Of particular interest in this excerpt from Josephine R. Baker's Roundtop and Squaretop is the attitude of the protagonists' father, Harvey Gates (regularly presented as the story's moral compass), toward the family's Irish immigrant neighbors, the McCoys. Rather than shunning them, he encourages his wife to offer hospitality and help educate the McCoys, in order to make them better citizens. Underpinning Harvey Gates' actions -- and alluded to briefly in Jane Gates's response to his question about "no other ground of equality between you two" -- are his religious beliefs, which also emerge at key points in the plot. In contrast to the adults' studied responses, the books' protagonists, Roundtop and Squaretop, never give any indication that their neighbors are anything other than a source of welcome playmates. (The other excerpt from Roundtop, "Daniel in the Wood-Pile," also displays three different responses to the McCoys -- and to religion.)
Similar attitudes -- that those who benefit from birth or wealth should assist and educate, rather than avoid or ignore, the less fortunate, and that religion can (or should) shape one's behavior -- are played out against an urban setting in another of Baker's books, Gee's Trap; or, The Lambs and Field Street.
THE FOURTH OF JULY.
THERE were two days in the year that Mrs. Gates was willing to celebrate. One was Thanksgiving, and the other was the Fourth of July; though she sometimes said she wished the Fourth wouldn't always come just when the haying had fairly begun, and they could not afford to spare a single day; but it always did come at just that time, and at no other, and it must be celebrated at all events. The Fourth of July brought to her mind a sense of obligation that Christmas and Easter never brought, sincerely pious as she had ever been. There was fighting-blood in her veins, and it always asserted itself on the Fourth of July. Her grandfather had been in the Revolutionary Army, and had wintered at Valley Forge; her father had been in the war of 1812, and under General Harrison and Commodore Perry had fought the British with might and main; and her sons, true to their lineage, were yet to fight for their beloved country, and one, at least, to lay down his life in her defence, though, let us be thankful, Mrs. Gates knew nothing of it then.
The glorious Fourth was made memorable to the Gates children from their earliest recollections--sometimes by family parties at home, to which the various relations were invited; sometimes by excursions to the village down in the valley; sometimes by picnics in the woods, if the day was pleasant, or by a grand feast with tables set in the great barn, swept and garnished for the occasion, if the day proved a stormy one.
This year they were to have a quiet fish-fry in the North Woods, "all by themselves," remarked Mrs. Gates, with great satisfaction. Harvey was to furnish the fish from a certain trout-pool of which he alone possessed the secret; the fish were to be fried out-of-doors, and, as the party would be small and select, Mrs. Gates used her utmost skill in preparing dainties and substantials for the occasion.
" It is not as if we were going to feed a large family with coarse appetites, like the McCoys," said she, thinking, with certain compunctions, of the eggs and butter, cream and sugar and fruits, that had gone into the 'lection cake and cookies, pies and tarts and fluffy biscuits, which adorned her pantry shelves after a long, hard day's work. " Of course Luke will have his share, for he deserves it, but the rest is for ourselves and I am sure there will be considerable left over, so I will have to bake only bread for the rest of the week."
Harvey Gates, too, had made certain mysterious preparations which set the children all agog with interest and excitement, and the night before the Fourth they were sent early to bed, to get rested and ready for a long day in the woods.
It was past eight o'clock in the evening, the children were soundly sleeping and Mrs. Gates was sitting in the kitchen door-way, for once with idle hands, waiting for Harvey, who had been gone since supper-time. Presently she saw him coming in the moonlight, stopping to put his basket and fish-pole in the wood-house before dropping on the door-stone at her feet, as if he, too, was tired with his day's work.
They soon fell into subdued converse concerning the preparations for the coming day, and then about the day itself, and Harvey Gates said, earnestly,--
" It seems a pity than any child in this country should grow up in ignorance of the meaning of the day-- what it cost--what it has done and will do for the people, if they will adhere to the principles it commemorates."
"Why, every child does know, --or ought to know--"said she, stopping to consider. " I am sure, our children know."
" Yes, in part, and I intend they shall know more before to-morrow night. They are getting old enough now to take a little instruction with their amusement. I am going to carry along the Declaration of Independence, and read it to them, and tell them how it came to be written, and what it means, as simply as possible. But what do you suppose the McCoys know about it? To them the Fourth of July is only a day for accidents and extra noise, and yet every one of those boys will be entitled to a vote when he is twenty-one, and he will be sure to cast it, right or wrong, and probably wrong, unless he is trained to know the right from the wrong. There's Mike and Barney and Patsy and Teddy and Tony and Jimmy and Johnny and the baby, to say nothing of the father, who would sell his vote any day for a glass of rum,--nine votes in all, as against the five votes that I and my boys will cast, God willing! But of what use will be the five votes which I and my boys cast for the right, let us hope, against the nine votes which the McCoys ignorantly cast for the wrong, in a country where majorities rule ? We might as well not vote at all. You see, it is of little use to train our children, unless our neighbor's children are trained too; especially when we are in the minority."
" I never thought of that before," said she, concernedly. " The McCoys must not be allowed to out-vote my boys in the land their grandfather and great-grandfather fought to make free for them. If there is no other way, they must be trained to vote with my children and not against them, and the sooner the training is begun, the better."
" So I think. Suppose we begin to-morrow."
" Suppose they are allowed to hear the Declaration of Independence read, with our children, to-morrow."
There was a pause. Then she faced him. " Do you mean that we are going to take the McCoys with us to-morrow on our Celebration?"
" And eat up every mouthful, and more too, of the nice food I have made for ourselves ? "
"By no means! They must eat their own food. Biddy can make bread, and we can carry plenty of vegetables. I never had such success in trout-fishing as I had to-night,--a basket full of splendid, great fellows; and I am going again before daylight to-morrow morning. I think some of those trout were intended for the McCoys." .
There was another silence, and then she broke out petulantly: "I declare! it seems as if the McCoys were tacked to me on every side "; and she moved fretfully as if she felt the points of the tacks. " I can not stir in any direction, but the McCoys, more or less, are there too. I do believe you think that Biddy, with her ragged, dirty, Irish children, is full as good, if not a little better than I, with the tidy little ones I have taken so much pains to teach and bring up as they ought to be brought up."
" What says the Declaration about all men being created free and equal? And if all men, then of course all women. I know very well," turning an admiring face to hers, " that Biddy has not a particle of 'gumption'; she can not manage a farm, or, make the nice things you make for us every day. I know she is not young, or good-looking, and never had a grandfather or great-grandfather who fought for the country, if indeed she ever had any ancestors at all; but in virtue of her motherhood and womanhood she stands on a par with every honest woman in the land. And, Jane," laying his hand on her knee, " is there no other ground of equality between you two ? "
After another pause, during which the kitchen clock struck nine, she said, gently, " I suppose we both need to be forgiven when we have done wrong. The McCoys can go with us to-morrow if they must."
" There is no must about it."
" Well; if they want to, then. Come, it is time to go to bed. You shut the doors and see that the cats are all out, while I wind the clock and see if the children are asleep."
Before it was daylight the next morning Harvey Gates slipped out to his trout-fishing, for, much as he commiserated the McCoys, he had no intention of letting them know where the trout they were to eat had been caught; and Mrs. Gates got up and went about making bread and gingerbread for the same improvident creatures, softly humming Greenville,--the one tune she could hum,--thinking kindly thoughts of all the world and especially of the McCoys.
The early breakfast was scarcely over when the Tops heard sounds that made them prick up their ears like old war-horses. They sprang to the door just in time to see Luke driving old Fan into the yard, with crippled Patsey on the front seat of the wagon beside him, piping Yankee Doodle for dear life, on a fife Mr. Gates had made for him; and on the back seat sat bushy Mike, beating a big snare-drum, a little out of time and tune, but making just the right sort of a noise for the Fourth of July. Close behind came Mr. Gates, with Timon and the big lumber-box wagon, trimmed with flags and decorated with evergreen branches, and filled to overflowing with Biddy and the rest of her children, all yelling, "Hurrah! Hurrah!'" at the top of their voices.
Mrs. Gates put her hands to her ears, but took them away again immediately, smiling cheerfully,-- for was it not the Fourth of July, and was not all the noise a part of the training necessary to prevent the McCoys from out-voting her own children by and by?
Biddy bounced out of the wagon with " The top o' the marnin' to yees all! " pitched off her bonnet and shawl, and went to washing the breakfast dishes, while Mrs. Gates packed the baskets, and Dear made ready the children, and Mr. Gates and Luke got the wagons and ox-team in train for the excursion to the North Woods.
Then the procession formed, the band leading in the big lumber-box wagon, with Mr. Gates driving, Mrs. Gates following with old Fan and the younger children, and Luke bringing up the rear with the oxen and hay-cart loaded with baskets and blankets and buffalo robes and sundry mysteriously covered objects; and when at last they were ready to start, Mr. Gates stood up, with the reins in his hand, and, swinging his hat around his head, called for three cheers; and they were given with a will, the shrill, childish voices, the feminine trebles and deep basses, making the hill-side resound with an indescribable clamor. The band struck up Yankee Doodle, and off they went in grand style.
What a delightful ride that was! all the more enjoyable, because of the unevenness of the way; they liked to be bumped, and tossed about, and shaken together. How the band kept it up! and how they laughed, and shouted, and talked, all at once and all together, till Timon laid back his ears, and showed his teeth, and would have balked, if any hand but Harvey Gates' had been on the reins.
The procession came to a final halt, under wide-spreading oaks and maples, which grew where the land sloped gently down to the banks of Box Brook, --the very spot where Harvey Gates and the children had spent a day in the woods more than a year before; and Harvey Gates gallantly assisted the ladies to the ground, and took the younger children out, while Luke drove the ox-team farther on, and, unharnessing the horses, tethered them out in the woods to eat.
The oven Harvey Gates had made in the ground on a previous occasion needed a little repairing, and a stove had to be improvised out of flat stones set up box-like, with a rusty piece of stove-pipe for a funnel; the baskets and other belongings were to be taken from the cart; the blankets and buffalo-robes spread on the grass under the trees for the ladies and children to recline upon; three broad planks were to be taken from the cart and laid on cross-pieces, supported by notched sticks driven firmly into the ground, for a table; and benches were to be made in the same way for seats, on each side of the table; and altogether an hour or more passed before the celebrating began.
Then Harvey Gates blew a prodigious blast on the tin horn, to recall the children who were playing about in the woods; and when they were all together he called for music from the band, and the audience stood around in open-mouthed admiration, beating time while the band played. It was a great day, indeed, for Patsey and Mike; and Biddy fairly blubbered as she broke out, --
" Ter think of me lads standing there, though me Patsey can no stand at all, making such a foine, big noise, and the all of us harkenin'! Ah! me lads, the Fourth of July is a rale gintleman, so he is! "
Mrs. Gates rose to explain, when Harvey, shading his mouth with his hand,--a trick he had when laughter was not in order, -- began reading in a controlled voice.
"My Country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing!
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the Pilgrims' pride,
From every mountain side
Let freedom ring ! "
Then all sang with great gusto, Mr. Gates and Dear leading; and if Mrs. Gates sang Greenville, while the rest sang America, nobody minded, if indeed anybody knew; so intent was each and every one on doing their utmost on this great occasion.
When all the verses had been sung, Harvey Gates offered a brief prayer, to which even the birds seemed to listen, and then Mike and Teddy came around with a water-pail full of lemonade,-- Luke's contribution to the occasion,-- and one of Luke's famous gourd-shells to drink out of, and surely no lemonade was ever so good as that!
Harvey Gates remained standing, and when they had all quenched their thirst, --and Mike and Teddy had to go around twice in order to do that, -- he told them in simple words the heroic story of the Pilgrim Fathers--their landing at Plymouth Rock -- the long struggle with cold, hunger, wild beasts and wilder Indians, -- carrying his breathless audience with him on through the prosperous years of the colonies, up to the time their rights and privileges were invaded by the politicians of the mother country. He told of the stamp act--the Boston tea-party--the midnight ride of Paul Revere, -- and when the flashing eyes and belligerent attitudes of his audience told that they were quite ready for a Declaration of Independence, he drew a pamphlet from his pocket and read in measured tones, explaining as he read, that solemn Declaration, adopted July 4th, 1776.
Then for the first time the McCoys learned that the Fourth of July was " no gintleman at all," but simply a date,--of importance because of the principles it commemorates.
The Revolutionary War was speedily brought to a triumphant close, amid the shouts and plaudits of the excited audience, the band played again with great fury, and then came the surprise of the day.
Two by two they were marshalled in stately procession, the band leading, while Harvey Gates, as Commander-in-Chief, waving his cane with a red handkerchief attached, walked at their head, marching them in and out, and up and down, with great ceremony (" Even General George Washington himself couldn't have done it better," said Mrs. Gates, in a loud whisper to the astonished Biddy at her side), till at length they reached an open space on a high bank of Box Brook. There they formed a circle around a strange looking object, painted black, bound with brass hoops, and mounted on a rock, which Dear, venturing a guess, said was a cannon. A flag-staff stood beside it, and a flag waved over it, and close at hand were stacked two guns, a Queen Anne and a King's Arm, which had done their utmost for the country, in the hands of Mrs. Gates' father and grandfather. The old flintlock guns with their clumsy stocks and long barrels had been hunted out, scoured and polished, and made ready for this glorious occasion; and there they stood, with the powder-horns swinging from their muzzles, looking fierce enough to put an army of redcoats to flight.
Mrs. Gates glowed at the sight, but Biddy shook in her shoes, and was afraid " the craythurs wud go aff unawares loike," and needed to be reassured again and again to keep her from running to the rear, even before the battle began.
Harvey Gates now mounted on the rock beside the cannon and made a little speech, holding his cane sword-like in his hand, to Mrs. Gates' great admiration. He told of the battles these guns had participated in, the glorious victories they had helped to win, on land and sea, and he bade his children, when they should have become men and women, to cherish these old guns as a part of their proudest inheritance. And then he charged them, solemnly, that if the time ever came that the country needed their services, in peace or in war, they were to consider themselves bound to serve her, lovingly and loyally, even to the death, as they would serve the mother they so loved and honored. How the children thrilled as they listened! how eager they were to offer themselves and all they possessed to their beloved country!--little knowing that this was but a foretaste of a time that was yet to come.
The old guns were now laid athwart the cannon, to steady them, and the company summoned in platoons of two and two to come up and fire in honor of the day. The children, with measured steps, white faces, and flashing eyes, came up and solemnly snapped the old flint-locks, feeling in the very marrow of their bones that they were fighting for their country's weal.
Biddy had already disappeared, and when Harvey Gates, bidding the company stand back, primed and fired the cannon, making strange echoes in the dim woods, the climax was reached, and Biddy, panic-stricken, took to her heels, leaving various articles of wearing apparel scattered along her route, as she fled from the woods. Some time later they found her crouched in a heap ' on the bank of the brook, wailing,--
"Oi'm kilt--Oi'm kilt, entoirely, so Oi am. Oh! me Patsey; oh! me Mike; it's kilt we are, this day! and all for the Fourth of July, bad look ter him!"
She was, however, speedily restored to her normal condition by the sight of Mike holding the baby by the heels, and Teddy and Tony engaged in a furious scrimmage. A most delicious odor of frying fish also penetrated her nostrils, and she jumped up, administering cuffs and rebukes right and left, crying, " What is it ye mane, ye spalpeens, kaping me here, when its mesel' shud be roastin' me face fryin' them fish, and not the misthress at all?"
What a success that dinner was! It made the McCoys ravenously hungry to see the great platters of nicely browned trout; the stacks of biscuits, and plates of brown bread; the pies and the cakes; the dishes of lettuce and radish, and the bushel of potatoes that came out of the ground-oven " as maley as maley cud be."
They lingered long at their dinner, and cup after cup of extra " sthrang tay" was poured for Biddy, for Mrs. Gates had now reached such a pitch of patriotism that she could, without flinching, see great quarters of her best frosted 'lection cake going down the insatiable throats of the McCoys, knowing that not a crumb would be left for the morrow.
Presently Roundtop and Squaretop, who had been on a voyage of discovery, found two broad swings on neighboring trees, deeper in the wood, and their shouts of delight soon brought the McCoys to the place, and Mrs. Gates and Biddy rose to gather up the fragments of the feast.
It was a long happy day, and they were all children together. . . .
Josephine R. Baker, Roundtop and Squaretop: The Gates Twins
Boston and Chicago: Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society, 1887.
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