As Billy and Ben came home from school, there was a smile on Ben's face as big as the moon's.
"What makes you so happy, Ben?" asked his mother.
"We're going to have a sane Fourth this year," said Ben.
"A what?" asked his mother.
"A sane Fourth," said Ben with a grin.
"What do you mean, Ben?"
"Why, the pupils of our school are not going to shoot their fingers off with toy pistols, and blow their eyes out with big firecrackers. They are going to Crystal Spring just as they did last Fourth. Will you go along, Mother?"
"I haven't been invited," said his mother.
"Of course you have. Didn't I just ask you whether you would go along? All the children are to invite their parents and friends."
"Father and I shall be glad to go, Ben. I don't suppose you want any cookies put in the lunch basket, do you?" said his mother, with a merry twinkle in her eye.
"Oh, no," said Ben. "Not more than a dozen or two!"
Well, the Fourth of July came. It was a beautiful day. When Ben waked, the birds were singing their morning song, and the air was laden with the fra grance of many flowers. For a moment he listened to the soft notes of a thrush singing in a maple tree near his window. He loved the little brown bird with the dark spots on his white breast. He liked to listen to his song, as it seemed to say: "Uoli-uoli, a-e-o-lee-lee!"
In a few minutes Ben was ready for breakfast. He was so excited that he ate too fast, and drank water while chewing his food. His mother had to caution him. Such careless eating, she said, might cause him pain later.
Of course, when they started for the station, Billy and Ben wanted to carry the lunch basket. It was almost too heavy for boys of their age, but they were strong and got along very well.
Father and Betty carried the flags, and as they walked along there were no happier children in all the wide world than Billy, Betty, and Ben.
Oh! what a crowd met them at the station! Everybody had such a good time last year that they made up their minds to go this year.
When the big engine steamed in, it drew three empty cars. These were soon filled with the children and friends of Ben's school.
"All aboard!" shouted the conductor, and off moved the train toward Crystal Spring.
The conductor was happy when he saw all the children. He laughed as he punched the tickets. And when Lucy Larkum pinned a flower on his coat, his face beamed with smiles.
This year the Crystal Spring Band met them. As soon as the train stopped, they all formed in line behind the band and marched to the Spring. Ben was color bearer. That is, he carried the large flag. So he walked in front of the band and led the way to the Spring.
The birds and squirrels in the woods seemed to be glad that the children had come back again. The squirrels were so tame that they came to the children begging for nuts. In a few minutes the children were playing all sorts of games.
There were many trout in the beautiful stream that flowed from the Spring. Ben and his schoolmates walked along its clear waters and watched the speckled beauties. Some of the boys took bread crumbs to feed them, and were delighted to see the fish leap for the food. Sometimes they really leaped out of the water and fell back again with a splash. Ben thought this was great sport.
Just before eleven o'clock, some one blew a bugle. This meant that all were to come to the grand stand. The Fourth of July exercises were about to begin.
Soon all were seated, and the band played, and the children sang "The Star-spangled Banner." You should have heard Ben's voice. Dear me! how he did sing and wave his flag as he sang
After they had sung this song of freedom, Billy Bowers recited this poem:
There are many flags in many lands,
There are flags of every hue;
But there's never a flag in any land
Like our own red, white, and blue.
I know where the prettiest colors are;
I'm sure if I only knew
How to get them here, I could make a flag
Of our own red, white, and blue.
I would cut a piece from the evening sky,
Where the stars were shining through,
And use it just as it was on high
for my stars and field of blue.
Then I'd take a part of a fleecy cloud
And some red from a rainbow bright,
And I'd put them together, side by side,
for my stripes of red and white.
When Billy came to the fifth verse all the children stood up, and, waving their flags, repeated together these words:
Then Hurrah For The Flag!—Our Country's Flag,
Its stripes and white stars, too;
For there's never a flag in any land
Like our own red, white, and blue.
Then their teacher stood on the platform and asked whether any boy or girl could tell the story of our flag. She waited a moment for a reply. But no one knew the story.
"Well," said she, "would you like me to tell it?"
"Yes, yes !" went up a shout from the boys and girls.
"Then listen! But I want to ask you a few ques tions before I begin the story. How many stars are there in our flag?"
"Forty-eight!" answered Billy Bowers, Kitty Warren, and Ralph More at the same time.
"Why are there forty-eight?" asked Miss Kate.
"Because there are forty-eight states in the United States, and there is a star for each state," answered Charlie Hay.
"Were there always forty-eight stars in our flag?" asked Miss Kate.
None of the children could answer that question. Then she asked:
"How many stripes are in the flag?"
The children all began to count the stripes, and Kitty Warren answered quickly, "Thirteen!"
"Why are there thirteen?" asked Miss Kate. But no one knew why.
"Were there always thirteen?" All of the boys and girls were as quiet as mice. None of them knew. "Well, perhaps my story will help you to answer."
This is the story she told:
"Long, long ago a band of English people sailed to America. They were people who loved God and who wanted to worship Him in the way they thought was right. They were not allowed to do this in England, so they set sail for the new world. They sailed under the English flag. At that time the English flag was like this:
"You see," said Miss Kate, "that it is red, white, and blue; but its bars are not like our stripes. And the blue is not in the corner of the flag as it is in ours. And there are no white stars."
The children looked at the flag of our forefathers with much interest. Billy Brown said to Ben that it was a fine flag; but he didn't like it as much as he liked our flag of to-day.
Ben thought that it should have had stars on it.
'Then Miss Kate began again and said: "This was probably the first English flag that ever waved over America. It may be that earlier the 'Red Cross of St. George' was brought here by other English people. if so, this is the kind of English flag that first floated on the American shores:"
Kitty Warren said to Ben that she didn't like that flag at all.
Ben said that there ought to be some blue and stars in every flag.
"Well," said Miss Kate, "some time after the Pilgrims in the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, England changed her flag from red, white, and blue, to crimson, with red and white crosses in a field of blue in the upper corner like this:
"This was called by some the 'Cromwell flag.' How do you like it?" asked Miss Kate.
Nearly all of the boys liked it, but the girls thought that there was too much red and not enough blue. Ben said he didn't like it because it hadn't anystars.
"Well," said Miss Kate, "In New England, which belonged to England at that time, the people didn't like it. They used the red, white, and blue flag which was known as the 'king's colors.' But later this is the flag that the New England people used:
"Do you like that flag?"
"No! no!" shouted the children. Even the boys, who usually like red, did not seem to care for "the pine tree flag."
"By and by," said Miss Kate, "our forefathers thought that they ought to be free. They thought that England was unjust towards them; so they decided to fight for their freedom. You remember the story of the 'Liberty Bell' that I told you last year. On the Fourth of July our forefathers declared that we were a separate nation. At that time there were thirteen states in the Union, and the first flag with stripes that was ever flung to the breezes here had thirteen stripes. George Washington tells us that it was saluted with thirteen guns, and this is the flab that they saluted:"
The children were so delighted with the flag that Billy Brown got up and shouted: "Three cheers for the first striped flag in America!"
All of the boys and girls rose to their feet and gave three hearty cheers for the flag.
"But," said Miss Kate, "we still did not have a flag to be known as the flag of our nation. So by and by it was decided to have one. It was to have thirteen stripes. They were to represent the thirteen states and they were to be red and white. Then there were to be thirteen white stars on a blue field in the upper corner of the flag. Each star was to represent a state. And the stars were to be formed in a circle. Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia lady, was asked to make the flag. When it was made the flag looked like this:"
"How do you like that flag?" asked Miss Kate.
"Fine! Fine!" shouted the children. In a minute every boy was on his feet cheering the flag with the stars and stripes.
"Well," Miss Kate said, "the flag with the thirteen stripes and the thirteen stars in the field of blue was used at the first Fourth of July celebration after the year that the Liberty Bell had been rung. And this is the flag that brought cheer to our soldiers and sailors when they were fighting the battles of the Revolution. This is the flag that waved at Yorktown when the English general surrendered, and the long war ended."
Billy Bowers whispered to Ben that he would like to leave been there to wave it.
"But," said Miss Kate, "we soon had to change this flag, because we added five more states to the Union. Then it was decided to add five more stars and five more stripes. And this is the way our flag looked then:
"But," said Miss Kate, "what was to be done when more states should be added to the Union? They could put more stars in the flag, but they could hardly add any more stripes. So the American Congress decided to have only thirteen stripes; and whenever a state should be added to the Union, another star should be added to the field of blue.
"One by one we have been adding stars to the flag until now there are forty-eight in all. And that means that there are forty-eight states in the Union. Every state files the same flag. It is the red, white, and blue. It is the stars and stripes. It is the flag of the free. It is the flag of our country. Here it is:
"Let us be proud of it. Let us love it. And let us give three cheers for it."
How the children did cheer! They rose to their feet and waved their flags. In a moment the band began to play "The Star-spangled Banner." Soon everybody was in line behind the band, and they marched around the Crystal Spring and along the silver stream, singing:
"The Star-spangled Banner, oh! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave."
Ben never forgot that Fourth of July. In the evening, when he went to bed, the tune of "The Star-spangled Banner" was still ringing in his ears. Far off in Dreamland he saw the beautiful stars and stripes floating on the soft breezes, and he heard the voices of happy children cheering the flag they loved so well.
In the name of our God we will set up our banners.
—Psalm xx. 5.