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St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls, Vol. V, August, 1878, No 10. online

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question was for Matty, but no one had seen her; and when he told 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 there
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 farm-house 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, wont it?" cried Bab,
charmed with the new drama in which she could act the leading parts.

"No, it wont! 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 you 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 accouterments.

"Of course we wont 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,
Betcinda," 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 practiced 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.

[Illustration: MATTY KILBURN AND HER FATHER AT THE TREE.]

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 general guide and reference-book. Bab and Betty
belonged to this club also, 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 baseball 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.




CHAPTER XIX.

SPEAKING PIECES.


The first of September came all too soon, and school began. Among the
boys and girls who went trooping up to the "East Corner knowledge-box,"
as they called it, was our friend Ben, with a pile of neat books under
his arm. He felt very strange, and decidedly shy; but put on a bold
face, and let nobody guess that, though nearly thirteen, he had never
been to school before. Miss Celia had told his story to Teacher, and
she, being a kind little woman, with young brothers of her own, made
things as easy for him as she could. In reading and writing he did very
well, and proudly took his place among lads of his own age; but when it
came to arithmetic and geography, he had to go down a long way, and
begin almost at the beginning, in spite of Thorny's efforts to "tool him
along fast." It mortified him sadly, but there was no help for it; and
in some of the classes he had dear little Betty to condole with him when
he failed, and smile contentedly when he got above her, as he soon began
to do, - for she was not a quick child, and plodded through First Parts
long after sister Bab was flourishing away among girls much older than
herself.

Fortunately, Ben was a short boy and a clever one, so he did not look
out of place among the ten and eleven year olders, and fell upon his
lessons with the same resolution with which he used to take a new leap,
or practice patiently till he could touch his heels with his head. That
sort of exercise had given him a strong, elastic little body; this kind
was to train his mind, and make its faculties as useful, quick and sure,
as the obedient muscles, nerves and eye, which kept him safe where
others would have broken their necks. He knew this, and found much
consolation in the fact that, though mental arithmetic was a hopeless
task, he _could_ turn a dozen somersaults, and come up as steady as a
judge. When the boys laughed at him for saying that China was in Africa,
he routed them entirely by his superior knowledge of the animals
belonging to that wild country; and when "First class in reading" was
called, he marched up with the proud consciousness that the shortest boy
in it did better than tall Moses Towne or fat Sam Kitteridge.

Teacher praised him all she honestly could, and corrected his many
blunders so quietly that he soon ceased to be a deep, distressful red
during recitation, and tugged away so manfully that no one could help
respecting him for his efforts, and trying to make light of his
failures. So the first hard week went by, and though the boy's heart had
sunk many a time at the prospect of a protracted wrestle with his own
ignorance, he made up his mind to win, and went at it again on the
Monday with fresh zeal, all the better and braver for a good, cheery
talk with Miss Celia in the Sunday evening twilight.

He did not tell her one of his greatest trials, however, because he
thought she could not help him there. Some of the children rather looked
down upon him, called him "tramp" and "beggar," twitted him with having
been a circus boy, and lived in a tent like a gypsy. They did not mean
to be cruel, but did it for the sake of teasing, never stopping to think
how much such sport can make a fellow-creature suffer. Being a plucky
fellow, Ben pretended not to mind; but he did feel it keenly, because
he wanted to start afresh, and be like other boys. He was not ashamed of
the old life, but finding those around him disapproved of it, he was
glad to let it be forgotten, - even by himself, - for his latest
recollections were not happy ones, and present comforts made past
hardships seem harder than before.

He said nothing of this to Miss Celia, but she found it out, and liked
him all the better for keeping some of his small worries to himself. Bab
and Betty came over on Monday afternoon full of indignation at some
boyish insult Sam had put upon Ben, and finding them too full of it to
enjoy the reading, Miss Celia asked what the matter was. Then both
little girls burst out in a rapid succession of broken exclamations
which did not give a very clear idea of the difficulty:

"Sam didn't like it because Ben jumped farther than he did - - "

"And he said Ben ought to be in the poor-house."

"And Ben said _he_ ought to be in a pig-pen."

"So he had! - such a greedy thing, bringing lovely big apples and not
giving any one a single bite!"

"Then he was mad, and we all laughed, and he said, 'Want to fight?'"

"And Ben said, 'No, thanky, not much fun in pounding a feather-bed.'"

"Oh, he was _awfully_ mad then and chased Ben up the big maple."

"He's there now, for Sam wont let him come down till he takes it all
back."

"Ben wont, and I do believe he'll have to stay up all night," said
Betty, distressfully.

"He wont care, and we'll have fun firing up his supper. Nut-cakes and
cheese will go splendidly; and may be baked pears wouldn't get smashed,
he's such a good catch," added Bab, decidedly relishing the prospect.

"If he does not come by tea-time we will go and look after him. It seems
to me I have heard something about Sam's troubling him before, haven't
I?" asked Miss Celia, ready to defend her protégé against all unfair
persecution.

"Yes'm, Sam and Mose are always plaguing Ben. They are big boys and we
can't make them stop. I wont let the girls do it, and the little boys
don't dare to, since Teacher spoke to them," answered Bab.

"Why does not Teacher speak to the big ones?"

"Ben wont tell of them or let us. He says he'll fight his own battles
and hates tell-tales. I guess his wont like to have us tell you, but I
don't care, for it _is_ too bad," and Betty looked ready to cry over her
friend's tribulations.

"I'm glad you did, for I will attend to it and stop this sort of
thing," said Miss Celia, after the children had told some of the
tormenting speeches which had tried poor Ben.

Just then, Thorny appeared, looking much amused, and the little girls
both called out in a breath: "Did you see Ben and get him down?"

"He got himself down in the neatest way you can imagine," and Thorny
laughed at the recollection.

"Where is Sam?" asked Bab.

"Staring up at the sky to see where Ben has flown to."

"Oh, tell about it!" begged Betty.

"Well, I came along and found Ben treed, and Sam stoning him. I stopped
that at once and told the 'fat boy' to be off. He said he wouldn't till
Ben begged his pardon, and Ben said he wouldn't do it if he stayed up
for a week. I was just preparing to give that rascal a scientific
thrashing when a load of hay came along and Ben dropped on to it so
quietly that Sam, who was trying to bully me, never saw him go. It
tickled me so, I told Sam I guessed I'd let him off that time, and
walked away, leaving him to hunt for Ben and wonder where the dickens he
had vanished to."

The idea of Sam's bewilderment tickled the others as much as Thorny, and
they all had a good laugh over it before Miss Celia asked:

"Where has Ben gone now?"

"Oh, he'll take a little ride and then slip down and race home full of
the fun of it. But I've got to settle Sam. I wont have our Ben hectored
by any one - - "

"But yourself," put in his sister, with a sly smile, for Thorny _was_
rather domineering at times.

"He doesn't mind my poking him up now and then, it's good for him, and I
always take his part against other people. Sam is a bully and so is
Mose, and I'll thrash them both if they don't stop."

Anxious to curb her brother's pugnacious propensities, Miss Celia
proposed milder measures, promising to speak to the boys herself if
there was any more trouble.

"I have been thinking that we should have some sort of merry-making for
Ben on his birthday. My plan was a very simple one, but I will enlarge
it and have all the young folks come, and Ben shall be king of the fun.
He needs encouragement in well-doing, for he does try, and now the first
hard part is nearly over I am sure he will get on bravely. If we treat
him with respect and show our regard for him, others will follow our
example, and that will be better than fighting about it."

"So it will! What shall we do to make our party tip-top?" asked Thorny,
falling into the trap at once, for he dearly loved to get up
theatricals, and had not had any for a long time.

"We will plan something splendid, a 'grand combination,' as you used to
call your droll mixtures of tragedy, comedy, melodrama and farce,"
answered his sister, with her head already full of lively plots.

"We'll startle the natives. I don't believe they ever saw a play in all
their lives, hey Bab?"

"I've seen a circus."

"We dress up and do 'Babes in the Wood,'" added Betty, with dignity.

"Pho! that's nothing. I'll show you acting that will make your hair
stand on end, and you shall act too. Bab will be capital for the naughty
girls," began Thorny, excited by the prospect of producing a sensation
on the boards, and always ready to tease the girls.

Before Betty could protest that she did not want her hair to stand up,
or Bab could indignantly decline the rôle offered her, a shrill whistle
was heard, and Miss Celia whispered, with a warning look:

"Hush! Ben is coming, and he must not know anything about this yet."

The next day was Wednesday, and in the afternoon Miss Celia went to hear
the children "speak pieces," though it was very seldom that any of the
busy matrons and elder sisters found time or inclination for these
displays of youthful oratory. Miss Celia and Mrs. Moss were all the
audience on this occasion, but Teacher was both pleased and proud to see
them, and a general rustle went through the school as they came in, all
the girls turning from the visitors to nod at Bab and Betty, who smiled
all over their round faces to see "Ma" sitting up "side of Teacher," and
the boys grinned at Ben, whose heart began to beat fast at the thought
of his dear mistress coming so far to hear him say his piece.

Thorny had recommended Marco Bozzaris, but Ben preferred John Gilpin,
and ran the famous race with much spirit, making excellent time in some
parts and having to be spurred a little in others, but came out all
right, though quite breathless at the end, sitting down amid great
applause, some of which, curiously enough, seemed to come from outside;
which in fact it did, for Thorny was bound to hear but would not come
in, lest his presence should abash one orator at least.

Other pieces followed, all more or less patriotic and warlike, among the
boys; sentimental among the girls. Sam broke down in his attempt to give
one of Webster's great speeches. Little Cy Fay boldly attacked

"Again to the battle, Achaians!"

and shrieked his way through it in a shrill, small voice, bound to do
honor to the older brother who had trained him, even if he broke a
vessel in the attempt. Billy chose a well-worn piece, but gave it a new
interest by his style of delivery; for his gestures were so spasmodic he
looked as if going into a fit, and he did such astonishing things with
his voice that one never knew whether a howl or a growl would come next.
When

"The woods against a stormy sky
Their giant branches tossed;"

Billy's arms went round like the sails of a windmill; the "hymns of
lofty cheer" not only "shook the depths of the desert gloom," but the
small children on their little benches, and the schoolhouse literally
rang "to the anthems of the free!" When "the ocean eagle soared," Billy
appeared to be going bodily up, and the "pines of the forest roared" as
if they had taken lessons of Van Amburgh's biggest lion. "Woman's
fearless eye" was expressed by a wild glare; "manhood's brow, severely
high," by a sudden clutch at the reddish locks falling over the orator's
hot forehead, and a sounding thump on his blue checked bosom told where
"the fiery heart of youth" was located. "What sought they thus afar?" he
asked, in such a natural and inquiring tone, with his eye fixed on Mamie
Peters, that the startled innocent replied, "Dunno," which caused the
speaker to close in haste, devoutly pointing a stubby finger upward at
the last line.

This was considered the gem of the collection, and Billy took his seat
proudly conscious that his native town boasted an orator who, in time,
would utterly eclipse Edward Everett and Wendell Phillips.

Sally Folsom led off with "The Coral Grove," chosen for the express
purpose of making her friend Almira Mullet start and blush, when she
recited the second line of that pleasing poem,

"Where the purple _mullet_ and gold-fish rove."

One of the older girls gave Wordsworth's "Lost Love" in a pensive tone,
clasping her hands and bringing out the "O" as if a sudden twinge of
toothache seized her when she ended.

"But she is in her grave, and O,
The difference to me!"

Bab always chose a funny piece, and on this afternoon set them all
laughing by the spirit with which she spoke the droll poem, "Pussy's
Class," which some of my young readers may have read. The "meou" and the
"sptzzs" were capital, and when the "fond mamma rubbed her nose," the
children shouted, for Miss Bab made a paw of her hand and ended with an
impromptu purr, which was considered the best imitation ever presented
to an appreciative public. Betty bashfully murmured "Little White
Lilly," swaying to and fro as regularly as if in no other way could the
rhymes be ground out of her memory.

[Illustration: "THE OCEAN EAGLE SOARED."]

"That is all, I believe. If either of the ladies would like to say a few
words to the children, I should be pleased to have them," said Teacher,
politely, pausing before she dismissed school with a song.

"Please'm, I'd like to speak my piece," answered Miss Celia, obeying a
sudden impulse; and, stepping forward with her hat in her hand, she made
a pretty courtesy before she recited Mary Howitt's sweet little ballad,
"Mabel on Midsummer Day."

She looked so young and merry, used such simple but expressive gestures,
and spoke in such a clear, soft voice that the children sat as if
spellbound, learning several lessons from this new teacher, whose
performance charmed them from beginning to end, and left a moral which
all could understand and carry away in that last verse:

"'Tis good to make all duty sweet,
To be alert and kind;
'Tis good, like Little Mabel,
To have a willing mind."

Of course there was an enthusiastic clapping when Miss Celia sat down,
but even while hands applauded, consciences pricked, and undone tasks,
complaining words and sour faces seemed to rise up reproachfully before
many of the children, as well as their own faults of elocution.

"Now we will sing," said Teacher, and a great clearing of throats
ensued, but before a note could be uttered, the half-open door swung
wide, and Sancho, with Ben's hat on, walked in upon his hind legs, and
stood with his paws meekly folded, while a voice from the entry sang
rapidly:

"Benny had a little dog,
His fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Benny went
The dog was sure to go.

He went into the school one day,
Which was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play
To see a dog - - "

Mischievous Thorny got no further, for a general explosion of laughter
drowned the last words, and Ben's command "Out, you rascal!" sent Sanch
to the right-about in double-quick time.

Miss Celia tried to apologize for her bad brother, and Teacher tried to
assure her that it didn't matter in the least as this was always a merry
time, and Mrs. Moss vainly shook her finger at her naughty daughters;
they as well as the others would have their laugh out, and only
partially sobered down when the bell rang for "Attention." They thought
they were to be dismissed, and repressed their giggles as well as they
could in order to get a good start for a vociferous roar when they got
out. But, to their great surprise, the pretty lady stood up again and
said, in her friendly way:

"I just want to thank you for this pleasant little exhibition, and ask
leave to come again, I also wish to invite you all to my boy's birthday
party on Saturday week. The archery meeting is to be in the afternoon,
and both clubs will be there, I believe. In the evening we are going to
have some fun, when we can laugh as much as we please without breaking
any of the rules. In Ben's name I invite you, and hope you will all


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Online LibraryVariousSt. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls, Vol. V, August, 1878, No 10. → online text (page 3 of 11)