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How the Little Smiths Got Their Fourth of July Money

by Margaret Sidney

"What did George Washington do, I wonder, on the Fourth of July?" said Harper Smith, rattling his tin money bank with an awful din.

"Mercy! I don't know," said Aunt Nancy, shielding her ears, and thinking twice as much about the noise as she did about the question. "Do pray be still! I'm sure I wish there wasn't any Fourth of July."

"Oh, Harp, you ninny!" cried his brother Joe. "There wasn't any Fourth at all till George Washington made it."

"You better study up," said Aunt Nancy, coming to her senses, as Harper, very much confused, stopped the rattling. "You don't begin to realize what the guns and the fire-crackers and the torpedoes, and all the other dreadful things that blow up people and knock off boys' fingers and toes, are for. It would be a great deal better if boys had more history in their heads and less money in their pockets. That's the way to celebrate, I think; and I mean to ask your father about it."

"Oh, don't, don't, Aunt Nancy—please don't!" cried both boys, in the greatest dismay, while Lucy ran in from the next room, with wide-open eyes, at the uproar. "Don't make father take away our money; we always have it, you know."

"You can have your money," said Aunt Nancy, putting up her spectacles to look at their distressed faces, and beginning to laugh at the sight; "but you ought to know what you're spending it for. I would, I know, be able to tell something about my country, and who fought for it."

When Mr. Smith came home the boys were both out in the barn, looking at a very new colony of kittens in an old barrel. So Aunt Nancy had about five minutes of peace and quiet, which she speedily made the most of, I can assure you—talking away so fast that Mr. Smith had to follow her pretty closely, with eyes as well as ears on the alert.

When she had finished, "Capital," was all he said. And then the boys came tearing in, and they had tea.

After supper, "Now for a story," cried Joe, getting possession of the chair next to Mr. Smith, while Harper flew for another.

"When does Fourth of July come?" asked Mr. Smith, abruptly.

"It's three weeks from day after to-morrow," cried Joe, springing up, and running for the almanac.

"Weill, what are you going to do on the Fourth?" said their father.

"Oh, everything," cried Joe, while Harper came in on the chorus; and Lucy beat a soft little tune on her father's shoulder with her hand.

"You said you'd give us more money this Fourth," cried Harper, seeing his chance. "Don't you remember? 'Cause we're bigger, you know."

"And so you'll try to blow off your heads harder than ever, I suppose," said Mr. Smith, with a twinkle in the eye next to Harper. "And then who's to pay the doctor's bills, I wonder?"

"If our heads were off, we wouldn't have to have the doctor," suggested Joe, dreadfully afraid the money wasn't coming.

"True enough," laughed his father. "Well, heads stand for everything else—all the hurts, I mean."

"I ain't goin' to blow off my head," declared Harper, getting up in an anxious way, and standing in front of his father. "Say, father, I promise you I won't. Do give us the money—do."

"Do you want more than you had before?" asked his father, pulling his ear.

"Yes, sir," emphatically declared Harper, all out of breath from his exercise; "I want forty cannons."

"Mercy!" ejaculated Aunt Nancy, in smothered accents, over in the corner by the window, with her mending basket.

"Well, then, I'll tell you how you can get it," said Mr. Smith, speaking very earnestly, and fastening his eyes intently on their faces.

"Really, papa?" cried Lucy, sitting up straight on his knee.

"Really," said Mr. Smith, bringing his hand down on the arm of his chair with convincing emphasis. "And I don't mind paying money for such an object—it's well spent, I can tell you. Now, boys, see here—and Lucy too;" and he leaned forward and began to talk in a way that made the children see that this was no funning, but sober earnest, every word of it. "If you all go to work for three weeks, beginning to-morrow morning—all the time you get out of school, I mean—and study up everything you can get hold of that concerns the history of our country: what Fourth-of-July's for, and all that; who made the country what it is, so that we can celebrate and bang away, and play with powder and guns— Stop! I haven't got through," as he saw both boys' mouths fly open to launch numberless questions at him. "Begin at the very foundation; get all the information you possibly can; find out all the names of the Presidents, for one thing, and all about the establishing of Congress; most of the principal battles, and all that—why, then, three weeks from to-morrow night, the one who knows the most, and can tell it in a sensible way that shows he knows what he's learned, and not like a parrot, he shall have the most money. And it shall be a large sum, I promise you, compared to what you had last year. That's all. Now you may speak." And Mr. Smith leaned back in his chair, and burst into a hearty laugh at the tumult he had raised around his ears.

At last Harper, in a lull of questions and answers that were flying back and forth, turned and fixed a reproachful glance over in the direction of the big mending basket. "'Twas all Aunt Nancy," he cried. "Oh dear! And she wasn't never a boy. And she don't know how we want things, she don't."

"We never can do it," cried Joe, in despair.

"Never's a long word," cried Mr. Smith, briskly. "Begin to-night. Come, boys, get out the maps, and we'll start right off, now, this very minute;" and he jumped up, and began to roll the big table up closer to the window.

"And I'm goin' to get that awful old history," cried Harper, rushing out, full of enthusiasm; "that'll tell lots."

"Do," cried his father, approvingly. "Go along too, Joe and Lucy, and get all the books you can; then we'll see."

So in two or three minutes three happy and excited children sat around the table, while their father showed them how to begin, explained the hard parts, and pointed out places on the map, while Aunt Nancy, over in the corner, smiled and nodded to herself more than ever.

All of a sudden a voice broke in on the absorbed group: "And I'm going to have a finger in this Fourth-of-July pie; so you needn't think you can keep me out."

Everybody looked up and stared.

"Yes, I am; so there, now!" repeated Aunt Nancy, decisively. "And the one that I find knows the most when you all get through in three weeks, why, there's some stray dollars in my purse that I don't know what to do with, and they might as well go along with your father's as anywhere else."

At this there was such excitement over by the table that nobody could hear anything, till Harper's voice finally got the high key. "And if anybody sees a bigger Fourth of July than we'll have, I'd like to know it, that's all."

"Three cheers for Christopher Columbus, and the whole lot!" cried Joe. "I wish 'twas Fourth twice a year, I do."

"We haven't got ready for one yet," said Lucy, deep in an atlas. "I'm goin' to make this a good one first."

"Three cheers for Christopher Columbus—and Lucy!" said Harper, taking the hint, and settling down to work.

"It can't be nine o'clock?" cried Joe, when Mr. Smith gave the word "To bed."

"Look at the clock, then," said their father; and all the flushed faces were turned up to the old time-piece in the corner.

"It's dreadfully nice," said Lucy, cuddling up to Aunt Nancy for a good-night kiss. "Oh, I'd love to sit up all night and study."

"Hold out to the end," said Mr. Smith; "that's what will tell." And off the three children flew to their nests, to dream of George Washington dancing a war-dance on Bunker Hill, while Pocahontas read the Declaration of Independence.

It all went very well for two days. The children got up early in the morning, and otherwise made the most of their time. Then Harper's great friend Chuckie Bronson, who had received a wonderful dog from an uncle in the country, waxed so enthusiastic over the various tricks that the little spaniel performed that Harper couldn't help catching the fever. And it came to be quite the natural thing that when the little history class gathered around the big table, one of their number was missing, and Harper's book-mark remained stationary for many a long hour. And then, unfortunately for poor Lucy, who eagerly grasped every second from play-time to spend among the text-books and atlases, which by this time had become exceedingly fascinating, for her came one evening the final hour of study, and the last hope disappeared of her ever winning the coveted "First Prize." Hateful little red spots blossomed all over Lucy's face, as if by magic, so suddenly that no one noticed, until Joe, glancing up to find a word in the dictionary, discovered them, and nudged Aunt Nancy.

"Mercy!" said that individual, looking keenly over her spectacles at the little student—"if you haven't broken out with measles! Shut your book, child; it's dreadfully bad for the eyes. Now you mustn't read another word."

If Lucy was red as a rose before, now she was pale enough. All of the hateful little red spots seemed to run right in at the command, and hide their heads.

No more study! How could she give it up? Oh! and there were still ten days before the glorious Fourth!

With all Joe's sorrow for his little afflicted sister, with all his kindness of disposition, he couldn't help but rejoice just one wee bit at being sole conqueror—just for one minute, though. The next he said,

"See here, Lucy. I'll read 'em to you—every one of the questions, you know. There, don't cry, puss. And then you can learn the answers, and say 'em over and over; and—goodness me!—why, you'll learn a heap that way."

"I can't," moaned poor Lucy, screwing her fingers into her smarting eyes. "It'll put you back; you might be studying all that while, Joe. Oh dear! dear!"

"That's very true," observed Aunt Nancy, whisking off something very bright from her cheek; "and that wouldn't be quite right, Lucy. It's all the same a good thing in you, Joe, to want to. There are some things better than prizes, or knowledge even. But I'll read to you, Lucy, and if you can have the patience to learn that way—it'll be much harder, you know—but if you can do it, why perhaps you'll come off better than you think—who knows?"

So Lucy, with her father's old silk handkerchief tied over her eyes, sat on her little stool patiently day after day, while Aunt Nancy went over as much ground as could be covered in that slow way; and on the unequal battle waged.

"Of course I don't expect any prize," said Lucy, with a very big sigh, when the eventful evening of the 3d of July arrived; "but I know a little something, and that's nice. But, oh! to think of Joe!"

"Where's Harper?" said Mr. Smith, when the little circle was formed around him.

"Here," said a doleful voice from underneath the table. "I don't know anything, an' I ain't a-comin' out."

"I shouldn't think you did," said Mr. Smith, gravely. "Ah, Harper, my boy, play is pleasant enough at the time, but I tell you it hurts afterward; that is, if it's all play."

"And now," exclaimed Aunt Nancy, bringing them back to order, when a delightful hour of questions, anecdotes, and rapid answers had fairly whirled by—"the result."

"The first prize, of course," said Mr. Smith, smiling down into the two upturned, eager faces before him, "belongs, without doubt, to Joe; but if ever a prize ought to go, as fairly earned under difficulties, there should be one for my little girl!"

He put into Joe's hand a brand-new ten-dollar bill that crinkled delightfully; and then he took hold of Lucy's little hand, and opening it, he laid within one just like it.

"You've got one too!" screamed Joe, perfectly delighted. "Oh, Lucy, do look and see!"

"Have I?" cried Lucy, poking up one corner of the old handkerchief to see. "Oh, Joe, I have, I have!"

"And here is my part of the Fourth-of-July pie," cried Aunt Nancy, rattling down on them a goodly shower of silver quarters. "There! and there! and there!"

"The Fourth of July forever!" sang Joe, jumping up on the table, and swinging his arms. "Three cheers for the Encyclopædia of Events I'll get!"

"That's no better than the Histories I'll have!" crowed Lucy, triumphantly.

"And I," said a dismal voice under the table, "shall begin now for next year. Yes, I will."