The Broken Bow

THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB

THERE was a rending crash. Something struck me keenly in the face, just missing the eyes and — my glasses. My eyes had flashed shut instinctively. What it was, I did not know. I opened my eyes again to a strange thing.

I still was grasping my yew bow at arm’s length by its plush handle. My arrow-hand still was back beneath my ear, the fingers straightened from the loose, the elbow shoulder-high; but the upper half of the bow was gone! Part of it dangled from my arm, the bowstring still attached and flung across. The rest, in five ruddy, shining fragments, littered the sward beneath my feet. I stood a-daze.

That bow was my friend; made for me by a friend skilled in such craft, whose clever fingers earned high rewards from others, but who made this one for me in right friendly comradeship. Four years of constant usage had made me wise to all its dainty, pretty whims — its soft dalliance and laziness when August suns were fierce, demanding a longer draw and a higher lift to carry the arrow down; its steely hardening to a Northman’s nerve when chill October drifted into colder November. Right then, to draw it to the full demanded somewhat of the Northman’s grim set grit, with well-nigh every muscle in the body braced. But such are the ways of yew, clear even in their feminine whimsies to the owner bowman; and now it was — gone!

Why, not two days back we had been shooting all that golden afternoon, and I had rolled up at the shorter ranges the best score of my life. To wind up the day, a bulkier mate mirthfully challenged me to ‘shoot a few at the hundred yards,’ alongside of his bow of nearly twice its strength. Joyously I assented; we tramped back to that far stance in the tangled grass, and shaft for shaft we sent, our arrows arching down the range. One of his thudded into the target somewhere, two of mine were in the very gold. I whooped my glee. They do not always end like that, our impromptu matches.

Not two days back! yet never again.

How many years had that yew-tree been growing high up, thousands of feet up the rugged ledges of a mountain in far Oregon? Years enough for it to reach a height of perhaps six feet or somewhat more — a trunk-thickness of full eight inches, beaten to that height stubbily by the blasting wintry hail; the? wood hammered hard and tough by storms that not even a gull could face; shone upon by golden sunlight that spread a scent of resin on the quivering heat of a day in summer, a darker tinge to the feathery fingertips of green that fringed the branches. Came a man, then, wise in woodcraft, leading a band of axemen, bidding them to cut this and that, as his keen eye swept, over and discarded trunks of twisted grain. Afterward, for years, a little pile of three-foot logs lay under a rude shelter, seasoning, drying out the weakening sap, hardening the fibres of the wood; and at the last, a six-day train-journey across country brought it to my friend. Already it was cleft into triangularsectioned staves and ready to his hand.

Cunningly he chose one, marked the butt across with a broad pencil, then split the stave from end to end and roughly blocked each piece into the semblance of one half of a bow. Then he placed their two marked butts end to end, and joined them there in longfingered, dovetailed splice. A right knowing bit of woodcraft that; for the log might be uneven in its toughness, wavering in its grain; and now, every inch on one side of that bow’s centre has its duplicate of strain upon the other, its very twin.

Then that friend of mine lovingly touched with his keen-edged tools the scented wood, and carved it down, down, in tapering slopes whose secret of strength and tension when bent, is known only to master-craftsmen. Wherever the grain swerved from the straight, faithfully followed that tool, like a hound upon the trail, along its curving, so that no fraction of an inch, even, should be cut across it. The harder, ivory-white sapwood from just under the bark became the bow-back; the red-cedar heartwood of the rest shone ruddily under the final polishing. The horn tips gleamed six feet apart, like dull opals of darkening gray. Then, last of all, a hand-grip of sturdy leather bound the cent re and masked the splice.

Such a bow is a treasure for a warrior’s worth! Its draw and loose are velvet-soft; yet its cast is a long arc, yards on yards lower than that from harder, harsher woods like ash and lance; and all day long one shoots and shoots, and knows no weariness while daylight lingers and the target gleams.

I look me back across the years to many a day like that. They have been years full of joy and comradeship. They are years to be lived over again in the winter nights, when the snow is swirling in the glare of the firelight past the windows; for — a friend gave them to me, those years. I have had them and their joy at his hand! So, in the years to come, I shall have their echoes still, though in fact I now am bow-bereft.