How They Ran Away by Louisa M. Alcott
Two little boys sat on the fence whittling
arrows one fine day. Said one little boy
to the other little boy,--
"Let's do something jolly."
"All right. What will we do?"
"Run off to the woods and be hunters."
"What can we hunt?"
"Bears and foxes."
"Mullin says there ain't any round here."
"Well, we can shoot squirrels and snare woodchucks."
"Have n't got any guns and trap."
"We 've got our bows, and I found an old
trap behind the barn."
"What will we eat?"
"Here 's our lunch; and when that's gone we
can roast the squirrels and cook the fish on a
stick. I know how."
"Where will you get the fire?"
"Got matches in my pocket."
"I 've got a lot of things we could use. Let's see."
And as if satisfied at last, cautious Billy
displayed his treasures, while bold Tommy did the
Besides the two knives there were strings,
nails, matches, a piece of putty, fish-hooks, and
two very dirty handkerchiefs.
"There, sir, that 's a first-rate fit-out for
hunters; and with the jolly basket of lunch
Mrs. Mullin gave us, we can get on tip-top
for two or three days," said Tommy, eager to be off.
"Where shall we sleep?" asked Billy, who
liked to be comfortable both night and day.
"Oh, up in trees or on beds of leaves, like
the fellows in our books. If you are afraid, stay
at home; I 'm going to have no end of a good
time." And Tommy crammed the things back
into his pockets as if there were no time to lose.
"Pooh! I ain't afraid. Come on!" And
jumping down Billy caught up his rod, rather
ashamed of his many questions.
No one was looking at them, and they might
have walked quietly off; but that the "running
away" might be all right, both raced down the
road, tumbled over a wall, and dashed into the
woods as if a whole tribe of wild Indians were
"Do you know the way?" panted Billy, when
at last they stopped for breath.
"Yes, it winds right up the mountain; but
we 'd better not keep to it, or some one will see
us and take us back. We are going to be real
hunters and have adventures; so we must get
lost, and find our way by the sun and the stars,"
answered Tommy, who had read so many Boys'
Books his little head was a jumble of Texan
Rangers, African Explorers, and Buffalo Bills;
and he burned to outdo them all.
"What will our mothers say if we really get
lost?" asked Billy, always ready with a question.
"Mine won't fuss. She lets me do what I like."
That was true; for Tommy's poor mamma
was tired of trying to keep the lively little
fellow in order, and had got used to seeing him
come out of all his scrapes without much harm.
"Mine will be scared; she 's always afraid
I 'm going to get hurt, so I 'm careful. But I
guess I 'll risk it, and have some fun to tell
about when we go home," said Billy, trudging
after Captain Tommy, who always took the lead.
These eleven-year-old boys were staying with
their mothers at a farm-house up among the
mountains; and having got tired of the tame
bears, the big barn, the trout brook, the thirty
colts at pasture, and the society of the few little
girls and younger boys at the hotel near by,
these fine fellows longed to break loose and
"rough it in the bush," as the hunters did in
their favorite stories.
Away they went, deeper and deeper into the
great forest that covered the side of the
mountain. A pleasant place that August day; for it
was cool and green, with many brooks splashing
over the rocks, or lying in brown pools
under the ferns. Squirrels chattered and raced
in the tall pines; now and then a gray rabbit
skipped out of sight among the brakes, or a
strange bird flew by. Here and there blackberries
grew in the open places, sassafras bushes
were plentiful, and black-birch bark was ready
"Don't you call this nice?" asked Tommy,
pausing at last in a little dell where a noisy
brook came tumbling down the mountain side,
and the pines sung overhead.
"Yes; but I 'm awful hungry. Let's rest and
eat our lunch," said Billy, sitting down on a
cushion of moss.
"You always want to be stuffing and resting,"
answered sturdy Tommy, who liked to be
moving all the time.
He took the fishing-basket, which hung over
his shoulder by a strap, and opened it carefully;
for good Mrs. Mullin had packed a nice lunch
of bread and butter, cake and peaches, with a
bottle of milk, and two large pickles slipped in
on the sly to please the boys.
Tommy's face grew very sober as he looked
in, for all he saw was a box of worms for bait
and an old jacket.
"By George! we 've got the wrong basket.
This is Mullin's, and he 's gone off with our
prog. Won't he be mad?"
"Not as mad as I am. Why did n't you
look? You are always in such a hurry to start.
What shall we do now without anything to eat?"
whined Billy; for losing his lunch was a dreadful
blow to him.
"We shall have to catch some fish and eat
blackberries. Which will you do, old cry-baby?"
said Tommy, laughing at the other boy's dismal face.
"I 'll fish; I 'm so tired I can't go scratching
round after berries. I don't love 'em, either." And
Billy began to fix his line and bait his hook.
"Lucky we got the worms; you can eat 'em
if you can't wait for fish," said Tommy, bustling
about to empty the basket and pile up their few
possessions in a heap. "There's a quiet pool
below here, you go and fish there. I 'll pick the
berries, and then show you how to get dinner
in the woods. This is our camp; so fly round
and do your best."
Then Tommy ran off to a place near by
where he had seen the berries, while Billy found
a comfortable nook by the pool, and sat scowling
at the water so crossly, it was a wonder any
trout came to his hook. But the fat worms
tempted several small ones, and he cheered up
at the prospect of food. Tommy whistled while
he picked, and in half an hour came back with
two quarts of nice berries and an armful of dry
sticks for the fire.
"We 'll have a jolly dinner, after all," he said,
as the flames went crackling up, and the dry
leaves made a pleasant smell.
"Got four, but don't see how we 'll ever cook
'em; no frying-pan," grumbled Billy, throwing
down the four little trout, which he had half
"Don't want any. Broil 'em on the coals, or
toast 'em on a forked stick. I 'll show you how,"
said cheerful Tommy, whittling away, and feeding
his fire as much like a real hunter as a small
boy could be.
While he worked, Billy ate berries and sighed
for bread and butter. At last, after much trouble,
two of the trout were half cooked and eagerly
eaten by the hungry boys. But they were very
different from the nice brown ones Mrs. Mullin
gave them; for in spite of Tommy's struggles
they would fall in the ashes, and there was no
salt to eat with them. By the time the last were
toasted, the young hunters were so hungry they
could have eaten anything, and not a berry was left.
"I set the trap down there, for I saw a hole
among the vines, and I should n't wonder if we
got a rabbit or something," said Tommy, when
the last bone was polished. "You go and catch
some more fish, and I 'll see if I have caught any
old chap as he went home to dinner."
Off ran Tommy; and the other boy went
slowly back to the brook, wishing with all his
might he was at home eating sweet corn and berry pie.
The trout had evidently gone to their dinners,
for not one bite did poor Billy get; and he was
just falling asleep when a loud shout gave him
such a fright that he tumbled into the brook up
to his knees.
"I 've got him! Come and see! He's a
bouncer," roared Tommy, from the berry bushes
some way off.
Billy scrambled out, and went as fast as his
wet boots would let him, to see what the prize
was. He found Tommy dancing wildly round
a fat gray animal, who was fighting to get his
paws out of the trap, and making a queer noise
as he struggled about.
"What is it?" asked Billy, getting behind a
tree as fast as possible; for the thing looked
fierce, and he was very timid.
"A raccoon, I guess, or a big woodchuck.
Won't his fur make a fine cap? I guess the
other fellows will wish they 'd come with us,"
said Tommy, prancing to and fro, without the
least idea what to do with the creature.
"He 'll bite. We 'd better run away and wait
till he 's dead," said Billy.
"Wish he 'd got his head in, then I could
carry him off; but he does look savage, so we'll
have to leave him awhile, and get him when we
come back. But he's a real beauty." And
Tommy looked proudly at the bunch of gray
fur scuffling in the sand.
"Can we ever eat him?" asked hungry Billy,
ready for a fried crocodile if he could get it.
"If he 's a raccoon, we can; but I don't know
about woodchucks. The fellows in my books
don't seem to have caught any. He 's nice and
fat; we might try him when he 's dead," said
Tommy, who cared more for the skin to show
than the best meal ever cooked.
The sound of a gun echoing through the
wood gave Tommy a good idea,--
"Let's find the man and get him to shoot this
chap; then we need n't wait, but skin him right
away, and eat him too."
Off they went to the camp; and catching up
their things, the two hunters hurried away in the
direction of the sound, feeling glad to know that
some one was near them, for two or three hours
of wood life made them a little homesick.
They ran and scrambled, and listened and
called; but not until they had gone a long way
up the mountain did they find the man, resting
in an old hut left by the lumbermen. The
remains of his dinner were spread on the floor,
and he lay smoking, and reading a newspaper,
while his dog dozed at his feet, close to a
He looked surprised when two dirty, wet
little boys suddenly appeared before him,--one
grinning cheerfully, the other looking very
dismal and scared as the dog growled and glared
at them as if they were two rabbits.
"Hollo!" said the man.
"Hollo!" answered Tommy.
"Who are you?" asked the man.
"Hunters," said Tommy.
"Had good luck?" And the man laughed.
"First-rate. Got a raccoon in our trap, and
we want you to come and shoot him," answered
"Sure?" said the man, looking interested as
well as amused.
"No; but I think so."
"What's he like?"
Tommy described him, and was much disappointed
when the man lay down again, saying,
with another laugh,--
"It's a woodchuck; he's no good."
"But I want the skin."
"Then don't shoot him, let him die; that's
better for the skin," said the man, who was
tired and did n't want to stop for such poor game.
All this time Billy had been staring hard at
the sandwiches and bread and cheese on the
floor, and sniffing at them, as the dog sniffed at
"Want some grub?" asked the man, seeing
the hungry look.
"I just do! We left our lunch, and I 've only
had two little trout and some old berries since
breakfast," answered Billy, with tears in his eyes
and a hand on his stomach.
"Eat away then; I 'm done, and don't want
the stuff." And the man took up his paper as
if glad to be let alone.
It was lucky that the dog had been fed, for in
ten minutes nothing was left but the napkin;
and the boys sat picking up the crumbs, much
refreshed, but ready for more.
"Better be going home, my lads; it's pretty
cold on the mountain after sunset, and you are
a long way from town," said the man, who had
peeped at them over his paper now and then,
and saw, in spite of the dirt and rips, that they
were not farmer boys.
"We don't live in town; we are at Mullin's, in
the valley. No hurry; we know the way, and
we want to have some sport first. You seem to
have done well," answered Tommy, looking
enviously from the gun to the game-bag, out of
which hung a rabbit's head and a squirrel's tail.
"Pretty fair; but I want a shot at the bear.
People tell me there is one up here, and I 'm
after him; for he kills the sheep, and might hurt
some of the young folks round here," said the
man, loading his gun with a very sober air; for
he wanted to get rid of the boys and send them home.
Billy looked alarmed; but Tommy's brown
face beamed with joy as he said eagerly,--
"I hope you 'll get him. I 'd rather shoot a
bear than any other animal but a lion. We
don't have those here, and bears are scarce.
Mullin said he had n't heard of one for a long
time; so this must be a young one, for they
killed the big one two years ago."
That was true, and the man knew it. He did
not really expect or want to meet a bear, but
thought the idea of one would send the little
fellows home at once. Finding one of them was
unscared, he laughed, and said with a nod to
"If I had time I 'd take you along, and show
you how to hunt; but this fat friend of yours
could n't rough it with us, and we can't leave him
alone; so go ahead your own way. Only I
wouldn't climb any higher, for among the
rocks you are sure to get hurt or lost."
"Oh, I say, let's go! Such fun, Billy! I
know you'll like it. A real gun and dog and
hunter! Come on, and don't be a molly-coddle,"
cried Tommy, wild to go.
"I won't! I'm tired, and I'm going home;
you can go after your old bears if you want to.
I don't think much of hunting anyway, and
wish I had n't come," growled Billy, very cross
at being left out, yet with no desire to scramble
"Can't stop. Good-by. Get along home, and
some day I 'll come and take you out with me,
little Leatherstocking," said the man, striding
off with the dear gun and dog and bag, leaving
Billy to wonder what he meant by that queer
name, and Tommy to console himself with the
promise made him.
"Let's go and see how old Chucky gets
on," he said good-naturedly, when the man vanished.
"Not till I 'm rested. I can get a good nap
on this pile of hay; then we'll go home before
it's late," answered lazy Billy, settling himself on
the rough bed the lumbermen had used.
"I just wish I had a boy with some go in
him; you ain't much better than a girl," sighed
Tommy, walking off to a pine-tree where some
squirrels seemed to be having a party, they
chattered and raced up and down at such a rate.
He tried his bow and shot all his arrows many
times in vain, for the lively creatures gave him
no chance. He had better luck with a brown
bird who sat in a bush and was hit full in the
breast with the sharpest arrow. The poor thing
fluttered and fell, and its blood wet the green
leaves as it lay dying on the grass. Tommy
was much pleased at first; but as he stood
watching its bright eye grow dim and its pretty
brown wings stop fluttering, he felt sorry that
its happy little life was so cruelly ended, and
ashamed that his thoughtless fun had given so
"I 'll never shoot another bird except hawks
after chickens, and I won't brag about this one.
It was so tame, and trusted me, I was very mean
to kill it."
As he thought this, Tommy smoothed the
ruffled feathers of the dead thrush, and, making
a little grave under the pine, buried it wrapped
in green leaves, and left it there where its mate
could sing over it, and no rude hands disturb
"I 'll tell mamma and she will understand; but
I won't tell Billy. He is such a greedy old chap
he'll say I ought to have kept the poor bird to
eat," thought Tommy, as he went back to the hut,
and sat there, restringing his bow, till Billy woke
up, much more amiable for his sleep.
They tried to find the woodchuck, but lost
their way, and wandered deeper into the great
forest till they came to a rocky place and could
go no farther. They climbed up and tumbled
down, turned back and went round, looked at
the sun and knew it was late, chewed sassafras
bark and checkerberry leaves for supper, and
grew more and more worried and tired as hour
after hour went by and they saw no end to
woods and rocks. Once or twice they heard
the hunter's gun far away, and called and tried
to find him.
Tommy scolded Billy for not going with the
man, who knew his way and was probably safe in
the valley when the last faint shot came up to
them. Billy cried, and reproached Tommy for
proposing to run away; and both felt very
homesick for their mothers and their good safe beds
at Farmer Mullin's.
The sun set, and found them in a dreary place
full of rocks and blasted trees half-way up the
mountain. They were so tired they could hardly
walk, and longed to lie down anywhere to sleep;
but, remembering the hunter's story of the bear,
they were afraid to do it, till Tommy suggested
climbing a tree, after making a fire at the foot
of it to scare away the bear, lest he climb too
and get them.
But, alas! the matches were left in their first
camp; so they decided to take turns to sleep
and watch, since it was plain that they must
spend the night there. Billy went up first, and
creeping into a good notch of the bare tree
tried to sleep, while brave Tommy, armed with
a big stick, marched to and fro below. Every
few minutes a trembling voice would call from
above, "Is anything coming?" and an anxious
voice would answer from below, "Not yet.
Hurry up and go to sleep! I want my turn."
At last Billy began to snore, and then Tommy
felt so lonely he could n't bear it; so he climbed
to a lower branch, and sat nodding and trying
to keep watch, till he too fell fast asleep, and
the early moon saw the poor boys roosting
there like two little owls.
A loud cry, a scrambling overhead, and then
a great shaking and howling waked Tommy so
suddenly that he lost his wits for a moment and
did not know where he was.
"The bear! the bear! don't let him get me!
Tommy, Tommy, come and make him let go,"
cried Billy, filling the quiet night with dismal howls.
Tommy looked up, expecting to behold a large
bear eating his unhappy friend; but the
moonlight showed him nothing but poor Billy
dangling from a bough, high above the ground,
caught by his belt when he fell. He had been
dreaming of bears, and rolled off his perch; so
there he hung, kicking and wailing, half awake,
and so scared it was long before Tommy could
make him believe that he was quite safe.
How to get him down was the next question.
The branch was not strong enough to bear
Tommy, though he climbed up and tried to
unhook poor Billy. The belt was firmly twisted
at the back, and Billy could not reach to undo
it, nor could he get his legs round the branch
to pull himself up. There seemed no way but
to unbuckle the belt and drop. That he was
afraid to try; for the ground was hard, and
the fall a high one. Fortunately both belt and
buckle were strong; so he hung safely, though
very uncomfortably, while Tommy racked his
boyish brain to find a way to help him.
Billy had just declared that he should be cut
in two very soon if something was not done for
him, and Tommy was in despair, when they
thought they heard a far-off shout, and both
answered it till their throats were nearly split
"I seem to see a light moving round down
that way," cried Billy from his hook, pointing
toward the valley.
"They are looking for us, but they won't hear
us. I 'll run and holler louder, and bring 'em
up here," answered Tommy, glad to do anything
that would put an end to this dreadful
state of things.
"Don't leave me! I may fall and be killed!
The bear might come! Don't go! don't go!"
wailed Billy, longing to drop, but afraid.
"I won't go far, and I 'll come back as quick
as I can. You are safe up there. Hold on, and
we 'll soon get you down," answered Tommy,
rushing away helter-skelter, never minding where
he went, and too much excited to care for any damage.
The moon was bright on the blasted trees;
but when he came down among the green pines,
it grew dark, and he often stumbled and fell.
Never minding bumps and bruises, he scrambled
over rocks, leaped fallen trunks, floundered
through brooks, and climbed down steep places,
till, with a reckless jump, he went heels over
head into a deep hole, and lay there for a
moment stunned by the fall. It was an old
bear-trap, long unused, and fortunately well carpeted
with dead leaves, or poor Tommy would have
broken his bones.
When he came to himself he was so used up
that he lay still for some time in a sort of daze,
too tired to know or care about anything, only
dimly conscious that somebody was lost in a
tree or a well, and that, on the whole, running
away was not all fun.
By and by the sound of a gun roused him;
and remembering poor Billy, he tried to get
out of the pit,--for the moon showed him where
he was. But it was too deep, and he was too
stiff with weariness and the fall to be very
nimble. So he shouted, and whistled, and
raged about very like a little bear caught in
It is very difficult to find a lost person on these
great mountains, and many wander for hours not
far from help, bewildered by the thick woods,
the deep ravines, and precipices which shut them
in. Some have lost their lives; and as Tommy
lay on the leaves used up by his various struggles,
he thought of all the stories he had lately heard
at the farm, and began to wonder how it would
feel to starve to death down there, and to wish
poor Billy could come to share his prison, that
they might die together, like the Babes in the
Wood, or better still the Boy Scouts lost on the
prairies in that thrilling story, "Bill Boomerang,
the Wild Hunter of the West."
"I guess mother is worried this time, because
I never stayed out all night before, and I never
will again without leave. It's rather good fun,
though, if they only find me. I ain't afraid, and
it is n't very cold. I always wanted to sleep out,
and now I 'm doing it. Wish poor Billy was
safely down and in this good bed with me.
Won't he be scared all alone there? Maybe the
belt will break and he get hurt bumping down.
Sorry now I left him, he's such a 'fraid-cat.
There's the gun again! Guess it's that man after
us. Hi! hollo! Here I am! Whoop! Hurrah!
Hi! hi! hi!"
Tommy's meditations ended in a series of
yells as loud as his shrill little voice could make
them, and he thought some one answered. But
it must have been an echo, for no one came; and
after another rampage round his prison, the
poor boy nestled down among the leaves, and
went fast asleep because there was nothing else
So there they were, the two young hunters,
lost at midnight on the mountain,--one hanging
like an apple on the old tree, and the other sound
asleep in a bear-pit. Their distracted mothers
meantime were weeping and wringing their hands
at the farm, while all the men in the
neighborhood were out looking for the lost boys. The
hunter on his return to the hotel had reported
meeting the runaways and his effort to send
them home in good season; so people knew
where to look, and, led by the man and dog, up
the mountain went Mr. Mullin with his troop.
It was a mild night, and the moon shone high and
clear; so the hunt was, on the whole, rather easy
and pleasant at first, and lanterns flashed through
the dark forest like fireflies, the lonely cliffs
seemed alive with men, and voices echoed in
places where usually only the brooks babbled and
the hawks screamed. But as time went on, and
no sign of the boys appeared, the men grew
anxious, and began to fear some serious harm
had come to the runaways.
"I can't go home without them little shavers
no way, 'specially Tommy," said Mr. Mullin, as
they stopped to rest after a hard climb through
the blasted grove. "He's a boy after my own
heart, spry as a chipmunk, smart as a young
cockerel, and as full of mischief as a monkey.
He ain't afraid of anything, and I should n't be a
mite surprised to find him enjoyin' himself
first-rate, and as cool as a coocumber."
"The fat boy won't take it so easily, I fancy.
If it had n't been for him I 'd have kept the
lively fellow with me, and shown him how to
hunt. Sorry now I did n't take them both
home," said the man with the gun, seeing his
mistake too late, as people often do.
"Maybe they 've fell down a precipice and
got killed, like Moses Warner, when he was
lost," suggested a tall fellow, who had shouted
"Hush up, and come on! The dog is barkin'
yonder, and he may have found 'em," said the
farmer, hurrying toward the place where the
hound was baying at something in a tree.
It was poor Billy, hanging there still, half
unconscious with weariness and fear. The belt
had slipped up under his arms, so he could
breathe easily; and there he was, looking like a
queer sort of cone on the blasted pine.
"Wal, I never!" exclaimed the farmer, as
the tall lad climbed up, and, unhooking Billy,
handed him down like a young bird, into the
arms held up to catch him.
"He 's all right, only scared out of his
wits. Come along and look for the other
one. I 'll warrant he went for help, and may be
half-way home by this time," said the hunter,
who did n't take much interest in the fat boy.
Tommy's hat lay on the ground; and showing
it to the dog, his master told him to find the
boy. The good hound sniffed about, and then
set off with his nose to the ground, following
the zigzag track Tommy had taken in his hurry.
The hunter and several of the men went after
him, leaving the farmer with the others to take
care of Billy.
Presently the dog came to the bear-pit, and
began to bark again.
"He 's got him!" cried the men, much
relieved; and rushing on soon saw the good beast
looking down at a little white object in one
corner of the dark hole.
It was Tommy's face in the moonlight, for the
rest of him was covered up with leaves. The
little round face seemed very quiet; and for a
moment the men stood quite still, fearing that
the fall might have done the boy some harm.
Then the hunter leaped down, and gently
touched the brown cheek. It was warm, and
a soft snore from the pug nose made the man
call out, much relieved,--
"He 's all right. Wake up here, little chap;
you are wanted at home. Had hunting enough
for this time?"
As he spoke, Tommy opened his eyes, gave
a stretch, and said, "Hollo, Billy," as calmly as
if in his own bed at home. Then the rustle of
the leaves, the moonlight in his face, and the
sight of several men staring down at him
startled him wide awake.
"Did you shoot the big bear?" he asked,
looking up at the hunter with a grin.
"No; but I caught a little one, and here he
is," answered the man, giving Tommy a roll in
the leaves, much pleased because he did not
whine or make a fuss.
"Got lost, didn't we? Oh, I say, where's
Billy? I left him up a tree like a coon, and he
would n't come down," laughed Tommy, kicking
off his brown bed-clothes, and quite ready to
get up now.
They all laughed with him; and presently,
when the story was told, they pulled the boy
out of the pit, and went back to join the other
wanderer, who was now sitting up eating the
bread and butter Mrs. Mullin sent for their very
The men roared again, as the two boys told
their various tribulations; and when they had
been refreshed, the party started for home,
blowing the tin horns, and firing shot after shot to
let the scattered searchers know that the lost
children were found. Billy was very quiet, and
gladly rode on the various broad backs offered
for his use; but Tommy stoutly refused to be
carried, and with an occasional "boost" over a
very rough place, walked all the way down on
his own sturdy legs. He was the hero of the
adventure, and was never tired of relating how
he caught the woodchuck, cooked the fish, slid
down the big rock, and went to bed in the old
bear-pit. But in his own little mind he resolved
to wait till he was older before he tried to be a
hunter; and though he caught several woodchucks
that summer, he never shot another
harmless little bird.