Chapter XII. Something About Firecrackers
 

All was in readiness for departure but one thing, and that was the most important of all. Bahama Bill had not put in an appearance and was not expected until the evening of the Fourth of July.

"We shall have to remain over the Fourth after all," said Anderson Rover. "But I imagine that will suit you boys, for you can stay in the city and have some fun."

It did suit all the young folks, and they immediately planned a fine automobile tour for the afternoon, hiring two autos large enough to accommodate all of the girls and boys. The morning was spent in and around the yacht, where Tom and some of the others amused themselves by shooting off their pistols and some firecrackers. Tom had purchased some things for the Fourth the day previous and he had one package which he was careful to keep out of sight.

"I am going to have a barrel of fun with the girls," he said to his brothers. "But don't tell anybody about it."

"What is it?" asked his younger brother.

"Wait and see."

It had been arranged that the whole party should have an early lunch, so that they might start on the automobile ride by one o'clock. Aleck was in charge of the dining room of the yacht and he had spread himself in trimming it with red, white and blue streamers and small flags.

"Oh, how lovely!" cried Dora, as she came in and sat down. "I declare, Aleck, you deserve a great deal of credit." And she gave the colored man a smile which pleased him immensely.

"Where is Tom?" asked Mr. Rover, after all the others were seated.

"I ton't know," answered Hans. "Tidn't he know ve vos to eat a leetle early to tay?"

"He's coming," answered Sam.

Just then Tom came into the dining room holding something in his hand covered with a long paper bag. From under the bag smoke was curling.

"In honor of the Fourth of July!" cried the fun-loving Rover and placed the object upright in the center of the long table. Then he took off the bag with a flourish. There was revealed a big cannon cracker, fully a foot and a half high and several inches in diameter. The fuse was spluttering away at a great rate.

"Tom!" Yelled Mr. Rover in alarm. "Throw that thing out!"

"We'll be blown to pieces!" yelled Fred.

"That's too big to shoot off indoors," added songbird, preparing to run.

"Ve peen knocked to bieces!" groaned Hans, and slid under the table out of sight.

The ladies shrieked and so did the girls. Mrs. Stanhope looked ready to faint, but Tom whispered hastily into her ear and she recovered. Mr. Rover wanted to throw the cannon cracker through a window, but Tom held him back.

The long fuse continued to splutter and all watched it as if fascinated, and the girls put their hands to their ears in anticipation of a fearful explosion. Then came a tiny flash, a strange clicking, and off flew the top of the cannon cracker, sending a shower of confetti of various colors in all directions.

"Oh!" shrieked the girls, and then everybody but Hans set up a laugh. The German youth looked suspiciously out from under the table.

"Vot's der madder--did he go off?" he questioned.

"Yes, he did, Hans," answered Grace. "It was nothing but a cracker full of colored paper instead of powder."

"Is dot so?" Hans got up and looked around. "Vell, I neffer! Looks like ve got a colored snowstorm alretty, hey?" And this caused a roar. It certainly did look like a "colored snowstorm," for the confetti was everywhere, on the table, on their heads and over their clothing. Now it was over everybody was highly amused, even Mrs. Stanhope laughing heartily. As for Aleck, he roared so loudly he could be heard a block up the docks.

"Dat's jess like Massa Tom!" he cried. "I suspicioned he'd be up to somet'ing afo' de day was up. Yo' can't keep him down no mo' dan yo' kin keep a jack rabbit from hoppin', no, sah!"

"It certainly looked like the real thing," was Mr. Rover's comment. "Had it been--"

"I'd never have brought it in here," finished Tom. "I'm sorry if I frightened anybody," he added, looking at Mrs. Stanhope and Mrs. Laning.

"We'll forgive you, Tom," answered Mrs. Stanhope, and Mrs. Laning said she would, provided he wouldn't scare them again that holiday.

After that, the confetti on the table was cleared away and they ate their lunch amid a constant cracking of jokes and bright sayings. Songbird woke up and recited some verses he said he had composed the night before, while lying awake in his berth. Some of these ran in this fashion:

"This is the day I love the best--
The day the small boy knows no rest,--
The day when all our banners soar,
The day when all our cannons roar,
The day when all are free from care,
And shouts and music fill the air!"

"Good for Songbird!" cried Sam.

"Go on, please!" came from the girls, and the poet of Putnam Hall continued:

"I love this land of liberty
From mountains down to flowing sea,
I love its cities and its plains,
Its valleys and its rocky chains,
I'm glad to know that we are free,
And so forever may we be!"

"Hurrah, Songbird, you ought to have that put to music," cried Dick.

"Maybe I will, some day," answered the would-be poet modestly.

"I dink I make some boetry up, too," remarked Hans, after several minutes of serious thought on his part. "Chust you listen vonce!" And he began:

"Dis is der day ven crackers bust
Und fill der air mid bowder tust,
Und ven you shoots your bistol off,
You make a smokes vot makes you cough.
A rocket goes up in der sky--
Der sthick vos hit you in der eye!"

"Three cheers for Hans!" shouted Tom, clapping the German lad on the back. "For real, first class A, No. 1, first chop poetry that can't be beat." And then as the others screamed with laughter Tom went on:

"A little boy,
A can of powder,
A scratch, a flash--
He's gone to chowder!"

"Oh, Tom, what horrible poetry!" cried Nellie, as she shivered.

"Well, I couldn't help it," he said. "I had to say something or--or bust! Perhaps this will suit you better," and he continued:

"A little boy,
A great big gun,
A father yelling
On the run.
The trigger falls,
There is a roar.
The father halts--
The danger's o'er."

"Tom, you're positively the worst boy ever!" said Nellie, but the way she spoke told she meant just the opposite.

"I tell you vot ve vos do, Tom," suggested Hans. "Ve vos form a boetry association alretty, hey? Songpirt can be der bresident."

"What will you be, secretary?" asked Fred.

"No, I vos peen treasurer," answered Hans.

"Hans wants the money," put in Dick.

"Dot's it," answered the German youth calmly. "Ven dem udder fellers makes up pad verses I vos fine dem a tollar, und ven I gits enough tollars I skip me to Canada or Mexigo, hey?" And he said this so comically everybody had to laugh.

The automobiles had been ordered down to the dock and were already in waiting. Each was in charge of a chauffeur, and soon the boys and girls went ashore and piled in. Dick and Dora, Sam and Grace, and Fred got in the first turnout and the others in the second.

"Now do not go too far," said Mrs. Stanhope, "and be sure and keep on roads that are safe."

"And do not stay out later than ten o'clock this evening," added Mrs. Laning.

"Oh, we'll be back safe and sound and on time," cried Dick. "So don't worry about us."

"Those are both powerful machines," was Mr. Rover's comment. "Be careful that you don't exceed the speed limits, or you may be arrested."

"Providing they catch us," answered Tom, with a grin.

It had been decided that they should go out into the country by the way of Germantown, and soon they were bowling along in fine fashion over the smooth city pavement. Here and there they met crowds shooting off pistols and firecrackers.

"It is good we haven't horses," said Sam. "This racket might cause them to run away."

"That is where the automobilist has the advantage over a horse driver, Sam," answered his big brother. "But I must say, some of the young fellows on the street are rather careless."

Scarcely had Dick spoken when the big machine rounded a corner and speeded through a crowd of what were evidently factory hands. They were shooting off pistols and firecrackers and raised a great din. Then one ugly looking young fellow lighted a firecracker and sent it toward the automobile. It landed directly in Dora's lap.

"Oh!" screamed Dora, and tried to draw away.

As quick as a flash Dick leaned forward and caught up the firecracker. As he threw it out of the automobile it exploded close by.

"Do that again, and I'll come back at you!" shouted the elder Rover, and shook his fist at the fellow in the street.

"Dick, did it hurt you?" asked Dora, anxiously.

"Oh, it burst my little finger a trifle, that's all," was the reply. The finger smarted quite some, but Dick did not want to show it.

"We ought to go back and punch his head," was Sam's comment.

"Wonder if they'll try that game on the other auto," said Fred, as he arose to look back.

He saw the street rough throw a lighted firecracker at the other machine. It landed on the floor of the tonneau, but like a flash Tom was after it. The fun-loving Rover held it up, took aim, and sent it straight at the fellow who had first launched it. Bang! went the firecracker, right close to the rough's left ear. He set up a howl of pain, for he had been burnt enough to make it smart well.

"There, he's paid back," said Fred, and then the two automobiles passed on, leaving the roughs in the distance.