Under The Lilacs

Louisa May Alcott

Chapter 18 - Bows And Arrows


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.