Chapter X. A Great Day
 

Never before had such a parade been seen in the little country place, and all along the road cheer after cheer greeted our young friends, for even the few old soldiers who lived in Meadow Brook enjoyed the children's Fourth of July fun.

By lunch time the procession had covered all the ground planned, so from the postoffice the cadets and regulars started back over the shady country road.

And at home they found a surprise awaiting them!

Ice cream on the lawn for everybody in the parade.

Aunt Sarah and Uncle Daniel had set out all the garden benches, and with the two kinds of ice cream made by Dinah and Martha, besides the cookies and jumbles Aunt Sarah supplied, with ice-cold lemonade that John passed around, surely the tired little soldiers and cadets had splendid refreshment!

"My goat almost runned away!" lisped Freddie. "But I held on tight like a real fireman."

"And mine wanted to stop and eat grass in the middle of the big parade," Roy told them.

"Now eat up your ice cream. Nettie, have some more? Jack, you surely need two plates after carrying that bear skin," said Uncle Daniel.

The youngsters did not have to be urged to eat some more of the good things, and so it took quite a while to "finish up the rations," as Uncle Daniel said.

"They're goin' to shoot the old cannon off, father," Harry told Uncle Daniel, "and we're all going over on the pond bank to see them, at three o'clock."

"They're foolish to put powder in that old cracked gun," remarked Uncle Daniel. "Take care, if you go over, that you all keep at a safe distance."

It was not long until three o'clock, and then when all the red-white-and- blue things had been stored away for another year, the boys hurried off to see Peter Burns fire the old cannon.

Quite a crowd of people had gathered about the pond bank, which was a high green wall like that which surrounds a reservoir.

Peter was busy stuffing the powder in the old gun, and all the others looked on anxiously.

"Let's go up in that big limb of the willow tree," suggested Bert. "We can see it all then, and be out of range of the fire."

So the boys climbed up in the low willow, that leaned over the pond bank.

"They're almost ready," Harry said, seeing the crowd scatter.

"Look out!" yelled Peter, getting hold of the long string that would fire the gun.

Peter gave it a tug, then another.

Everybody held their breath, expecting to hear an awful bang, but the gun didn't go off.

Very cautiously Peter stepped nearer the cannon to see what might be the matter, when the next instant with a terrific report the whole cannon flew up in the air!

Peter fell back! His hat seemed to go up with the gun!

"Oh, he's killed!" yelled the people.

"Poor Peter!" gasped Harry.

"He ought to know better!" said Mr. Mason.

"Father said that cannon was dangerous," Harry added.

By this time the crowd had surrounded Peter, who lay so still and looked so white. The Bobbsey boys climbed down from the tree and joined the others.

"He's only unconscious from the shock," spoke up Mr. Mason, who was leaning down very close to Peter. "Stand back, and give him air."

The crowd fell back now, and some of the boys looked around to find the pieces of cannon.

"Don't touch it," said Tom Mason, as a little fellow attempted to pick up a piece of the old gun. "There might be powder in it half lighted."

Mrs. Burns had run over from her home at the report of the accident, and she was now bathing Peter's face with water from the pond.

"He's subject to fainting spells," she told the frightened people, "and I think he'll be all right when he comes to."

Peter looked around, then he sat up and rubbed his eyes.

"Did it go off?" he smiled, remembering the big report.

"Guess it did, and you went off with it," Mr. Mason said. "How do you feel?"

"Oh, I'll be all right when my head clears a bit. I guess I fainted."

"So you did," said Mrs. Burns, "and there's no use scolding you for firing that old gun. Come home now and go to bed; you have had all the fireworks you want for one day."

Quite a crowd followed Peter over to his home, for they could not believe he was not in any way hurt.

"Let us go home," Harry said to his cousin. "We have to get all our fireworks ready before evening."

The boys found all at home enjoying themselves. Freddie's torpedoes still held out, and Flossie had a few more "snakes" left. Nan had company on the lawn, and it indeed was an ideal Fourth of July.

"Look at the balloon!" called John from the carriage house. "It's going to land in the orchard." This announcement caused all the children to hurry up to the orchard, for everybody likes to "catch" a balloon.

"There's a man in it," John exclaimed as the big ball tossed around in the air.

"Yes, that's the balloon that went up from the farmers' picnic," said Harry.

The next minute a parachute shot out from the balloon; and hanging to it the form of a man could be seen.

"Oh, he'll fall!" cried Freddie, all excited. "Let's catch him - in something!"

"He's all right," John assured the little boy. "That umbrella keeps him from coming down too quickly."

"How does it?" Freddie asked.

"Why, you see, sonny, the air gets under the umbrella and holds it up. The man's weight then brings it down gently."

"Oh, maybe he will let us fly up in it," Freddie remarked, much interested.

"Here he comes! here he comes!" the boys called, and sure enough the big parachute, with the man dangling on it, was now coming right down - down - in the harvest-apple tree!

"Hello there!" called the man from above, losing the colored umbrella and quickly dropping himself from the low tree.

"Hello yourself!" answered John. "Did you have a nice ride?"

"First class," replied the man with the stars on his shirt. "But I've got a long walk back to the grove. Could I hire a bicycle around here?"

Harry spoke to his father, and then quickly decided to let the balloon man ride his bicycle down to the picnic grounds.

"You can leave it at the ice-cream stand," Harry told the stranger. "I know the man there, and he will take care of it for me until I call for it."

The children were delighted to talk to a real live man that had been up in a balloon, and the balloonist was indeed very pleasant with the little ones. He took Freddie up in his arms and told him all about how it felt to be up in the sky.

"You're a truly fireman!" Freddie said, after listening to all the dangers there are so far above ground. "I'm a real fireman too!"

Just then the balloon that had been tossing about in the air came down in the other end of the orchard.

"Well, there!" exclaimed the man. "That's good luck. Now, whichever one of you boys gets that balloon first will get ten dollars. That's what we pay for bringing it back!"

With a dash every boy started for the spot where the balloon had landed. There were quite a few others besides the Bobbseys, and they tumbled over each other trying to get there first. Ned Prentice, Nettie's brother, was one of the best runners, and he cut across the orchard to get a clear way out of the crowd.

"Go it, Bert!" called John.

"Keep it up, Harry!" yelled someone else.

"You'd get it, Tom!" came another voice.

But Ned was not in the regular race, and nobody noticed him.

"They've got it," called the excited girls.

"It's Harry!"

"No, it's Bert !"

"'Tisn't either - it's Ned!" called John, as the only poor boy in the crowd proudly touched the big empty gas-bag!

"Three cheers for Ned!" called Uncle Daniel, for he and Mr. Bobbsey had joined in the crowd.

"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" shouted all the boys good-naturedly, for Ned was a favorite companion, besides being one who really needed the money.

"Suppose we drive down," Uncle Daniel suggested. "Then we can bring Ned back with his ten dollars."

This was agreed upon as a good plan, and as quickly as John had hitched up the big wagon ail the boys piled in with the aeronaut and started for the grove.