Before, he had been the
most benevolent and hospitable of dogs; now, he eyed all strangers
suspiciously, and the sight of a shabby man made him growl and bristle
up, as if the mernory of his wrongs still burned hotly within him.

Fortunately, his gratitude was stronger than his resentment, and he
never seemed to forget that he owed his life to Betty, – running to
meet her whenever she appeared, instantly obeying her commands, and
suffering no one to molest her when he walked watchfully beside her,
with her hand upon his neck, as they had walked out of the almost fatal
backyard together, faithful friends for ever.

Miss Celia called them little Una and her lion, and read the pretty
story to the children when they wondered what she meant. Ben, with great
pains, taught the dog to spell "Betty," and surprised her with a display
of this new accomplishment, which gratified her so much that she was
never tired of seeing Sanch paw the five red letters into place, then
come and lay his nose in her hand, as if he added, "That’s the name of
my dear mistress."

Of course Bab was glad to have everything pleasant and friendly again;
but in a little dark corner of her heart there was a drop of envy, and a
desperate desire to do something which would make every one in her small
world like and praise her as they did Betty. Trying to be as good and
gentle did not satisfy her; she must do something brave or surprising,
and no chance for distinguishing herself in that way seemed likely to
appear. Betty was as fond as ever, and the boys were very kind to her;
but she felt that they both liked "little Beteinda," as they called her,
best, because she found Sanch, and never seemed to know that she had
done any thing brave in defending him against all odds. Bab did not tell
any one how she felt, but endeavored to be amiable, while waiting for
her chance to come; and, when it did arrive, made the most of it, though
there was nothing heroic to add a charm.

Miss Celia’s arm had been doing very well, but would, of course, be
useless for some time longer. Finding that the afternoon readings amused
herself as much as they did the children, she kept them up, and brought
out all her old favorites enjoying a double pleasure in seeing that her
young audience relished them as much as she did when a child for to all
but Thorny they were brand new. Out of one of these stories came much
amusement for all, and satisfaction for one of the party.

"Celia, did you bring our old bows?" asked her brother, eagerly, as she
put down the book from which she had been reading Miss Edgeworth’s
capital story of "Waste not Want not; or, Two Strings to your Bow."

"Yes, I brought all the playthings we left stored away in uncle’s garret
when we went abroad. The bows are in the long box where you found the
mallets, fishing-rods, and bats. The old quivers and a few arrows are
there also, I believe. What is the idea now? asked Miss Celia in her
turn, as Thorny bounced up in a great hurry.

"I’m going to teach Ben to shoot. Grand fun this hot weather; and
by-and-by we’ll have an archery meeting, and you can give us a prize.
Come on, Ben. I’ve got plenty of whip-cord to rig up the bows, and then
we’ll show the ladies some first-class shooting."

"I can’t; never had a decent bow in my life. The little gilt one I used
to wave round when I was a Coopid wasn’t worth a cent to go," answered
Ben, feeling as if that painted "prodigy" must have been a very distant
connection of the respectable young person now walking off arm in arm
with the lord of the manor.

"Practice is all you want. I used to be a capital shot, but I don’t
believe I could hit any thing but a barn-door now," answered Thorny,
encouragingly.

As the boys vanished, with much tramping of boots and banging of doors,
Bab observed, in the young-ladyish tone she was apt to use when she
composed her active little mind and body to the feminine task of
needlework, –

"We used to make bows of whalebone when we were little girls, but we are
too old to play so now."

"I’d like to, but Bab won’t, ’cause she ‘s most ‘leven years old," said
honest Betty, placidly rubbing her needle in the "ruster," as she called
the family emery-bag.

"Grown people enjoy archery, as bow and arrow shooting is called,
especially in England. I was reading about it the other day, and saw a
picture of Queen Victoria with her bow; so you needn’t be ashamed of it,
Bab," said Miss Celia, rummaging among the books and papers in her sofa
corner to find the magazine she wanted, thinking a new play would be as
good for the girls as for the big boys.

"A queen, just think!" and Betty looked much impressed by the fact, as
well as uplifted by the knowledge that her friend did not agree in
thinking her silly because she preferred playing with a harmless
home-made toy to firing stones or snapping a pop-gun.

"In old times, bows and arrows were used to fight great battles with;
and we read how the English archers shot so well that the air was dark
with arrows, and many men were killed."

"So did the Indians have ’em; and I’ve got some stone arrow-heads, –
found ’em by the river, in the dirt!" cried Bab, waking up, for battles
interested her more than queens.

"While you finish your stints I’ll tell you a little story about the
Indians," said Miss Celia, lying back on her cushions, while the needles
began to go again, for the prospect of a story could not be resisted.

"A century or more ago, in a small settlement on the banks of the
Connecticut, – which means the Long River of Pines, – there lived a
little girl called Matty Kilburn. On a hill stood the fort where the
people ran for protection in any danger, for the country was new and
wild, and more than once the Indians had come down the river in their
canoes and burned the houses, killed men, and carried away women and
children. Matty lived alone with her father, but felt quite safe in the
log house, for he was never far away. One afternoon, as the farmers were
all busy in their fields, the bell rang suddenly, – a sign that there
was danger near, – and, dropping their rakes or axes, the men hurried
to their houses to save wives and babies, and such few treasures as they
could. Mr. Kilburn caught up his gun with one hand and his little girl
with the other, and ran as fast as he could toward the fort. But before
he could reach it he heard a yell, and saw the red men coming up from
the river. Then he knew it would be in vain to try to get in, so he
looked about for a safe place to hide Matty till he could come for her.
He was a brave man, and could fight, so he had no thought of hiding
while his neighbors needed help; but the dear little daughter must he
cared for first.

"In the corner of the lonely pasture which they dared not cross, stood a
big hollow elm, and there the farmer hastily hid Matty, dropping her
down into the dim nook, round the mouth of which young shoots had grown,
so that no one would have suspected any hole was there.

"Lie still, child, till I come; say your prayers and wait for father,’
said the man, as he parted the leaves for a last glance at the small,
frightened face looking up at him.

"’Come soon,’ whispered Matty, and tried to smile bravely, as a stout
settler’s girl should.

"Mr. Kilburn went away, and was taken prisoner in the fight, carried
off, and for years no one knew whether he was alive or dead. People
missed Matty, but supposed she was with her father, and never expected
to see her again. A great while afterward the poor man came back, having
escaped and made his way through the wilderness to his old home. His
first question was for Matty, but no one had seen her; and when he told
them where he had left her, they shook their heads as if they thought he
was crazy. But they went to look, that he might be satisfied; and he
was; for they they found some little bones, some faded bits of cloth,
and two rusty silver buckles marked with Matty’s name in what had once
been her shoes. An Indian arrow lay there, too, showing why she had
never cried for help, but waited patiently so long for father to come
and find her."

If Miss Celia expected to see the last bit of hem done when her story
ended, she was disappointed; for not a dozen stitches had been taken.
Betty was using her crash towel for a handkerchief, and Bab’s lay on the
ground as she listened with snapping eyes to the little tragedy.

"Is it true?" asked Betty, hoping to find relief in being told that it
was not.

"Yes; I have seen the tree, and the mound where the fort was, and the
rusty buckles in an old farmhouse where other Kilburns live, near the
spot where it all happened," answered Miss Celia, looking out the
picture of Victoria to console her auditors.

"We’ll play that in the old apple-tree. Betty can scrooch down, and
I’ll be the father, and put leaves on her, and then I’ll be a great
Injun and fire at her. I can make arrows, and it will be fun, won’t it?"
cried Bab, charmed with the new drama in which she could act the leading
parts.

"No, it won’t! I don’t like to go in a cobwebby hole, and have you play
kill me, I’ll make a nice fort of hay, and be all safe, and you can put
Dinah down there for Matty. I don’t love her any more, now her last eye
has tumbled out, and you may shoot her just as much as yon like."

Before Bab could agree to this satisfactory arrangement, Thorny
appeared, singing, as he aimed at a fat robin, whose red waistcoat
looked rather warm and winterish that August day, –

"So he took up his bow,

And he feathered his arrow,

And said, ‘I will shoot

This little cock-sparrow.’"

But he didn’t," chirped the robin, flying away, with a contemptuous
flirt of his rusty-black tail.

"That is exactly what you must promise not to do, boys. Fire away at
your targets as much as you like, but do not harm any living creature,"
said Miss Celia, as Ben followed armed and equipped with her own long-
unused accoutrements.

"Of course we won’t if you say so; but, with a little practice, I could
bring down a bird as well as that fellow you read to me about with his
woodpeckers and larks and herons," answered Thorny, who had much enjoyed
the article, while his sister lamented over the destruction of the
innocent birds.

"You’d do well to borrow the Squire’s old stuffed owl for a target;
there would be some chance of your hitting him, he is so big," said his
sister, who always made fun of the boy when he began to brag.

Thorny’s only reply was to send his arrow straight up so far out of
sight that it was a long while coming down again to stick quivering in
the ground near by, whence Sancho brought it in his mouth, evidently
highly approving of a game in which he could join.

"Not bad for a beginning. Now, Ben, fire away."

But Ben’s experience with bows was small, and, in spite of his
praiseworthy efforts to imitate his great exemplar, the arrow only
turned a feeble sort of somersault and descended perilously near Bab’s
uplifted nose.

"If you endanger other people’s life and liberty in your pursuit of
happiness, I shall have to confiscate your arms, boys. Take the orchard
for your archery ground; that is safe, and we can see you as we sit
here. I wish I had two hands, so that I could paint you a fine, gay
target;" and Miss Celia looked regretfully at the injured arm, which as
yet was of little use.

"I wish you could shoot, too; you used to beat all the girls, and I was
proud of you," answered Thorny, with the air of a fond elder brother;
though, at the time he alluded to, he was about twelve, and hardly up to
his sister’s shoulder.

"Thank you. I shall be happy to give my place to Bab and Betty if you
will make them some bows and arrows; they could not use those long
ones."

The young gentlemen did not take the hint as quickly as Miss Celia hoped
they would; in fact, both looked rather blank at the suggestion, as boys
generally do when it is proposed that girls – especially small ones –
shall join in any game they are playing.

"P’r’aps it would be too much trouble," began Betty, in her winning
little voice.

"I can make my own," declared Bab, with an independent toss of the head.

"Not a bit; I’ll make you the jolliest small bow that ever was,
Belinda," Thorny hastened to say, softened by the appealing glance of
the little maid.

"You can use mine, Bab; you’ve got such a strong fist, I guess you
could pull it," added Ben, remembering that it would not be amiss to
have a comrade who shot worse than he did, for he felt very inferior to
Thorny in many ways, and, being used to praise, had missed it very much
since he retired to private life.

"I will be umpire, and brighten up the silver arrow I sometimes pin my
hair with, for a prize, unless we can find something better," proposed
Miss Celia, glad to see that question settled, and every prospect of the
new play being a pleasant amusement for the hot weather.

It was astonishing how soon archery became the fashion in that town, for
the boys discussed it enthusiastically all that evening, formed the
"William Tell Club" next day, with Bab and Betty as honorary members,
and, before the week was out, nearly every lad was seen, like young
Norval, "With bended bow and quiver full of arrows," shooting away,
with a charming disregard of the safety of their fellow citizens.
Banished by the authorities to secluded spots, the members of the club
set up their targets and practised indefatigably, especially Ben, who
soon discovered that his early gymnastics had given him a sinewy arm and
a true eye; and, taking Sanch into partnership as picker-up, he got more
shots out of an hour than those who had to run to and fro.

Thorny easily recovered much of his former skill, but his strength had
not fully returned, and he soon grew tired. Bab, on the contrary, threw
herself into the contest heart and soul, and tugged away at the new bow
Miss Celia gave her, for Ben’s was too heavy. No other girls were
admitted, so the outsiders got up a club of their own, and called it
"The Victoria," the name being suggested by the magazine article, which
went the rounds as a general guide and reference book. Bab and Betty
belonged to this club and duly reported the doings of the boys, with
whom they had a right to shoot if they chose, but soon waived the right,
plainly seeing that their absence would be regarded in the light of a
favor.

The archery fever raged as fiercely as the base-ball epidemic had done
before it, and not only did the magazine circulate freely, but Miss
Edgeworth’s story, which was eagerly read, and so much admired that the
girls at once mounted green ribbons, and the boys kept yards of
whip-cord in their pockets like the provident Benjamin of the tale.

Every one enjoyed the new play very much, and something grew out of it
which was a lasting pleasure to many, long after the bows and arrows
were forgotten. Seeing how glad the children were to get a new story,
Miss Celia was moved to send a box of books – old and new – to the
town library, which was but scantily supplied, as country libraries are
apt to be. This donation produced a good effect; for other people hunted
up all the volumes they could spare for the same purpose, and the dusty
shelves in the little room behind the post-office filled up amazingly.
Coming in vacation time they were hailed with delight, and ancient books
of travel, as well as modern tales, were feasted upon by happy young
folks, with plenty of time to enjoy them in peace.

The success of her first attempt at being a public benefactor pleased
Miss Celia very much, and suggested other ways in which she might serve
the quiet town, where she seemed to feel that work was waiting for her
to do. She said little to any one but the friend over the sea, yet
various plans were made then that blossomed beautifully by-and-by.

 

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