It was the morning of the Fourth, and Frank was so anxious to get through with his wood-sawing, and begin celebrating with the rest of the boys, that he hardly knew what to do. He had a levvy (as the old Spanish real used to be called in southern Ohio) in his pocket, and he was going to buy a pack of shooting-crackers for ten cents, and spend the other two cents for powder. He had no pistol, but he knew a fellow that would lend him his pistol part of the time, and he expected to have about the best Fourth he ever had. He had been up since three o’clock watching the men fire the old six-pounder on the river-bank; and he was going to get his mother to let him go up to the fireworks in the court-house yard after dark.
But now it did not seem as if he could get wood enough sawed. Twice he asked his mother if she thought he had enough, but she said “Not near,” and just as Jake Milrace rode up the saw caught in a splinter of the tough oak log Frank was sawing and bumped back against Frank’s nose; and he would have cried if it had not been for what Jake began to say.
He said he was going to Pawpaw Bottom to spend the Fourth at a fellow’s named Dave Black, and he told Frank he ought to go too; for there were plenty of mulberries on Dave’s father’s farm, and the early apples were getting ripe enough to eat, if you pounded them on a rock; and you could go in swimming, and everything. Jake said there was the greatest swimming-hole at Pawpaw Bottom you ever saw, and they had a log in the water there that you could have lots of fun with. Frank ran into the house to ask his mother if he might go, and he hardly knew what to do when she asked him if there was wood enough yet to get dinner and supper. But his Aunt Manda was spending the summer with his mother, and she said she reckoned she could pick up chips to do all the cooking they needed, such a hot day; and Frank ran out to the cow-house, where they kept the pony, because the Bakers had no stable, and saddled him, and was off with Jake Milrace in about a minute.
The pony was short and fat and lazy, and he had to be whipped to make him keep up with Jake’s horse. It was not exactly Jake’s horse; it was his sister’s husband’s horse, and he had let Jake have it because he would not be using it himself on the Fourth of July. It was tall and lean, and it held its head so high up that it was no use to pull on the bridle when it began to jump and turn round and round, which it did every time Frank whipped his pony to keep even with Jake. It would shy and sidle, and dart so far ahead that the pony would get discouraged and would lag back, and have to be whipped up again; and then the whole thing would have to be gone through with the same as at first. The boys did not have much chance to talk, but they had a splendid time riding along, and when they came to a cool, dark place in the woods they pretended there were Indians; and at the same time they kept a sharp eye out for squirrels. If they had seen any, and had a gun with them, they could have shot one easily, for squirrels are not afraid of you when you are on horseback; and, as it was, Jake Milrace came pretty near killing a quail that they saw in the road by a wheat-field. He dropped his bridle and took aim with his forefinger, and pulled back his thumb like a trigger; and if his horse had not jumped, and his finger had been loaded, he would surely have killed the quail, it was so close to him. They could hear the bob-whites whistling all through the stubble and among the shocks of wheat.
Jake did not know just where Dave Black’s farm was, but after a while they came to a blacksmith’s shop, and the blacksmith told them to take a lane that they would come to on the left, and then go through a piece of woods and across a field till they came to a creek; then ford the creek and keep straight on, and they would be in sight of the house. It did not seem strange to Frank that they should be going to visit a boy without knowing where he lived, but afterwards he was not surprised when Dave Black’s folks did not appear to expect them. They kept on, and did as the blacksmith told them, and soon enough they got to a two-story log-cabin, with a man in front of it working at a wheat-fan, for it was nearly time to thresh the wheat. The man said he was Dave Black’s father; he did not act as if he was very glad to see them, but he told them to put their horses in the barn, and he said that Dave was out in the pasture hauling rails.
Frank thought that was a queer way of spending the Fourth of July, but he did not say anything, and on their way out to the pasture Jake explained that Dave’s father was British, and did not believe much in the Fourth of July, anyway. They found Dave easily enough, and he answered Jake’s “Hello!” with another when the boys came up. He had a two-horse wagon, and he was loading it with rails from a big pile; there were two dogs with him, and when they saw the boys they came towards them snarling and ruffling the hair on their backs. Jake said not to mind them—they would not bite; but they snuffed so close to Frank’s bare legs that he wished Dave would call them off. They slunk away, though, when they heard him speak to the boys; and then Jake Milrace told Dave Black who Frank was, and they began to feel acquainted, especially when Jake said they had come to spend the Fourth of July with Dave.
He said, “First rate,” and he explained that he had his foot tied up the way they saw because he had a stone-bruise which he had got the first day he began to go barefoot in the spring; but now it was better. He said there was a bully swimming-hole in the creek, and he would show them where it was as soon as he had got done hauling his rails. The boys took that for a kind of hint, and they pulled off their roundabouts and set to work with him.
Frank thought it was not exactly like the Fourth, but he did not say anything, and they kept loading up the rails and hauling them to the edge of the field where Dave’s father was going to build the fence, and then unloading them, and going back to the pile for more. It seemed to Frank that there were about a thousand rails in that pile, and they were pretty heavy ones—oak and hickory and walnut—and you had to be careful how you handled them, or you would get your hands stuck full of splinters. He wondered what Jake Milrace was thinking, and whether it was the kind of Fourth he had expected to have; but Jake did not say anything, and he hated to ask him. Sometimes it appeared to Frank that sawing wood was nothing to it; but they kept on loading rails, and unloading them in piles about ten feet apart, where they were wanted; and then going back to the big pile for more. They worked away in the blazing sun till the sweat poured off their faces, and Frank kept thinking what a splendid time the fellows were having with pistols and shooting-crackers up in the Boy’s Town; but still he did not say anything, and pretty soon he had his reward. When they got half down through the rail-pile they came to a bumblebees’ nest, which the dogs thought was a rat-hole at first. One of them poked his nose into it, but he pulled it out quicker than wink and ran off howling and pawing his face and rubbing his head in the ground or against the boys’ legs. Even when the dogs found out that it was not rats they did not show any sense. As soon as they rubbed a bee off they would come yelping and howling back for more; and hopping round and barking; and then when they got another bee, or maybe a half-dozen (for the bees did not always fight fair), they would streak off again and jump into the air, and roll on the ground till the boys almost killed themselves laughing.
The boys went into the woods, and got pawpaw branches, and came back and fought the bumblebees till they drove them off. It was just like the battle of Bunker Hill; but Frank did not say so, because Dave’s father was British, till Dave said it himself, and then they all pretended the bees were Mexicans; it was just a little while after the Mexican War. When they drove the bees off, they dug their nest out; it was beautifully built in regular cells of gray paper, and there was a little honey in it; about a spoonful for each boy.
Frank was glad that he had not let out his disappointment with the kind of Fourth they were having; and just then the horn sounded from the house for dinner, and the boys all got into the wagon, and rattled off to the barn. They put out the horses and fed them, and as soon as they could wash themselves at the rain-barrel behind the house, they went in and sat down with the family at dinner. It was a farmer’s dinner, as it used to be in southern Ohio fifty years ago: a deep dish of fried salt pork swimming in its own fat, plenty of shortened biscuit and warm green-apple sauce, with good butter. The Boy’s Town boys did not like the looks of the fat pork, but they were wolf-hungry, and the biscuit were splendid. In the middle of the table there was a big crock of buttermilk, all cold and dripping from the spring-house where it had been standing in the running water; then there was a hot apple-pie right out of the oven; and they made a pretty fair meal, after all.
After dinner they hauled more rails, and when they had hauled all the rails there were, they started for the swimming-hole in the creek. On the way they came to a mulberry-tree in the edge of the woods-pasture, and it was so full of berries and they were so ripe that the grass which the cattle had cropped short was fairly red under the tree. The boys got up into the tree and gorged themselves among the yellow-hammers and woodpeckers; and Frank and Jake kept holloing out to each other how glad they were they had come; but Dave kept quiet, and told them to wait till they came to the swimming-hole.
It was while they were in the tree that something happened which happened four times in all that day, if it really happened: nobody could say afterwards whether it had or not. Frank was reaching out for a place in the tree where the berries seemed thicker than anywhere else, when a strong blaze of light flashed into his eyes, and blinded him.
“Oh, hello, Dave Black!” he holloed. “That’s mean! What are you throwin’ that light in my face for?”
But he laughed at the joke, and he laughed more when Dave shouted back, “I ain’t throwin’ no light in your face.”
“Yes, you are; you’ve got a piece of look-in’-glass, and you’re flashin’ it in my face.”
“Wish I may die, if I have,” said Dave, so seriously that Frank had to believe him.
“Well, then, Jake Milrace has.”
“I hain’t, any such thing,” said Jake, and then Dave Black roared back, laughing: “Oh, I’ll tell you! It’s one of the pieces of tin we strung along that line in the corn-field to keep the crows off, corn-plantin’ time.”
The boys shouted together at the joke on Frank, and Dave parted the branches for a better look at the corn-field.
“Well, well! Heigh there!” he called towards the field. “Oh, he’s gone now!” he said to the other boys, craning their necks out to see, too. “But he was doing it, Frank. If I could ketch that feller!”
“Somebody you know? Let’s get him to come along,” said Jake and Frank, one after the other.
“I couldn’t tell,” said Dave. “He slipped into the woods when he heard me holler. If it’s anybody I know, he’ll come out again. Don’t seem to notice him; that’s the best way.”
For a while, though, they stopped to look, now and then; but no more flashes came from the corn-field, and the boys went on cramming themselves with berries; they all said they had got to stop, but they went on till Dave said: “I don’t believe it’s going to do us any good to go in swimming if we eat too many of these mulberries. I reckon we better quit, now.”
The others said they reckoned so, too, and they all got down from the tree, and started for the swimming-hole. They had to go through a piece of woods to get to it, and in the shadow of the trees they did not notice that a storm was coming up till they heard it thunder. By that time they were on the edge of the woods, and there came a flash of lightning and a loud thunder-clap, and the rain began to fall in big drops. The boys saw a barn in the field they had reached, and they ran for it; and they had just got into it when the rain came down with all its might. Suddenly Jake said: “I’ll tell you what! Let’s take off our clothes and have a shower-bath!” And in less than a minute they had their clothes off, and were out in the full pour, dancing up and down, and yelling like Indians. That made them think of playing Indians, and they pretended the barn was a settler’s cabin, and they were stealing up on it through the tall shocks of wheat. They captured it easily, and they said if the lightning would only strike it and set it on fire so it would seem as if the Indians had done it, it would be great; but the storm was going round, and they had to be satisfied with being settlers, turn about, and getting scalped.
It was easy to scalp Frank, because he wore his hair long, as the town boys liked to do in those days, but Jake lived with his sister, and he had to do as she said. She said a boy had no business with long hair; and she had lately cropped his close to his skull. Dave’s father cut his hair round the edges of a bowl, which he had put on Dave’s head for a pattern; the other boys could get a pretty good grip of it, if they caught it on top, where the scalp-lock belongs; but Dave would duck and dodge so that they could hardly get their hands on it. All at once they heard him call out from around the corner of the barn, where he had gone to steal up on them, when it was their turn to be settlers: “Aw, now, Jake Milrace, that ain’t fair! I’m an Indian, now. You let go my hair.”
“Who’s touchin’ your old hair?” Jake shouted back, from the inside of the barn. “You must be crazy. Hurry up, if you’re ever goin’ to attack us. I want to get out in the rain, myself, awhile.”
Frank was outside, pretending to be at work in the field, and waiting for the Indians to creep on him, and when Jake shouted for Dave to hurry, he looked over his shoulder and saw a white figure, naked like his own, flit round the left-hand corner of the barn. Then he had to stoop over, so that Dave could tomahawk him easily, and he did not see anything more, but Jake yelled from the barn: “Oh, you got that fellow with you, have you? Then he’s got to be settler next time. Come on, now. Oh, do hurry up!”
Frank raised his head to see the other boy, but there was only Dave Black, coming round the right-hand corner of the barn.
“You’re crazy yourself, Jake. There ain’t nobody here but me and Frank.”
“There is, too!” Jake retorted. “Or there was, half a second ago.”
But Dave was busy stealing on Frank, who was bending over, pretending to hoe, and after he had tomahawked Frank, he gave the scalp-halloo, and Jake came running out of the barn, and had to be chased round it twice, so that he could fall breathless on his own threshold, and be scalped in full sight of his family. Then Dave pretended to be a war-party of Wyandots, and he gathered up sticks, and pretended to set the barn on fire. By this time Frank and Jake had come to life, and were Wyandots, too, and they all joined hands and danced in front of the barn.
“There! There he is again!” shouted Jake. “Who’s crazy now, I should like to know?”
“Where? Where?” yelled both the other boys.
“There! Right in the barn door. Or he was, quarter of a second ago,” said Jake, and they all dropped one another’s hands, and rushed into the barn and began to search it.
They could not find anybody, and Dave Black said: “Well, he’s the quickest feller! Must ’a’ got up into the mow, and jumped out of the window, and broke for the woods while we was lookin’ down here. But if I get my hands onto him, oncet!”
They all talked and shouted and quarrelled and laughed at once; but they had to give the other fellow up; he had got away for that time, and they ran out into the rain again to let it wash off the dust and chaff, which they had got all over them in their search. The rain felt so good and cool that they stood still and took it without playing any more, and talked quietly. Dave decided that the fellow who had given them the slip was a new boy whose folks had come into the neighborhood since school had let out in the spring, so that he had not got acquainted yet; but Dave allowed that he would teach him a few tricks as good as his own when he got at him.
The storm left a solid bank of clouds in the east for a while after it was all blue in the western half of the sky, and a rainbow came out against the clouds. It looked so firm and thick that Dave said you could cut it with a scythe. It seemed to come solidly down to the ground in the woods in front of the hay-mow window, and the boys said it would be easy to get the crock of gold at the end of it if they were only in the woods. “I’ll bet that feller’s helpin’ himself,” said Dave, and they began to wonder how many dollars a crock of gold was worth, anyhow; they decided about a million. Then they wondered how much of a crock full of gold a boy could get into his pockets; and they all laughed when Jake said he reckoned it would depend upon the size of the crock. “I don’t believe that fellow could carry much of it away if he hain’t got more on than he had in front of the barn.” That put Frank in mind of the puzzle about the three men that found a treasure in the road when they were travelling together: the blind man saw it, and the man without arms picked it up, and the naked man put it in his pocket. It was the first time Dave had heard the puzzle, and he asked, “Well, what’s the answer?” But before Frank could tell him, Jake started up and pointed to the end of the rainbow, where it seemed to go into the ground against the woods.
“Oh! look! look!” he panted out, and they all looked, but no one could see anything except Jake. It made him mad. “Why, you must be blind!” he shouted, and he kept pointing. “Don’t you see him? There, there! Oh, now, the rainbow’s going out, and you can’t see him any more. He’s gone into the woods again. Well, I don’t know what your eyes are good for, anyway.”
He tried to tell them what he had seen; he could only make out that it must be the same boy, but now he had his clothes on: white linen pantaloons and roundabout, like what you had on May day, or the Fourth if you were going to the Sunday-school picnic. Dave wanted him to tell what he looked like, but Jake could not say anything except that he was very smiling-looking, and seemed as if he would like to be with him; Jake said he was just going to hollo for him to come over when the rainbow began to go out; and then the fellow slipped back into the woods; it was more like melting into the woods.
“And how far off do you think you could see a boy smile?” Dave asked, scornfully.
“How far off can you say a rainbow is?” Jake retorted.
“I can say how far off that piece of woods is,” said Dave, with a laugh. He got to his feet, and began to pull at the other boys, to make them get up. “Come along, if you’re ever goin’ to the swimmin’-hole.”
The sun was bright and hot, and the boys left the barn, and took across the field to the creek. The storm must have been very heavy, for the creek was rushing along bank-full, and there was no sign left of Dave’s swimming-hole. But they had had such a glorious shower-bath that they did not want to go in swimming, anyway, and they stood and watched the yellow water pouring over the edge of a mill-dam that was there, till Dave happened to think of building a raft and going out on the dam. Jake said, “First rate!” and they all rushed up to a place where there were some boards on the bank; and they got pieces of old rope at the mill, and tied the boards together, till they had a good raft, big enough to hold them, and then they pushed it into the water and got on it. They said they were on the Ohio River, and going from Cincinnati to Louisville. Dave had a long pole to push with, like the boatmen on the keel-boats in the early times, and Jake had a board to steer with; Frank had another board to paddle with, on the other side of the raft from Dave; and so they set on their journey.
The dam was a wide, smooth sheet of water, with trees growing round the edge, and some of them hanging so low over it that they almost touched it. The boys made trips back and forth across the dam, and to and from the edge of the fall, till they got tired of it, and they were wanting something to happen, when Dave stuck his pole deep into the muddy bottom, and set his shoulder hard against the top of the pole, with a “Here she goes, boys, over the Falls of the Ohio!” and he ran along the edge of the raft from one end to the other.
Frank and Dave had both straightened up to watch him. At the stern of the raft Dave tried to pull up his pole for another good push, but it stuck fast in the mud at the bottom of the dam, and before Dave knew what he was about, the raft shot from under his feet, and he went overboard with his pole in his hand, as if he were taking a flying leap with it. The next minute he dropped into the water heels first, and went down out of sight. He came up blowing water from his mouth, and holloing and laughing, and took after the raft, where the other fellows were jumping up and down, and bending back and forth, and screaming and yelling at the way he looked hurrying after his pole, and then dangling in the air, and now showing his black head in the water like a musk-rat swimming for its hole. They were having such a good time mocking him that they did not notice how his push had sent the raft swiftly in under the trees by the shore, and the first thing they knew, one of the low branches caught them, and scraped them both off the raft into the water, almost on top of Dave. Then it was Dave’s turn to laugh, and he began: “What’s the matter, boys? Want to help find the other end of that pole?”
Jake was not under the water any longer than Dave had been, but Frank did not come up so soon. They looked among the brush by the shore, to see if he was hiding there and fooling them, but they could not find him. “He’s stuck in some snag at the bottom,” said Dave; “we got to dive for him”; but just then Frank came up, and swam feebly for the shore. He crawled out of the water, and after he got his breath, he said, “I got caught, down there, in the top of an old tree.”
“Didn’t I tell you so?” Dave shouted into Jake’s ear.
“Why, Jake was there till I got loose,” said Frank, looking stupidly at him.
“No, I wasn’t,” said Jake. “I was up long ago, and I was just goin’ to dive for you; so was Dave.”
“Then it was that other fellow,” said Frank. “I thought it didn’t look overmuch like Jake, anyway.”
“Oh, pshaw!” Dave jeered. “How could you tell, in that muddy water?”
“I don’t know,” Frank answered. “It was all light round him. Looked like he had a piece of the rainbow on him, or foxfire.”
“I reckon if I find him,” said Dave, “I’ll take his piece of rainbow off’n him pretty quick. That’s the fourth time that feller’s fooled us to-day. Where d’you s’pose he came up? Oh, I know! He got out on the other side under them trees, while we was huntin’ for Frank, and not noticin’. How’d he look, anyway?”
“I don’t know; I just saw him half a second. Kind of smiling, and like he wanted to play.”
“Well, I know him,” said Dave. “It’s the new boy, and the next time I see him—Oh, hello! There goes our raft!”
It was drifting slowly down towards the edge of the dam, and the boys all three plunged into the water again, and swam out to it, and climbed up on it.
They had the greatest kind of a time, and when they had played castaway sailors, Frank and Jake wanted to send the raft over the edge of the dam; but Dave said it might get into the head-race of the mill and tangle itself up in the wheel, and spoil the wheel.
So they took the raft apart and carried the boards on shore, and then tried to think what they would do next. The first thing was to take off their clothes and see about drying them. But they had no patience for that; and so they wrung them out as dry as they could and put them on again; they had left their roundabouts at Dave’s house, anyway, and so had nothing on but a shirt and trousers apiece. The sun was out hot after the rain, and their clothes were almost dry by the time they got to Dave’s house. They went with him to the woods-pasture on the way, and helped him drive home the cows, and they wanted him to get his mother to make his father let him go up to the Boy’s Town with them and see the fireworks; but he said it would be no use; and then they understood that if a man was British, of course he would not want his boy to celebrate the Fourth of July by going to the fireworks. They felt sorry for Dave, but they both told him that they had had more fun than they ever had in their lives before, and they were coming the next Fourth and going to bring their guns with them. Then they could shoot quails or squirrels, if they saw any, and the firing would celebrate the Fourth at the same time, and his father could not find any fault.
It seemed to Frank that it was awful to have a father that was British; but when they got to Dave’s house, and his father asked them how they had spent the afternoon, he did not seem to be so very bad. He asked them whether they had got caught in the storm, and if that was what made their clothes wet, and when they told him what had happened, he sat down on the wood-pile and laughed till he shook all over.
Then Frank and Jake thought they had better be going home, but Dave’s mother would not let them start without something to eat; and she cut them each a slice of bread the whole width and length of the loaf, and spread the slices with butter, and then apple-butter, and then brown sugar. The boys thought they were not hungry, but when they began to eat they found out that they were, and before they knew it they had eaten the slices all up. Dave’s mother said they must come and see Dave again some time, and she acted real clever; she was an American, anyway.
They got their horses and started home. It was almost sundown now, and they heard the turtle-doves cooing in the woods, and the bob-whites whistling from the stubble, and there were so many squirrels among the trees in the woods-pastures, and on the fences, that Frank could hardly get Jake along; and if it had not been for Jake’s horse, that ran whenever Frank whipped up his pony, they would not have got home till dark. They smelt ham frying in some of the houses they passed, and that made them awfully hungry; one place there was coffee, too.
When they reached Frank’s house he found that his mother had kept supper hot for him, and she came out and said Jake must come in with him, if his family would not be uneasy about him; and Jake said he did not believe they would. He tied his horse to the outside of the cow-house, and he came in, and Frank’s mother gave them as much baked chicken as they could hold, with hot bread to sop in the gravy; and she had kept some coffee hot for Frank, so that they made another good meal. They told her what a bully time they had had, and how they had fallen into the dam; but she did not seem to think it was funny; she said it was a good thing they were not all drowned, and she believed they had taken their deaths of cold, anyway. Frank was afraid she was going to make him go up stairs and change his clothes, when he heard the boys begin to sound their call of “Ee-o-wee” at the front door, and he and Jake snatched their hats and ran out. There was a lot of boys at the gate; Hen Billard was there, and Archy Hawkins and Jim Leonard; there were some little fellows, and Frank’s cousin Pony was there; he said his mother had said he might stay till his father came for him.
Hen Billard had his thumb tied up from firing too big a load out of his brass pistol. The pistol burst, and the barrel was all curled back like a dandelion stem in water; he had it in his pocket to show. Archy Hawkins’s face was full of little blue specks from pouring powder on a coal and getting it flashed up into his face when he was blowing the coal; some of his eye-winkers were singed off. Jim Leonard had a rag round his hand, and he said a whole pack of shooting-crackers had gone off in it before he could throw them away, and burned the skin off; the fellows dared him to let them see it, but he would not; and then they mocked him. They all said there had never been such a Fourth of July in the Boy’s Town before; and Frank and Jake let them brag as much as they wanted to, and when the fellows got tired, and asked them what they had done at Pawpaw Bottom, and they said, “Oh, nothing much; just helped Dave Black haul rails,” they set up a jeer that you could hear a mile.
Then Jake said, as if he just happened to think of it, “And fought bumblebees.”
And Frank put in, “And took a shower-bath in the thunder-storm.”
And Jake said, “And eat mulberries.”
And Frank put in again, “And built a raft.”
And Jake said, “And Dave got pulled into the mill-dam.”
And Frank wound up, “And Jake and I got swept overboard.”
By that time the fellows began to feel pretty small, and they crowded round and wanted to hear every word about it. Then Jake and Frank tantalized them, and said of course it was no Fourth at all, it was only just fun, till the fellows could not stand it any longer, and then Frank jumped up from where he was sitting on his front steps, and holloed out, “I’ll show you how Dave looked when his pole pulled him in,” and he acted it all out about Dave’s pole pulling him into the water.
Jake waited till he was done, and then he jumped up and said, “I’ll show you how Frank and me looked when we got swept overboard,” and he acted it out about the limb of the tree scraping them off the raft while they were laughing at Dave and not noticing.
As soon as they got the boys to yelling, Jake and Frank both showed how they fought the bumblebees, and how the dogs got stung, and ran round trying to rub the bees off against the ground, and your legs, and everything, till the boys fell down and rolled over, it made them laugh so. Jake and Frank showed how they ran out into the rain from the barn, and stood in it, and told how good and cool it felt; and they told about sitting up in the mulberry-tree, and how twenty boys could not have made the least hole in the berries. They told about the quails and the squirrels; and they showed how Frank had to keep whipping up his pony, and how Jake’s horse kept wheeling and running away; and some of the fellows said they were going with them the next Fourth.
Hen Billard tried to turn it off, and said: “Pshaw! You can have that kind of a Fourth any day in the country. Who’s going up to the court-house yard to see the fireworks?”
He and Archy Hawkins and the big boys ran off, whooping, and the little fellows felt awfully, because their mothers had said they must not go. Just then, Pony Baker’s father came for him, and he said he guessed they could see the fireworks from Frank’s front steps; and Jake stayed with Frank, and Frank’s father came out, and his aunt and mother leaned out of the window, and watched, while the Roman candles shot up, and the rockets climbed among the stars.
They were all so much taken up in watching that they did not notice one of the neighbor women who had come over from her house and joined them, till Mrs. Baker happened to see her, and called out: “Why, Mrs. Fogle, where did you spring from? Do come in here with Manda and me. I didn’t see you, in your black dress.”
“No, I’m going right back,” said Mrs. Fogle. “I just come over a minute to see the fireworks—for Wilford; you can’t see them from my side.”
“Oh,” said Mrs. Baker, softly. “Well, I’m real glad you came. You ought to have heard the boys, here, telling about the kind of Fourth they had at Pawpaw Bottom. I don’t know when I’ve laughed so much.”
“Well, I reckon it’s just as well I wasn’t here. I couldn’t have helped in the laughing much. It seems pretty hard my Wilford couldn’t been having a good time with the rest to-day. He was always such a Fourth-of-July boy.”
“But he’s happy where he is, Mrs. Fogle,” said Mrs. Baker, gently.
“Well, I know he’d give anything to been here with the boys to-day—I don’t care where he is. And he’s been here, too; I just know he has; I’ve felt him, all day long, teasing at me to let him go off with your Frank and Jake, here; he just fairly loved to be with them, and he never done any harm. Oh, my, my! I don’t see how I used to deny him.”
She put up her apron to her face, and ran sobbing across the street again to her own house; they heard the door close after her in the dark.
“I declare,” said Mrs. Baker, “I’ve got half a mind to go over to her.”
“Better not,” said Pony Baker’s father.
“Well, I reckon you’re right, Henry,” Mrs. Baker assented.
They did not talk gayly any more; when the last rocket had climbed the sky, Jake Milrace rose and said in a whisper he must be going.
After he was gone, Frank told, as if he had just thought of it, about the boy that had fooled them so, at Pawpaw Bottom; and he was surprised at the way his mother and his Uncle Henry questioned him up about it.
“Well, now,” she said, “I’m glad poor Mrs. Fogle wasn’t here, or—” She stopped, and her brother-in-law rose, with the hand of his sleepy little son in his own.
“I think Pony had better say good-night now, while he can. Frank, you’ve had a remarkable Fourth. Good-night, all. I wish I had spent the day at Pawpaw Bottom myself.”
Before they slept that night, Pony’s mother said: “Well, I’d just as soon you’d kept that story to yourself till morning, Henry. I shall keep thinking about it, and not sleep a wink. How in the world do you account for it?”
“I don’t account for it,” said Pony’s father.
“Now, that won’t do! What do you think?”
“Well, if it was one boy that saw the fourth boy it might be a simple case of lying.”
“Frank Baker never told a lie in his life. He couldn’t.”
“Perhaps Jake could, or Dave. But as they all three saw the boy at different times, why, it’s—”
“It’s another thing.”
“Now, you can’t get out of it that way, Henry. Do you believe that the child longed so to be back here that—”
“Ah, who knows? There’s something very strange about all that. But we can’t find our way out, except by the short-cut of supposing that nothing of the kind happened.”
“You can’t suppose that, though, if all three of the boys say it did.”
“I can suppose that they think it happened, or made each other think so.”
Pony’s mother drew a long sigh. “Well, I know what I shall always think,” she said.