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A NARROW ESCAPE
HILE the men were away with the boat, the children could
not go to the shore to play. They had to amuse themselves
on the ship as well as they could.
This was not hard for little Francis Billington to do, but
his amusements never seemed to please the older people. If
he started to cut his name on the railing of the ship, some
one was sure to call, "Don't do that!"
If he tried to climb the ropes from the mast, somebody
always dragged him down. Even when he sat down quietly to
hold one of the babies, it was always, "Francis! See how you
let his head hang down," or, "Just look at that baby's
little feet! Francis, you must keep them covered." Then
some one would come and say, "Let me take the baby. I am so
afraid you will drop him."
Poor little Francis! He did not mean to be naughty, but he
was a great trial to the Pilgrim mothers and fathers. When
he was quiet for a few minutes, they felt sure he must be in
some mischief—and they were usually right.
"Francis is not a bad boy," Elder Brewster used to say.
"Just wait until his father begins to build his house, then
Francis will be too busy to get into mischief. I believe
there will not be a
 harder-working boy in the village than Francis."
"Then let us hurry and find a place to build," said Mistress
Billington, "for I am almost worn out."
While his father and the other men were away digging up corn
in the Indian village, mischief-loving Francis was wandering
about the boat looking for amusement.
In his hands he held some of the pretty feathers of the wild
duck. He thought what fun it would be to fill these quills
with gunpowder and make some firecrackers. He called them
So he went down to the cabin where the powder was stored.
There was no one in the room, but he soon found a keg which
had been opened, and he began to fill his squibs. It was
hard to make the powder go into the little quills; most of
it went on the floor instead.
When the squibs were filled, he looked about and saw several
old muskets hanging upon the
wall. "How those women in the next room would jump if I
should fire off one of those muskets!" thought the boy.
Muskets made in those days could not be fired by pulling a
trigger. The powder must be lighted by a spark of fire. At
that time no one had learned how to make matches, either.
But Francis knew where to find a slow-burning fuse made of
candlewick, and away he ran to get it.
 Soon he returned, carrying the burning fuse right into the
Oh, Francis! Think of the powder upon floor. And think
of that open keg half filled with the deadly powder. If
one little spark should reach it, the ship and every one on
it would be blown to pieces.
But Francis never stopped to think twice about anything. He
climbed upon a box and took down an old musket, then looked
to see if it were loaded. Yes, it was all ready to fire, and
Francis knew how to do it.
I think the very sun must almost have had a chill when he
peeped through the tiny window and saw the terrible danger.
Boom! roared the old musket. Then came a blinding flash, and
boom! Bang! Snap! Crack! Bang! Oh, what a deafening din!
When the thick smoke had cleared a little, a very angry
sailor found a very frightened boy in a corner of the
cabin. Francis did not know how he came to be lying there in
a heap. He only knew that his eyes were smarting and his
hands were very sore.
Women with white faces and trembling hands tried to comfort
their screaming children. Sailors hurried to and fro looking
for leaks in the boat.
But, wonder of wonders, no great harm had been done. The
squibs were gone; two or three of the
 loaded muskets had gone off; but the powder on the floor had
flashed up and burned out without setting fire to the keg.
"If that keg had exploded, we should have found no more of
the 'Mayflower' than a few chips floating upon the water,"
said Miles Standish, when he heard of it. "I wonder that it
"It was the mercy of God alone," said the Pilgrims.