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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesUnder The Lilacs - Chapter XX. BEN'S BIRTHDAY
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Under The Lilacs - Chapter XX. BEN'S BIRTHDAY Post by :jetnetbiz Category :Long Stories Author :Louisa May Alcott Date :February 2011 Read :3015

Click below to download : Under The Lilacs - Chapter XX. BEN'S BIRTHDAY (Format : PDF)

Under The Lilacs - Chapter XX. BEN'S BIRTHDAY

A superb display of flags flapped gayly in
the breeze on the September morning when
Ben proudly entered his teens. An irruption
of bunting seemied to have broken out all over the
old house, for banners of every shape and size, color
and design, flew from chimney-top to gable, porch
and gate-way, making the quiet place look as lively
as a circus tent, which was just what Ben most desired
and delighted in.

The boys had been up very early to prepare the
show, and when it was ready enjoyed it hugely, for
the fresh wind made the pennons cut strange capers.
The winged lion of Venice looked as if trying to fly
away home; the Chinese dragon appeared to brandish
his forked tail as he clawed at the Burmese peacock;
the double-headed eagle of Russia pecked at the
Turkish crescent with one beak, while the other
seemed to be screaming to the English royal beast,
"Come on and lend a paw." In the hurry of hoisting
the Siamese elephant got turned upside down,
and now danced gayly on his head, with the stars and
stripes waving proudly over him. A green flag with
a yellow harp and sprig of shamrock hung in sight of
the kitchen window, and Katy, the cook, got breakfast
to the tune of "St. Patrick's day in the morning."
Sancho's kennel was half hidden under a rustling
paper imitation of the gorgeous Spanish banner, and
the scarlet sun-and-moon flag of Arabia snapped and
flaunted from the pole over the coach-house, as a
delicate compliment to Lita, Arabian horses being
considered the finest in the world.

The little girls came out to see, and declared it was
the loveliest sight they ever beheld, while Thorny
played "Hail Columbia" on his fife, and Ben, mounting
the gate-post, crowed long and loud like a happy
cockerel who had just reached his majority. He had
been surprised and delighted with the gifts he found
in his room on awaking and guessed why Miss Celia
and Thorny gave him such pretty things, for among
them was a match-box made like a mouse-trap. The
doggy buttons and the horsey whip were treasures,
indeed, for Miss Celia had not given them when they
first planned to do so, because Sancho's return seemed
to be joy and reward enough for that occasion. But
he did not forget to thank Mrs. Moss for the cake she
sent him, nor the girls for the red mittens which they
had secretly and painfully knit. Bab's was long and
thin, with a very pointed thumb, Betty's short and
wide, with a stubby thumb, and all their mother's
pulling and pressing could not make them look alike,
to the great affliction of the little knitters. Ben,
however, assured them that he rather preferred odd ones,
as then he could always tell which was right and
which left. He put them on immediately and went
about cracking the new whip with an expression of
content which was droll to see, while the children
followed after, full of admiration for the hero of the
day.

They were very busy all the morning preparing for
the festivities to come, and as soon as dinner was over
every one scrambled into his or her best clothes as
fast as possible, because, although invited to come at
two, impatient boys and girls were seen hovering
about the avenue as early as one.

The first to arrive, however, was an uninvited
guest, for just as Bab and Betty sat down on the
porch steps, in their stiff pink calico frocks and white
ruffled aprons, to repose a moment before the party
came in, a rustling was heard among the lilacs, and
out stepped Alfred Tennyson Barlow, looking like a
small Robin Hood, in a green blouse with a silver
buckle on his broad belt, a feather in his little cap
and a bow in his hand.

"I have come to shoot. I heard about it. My
papa told me what arching meant. Will there be
any little cakes? I like them."

With these opening remarks the poet took a seat
and calmly awaited a response. The young ladies,
I regret to say, giggled, then remembering theii
manners, hastened to inform him that there would be
heaps of cakes, also that Miss Celia would not mind
his coming without an invitation, they were quite sure.

"She asked me to come that day. I have been
very busy. I had measles. Do you have them
here?" asked the guest, as if anxious to compare
notes on the sad subject.

"We had ours ever so long ago. What have you
been doing besides having measles?" said Betty,
showing a polite interest.

"I had a fight with a bumble-bee."

"Who beat?" demanded Bab.

"I did. I ran away and he couldn't catch me."

"Can you shoot nicely?

"I hit a cow. She did not mind at all. I guess
she thought it was a fly."

"Did your mother know you were coming?" asked
Bab, feeling an interest in runaways.

"No; she is gone to drive, so I could not ask
her."

"It is very wrong to disobey. My Sunday-school
book says that children who are naughty that way
never go to heaven," observed virtuous Betty, in a
warning tone.

"I do not wish to go," was the startling reply.

"Why not?" asked Betty, severely.

"They don't have any dirt there. My mamma
says so. I am fond of dirt. I shall stay here where
there is plenty of it," and the candid youth began to
grub in the mould with the satisfaction of a genuine
boy.

"I am afraid you're a very bad child."

"Oh yes, I am. My papa often says so and he knows
all about it," replied Alfred with an involuntary
wriggle suggestive of painful memories. Then,
as if anxious to change the conversation from its
somewhat personal channel, he asked, pointing to a
row of grinning heads above the wall, "Do you shoot
at those?"

Bab and Betty looked up quickly and recognized
the familiar faces of their friends peering down at
them, like a choice collection of trophies or targets.

"I should think you'd be ashamed to peek before
the party was ready!" cried Bab, frowning darkly
upon the merry young ladies.

"Miss Celia told us to come before two, and be
ready to receive folks, if she wasn't down," added
Betty, importantly.

"It is striking two now. Come along, girls;" and
over scrambled Sally Folsom, fo11owed by three or
four kindred spirits, just as their hostess appeared.

"You look like Amazons storming a fort," she
said, as the girls cattle up, each carrying her bow and
arrows, while green ribbons flew in every direction.

"How do you do, sir? I have been hoping you
would call again," added Miss Celia, shaking hands
with the pretty boy, who regarded with benign
interest the giver of little cakes.

Here a rush of boys took place, and further remarks
were cut short, for every one was in a hurry to
begin. So the procession was formed at once, Miss
Celia taking the lead, escorted by Ben in the post of
honor, while the boys and girls paired off behind,
arm in arm, bow on Shoulder, in martial array.
Thorny and Billy were the band, and marched before,
fifing and drumming "Yankee Doodle" with a
vigor which kept feet moving briskly, made eyes
sparkle, and young hearts dance under the gay
gowns and summer jackets. The interesting stranger
was elected to bear the prize, laid out on a red pin-
cushion; and did so with great dignity, as he went
beside the standard bearer, Cy Fay, who bore Ben's
choicest flag, snow-white, with a green wreath
surrounding a painted bow and arrow, and with the
letters W. T. C. done in red below.

Such a merry march all about the place, out at the
Lodge gate, up and down the avenue, along the winding
paths, till they halted in the orchard, where the
target stood, and seats were placed for the archers
while they waited for their turns. Various rules and
regulations were discussed, and then the fun began.
Miss Celia had insisted that the girls should be
invited to shoot with the boys; and the lads consented
without much concern, whispering to one another with
condescending shrugs, "Let 'em try, if th@y like; they
can't do any thing."

There were various trials of skill before the great
match came off, and in these trials the young gentlemen
discovered that two at least of the girls could do
something; for Bab and Sally shot better than many
of the boys, and were well rewarded for their exertions
by, the change which took place in the faces and
conversation of their mates.

"Why, Bab, you do as well as if I'd taught you
myself," said Thorny, much surprised and not
altogether pleased at the little girl's skill.

"A lady taught me; and I mean to beat every one
of you," answered Bab, saucily, while her sparkling
eyes turned to Miss Celia with a mischievous
twinkle in them.

"Not a bit of it," declared Thorny, stoutly; but he
went to Ben and whispered, "Do your best, old
fellow, for sister has taught Bab all the scientific
points, and the little rascal is ahead of Billy."

"She won't get ahead of me," said Ben, picking
out his best arrow, and trying the string of his bow
with a confident air which re-assured Thorny, who
found it impossible to believe that a girl ever could,
would, or should excel a boy in any thing he cared
to try.

It really did look as if Bab would beat when the
match for the prize came off; and the children got
more and more excited as the six who were to try
for it took turns at the bull's-eye. Thorny was
umpire, and kept account of each shot, for the arrow
which went nearest the middle would win. Each
had three shots; and very soon the lookers-on saw
that Ben and Bab were the best marksmen, and one
of them would surely get the silver arrow.

Sam, who was too lazy to practise, soon gave up
the contest, saying, as Thorny did, "It wouldn't be
fair for such a big fellow to try with the little chaps,"
which made a laugh, as his want of skill was painfully
evident. But Mose went at it gallantly; and, if his
eye had been as true as his arms were strong, the
"little chaps" would have trembled. But his shots
were none of them as near as Billy's; and he retired
after the third failure, declaring that it was impossible
to shoot against the wind, though scarcely a breath
was stirring.

Sally Folsom was bound to beat Bab, and twanged
away in great style; all in vain, however, as with tall
Maria Newcomb, the third girl who attempted the trial.
Being a little near-sighted, she had borrowed her
sister's eye-glasses, and thereby lessened her chance
of success; for the pinch on her nose distracted her
attention, and not one of her arrows went beyond
the second ring to her great disappointment. Billy
did very well, but got nervous when his last shot
came, and just missed the bull's-eye by being in a
hurry.

Bab and Ben each had one turn more; and, as
they were about even, that last arrow would decidr
the victory. Both had sent a shot into the bull's-eye,
but neither was exactly in the middle; so there was
room to do better, even, and the children crowded
round, crying eagerly, "Now, Ben!" "Now, Bab!"
"Hit her up, Ben!" "Beat him, Bab!" while
Thorny looked as anxious as if the fate of the country
depended on the success of his man. Bab's turn
came first; and, as Miss Celia examined her bow to
see that all was right, the little girl said, With her
eyes on her rival's excited face, --

"I want to beat, but Ben will feel so bad, I 'most
hope I sha'n't."

"Losing a prize sometimes makes one happier than
gaining it. You have proved that you could do better
than most of them; so, if you do not beat, you may
still feet proud," answered Miss Celia, giving back the
bow with a smile that said more than her words.

It seemed to give Bab a new idea, for in a minute
all sorts of recollections, wishes, and plans rushed
through her lively little mind, and she followed a
sudden generous impulse as blindly as she often
did a wilful one.

"I guess he'll beat," she said, softly, with a quick
sparkle of the eyes, as she stepped to her place and
fired without taking her usual careful aim.

Her shot struck almost as near the centre on the
right as her last one had hit on the left; and there
was a shout of delight from the girls as Thorny
announced it before he hurried back to Ben, whispering
anxiously, --

"Steady, old Man, steady; you must beat that, or
we shall never hear the last of it."

Ben did not say, "She won't get ahead of me," as
he had said at the first; he set his teeth, threw off
his hat, and, knitting his brows with a resolute
expression, prepared to take steady aim, though his
heart beat fast and his thumb trembled as he pressed
it on the bowstring.

"I hope you'll beat, I truly do," said Bab, at his
elbow; and, as if the breath that framed the generous
wish helped it on its way, the arrow flew straight
to the bull's-eye, hitting, apparently, the very spot
where Bab's best shot had left a hole.

"A tie! a tie!" cried the girls, as a general rush
took place toward the target.

"No, Ben's is nearest. Ben's beat! Hooray
shouted the boys, throwing up their hats.
There was only a hair's-breadth difference, and
Bab could honestly have disputed the decision; but
she did not, though for an instant she could not
help wishing that the cry had been "Bab's beat!
Hurrah! " it sounded so pleasant. Then she saw
Ben's beaming face, Thorny's intense relief, and
caught the look Miss Celia sent her over the heads
of the boys, and decided, with a sudden warm glow
all over her little face, that losing a prize did
sometimes make one happier than winning it. Up went
her best hat, and she burst out in a shrill, "Rah,
rah, rah!" that sounded very funny coming all alone
after the general clamor had subsided.

"Good for you, Bab! you are an honor to the
club. and I'm proud of you", said Prince Thorny,
with a hearty handshake; for, as his man had won,
he could afford to praise the rival who had put him
on his mettle, though she was a girl.

Bab was much uplifted by the royal commendation,
but a few minutes later felt pleased as well as proud
when Ben, having received the prize, came to her, as
she stood behind a tree sucking her blistered thumb,
while Betty braided up her dishevelled locks.

"I think it would be fairer to call it a tie, Bab, for
it really was, and I want you to wear this. I wanted
the fun of beating, but I don't care a bit for this girl's
thing and I'd rather see it on you."

As he spoke, Ben offered the rosette of green
ribbon which held the silver arrow, and Bab's eyes
brightened as they fell upon the pretty ornament,
for to her "the girl's thing" was almost as good as
the victory.

"Oh no; you must wear it to show who won.
Miss Celia wouldn't like it. I don't mind not getting
it; I did better than all the rest, and I guess I
shouldn't like to beat you," answered Bab, unconsciously
putting into childish words the sweet generosity which
makes so many sisters glad to see their
brothers carry off the prizes of life, while they are
content to know that they have earned them and can
do without the praise.

But if Bab was generous, Ben was just; and
though he could not explain the feeling, would not
consent to take all the glory without giving his little
friend a share.

"You must wear it; I shall feel real mean if you
don't. You worked harder than I did, and it was
only luck my getting this. Do, Bab, to please me,"
he persisted, awkwardly trying to fasten the ornament
in the middle of Bab's' white apron.

"Then I will. Now do you forgive me for losing
Sancho?" asked Bab, with a wistful look which
made Ben say, heartily, --

"I did that when he came home."

"And you don't think I'm horrid?"

"Not a bit of it; you are first-rate, and I'll stand
by you like a man, for you are 'most as good as a
boy!" cried Ben, anxious to deal handsomely with his
feminine rival, whose skill had raised her immensely
in his opinion.

Feeling that he could not improve that last compliment,
Bab was fully satisfied, and let him leave the
prize upon her breast, conscious that she had some
claim to it.

"That is where it should be, and Ben is a true
knight, winning the prize that he may give it to his
lady, while he is content with the victory," said Miss
Celia, laughingly, to Teacher, as the children ran off
to join in the riotous games which soon made the
orchard ring.

"He learned that at the circus 'tunnyments,' as
he calls them. He is a nice boy, and I am much
interested in him; for he has the two things that do
most toward making a man, patience and courage,"
answered Teacher, also as she watched the
young knight play and the honored lady
tearing about in a game of tag.

"Bab is a nice child, too," said Miss Celia; "she
is as quick as a flash to catch an idea and carry it
out, though very often the ideas are wild ones. She
could have won just now, I fancy, if she had tried,
but took the notion into her head that it was nobler
to let Ben win, and so atone for the trouble she gave
him in losing the dog. I saw a very sweet look on
her face just now, and am sure that Ben will never
know why he beat."

"She does such things at school sometimes, and I
can't bear to spoil her little atonements, though they
are not always needed or very wise," answered
Teacher. "Not long ago I found that she had been
giving her lunch day after day to a poor child who
seldom had any, and when I asked her why, she said,
with tears, 'I used to laugh at Abby, because she had
only crusty, dry bread, and so she wouldn't bring
any. I ought to give her mine and be hungry, it was
so mean to make fun of her poorness."

"Did you stop the sacrifice?"

"No; I let Bab 'go halves,' and added an extra
bit to my own lunch, so I could make my contribution
likewise."

"Come and tell me about Abby. I want to make
friends with our poor people, for soon I shall have a
right to help them;" and, putting her arm in Teacher's,
Miss Celia led her away for a quiet chat in the porch,
making her guest's visit a happy holiday by confiding
several plans and asking advice in the friendliest way.

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