A Neglected Opportunity

MY prehistoric ancestor, Edward W. Stonehammer, undoubtedly got a large part of his living by the bow and arrow. It was a simple matter for him, in the course of a morning’s hunt, to bring down a woolly mammoth or a cave bear, and thereby provide his family with food for a considerable time. It may be that my love for the ancient weapon has come down the long line from him to me. I, of course, took to the bow for recreation rather than as a means of livelihood; nevertheless I long ago became convinced that with reasonable assiduity a man could support himself by the bow and arrow even to-day — not, perhaps, in luxury and enervating affluence, but at least in modest comfort. This is how I came to think so.

One beautiful October afternoon in my freshman year at college I went down to the ‘Common,’ at the lower end of the town, for a shoot, all by myself. As I entered the little park from the street a flock of white Leghorn hens were feeding slowly away from me at the opposite end of the grounds, and gradually making their way, one by one, through the hedge that formed the rear boundary of one of the abutting back yards.

By the time I had my bow strung and the first arrow nocked, only one hen remained in sight. I had intended to place a piece of paper on the ground for a target, but as I looked down the field the plump body of that snowwhite hen stood out against the dark background of the close-cut grass as the most conspicuous thing in sight — a mark that no true archer, from the aforesaid Mr. Stonehammer down, could have resisted.

The distance was about one hundred yards, and as I loosed the arrow I had no remotest idea of making a hit. The chances were fifty to one against it. I thought only of seeing how near I could come. But that shaft must have been fletched with feathers from a wing of the angel of death. As its long parabola sank to earth there came to my ear that dull ‘tchuck’ which, once heard, is never forgotten.

Then bedlam broke loose. Out of that wildly flopping white mass arose a clamor that assailed high heaven. No emu, no cassowary, no ostrich, not even the roc, it seemed to me, could have made such a din.

I ran as fast as I could toward the stricken bird, expecting every moment that back windows would go up and back doors open, and the accusing eyes of half the neighborhood would fix me with their baleful glare.

But no. The cries subsided, the white mass settled into stillness, no neighbor showed a face.

Having noted the yard into which the other hens had gone, I knew where the corpus delicti belonged; so, hiding my weapons and the dead hen in the hedge, I walked round the block and rang Dr. Parmcnter’s front door bell.

‘Doctor,’ I said, ‘I have been shooting the bow out here on the Common, and have killed one of your hens. I want to pay for it.’

‘Oh, I guess that’s all right. I don’t want anybody to pay for an accident.’

‘But I would much rather pay.’

‘Well, if you feel that way, we’ll call it fifty cents. That’s about what hens are worth now.’

I paid the fifty cents and returned to the hedge. There, as I gazed at my victim, a Great Thought came to me. That hen had died a violent death. One moment she had been in the fullness of life; in the next, translated, even as was Enoch. Moreover, I could see that she had led a reputable and circumspect existence. Her features, now calm in death, showed no signs of dissipation or late hours or worry. Age, too, had been kind. Her eye was not dimmed, nor her natural force abated. She was fit to cat!

With the body wrapped in a newspaper, I made my way to Mrs. Simpson’s, where a little group of us were boarding in ‘commons.’ One of the group acted as steward, in compensation for his meals; and Mrs. Simpson, for a modest stipend, cooked and served the food. At the end of the week each of us got a bill for his share of the cost of meals and service.

I turned my bird over to Cochrane, the steward, and told him my story.

‘Good!’ he said. ‘We’ll have her fricasseed.’

Thus it was that on the morrow we all had a good ‘chicken’ dinner, which, for me, of course, was also a bonus on the fifty cents with which I had expiated my crime.

But that was not the end of the matter. Saturday came, and as usual I found the week’s board bill by my plate; but this time, not as usual, I discovered at the bottom of it, below the footing of what was due, a magic entry, an altogether lovely sentiment: ‘Credit, by one hen, fifty cents.’

You perceive now, of course, why I believe an industrious youth could still make a living with the bow and arrow. I had had my sport, had recovered the whole of my initial investment, and on top of that was one chicken dinner to the good. Any thoughtful person will see the implication; it is inescapable. If one hen a day was good for a clear profit of one meal, two hens would yield two meals, and twenty would produce almost a whole week’s board. The capital required was inconsiderable, the turnover was very rapid. It looked like a sure thing.

No doubt a steady diet of fricasseed hen might pall in time, but that difficulty need not be troublesome. By a simple system of barter, say by meal tickets that should make fricasseed hen legal tender, it would be easy enough to exchange a possibly monotonous diet for one more varied. There will always be plenty of persons who like chicken.