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HE TELLS THE TWINS OF FIRE-WORKS
There was a great noise going on in the public square of Cimmeria when Mr. Munchausen sauntered into the library at the home of the Heavenly Twins.
"These Americans are having a great time of it celebrating their Fourth of July," said he, as the house shook with the explosion of a bomb. "They've burnt powder enough already to set ten revolutions revolving, and they're going to outdo themselves to-night in the park. They've made a bicycle out of the two huge pin-wheels, and they're going to make Benedict Arnold ride a mile on it after it's lit."
The Twins appeared much interested. They too had heard much of the celebration and some of its joys and when the Baron arrived they were primed with questions.
"Uncle Munch," they said, helping the Baron to remove his hat and coat, which they threw into a corner so anxious were they to get to work, "do you think there's much danger in little boys having fire-crackers and rockets and pin-wheels, or in little girls having torpeters?"
"Well, I don't know," the Baron answered, warily. "What does your venerable Dad say about it?"
"He thinks we ought to wait until we are older, but we don't," said the Twins.
"Torpeters never sets nothing afire," said Angelica.
"That's true," said the Baron, kindly; "but after all your father is right. Why do you know what happened to me when I was a boy?"
"You burnt your thumb," said the Twins, ready to make a guess at it.
"Well, you get me a cigar, and I'll tell you what happened to me when I was a boy just because my father let me have all the fire-works I wanted, and then perhaps you will see how wise your father is in not doing as you wish him to," said Mr. Munchausen.
The Twins readily found the desired cigar, after which Mr. Munchausen settled down comfortably in the hammock, and swinging softly to and fro, told his story.
"My dear old father," said he, "was the most indulgent man that ever lived. He'd give me anything in the world that I wanted whether he could afford it or not, only he had an original system of giving which kept him from being ruined by indulgence of his children. He gave me a Rhine steamboat once without its costing him a cent. I saw it, wanted it, was beginning to cry for it, when he patted me on the head and told me I could have it, adding, however, that I must never take it away from the river or try to run it myself. That satisfied me. All I wanted really was the happiness of feeling it was mine, and my dear old daddy gave me permission to feel that way. The same thing happened with reference to the moon. He gave it to me freely and ungrudgingly. He had received it from his father, he said, and he thought he had owned it long enough. Only, he added, as he had about the steamboat, I must leave it where it was and let other people look at it whenever they wanted to, and not interfere if I found any other little boys or girls playing with its beams, which I promised and have faithfully observed to this day.
"Of course from such a parent as this you may very easily see everything was to be expected on such a day as the Tenth of August which the people in our region celebrated because it was my birthday. He used to let me have my own way at all times, and it's a wonder I wasn't spoiled. I really can't understand how it is that I have become the man I am, considering how I was indulged when I was small.
"However, like all boys, I was very fond of celebrating the Tenth, and being a more or less ingenious lad, I usually prepared my own fire-works and many things happened which might not otherwise have come to pass if I had been properly looked after as you are. The first thing that happened to me on the Tenth of August that would have a great deal better not have happened, was when I was — er — how old are you Imps?"
"Sixteen," said they. "Going on eighteen."
"Nonsense," said the Baron. "Why you're not more than eight."
"Nope — we're sixteen," said Diavolo. "I'm eight and Angelica's eight and twice eight is sixteen."
"Oh," said the Baron. "I see. Well, that was exactly the age I was at the time. Just eight to a day."
"Sixteen we said," said the Twins.
"Yes," nodded the Baron. "Just eight, but going on towards sixteen. My father had given me ten thalers to spend on noises, but unlike most boys I did not care so much for noises as I did for novelties. It didn't give me any particular pleasure to hear a giant cracker go off with a bang. What I wanted to do most of all was to get up some kind of an exhibition that would please the people and that could be seen in the day-time instead of at night when everybody is tired and sleepy. So instead of spending my money on fire-crackers and torpedoes and rockets, I spent nine thalers of it on powder and one thaler on putty blowers. My particular object was to make one grand effort and provide passers-by with a free exhibition of what I was going to call 'Munchausen's Grand Geyser Cascade.' To do this properly I had set my eye upon a fish pond not far from the town hall. It was a very deep pond and about a mile in circumference, I should say. Putty blowers were then selling at five for a pfennig and powder was cheap as sand owing to the fact that the powder makers, expecting a war, had made a hundred times as much as was needed, and as the war didn't come off, they were willing to take almost anything they could get for it. The consequence was that the powder I got was sufficient in quantity to fill a rubber bag as large as five sofa cushions. This I sank in the middle of the pond, without telling anybody what I intended to do, and through the putty blowers, sealed tightly together end to end, I conducted a fuse, which I made myself, from the powder bag to the shore. My idea was that I could touch the thing off, you know, and that about sixty square feet of the pond would fly up into the air and then fall gracefully back again like a huge fountain. If it had worked as I expected everything would have been all right, but it didn't. I had too much powder, for a second after I had lit the fuse there came a muffled roar and the whole pond in a solid mass, fish and all, went flying up into the air and disappeared. Everybody was astonished, not a few were very much frightened. I was scared to death but I never let on to any one that I was the person that had blown the pond off. How high the pond went I don't know, but I do know that for a week there wasn't any sign of it, and then most unexpectedly out of what appeared to be a clear sky there came the most extraordinary rain-storm you ever saw. It literally poured down for two days, and, what I alone could understand, with it came trout and sunfish and minnows, and most singular to all but myself an old scow that was recognised as the property of the owner of the pond suddenly appeared in the sky falling toward the earth at a fearful rate of speed. When I saw the scow coming I was more frightened than ever because I was afraid it might fall upon and kill some of our neighbours. Fortunately, however, this possible disaster was averted, for it came down directly over the sharp-pointed lightning-rod on the tower of our public library and stuck there like a piece of paper on a file.
"The rain washed away several acres of finely cultivated farms, but the losses on crops and fences and so forth were largely reduced by the fish that came with the storm. One farmer took a rake and caught three hundred pounds of trout, forty pounds of sun-fish, eight turtles, and a minnow in his potato patch in five minutes. Others were almost as fortunate, but the damage was sufficiently large to teach me that parents cannot be too careful about what they let their children do on the day they celebrate."
"And weren't you ever punished?" asked the Twins.
"No, indeed," said the Baron. "Nobody ever knew that I did it because I never told them. In fact you are the only two persons who ever heard about it, and you mustn't tell, because there are still a number of farmers around that region who would sue me for damages in case they knew that I was responsible for the accident."
"Out of what appeared to be a clear sky came the most extraordinary rain storm you ever saw."
"That was pretty awful," said the Twins. "But we don't want to blow up ponds so as to get cascadeses, but we do want torpeters. Torpeters aren't any harm, are they, Uncle Munch?"
"Well, you can never tell. It all depends on the torpedo. Torpedoes are sometimes made carelessly," said the Baron. "They ought to be made as carefully as a druggist makes pills. So many pebbles, so much paper, and so much saltpeter and sulphur, or whatever else is used to make them go off. I had a very unhappy time once with a carelessly made torpedo. I had two boxes full. They were those tin-foil torpedoes that little girls are so fond of, and I expected they would make quite a lot of noise, but the first ten I threw down didn't go off at all. The eleventh for some reason or other, I never knew exactly what, I hurled with all my force against the side of my father's barn, and my, what a surprise it was! It smashed in the whole side of the barn and sent seven bales of hay, and our big farm plough bounding down the hillside into the town. The hay-bales smashed down fences; one of them hit a cow-shed on its way down, knocked the back of it to smithereens and then proceeded to demolish the rear end of a small crockery shop that fronted on the main street. It struck the crockery shop square in the middle of its back and threw down fifteen dozen cups and saucers, thirty-two water pitchers, and five china busts of Shakespeare. The din was frightful — but I couldn't help that. Nobody could blame me, because I had no means of knowing that the man who made the torpedoes was careless and had put a solid ball of dynamite into one of them. So you see, my dear Imps, that even torpedoes are not always safe."
"Yes," said Angelica. "I guess I'll play with my dolls on my birthday. They never goes off and blows things up."
"That's very wise of you," said the Baron.
"But what became of the plough, Uncle Munch?" said Diavolo.
"Oh, the plough didn't do much damage," replied Mr. Munchausen. "It simply furrowed its way down the hill, across the main street, to the bowling green. It ploughed up about one hundred feet of this before it stopped, but nobody minded that much because it was to have been ploughed and seeded again anyhow within a few days. Of course the furrow it made in crossing the road was bad, and to make it worse the share caught one of the water pipes that ran under the street, and ripped it in two so that the water burst out and flooded the street for a while, but one hundred and sixty thousand dollars would have covered the damage."
The Twins were silent for a few moments and then they asked:
"Well, Uncle Munch, what kind of fire-works are safe anyhow?"
"My experience has taught me that there are only two kinds that are safe," replied their old friend. "One is a Jack-o-lantern and the other is a cigar, and as you are not old enough to have cigars, if you will put on your hats and coats and go down into the garden and get me two pumpkins, I'll make each of you a Jack-o'-lantern. What do you say?"
"We say yes," said the Twins, and off they went, while the Baron turning over in the hammock, and arranging a pillow comfortably under his head, went to sleep to dream of more birthday recollections in case there should be a demand for them later on.