A Story of the Flag by Victor Mapes

When the Fourth of July came, we had been abroad nearly two months, and during that time I think we had not seen a single American flag. On the morning of the Fourth, however, we walked out on the Paris boulevards, and a number of flags were hanging out from the different American shops, which are quite frequent there. They looked strange to us; and the idea occurred to Frank, for the first time, that the United States was one of a great many nations living next to one another in this world—that it was his own nation, a kind of big family he belonged to. The Fourth of July was a sort of big, family birthday, and the flags were out so as to tell the Frenchmen and everybody else not to forget the fact.

A feeling of this nature came over Frank that morning, and he called out, "There's another!" every time a new flag came in view. He stopped two or three times to count the number of them in sight, and showed in various ways that he, America, and the American flag had come to a new understanding with one another.

During the morning, Frank's cousin George, a boy two or three years older than Frank, who had been in Paris the preceding winter, came to our hotel; and, as I had some matters to attend to in the afternoon, they went off together to see sights and to have a good time.

When Frank returned about dinner-time, and came up to the room where I was writing letters, I noticed a small American-flag pin stuck in the lapel of his coat.

"George had two," he said in answer to my question; "and he gave me this one. He's been in Paris a year now, and he says we ought to wear them or maybe people won't know we're Americans. But say, Uncle Jack, where do you think I got that?" He opened a paper bundle he had under his arm and unrolled a weather-beaten American flag.

"Where?" asked I, naturally supposing it came from George's house.

"We took it off of Lafayette's tomb."

I opened my eyes in astonishment; while he went on:

"George says the American Consul, or the American Consul-General, or somebody, put it on the tomb last Fourth of July, for our government, because Lafayette, don't you know, helped us in the Revolution."

"They ought to put a new flag on every year, George says," explained Frank, seeing my amazement, "on Fourth of July morning. But the American Consul, or whoever he is that's here now, is a new man, George thinks; anyhow, he forgot to do it. So we bought a new flag and we did it.

"There were a lot of people at the tomb when we went there, and we guessed they were all waiting to see the new flag put on. We waited, too, but no soldiers or anybody came; and after a while the people all went away. Then George said:

"'Somebody ought to put on a new flag—let's do it!'

"We went to a store on the Boulevard, and for twenty francs bought a new flag just like this old one. George and I each paid half. There were two women and a little girl at the tomb when we got back, and we waited till they went away. Then we unrolled the new flag and took the old one off the tomb.

"We thought we ought to say something when we put the new flag on, but we didn't know what to say. George said they always made a regular speech thanking Lafayette for helping us in the Revolution, but we thought it didn't matter much. So we just took off our hats when we spread out the new flag on the grave, and then we rolled up the old flag and came away.

"We drew lots for it afterward, and I'm going to take it back home with me.

"Somebody ought to have done it, and as we were both American boys, it was all right, wasn't it?"

Right or wrong, the flag that travelers see on Lafayette's tomb this year, as a mark of the American nation's sentiment toward the great Frenchman, is the one put there by two small, self-appointed representatives. And the flag put there the year before, with fitting ceremony by the authorized official, Frank preserves carefully hung up on the wall of his little room in America.