Erect and alert, like a little soldier in blue gingham, Marnie stood at attention and saluted the flag. Then with blazing eyes she turned upon the two little boys across the aisle, whom the teacher was scolding, and fairly withered them with a scornful glance. To think that there could be two American boys who would giggle during the daily salute – giggle and have to be made to do it over!
John, however, was her neighbor, and as soon as Marnie came out to play that afternoon he ran right over.
Marnie drew her skirts round her with great dignity and started back toward the house. “You know well enough, John Grover!” she said. “I don’t want anything to do with a traitor!” And she held her curly head very high indeed.
“Traitor!” stammered John. “What do you mean?”
Marnie turned round just for a minute. “Any boy who laughs at the Stars and Stripes is as bad as a Traitor!” she said.
John took a step after her. “Why, what do you mean, Marnie?” he said. “I never laughed at the Stars and Stripes, never! Why, I had a great-great-grandfather or something that died in the Revolutionary War! So!”
Marnie turned again, and her yes blazed even more than they had before.
“That makes it all the worse!” she cried. “What would your great-great-grandfather think if he knew how you laughed at the flag when you ought to have saluted it?”
“Oh!” John understood now, and he felt better. “Is that what you mean? Why, there wasn’t any flag there to laugh at, Marnie Evans. That’s the joke, don’t you see? Saluting the blackboard and pretending it’s a flag!”
“Why, John Grover,” cried Marnie, “do you mean – why, it is there! I mean it’s just the same as there. Don’t you see?” She stopped helplessly. “Why, when I salute or when I sing The Star-Spangled Banner, I do see it – not a real one, of course, but something up in the air, bigger and lovelier than any flag I ever saw – almost. And that’s what I salute. O John, don’t you understand?”
But John shook his head. “No,” he said firmly. “It’s because you’re a girl that you see things in the air like that. When I see a real flag I’ll salute all right, and so’ll the rest of the fellows; but saluting the blackboard is just a joke. So! Come on now and play.”
But Marnie shook her head and walked slowly up the steps. She had something to think about, and wished to be by herself.
To begin with, Marnie had to make up her mind to the idea that other people did not see the great beautiful flag that she saw up in the sky whenever she heard The Star-Spangled Banner or went through the pretty exercise that they call in school Saluting the Flag. And then someway she saw that it was not a good thing for boys to laugh about saluting the flag, even when there was not any flag there.
And last, there was the question of daddy’s present that he did not bring her from New York.
For Marnie’s father had come back only that morning from New York; and as he had been too busy to buy he a present there, as he usually did, he had promised to let her go downtown with her mother and choose a present for herself.
Now the trouble was that there were two things that Marnie wanted – a beautiful doll that she had seen in Shores’ window and a set of books; and before John had come over, Marnie had thought that it would take her every single minute until mother was ready for her to decide which she would choose. But now, all of a sudden, here was a strange new idea.
She sat down in the library, perfectly still for ten minutes, and then ran upstairs.
“Mother!” she called. “O mother! Could I get a flag with daddy’s money, do you think?”
“Yes. Indeed,” said mother.
“A big flag?”
“Yes, a fine big flag, I should think,” said mother. “Daddy was going to give you a particularly fine present, you know, because he had to disappoint you this morning. But what do you need of a flag? Daddy and I have a fine one to put on the front veranda.”
Then Marnie told her all about the boys who laughed, and the flag that she seemed to see but that the boys did not see, and how she felt that they must have a real flag.
Mother smiled and nodded and smiled again as she listened – and I think a little bit of mother’s money, too, went into the flag that they bought that afternoon, for it was just as beautiful as a flag could be, an as big as a nine-year-old girl could possibly carry over her shoulder.
But the best thing of all happened the next morning when she stepped out of the door, with her head high and her precious flag waving proudly aloft. For there on the sidewalk were all the little boys, with John at their head. Not Marnie or Barbara Frietchie, or George Washington himself, could have seen a thing to criticize in the way they saluted the flag that morning and marched behind it, a guard of honor, until it landed safe and sound in their room at school.