“Old Hurricane” the relic cannon had been dubbed when what was left of Company C, Second Infantry, came marching back home in the sixties.
There was not a boy in town who had not straddled the black ungainly relic, or tried to lift the heavy cannon balls that symmetrically surrounded its base support.
Two years before, Colonel Harrington had erected at his own expense a lofty flagpole at the side of the cannon and donated an elegant flag. Every Washington’s Birthday and Fourth of July since, this site had been the center of all public patriotic festivities, and the headquarters for celebrating for juvenile Pleasantville.
Bart was a little startled as he comprehended what was in the wind. He thrilled a trifle; his eyes sparkled brightly.
“It’s all right, Stirling,” assured Dale Wacker. “We cleaned out the barrel and we’ve rammed home a good solid charge, with a long fuse ready to light. Guess it will stir up the sleepy old town for once, hey?”
Bart was in for any harmless sport, yet he fumbled the lighted piece of punk undecidedly.
“I don’t know about this, fellows”—he began.
“Oh! don’t spoil the fun, Stirling,” pleaded little Ned Sawyer, a rare favorite with Bart. “We asked one-legged Dacy on the quiet. He was in the war, and he says the gun can’t burst, or anything.”
The crowd kept pushing Bart forward in eager excitement.
“Why don’t you light it yourself?” inquired Bart of Dale.
“I’ve sprained my foot—limping now,” explained young Wacker. “She may kick, you see, and soon as you light her you want to scoot.”
“Go ahead, Bart! touch her off,” implored little Sawyer, quivering with excitement.
“Whoop! hurrah!” yelled a frantic chorus as Bart took a voluntary step up the hill.
That decided him—patriotism was in the air and he was fully infected. One or two of the larger boys advanced with him, but halted at a safe distance, while the younger ones danced about and stuck their fingers in their ears, screaming.
Bart got to the side of the cannon. It was silhouetted in the landscape on a slight slant towards the stately mansion and grounds of Colonel Harrington, in full view at all times of the magnate who had improved its surroundings.
Bart made out a long fuse trailing three feet or more over the side of the old fieldpiece. He blew the punk to a bright glow.
“Ready!” he called back merrily over his shoulder.
The hillside vibrated with the flutter of expectant juvenile humanity and a vast babel of half-suppressed excited voices.
Bart applied the punk, there was a fizz, a sharp hiss, a writhing worm of quick flame, and then came a fearful report that split the air like the crack of doom.
COUNTING THE COST
Bart had quickly moved to one side of the cannon after lighting the fuse, and was about twenty feet away when the explosion came.