Author of "The Unhallowed Harvest," "Pickett's Gap," "The Blind Brother," etc.
PHILADELPHIA GEORGE W. JACOBS & CO PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1917 George W. Jacobs & Company
All rights reserved Printed in U. S. A.
List of Illustrations
He Glared Defiantly About Him Frontispiece
Aleck Turned it Upside Down and Rightside Up, But Failed to Find the Place Facing p. 54
Into the Face of Death He Led the Remnant of His Brave Platoon " 274
The French Hospital's Greeting to the American Colonel " 316
Snow everywhere; freshly fallen, white and beautiful. It lay unsullied on the village roofs, and, trampled but not yet soiled, in the village streets. The spruce trees on the lawn at Bannerhall were weighted with it, and on the lawn itself it rested, like an ermine blanket, soft and satisfying. Down the steps of the porch that stretched across the front of the mansion, a boy ran, whistling, to the street.
He was slender and wiry, agile and sure-footed. He had barely reached the gate when the front door of the square, stately old brick house was opened and a woman came out on the porch and called to him.
"Yes, Aunt Millicent." He turned to listen to her.
"Pen, don't forget that your grandfather's going to New York on the five-ten train, and that you are to be at the station to see him off."
"I won't forget, auntie."
"And then come straight home."
"Straight as a string, Aunt Milly."
"All right! Good-by!"
He passed through the gate, and down the street toward the center of the village. It was the noon recess and he was on his way back to school where he must report at one-fifteen sharp. He had an abundance of time, however, and he stopped in front of the post-office to talk with another boy about the coasting on Drake's Hill. It was while he was standing there that some one called to him from the street. Seated in an old-fashioned cutter drawn by an old gray horse were an old man and a young woman. The woman's face flushed and brightened, and her eyes shone with gladness, as Pen leaped from the sidewalk and ran toward her.
"Why, mother!" he cried. "I didn't expect to see you. Are you in for a sleigh-ride?"
She bent over and kissed him and patted his cheek before she replied,
"Yes, dearie. Grandpa had to come to town; and it's so beautiful after the snow that I begged to come along."
Then the old man, round-faced and rosy, with a fringe of gray whiskers under his chin, and a green and red comforter about his neck, reached out a mittened hand and shook hands with Pen.
"Couldn't keep her to hum," he said, "when she seen me hitchin' up old Charlie."
He laughed good-naturedly and tucked the buffalo-robe in under him.
"How's grandma?" asked Pen.
"Jest about as usual," was the reply. "When you comin' out to see us?"
"I don't know. Maybe a week from Saturday. I'll see."
Then Pen's mother spoke again.
"You were going to school, weren't you? We won't keep you. Give my love to Aunt Millicent; and come soon to see us."
She kissed him again; the old man clicked to his horse, and succeeded, after some effort, in starting him, and Pen returned to the sidewalk and resumed his journey toward school.
It was noticeable that no one had spoken of Colonel Butler, the grandfather with whom Pen lived at Bannerhall on the main street of Chestnut Hill. There was a reason for that. Colonel Butler was Pen's paternal grandfather; and Colonel Butler's son had married contrary to his father's wish. When, a few years later, the son died, leaving a widow and an only child, Penfield, the colonel had so far relented as to offer a home to his grandson, and to provide an annuity for the widow. She declined the annuity for herself, but accepted the offer of a home for her son. She knew that it would be a home where, in charge of his aunt Millicent, her boy would receive every advantage of care, education and culture. So she kissed him good-by and left him there, and she herself, ill, penniless and wretched, went back to live with her father on the little farm at Cobb's Corners, five miles away. But all that was ten years before, and Pen was now fourteen. That he had been well cared for was manifest in his clothing, his countenance, his bearing and his whole demeanor as he hurried along the partly swept pavement toward his destination.
A few blocks farther on he overtook a school-fellow, and, as they walked together, they discussed the war.
For war had been declared. It had not only been declared, it was in actual progress.
Equipped and generalled, stubborn and aggressive, the opposing forces had faced each other for weeks. Yet it had not been a sanguinary conflict. Aside from a few bruised shins and torn coats and missing caps, there had been no casualties worth mentioning. It was not a country-wide war. It was, indeed, a war of which no history save this veracious chronicle, gives any record.
The contending armies were composed of boys. And the boys were residents, respectively, of the Hill and the Valley; two villages, united under the original name of Chestnut Hill, and so closely joined together that it would have been impossible for a stranger to tell where one ended and the other began. The Hill, back on the plateau, had the advantage of age and the prestige that wealth gives. The Valley, established down on the river bank when the railroad was built through, had the benefit of youth and the virtue of aggressiveness. Yet they were mutually interdependent. One could not have prospered without the aid of the other. When the new graded-school building was erected, it was located on the brow of the hill in order to accommodate pupils from both villages. From that time the boys who lived on the hill were called Hilltops, and those who lived in the valley were called Riverbeds. Just when the trouble began, or what was the specific cause of it, no one seemed exactly to know. Like Topsy, it simply grew. With the first snow of the winter came the first physical clash between the opposing forces of Hilltops and Riverbeds. It was a mild enough encounter, but it served to whet the appetites of the young combatants for more serious warfare. Miss Grey, the principal of the school, was troubled and apprehensive. She had encouraged a friendly rivalry between the two sets of boys in matters of intellectual achievement, but she greatly deprecated such a state of hostility as would give rise to harsh feelings or physical violence. She knew that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to coerce them into peace and harmony, so she set about to contrive some method by which the mutual interest of the boys could be aroused and blended toward the accomplishment of a common object.
The procuring of an American flag for the use of the school had long been talked of, and it occurred to her now that if she could stimulate a friendly rivalry among her pupils, in an effort to obtain funds for the purchase of a flag, it might divert their minds from thoughts of hostility to each other, into channels where a laudable competition would be provocative of harmony. So she decided, after consultation with the two grade teachers, to prepare two subscription blanks, each with its proper heading, and place them respectively in the hands of Penfield Butler captain of the Hilltops, and Alexander Sands commander of the Riverbeds. The other pupils would be instructed to fall in behind these leaders and see which party could obtain, not necessarily the most money, but the largest number of subscriptions. She felt that interest in the flag would be aroused by the numbers contributing rather than by the amount contributed. It was during the session of the school that afternoon that she made the announcement of her plan, and delivered the subscription papers to the two captains. She aroused much enthusiasm by the little speech she made, dwelling on the beauty and symbolism of the flag, and the patriotic impulse that would be aroused and strengthened by having it always in sight.
No one questioned the fact that Pen Butler was the leader of the Hilltops, nor did any one question the similar fact that Aleck Sands was the leader of the Riverbeds. There had never been any election or appointment, to be sure, but, by common consent and natural selection, these two had been chosen in the beginning as commanders of the separate hosts.
When, therefore, the subscription blanks were put into the hands of these boys as leaders, every one felt that nothing would be left undone by either to win fame and honor for his party in the matter of the flag.
So, when the afternoon session of school closed, every one had forgotten, for the time being at least, the old rivalry, and was ready to enlist heartily in the new one.
There was fine coasting that day on Drake's Hill. The surface of the road-bed, hard and smooth, had been worn through in patches, but the snow-fall of the night before had so dressed it over as to make it quite perfect for this exhilarating winter sport.
As he left the school-house Pen looked at his watch, a gift from his grandfather Butler on his last birthday, and found that he would have more than half an hour in which to enjoy himself at coasting before it would be necessary to start for the railroad station to see Colonel Butler off on the train. So, with his companions, he went to Drake's Hill. It was fine sport indeed. The bobs had never before descended so swiftly nor covered so long a stretch beyond the incline. But, no matter how fascinating the sport, Pen kept his engagement in mind and intended to leave the hill in plenty of time to meet it. There were especial reasons this day why he should do so. In the first place Colonel Butler would be away from home for nearly a week, and it had always been Pen's custom to see his grandfather off on a journey, even though he were to be gone but a day. And in the next place he wanted to be sure to get Colonel Butler's name at the head of his flag subscription list. This would doubtless be the most important contribution to be made to the fund.
At half-past four he decided to take one more ride and then start for the station. But on that ride an accident occurred. The bobs on which the boys were seated collapsed midway of the descent, and threw the coasters into a heap in the ditch. None of them was seriously hurt, though the loose stones among which they were thrown were not sufficiently cushioned by the snow to prevent some bruises, and abrasions of the skin. Of course there was much confusion and excitement. There was scrambling, and rubbing of hurt places, and an immediate investigation into the cause of the wreck. In the midst of it all Pen forgot about his engagement. When the matter did recur to his mind he glanced at his watch and found that it lacked but twelve minutes of train time. It would be only by hard sprinting and rare good luck that he would be able to reach the station in time to see his grandfather off. Without a word of explanation to his fellows he started away on a keen run. They looked after him in open-mouthed wonder. They could not conceive what had happened to him. One boy suggested that he had been frightened out of his senses by the shock of the accident; and another that he had struck his head against a rock and had gone temporarily insane, and that he ought to be followed to see that he did no harm to himself. But no one offered to go on such a mission, and, after watching the runner out of sight, they turned their attention again to the wrecked bobs.
Aleck Sands went straight from school to his home in the valley. There were afternoon chores to be done, and he was anxious to finish them as soon as possible in order that he might start out with his subscription paper.
He did not hope to equal Pen in the amount of contributions, for he had no wealthy grandfather on whom to depend, but he did intend to excel him in the number of subscribers. And it was desirable that he should be early in the field.
It was almost dusk when he started from home to go to the grist-mill of which his father was the proprietor. He wanted to get his father's signature first, both as a matter of policy and as a matter of filial courtesy.
As he approached the railroad station, which it was necessary for him to pass on his way to the mill, he saw Colonel Butler pacing up and down the platform which faced the town, and, at every turn, looking anxiously up the street.
It was evident that the colonel was waiting for the train, and it was just as evident that he was expecting some one, probably Pen, to come to the station to see him off. And Pen was nowhere in sight.
A brilliant and daring thought entered Aleck's mind. While, ordinarily, he was neither brilliant nor daring, yet he was intelligent, quick and resourceful. He was always ready to meet an emergency. The idea that had taken such sudden possession of him was nothing more nor less than an impulse to solicit Colonel Butler for a subscription to the flag fund and thus forestall Pen. And why not? He knew of nothing to prevent. Pen had no exclusive right to subscriptions from the Hill, any more than he, Aleck, had to subscriptions from the Valley. And if he could be first to obtain a contribution from Colonel Butler, the most important citizen of Chestnut Hill, if not of the whole county, what plaudits would he not receive from his comrades of the Riverbeds?
Having made up his mind he was not slow to act. He was already within fifty feet of the platform on which the gray-mustached and stern-faced veteran of the civil war was impatiently marching up and down. An empty sleeve was pinned to the breast of the old soldier's coat; but he stood erect, and his steps were measured with soldierly precision. He had stopped for a moment to look, with keener scrutiny, up the street which led to the station. Aleck stepped up on the platform and approached him.
"Good evening, Colonel Butler!" he said.
The man turned and faced him.
"Good evening, sir!" he replied. "You have somewhat the advantage of me, sir."
"My name is Aleck Sands," explained the boy. "My father has the grist-mill here. Miss Grey, she is our teacher at the graded school, and she gave me a paper—"
Colonel Butler interrupted him.
"A pupil at the graded school are you, sir? Do you chance to know a lad there by the name of Penfield Butler; and if you know him can you give me any information concerning his whereabouts this evening?"
"Yes, sir. I know him. After school he started for Drake's Hill with some other Hill boys to go a coasting."
"Ah! Pleasure before duty. He was to have met me here prior to the leaving of the train. I have little patience, sir, with boys who neglect engagements to promote their own pleasures."
He had such an air of severity as he said it, that Aleck was not sure whether, after all, he would dare to reapproach him on the subject of the subscription. But he plucked up courage and started in anew.
"Our teacher, Miss Grey, gave me this paper to get subscriptions on for the new flag. I'd be awful glad if you'd give something toward it."
"What's that?" asked the man as he took the paper from Aleck's hand. "A flag for the school? And has the school no flag?"
"No, sir; not any."
"The directors have been derelict in their duty, sir. They should have provided a flag on the erection of the building. No public school should be without an American flag. Let me see."
He unhooked his eye-glasses from the breast of his waistcoat and put them on, shook out the paper dexterously with his one hand, and began to read it aloud.
"We, the undersigned, hereby agree to pay the sums set opposite our respective names, for the purpose of purchasing an American flag for the Chestnut Hill public school. All subscriptions to be payable to a collector hereafter to be appointed."
Colonel Butler removed his glasses from his nose and stood for a moment in contemplation.
"I approve of the project," he said at last. "Our youth should be made familiar with the sight of the flag. They should be taught to reverence it. They should learn of the gallant deeds of those who have fought for it through many great wars. I shall be glad to affix my name, sir, to the document, and to make a modest contribution. How large a fund is it proposed to raise?"
Aleck stammered a little as he replied. He had not expected so ready a compliance with his request. And it was beginning to dawn on him that it might be good policy, as well as a matter of common fairness, to tell the colonel frankly that Pen also had been authorized to solicit subscriptions. There might indeed be such a thing as revoking a subscription made under a misleading representation, or a suppression of facts. And if that should happen—
"Why," said Aleck, "why—Miss Grey said she thought we ought to get twenty-five dollars. We've got to get a pole too, you know."
"Certainly you must have a staff, and a good one. Twenty-five dollars is not enough money, young man. You should have forty dollars at least. Fifty would be better. I'll give half of that amount myself. There should be no skimping, no false economy, in a matter of such prime importance. I shall see Miss Grey about it personally when I return from New York. Kindly accompany me to the station-agent's office where I can procure pen and ink."
Aleck knew that the revelation could be no longer delayed.
"But," he stammered, "but, Colonel Butler, you know Pen's got one too."
The colonel turned back again.
"Got what?" he asked.
"Why, one of these, now, subscription papers."
Colonel Butler stood for a moment, apparently in deep thought. Then he looked out again from under his bushy eye-brows, searchingly, up the street. He took his watch from his pocket and glanced at it. After that he spoke.
"Under normal conditions, sir, my grandson would have preference in a matter of this kind, and I am obliged to you for unselfishly making the suggestion. But, as he has failed to perform a certain duty toward me, I shall consider myself relieved, for the time being, of my duty of preference toward him. Kindly accompany me to the station-master's office."
With Aleck in his wake he strode down the platform and across the waiting-room, among the people who had gathered to wait for or depart by the train, and spoke to the ticket-agent at the window.
"Will you kindly permit me, sir, to use your table and pen and ink to sign a document of some importance?"
The man at the window opened the door of the agent's room and bade the colonel and Aleck to enter. He pushed a chair up to the table and placed ink and pens within reach.
"Help yourself, Colonel Butler," he said. "We're glad to accommodate you."
But the colonel had barely seated himself before a new thought entered his mind. He pondered for a moment, and then swung around in the swivel-chair and faced the boy who stood waiting, cap in hand.
"Young man," he said, "it just occurs to me that I can serve your school as well, and please myself better, by making a donation of the flag instead of subscribing to the fund. Does the idea meet with your approval?"
The proposition came so unexpectedly, and the question so suddenly, that Aleck hardly knew how to respond.
"Why, yes, sir," he said hesitatingly, "I suppose so. You mean you'll give us the flag?"
"Yes; I'll give you the flag. I am about starting for New York. I will purchase one while there. And in the spring I will provide a proper staff for it, in order that it may be flung to the breeze."
By this time Aleck comprehended the colonel's plan.
"Why," he exclaimed enthusiastically, "that'll be great! May I tell Miss Grey?"
"You may be the sole bearer of my written offer to your respected teacher."
He swung around to the table and picked up a pen.
"Your teacher's given name is—?" he inquired.
"Why," stammered Aleck, "it's—it's—why, her name's Miss Helen Grey."
The colonel began to write rapidly on the blank page of the subscription paper.
"To Miss Helen Grey; "Principal of the Public School "Chestnut Hill.
"My Dear Madam:
"I am informed by one of your pupils, Master—"
He stopped long enough to ask the boy for his full name, and then continued to write—
"Alexander McMurtrie Sands, that it is your patriotic purpose to procure an American flag for use in your school. With this purpose I am in hearty accord. It will therefore give me great pleasure, my dear madam, to procure for you at once, at my sole expense, and present to your school, an appropriate banner, to be followed in due season by a fitting staff. I trust that my purpose and desire may commend themselves to you. I wish also that your pupil, the aforesaid Master Sands, shall have full credit for having so successfully called this matter to my attention; and to that end I make him sole bearer of this communication.
"I remain, my dear madam, "Your obedient servant, "Richard Butler."
Colonel Butler read the letter over slowly aloud, folded the subscription paper on which it had been written, and handed it to Aleck.
"There, young man," he said, "are your credentials, and my offer."
The shrieking whistle had already announced the approach of the train, and the easy puffing of the locomotive indicated that it was now standing at the station. The colonel rose from his chair and started across the room, followed by Aleck.
"You're very kind to do that," said the boy. And he added: "Have you a grip that I can carry to the train for you?"
"No, thank you! A certain act—rash perhaps, but justifiable,—in the civil war, cost me an arm. Since then, when traveling, I have found it convenient to check my baggage."
He pushed his way through the crowd on the platform, still followed by Aleck, and mounted the rear steps of the last coach on the train. The engine bell was ringing. The conductor cried, "All aboard!" and signalled to the engineer, and the train moved slowly out.
On the rear platform, scanning the crowd at the station, stood Colonel Butler, tall, soldierly, impressive. He saw Aleck and waved his hand to him. And at that moment, capless, breathless, hopeless, around the corner of the station into sight, dashed Pen Butler.
Pen was not only exhausted by his race, he was disappointed and distressed as well.
Whether or not his grandfather had seen him as the train moved out he did not know. He simply knew that for him not to have been there on time was little less than tragical. He dropped down limply on a convenient trunk to regain his breath.
After a minute he was aware that some one was standing near by, looking at him. He glanced up and saw that it was Aleck Sands. He was nettled. He knew of no reason why Aleck should stand there staring at him.
"Well," he asked impatiently, "is there anything about me that's particularly astonishing?"
"Not particularly," replied Aleck. "You seem to be winded, that's all."
"You'd be winded too, if you'd run all the way from Drake's Hill."
"Too bad you missed your grandfather. He was looking for you."
"How do you know?"
"He told me so. He wanted to know if I'd seen you."
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him you'd gone to Drake's Hill, coasting."
Pen rose slowly to his feet. What right, he asked himself, had this fellow to be telling tales about him? What right had he to be talking to Colonel Butler, anyway? However, he did not choose to lower his dignity further by inquiry. He turned as if to leave the station. But Aleck, who had been turning the matter over carefully in his mind, had decided that Pen ought to know about the proposed gift of the flag. He ought not to be permitted, unwittingly, to go on securing subscriptions to a fund which, by reason of Colonel Butler's proposed gift, had been made unnecessary. That would be cruel and humiliating. So, as Pen turned away, he said to him:
"I've put in some work for the flag this afternoon."
"I s'pose so," responded Pen. "But it does not follow that by getting the first start you'll come out best in the end."
"Maybe not; but I'd like to show you what I've done."
He took the subscription paper from his pocket and began to unfold it.
"Oh," replied Pen, "I don't care what you've done. It's none of my business. You get your subscriptions and I'll get mine."
Aleck looked for a moment steadily at his opponent. Then he folded up his paper and put it back into his pocket.
"All right!" he said. "Only don't forget that I offered to show it to you to-day."
But Pen was both resentful and scornful. He did not propose to treat his rival's offer seriously, nor to give him the satisfaction of looking at his paper.
"You can't bluff me that way," he said. "And besides, I'm not interested in what you're doing."
And he walked around the corner of the station platform and out into the street.
When Aleck Sands tramped up the hill to school on the following morning it was with no great sense of jubilation over his success. He had an uneasy feeling that he had not done exactly the fair thing in soliciting a subscription from Pen Butler's grandfather. It was, in a way, trenching on Pen's preserves. But he justified himself on the ground that he had a perfect right to get his contributions where he chose. His agency had been conditioned by no territorial limits. And if, by his diligence, he had outwitted Pen, surely he had nothing to regret. So far as his failure to disclose to his rival the fact of Colonel Butler's gift was concerned, that, he felt, was Pen's own fault. If, by his offensive conduct, the other boy had deprived himself of his means of knowledge, and had humiliated himself and made himself ridiculous by procuring unnecessary subscriptions, certainly he, Aleck, was not to blame. Under any circumstances, now that he had gone so far in the matter, he would not yield an inch nor make a single concession. On that course he was fully determined.
On the walk, as he approached the school-house door, Pen was standing, with a group of Hill boys. They were discussing the accident that had occurred on Drake's Hill the day before. They paid little attention to Aleck as he passed by them, but, just as he was mounting the steps, Pen called out to him.
"Oh, Aleck! You wanted to show me your subscription paper last night. I'll look at it now, and you look at mine, and we'll leave it to the fellows here who's got the most names and the most money promised. And I haven't got my grandfather on it yet, either."
Aleck turned and faced him. "Remember what you said to me last night?" he asked. "Well, I'll say the same thing to you this morning. I'm not interested in your paper. It's none of my business. You get your subscriptions and I'll get mine."
And he mounted the steps and entered the school-room.
Miss Grey was already at her desk, and he went straight to her.
"I've brought back my subscription blank, Miss Grey," he said, and he handed the paper to her.
She looked up in surprise.
"You haven't completed your canvass, have you?" she asked.
"No. If you'll read the paper you'll see it wasn't necessary."
She unfolded the paper and read the letter written on it. Her face flushed; but whether with astonishment or anxiety it would have been difficult to say.
"Did Colonel Butler know," she inquired, "when he wrote this, that Pen also had a subscription paper?"
"Yes. I met him at the station last night, when he was starting for New York, and I told him all about it."
"Was Pen there?"
"No; he didn't get there till after the train started."
"Does he know about this letter?"
"Not from me. I offered to show it to him but he wouldn't look at it."
"Aleck, there's something strange about this. I don't quite understand it. Is Pen outside?"
"Yes; he was when I came."
"Call him in, please; and return with him."
Aleck went to the door, his resolution to stand by his conduct growing stronger every minute. He called to Pen.
"Miss Grey wants to see you," he said.
"What for?" inquired Pen.
"She'll tell you when you come in."
Both boys returned to the teacher.
"Pen," she inquired, "have you obtained any subscriptions to your paper for the flag fund?"
"Yes, Miss Grey," he replied. "I think I've done pretty well considering my grandfather's not home."
He handed his paper to her with a show of pardonable pride; but she merely glanced at the long list of names.
"Did you know," she asked, "that Colonel Butler has decided to give the flag to the school?"
Pen opened his eyes in astonishment.
"No," he said. "Has he?"
"Read this letter, please."
She handed the colonel's letter to him and he began to read it. His face grew red and his eyes snapped. He had been outwitted. He knew in a moment when, where and how it had been done. He handed the paper back to Miss Grey.
"All right!" he said. "But I think it was a mean, underhanded, contemptible trick."
Then Aleck, slow to wrath, woke up.
"There was nothing mean nor underhanded about it," he retorted. "I had a perfect right to ask Colonel Butler for a subscription. And if he chose to give the whole flag, that was his lookout. And," turning to Pen, "if you'd been half way decent last night, you'd have known all about this thing then, and maybe saved yourself some trouble."
Before Pen could flash back a reply, Miss Grey intervened.
"That will do, boys. I'm not sure who is in the wrong here, if any one is. I propose to find out about that, later. It's an unfortunate situation; but, in justice to Colonel Butler, we must accept it." She handed Pen's paper back to him, and added: "I think you had better take this back to your subscribers, and ask them to cancel their subscriptions. I will consult with my associates at noon, and we will decide upon our future course. In the meantime I charge you both, strictly, to say nothing about this matter until after I have made my announcement at the afternoon session. You may take your seats."
The school bell had already ceased ringing, and the pupils had filed in and had taken their proper places. So Aleck and Pen went down the aisle, the one with stubborn resolution marking his countenance, the other with keen resentment flashing from his eyes.
And poor Miss Grey, mild and peace-loving, but now troubled and despondent, who had thought to restore harmony among her pupils, foresaw, instead, only a continued and more bitter rivalry.
Notwithstanding her admonition, rumors of serious trouble between Aleck and Pen filtered through the school-room during the morning session, and were openly discussed at the noon recess. But both boys kept silent.
It was not until the day's work had been finally disposed of, and the closing hour had almost arrived, that Miss Grey made her announcement.
With all the composure at her command she called the attention of the school to the plan for a flag fund.
"Our end has been accomplished," she added, "much more quickly and successfully than we had dared to hope, as you will see by this letter which I shall read to you."
When she had finished reading the letter there was a burst of applause. The school had not discovered the currents under the surface.
"This, of course, will do away with the necessity of obtaining subscriptions. Honors appear to be nearly even. A prominent citizen of Chestnut Hill has given us the flag—" (Loud applause from the Hilltops;) "and a pupil from Chestnut Valley has the distinction of having procured the gift." (Cheers for Aleck Sands from the Riverbeds.) "Now let rivalry cease, and let us unite in a fitting acceptance of the gift. I have consulted with my associates, and we have appointed a committee to wait upon Colonel Butler and to cooperate with him in fixing a day for the presentation of the flag to the school. We will make a half-holiday for the occasion, and will prepare an order of exercises. We assume that Colonel Butler will make a speech of presentation, and we have selected Penfield Butler as the most appropriate person to respond on behalf of the school. Penfield will prepare himself accordingly."
By making this appointment Miss Grey had hoped to pour oil upon the troubled waters, and to bring about at least a semblance of harmony among the warring elements. But, as the event proved, she had counted without her host. For she had no sooner finished her address than Pen was on his feet. His face was pale and there was a strange look in his eyes, but he did not appear to be unduly excited.
"May I speak, Miss Grey?" he asked.
"Certainly," she replied.
"Then I want to say that I'm very much obliged to you for appointing me, but I decline the appointment. I'm glad the school's going to have a flag, and I'm glad my grandfather's going to give it; and I thank you, Miss Grey, for trying to please me; but I don't propose to be made the tail of Aleck Sands' kite. If he thinks it's an honor to get the flag the way he got it, let him have the honor of accepting it."
Pen sat down. There was no applause. Even his own followers were too greatly amazed for the moment to applaud him. And, before they got their wits together, Miss Grey had again taken the reins in hand.
"I am sure we all regret," she said, "that Penfield does not see fit to accept this appointment, and we should regret still more the attitude of mind that leads him to decline it. However, in accordance with his suggestion, I will name Alexander Sands as the person who will make the response to Colonel Butler's presentation speech. That is all to-day. When school is dismissed you will not loiter about the school grounds, but go immediately to your homes."
It was a wise precaution on Miss Grey's part to direct her pupils to go at once to their homes. There is no telling what disorder might have taken place had they been permitted to remain. The group of Hilltops that surrounded Pen as he marched up the street and explained the situation to them, was loud in its condemnation of the meanness and trickery of Aleck Sands; and the party of Riverbeds that walked down with Aleck was jubilant over the clever way in which he had outwitted his opponent, and had, by obtaining honor for himself, conferred honor also upon them.
Colonel Butler returned, in due season, from New York.
Pen met him at the station on his arrival. There was no delay on this occasion. Indeed, the boy had paced up and down the platform for at least fifteen minutes before the train drew in. During the ride up to Bannerhall, behind the splendid team of blacks with their jingling bells, nothing was said about the gift of the flag. It was not until dinner had been served and partly eaten that the subject was mentioned, and the colonel himself was the first one to mention it.
"By the way, Penfield," he said, "I have ordered, and I expect to receive in a few days, an American flag which I shall present to your public school. I presume you have heard something concerning it?"
"Yes, grandfather. Your letter was read to the school by Miss Grey the day after you went to New York."
"Did she seem pleased over the gift?"
"Yes, very much so, I think. It was awfully nice of you to give it."
"A—was any arrangement made about receiving it?"
"Yes, Miss Grey appointed a committee to see you. There's to be a half-holiday, and exercises."
"I presume—a—Penfield, that I will be expected to make a brief address?"
"Of course. Miss Grey's counting on it."
"Now, father," interrupted Aunt Millicent, "I do hope it will be a really brief address. You're so long-winded. That speech you made when the school-house was dedicated was twice too long. Everybody got tired."
His daughter Millicent was the only person on earth from whom Colonel Butler would accept criticism or reproof. And from her he not only accepted it, but not infrequently acted upon it in accordance with her wish. He had always humored her, because she had always lived with him, except during the time she was away at boarding school; and since the death of his wife, a dozen years before, she had devoted herself to his comfort. But he was fond, nevertheless, of getting into a mild argument with her, and being vanquished, as he expected to be now.
"My dear daughter," he said, "I invariably gauge the length of my speech by the importance of the occasion. The occasion to which you refer was an important one, as will be the occasion of the presentation of this flag. It will be necessary for me, therefore, to address the pupils and the assembled guests at sufficient length to impress upon them the desirability, you may say the necessity, of having a patriotic emblem, such as is the American flag, constantly before the eyes of our youth."
His daughter laughed a little. She was never awed by his stately manner of speech.
"All the same," she replied; "I shall get a seat in the front row, and if you exceed fifteen minutes—fifteen minutes to a minute, mind you—I shall hold up a warning finger; and if you still trespass, I shall go up and drag you off the platform by your coat tails; and then you'd look pretty, wouldn't you?"
Apparently he did not find it profitable to prolong the argument with her on this occasion, for he laughed and turned again to Pen.
"By the way, Penfield," he said, "I missed you at the train the day I left home. I suppose something of major importance detained you?"
Pen blushed a little, but he replied frankly:
"I was awfully sorry, grandfather; I meant to have written you about it. I didn't exactly forget; but I was coasting on Drake's Hill, and there was an accident, and I was very much excited, and it got train-time before I knew it. Then I ran as fast as I could, but it wasn't any use."
"I see. I trust that no one was seriously injured?"
"No, sir. I bruised my shin a little, and Elmer scraped his knee, and the bobs were wrecked; that's about all."
Colonel Butler adjusted his glasses and leaned back in his chair; a habit he had when about to deliver himself of an opinion which he deemed important.
"Penfield," he said, "a gentleman should never permit anything to interfere with the keeping of his engagements. If the matter in hand is of sufficient importance to call for an engagement, it is of sufficient importance to keep the engagement so made. It is an elementary principle of good conduct that a gentleman should always keep his word. Otherwise the relations of men with each other would become chaotic."
"Yes, sir," replied Pen.
Colonel Butler removed his glasses and again applied himself to the disposal of his food which had been cut into convenient portions by his devoted daughter.
But his mind soon recurred to the subject of the flag.
"A—Penfield," he inquired, "do you chance to know whether any person has been chosen to make a formal response to my speech of presentation?"
Pen felt that the conversation was approaching an embarrassing stage, but there was no hesitancy in his manner as he replied:
"Yes, sir. The boy that got your offer, Aleck Sands, will make the response."
"H'm! I was hoping, expecting in fact, that you, yourself, would be chosen to perform that pleasing duty. Had you been, we could have prepared our several speeches with a view to their proper relation to each other. It occurred to me that your teacher, Miss Grey, would have this fact in mind. Do you happen to know of any reason why she should not have appointed you?"
For the first time in the course of the conversation Pen hesitated and stammered.
"Why, I—she—she did appoint me."
"Haven't you just told me, sir, that—"
"But, grandfather, I declined."
Aunt Millicent dropped her hands into her lap in astonishment.
"Pen Butler!" she exclaimed, "why haven't you told me a word of this before?"
"Because, Aunt Milly, it wasn't a very agreeable incident, and I didn't want to bother you telling about it."
Colonel Butler had, in the meantime, again put on his glasses in order that he might look more searchingly at his grandson.
"Permit me to inquire," he asked, "why you should have declined so distinct an honor?"
Then Pen blurted out his whole grievance.
"Because Aleck Sands didn't do the fair thing. He got you to give the flag through him instead of through me, by a mean trick. He gets the credit of getting the flag; now let him have the honor of accepting it. I won't play second fiddle to such a fellow as he is, and that's all there is to it."
He pushed his chair back from the table and sat, with flaming cheeks and defiant eyes, as if ready to meet all comers.
Aunt Millicent, more astonished than ever, exclaimed:
"Why, Pen Butler, I'm shocked!"
But the colonel did not seem to be shocked. Back of his glasses there was a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes which Pen could not see. Here was the old Butler pride and independence manifesting itself; the spirit which had made the family prosperous and prominent. He was not ill-pleased. Nevertheless he leaned back in his chair and spoke impressively:
"Now let us consider the situation. You received from your teacher a copy of the same subscription blank which was handed to your fellow-pupil. Had you met your engagement at the station, and called the matter to my attention, you would doubtless have received my subscription, or been the bearer of my offer, in preference to any one else. In your absence your school-fellow seized a legitimate opportunity to present his case. My regret at your failure to appear, and my appreciation of his alertness, led me to favor him. I am unable to see why, under these circumstances, he should be charged with improper conduct."
"Well," responded Pen, hotly, "he might at least have told you that I had a subscription blank too."
"He did so inform me. And his fairness and frankness in doing so was an inducing cause of my favorable consideration of his request."
Pen felt that the ground was being cut away from under his feet, but he still had one grievance left.
"Anyway," he exclaimed, "he might have told me about your giving the whole flag, instead of letting me go around like a monkey, collecting pennies for nothing."
"Very true, Penfield, he should have told you. Didn't he intimate to you in any way what I had done? Didn't he offer to show you his subscription blank containing my letter?"
"Why—why, yes, I believe he did."
"And you declined to look at it?"
"Yes, I declined to look at it. I considered it none of my business. But he might have told me what was on it."
"My dear grandson; this is a case in which the alertness of your school-fellow, added to your failure to keep an engagement and to grasp a situation, has led to your discomfiture. Let this be a lesson to you to be diligent, vigilant and forearmed. Only thus are great battles won."
Again the colonel placed his glasses on the hook on the breast of his waistcoat, and resumed his activity in connection with his evening meal. It was plain that he considered the discussion at an end.
It was on an afternoon late in January that the flag was finally presented to the school. It was a day marked with fierce winds and flurries of snow, like a day in March.
But the inclement weather did not prevent people from coming to the presentation exercises. The school room was full; even the aisles were filled, and more than one late-comer was turned away because there was no more room.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Riverbeds were to have the lion's share of the honors of the occasion, and the further fact that resentment in the ranks of the Hilltops ran strong and deep, and doubly so since the outwitting of their leader, no attempt was made to block the program, or to interfere, in any way, with the success of the occasion.
There were, indeed, some secret whisperings in a little group of which Elmer Cuddeback was the center; but, if any mischief was brewing, Pen did not know of it.
Moreover, was it not Pen's grandfather who had given the flag, and who was to be the chief guest of the school, and was it not up to the Hilltops to see that he was treated with becoming courtesy? At any rate that was the "consensus of opinion" among them. Colonel Butler had prepared his presentation speech with great care. Twice he had read it aloud in his library to his grandson and to his daughter Millicent.
His grandson had only favorable comment to make, but his daughter Millicent criticised it sharply. She said that it was twice too long, that it had too much "spread eagle" in it, and that it would be away over the heads of his audience anyway. So the colonel modified it somewhat; but, unfortunately, he neither made it simpler nor appreciably shorter.
Aleck, too, under the supervision of his teacher, had prepared a fitting and patriotic response which he had committed to memory and had rehearsed many times. Pupils taking part in the rest of the program had been carefully and patiently drilled, and every one looked forward to an occasion which would be marked as a red-letter day in the history of the Chestnut Hill school.
The exercises opened with the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner," by the school. There was a brief prayer by the pastor of one of the village churches. Next came a recitation, "Barbara Frietchie," by a small girl. Then another girl read a brief history of the American flag. She was followed by James Garfield Morrissey, the crack elocutionist of the school, who recited, in fine form, a well-known patriotic poem, written to commemorate the heroism of American sailors who cheered the flag as they went down with the sinking flag-ship Trenton in a hurricane which swept the Samoan coast in 1889.
THE BANNER OF THE SEA
By wind and wave the sailor brave has fared To shores of every sea; But, never yet have seamen met or dared Grim death for victory, In braver mood than they who died On drifting decks in Apia's tide While cheering every sailor's pride, The Banner of the Free.
Columbia's men were they who then went down, Not knights nor kings of old; But brighter far their laurels are than crown Or coronet of gold. Our sailor true, of any crew, Would give the last long breath he drew To cheer the old Red, White and Blue, The Banner of the Bold.
With hearts of oak, through storm and smoke and flame, Columbia's seamen long Have bravely fought and nobly wrought that shame Might never dull their song. They sing the Country of the Free, The glory of the rolling sea, The starry flag of liberty, The Banner of the Strong.
We ask but this, and not amiss the claim; A fleet to ride the wave, A navy great to crown the state with fame, Though foes or tempests rave. Then, as our fathers did of yore, We'll sail our ships to every shore, On every ocean wind will soar The Banner of the Brave.
Oh! this we claim that never shame may ride On any wave with thee, Thou ship of state whose timbers great abide The home of liberty. For, so, our gallant Yankee tars, Of daring deeds and honored scars, Will make the Banner of the Stars The Banner of the Sea.
The school having been roused to a proper pitch of enthusiasm by the reading of these verses, Colonel Butler rose in an atmosphere already surcharged with patriotism to make his presentation speech. Hearty applause greeted the colonel, for, notwithstanding his well-known idiosyncrasies, he was extremely popular in Chestnut Hill. He had been a brave soldier, an exemplary neighbor, a prominent and public-spirited citizen. Why should he not receive a generous welcome? He graciously bowed his acknowledgment, and when the hand-clapping ceased he began:
"Honored teachers, diligent pupils, faithful directors, patriotic citizens, and friends. This is a most momentous occasion. We are met to-day to do honor to the flag of our country, a flag for which—and I say it with pardonable pride—I, myself, have fought on many a bloody and well-known field."
There was a round of applause.
The colonel's face flushed with pleasure, his voice rose and expanded, and in many a well-rounded phrase and burst of eloquence he appealed to the latent patriotism of his hearers.
At the end of fifteen minutes he glanced at his watch which was lying on a table at his side, and then looked at his daughter Millicent who was occupying a chair in the front row as she had said she would. She frowned at him forbiddingly. But he was as yet scarcely half through his speech. He picked up his manuscript from the table and glanced at it, and then looked appealingly at her. She was obdurate. She held a warning forefinger in the air.
"I am reminded," he said, "by one in the audience whose judgment I am bound to respect, that the time allotted to me in this program has nearly elapsed."
"Fully elapsed," whispered his daughter with pursed lips, in such manner that, looking at her, he could not fail to catch the words.
"Therefore," continued the colonel, with a sigh, "I must hasten to my conclusion. I wish to acknowledge my deep indebtedness to your faithful teacher, Miss Grey, by reason of whose patriotic initiative the opportunity was presented to me to make this gift. I wish also to commend the vigilance and effort of the young gentleman who brought the matter to my immediate and personal attention, and who, I am informed, will fittingly and eloquently respond to this brief and somewhat unsatisfactory address, Master Alexander Sands."
Back somewhere in the audience, at the sound of the name, there was an audible sniff which was immediately drowned by loud hand-clapping on the part of the Riverbeds. But Colonel Butler was not yet quite through. Avoiding any ominous look which might have been aimed at him by his daughter, he hurried on:
"And now, in conclusion, as I turn this flag over into your custody, let me charge you to guard it with exceeding care. It should be treated with reverence because it symbolizes our common country. Whoever regards it with indifference has no patriotic blood in his veins. Whoever lays wanton hands on it is a traitor to it. And whoever insults or defames it in any way, deserves, and will receive, the open scorn and lasting contempt of all his countrymen. Ladies and gentlemen, I have done."
The colonel resumed his seat amid a roar of applause, and when it had subsided Miss Grey arose to introduce the respondent.
"This beautiful flag," she said, "will now be accepted, on behalf of the school, in an address by one of our pupils: Master Alexander Sands."
Aleck arose and made his way to the platform. The Riverbeds applauded him vigorously, and the guests mildly, as he went. He started out bravely enough on his speech.
"Colonel Butler, teachers and guests: It gives me pleasure, on behalf of the Chestnut Hill public school, to accept this beautiful flag—"
He made a sweeping gesture toward the right-hand corner of the platform, as he had done at rehearsals, only to discover that the flag had, at the last moment, been shifted to the left-hand corner, and he had, perforce, to turn and repeat his gesture in that direction. There was nothing particularly disconcerting about this, but it broke the continuity of his effort, it interfered with his memory, he halted, colored, and cudgeled his brains to find what came next. Back, in the rear of the room, where the Hilltops were gathered, there was an audible snicker; but Aleck was too busy to hear it, and Miss Grey, prepared for just such an emergency as this, glanced at a manuscript she had in her hand, and prompted him:
"So graciously given to us—"
Aleck caught the words and went on:
"—so graciously given to us by our honored townsman and patriotic citizen, Colonel Richard Butler."
Another pause. Again Miss Grey came to the rescue.
"No words of mine—" she said.
"No words of mine," repeated Aleck.
"Sure, they're no words of yours," said some one in a stage-whisper, far down in the audience.
Suspicion pointed to Elmer Cuddeback, but he stood there against the wall, with such an innocent, sober look on his round face, that people thought they must be mistaken. The words had not failed to reach to the platform, however, and Miss Grey, more troubled than before, again had recourse to her manuscript for the benefit of Aleck, who was floundering more deeply than ever in the bogs of memory.
"—can properly express—"
"—can properly express—"
Another pause. Again the voice back by the wall:
"Express broke down; take local."
The situation was growing desperate. Miss Grey was almost at her wit's end. Then a bright idea struck her. She thrust the manuscript into Aleck's hand.
"Oh, Aleck," she exclaimed, "take it and read it!"
He grasped it like the proverbial drowning man, turned it upside down and right side up, but failed to find the place where he had left off.
Again the insistent, high-pitched whisper from the rear, breaking distinctly into the embarrassing silence:
"Can't read it, cause teacher wrote it."
This was the last straw. Slow to wrath as he always was, Aleck had thus far kept his temper. But this charge filled him with sudden anger and resentment. He turned his eyes, blazing with fury, toward the boy by the rear wall, whom he knew was baiting him, and shouted:
"That's a lie, Elmer Cuddeback, and you know it!"
At once confusion reigned. People stood up and looked around to get a possible glimpse of the object of Aleck's denunciation. Some one cried: "Put him out!"
Two or three members of the Riverbeds started threateningly toward Elmer, and his friends struggled to get closer to him. An excitable woman in the audience screamed. Miss Grey was pounding vigorously with her gavel, but to no effect. Then Colonel Butler himself took matters in hand. He rose to his feet, stretched out his arm, and shouted:
"Order! Order! Resume your seats!"
People sat down again. The belligerent boys halted in their tracks. Everyone felt that the colonel must be obeyed. He waited, in commanding attitude, until order had been restored, then he continued:
"The young gentleman who undertook to respond to my address was stricken with what is commonly known as stage-fright. That is no discredit to him. It is a malady that attacked so great a man and so brave a warrior as General Grant. I may add that I, myself, have suffered from it on occasion. And now that order has been restored we will proceed with the regular program, and Master Sands will finish the delivery of his address."
He stepped back to give the respondent the floor; but Master Sands was nowhere in sight. In the confusion he had disappeared. The colonel looked around him expectantly for a moment, and then again advanced to the front of the platform.
"In the absence of our young friend," he said, "whose address, I am sure, would have been received with the approbation it deserves, I, myself, will occupy a portion of the time thus made vacant, in still further expounding to you—"
But at this moment, notwithstanding his effort to avoid it, he again caught his daughter's warning look, and saw her forefinger held threateningly in the air.
"I am reminded, however," he continued, "by one in the audience whose judgment I am bound to respect, that it is not appropriate for me to make both the speech of presentation and the address on behalf of the recipient. I will, therefore, conclude by thanking you for your attendance and your attention, and by again adjuring you to honor, protect and preserve this beautiful emblem of our national liberties."
He had scarcely taken his seat amid the applause that his words always evoked, before Miss Grey was on her feet announcing the closing number of the program, the song "America," by the entire audience.
Whether it was due to the excitement of the occasion, or, as the colonel afterward modestly suggested, to the spirit of patriotism aroused by his remarks, it is a fact that no one present had ever before heard the old song sung with more vim and feeling.
The audience was dismissed.
Colonel Butler's friends came forward to congratulate and thank him. The Hilltops, chuckling gleefully, with Elmer Cuddeback in their center, marched off up-town. The Riverbeds, downcast and revengeful, made their way down the hill. But Aleck Sands was not with them. He had already left the school-building and had gone home. He was angry and bitterly resentful. He felt that he could have faced any one, at any time, in open warfare, but to be humiliated and ridiculed in public, that was more than even his phlegmatic nature could stand. He could not forget it. He could not forgive those who had caused it. Days, weeks, years were not sufficient to blot entirely from his heart the feeling of revenge that entered it that winter afternoon.
It was late on the same day that Colonel Butler stood with his back to the blazing wood-fire in the library, waiting for his supper to be served, and looking out into the hall on the folds of the handsome, silk, American flag draped against the wall. There had always been a flag in the hall. Colonel Butler's father had placed one there when he built the house and went to live in it. And when, later on, the colonel fell heir to the property, and rebuilt and modernized the home, he replaced the old flag of bunting with the present one of silk. Indeed, it was on account of the place and prominence given to the flag that the homestead had been known for many years as Bannerhall.
Pen sat at the library table preparing his lessons for the following day.
"Well, Penfield," said the colonel, "a—what did you think of my speech to-day?"
"I thought it was great," replied Pen. "Pretty near as good as the one you delivered last Memorial Day."
The colonel smiled with satisfaction. "Yes," he remarked, "I, myself, thought it was pretty good; or would have been if your aunt Millicent had permitted me to complete it. It was also unfortunate that your young friend was not able fully to carry out his part of the program."
"You mean Aleck Sands?"
"I believe that is the young gentleman's name."
"He's not my friend, grandfather."
"Tut! Tut! You should not harbor resentment because of his having outwitted you in the matter of procuring the flag. Especially in view of his discomfiture of to-day."
"It wasn't my fault that he flunked."
"I am not charging you with that responsibility, sir. I am simply appealing to your generosity. By the way, I understand—I have learned this afternoon, that there exists what may be termed a feud between the boys of Chestnut Hill and those of Chestnut Valley. Have I been correctly informed?"
"Why, yes; I guess—I suppose you might call it that."
"And I have been informed also that you are the leader of what are facetiously termed the 'Hilltops,' and that our young friend, Master Sands, is the leader of what are termed, still more facetiously, the 'Riverbeds.' Is this true?"
Pen closed his book and hesitated. He felt that a reproof was coming, to be followed, perhaps, by strict orders concerning his own neutrality.
"Well," he stammered, "I—I guess that's about right. Anyway our fellows sort o' depend on me to help 'em hold their own."
Pen was not looking at his grandfather. If he had been he would have seen a twinkle of satisfaction in the old gentleman's eyes. It was something for a veteran of the civil war to have a grandson who had been chosen to the leadership of his fellows for the purpose of engaging in juvenile hostilities. So there was no shadow of reproof in the colonel's voice as he asked his next question.
"And what, may I inquire, is, or has been, the casus belli?"
"The what, sir?"
"The—a—cause or causes which have produced the present state of hostility."
"Why, I don't know—nothing in particular, I guess—only they're all the time doing mean things, and boasting they can lick us if we give 'em a chance; and I—I'm for giving 'em the chance."
Reproof or no reproof, he had spoken his mind. He had risen from his chair, and stood before his grandfather with determination written in every line of his flushed face. Colonel Butler looked at him and chuckled.
"Very good!" he said. He chuckled again and repeated: "Very good!"
Pen stared at him in astonishment. He could not quite understand his attitude.
"Now, Penfield," continued the old gentleman, "mind you, I do not approve of petty jealousies and quarrelings, nor of causeless assaults. But, when any person is assailed, it is his peculiar privilege, sir, to hit back. And when he hits he should hit hard. He should use both strategy and force. He should see to it, sir, that his enemy is punished. Have your two hostile bodies yet met in open conflict on the field?"
"Why," replied Pen, still amazed at the course things were taking, "we've had one or two rather lively little scraps. But I suppose, after what happened to-day, they'll want to fight. If they do want to, we're ready for 'em."
The colonel had left his place in front of the fire, and was pacing up and down the room.
"Very good!" he exclaimed, "very good! Men and nations should always be prepared for conflict. To that end young men should learn the art of fighting, so that when the call to arms comes, as I foresee that it will come, the nation will be ready."
He stopped in his walk and faced his grandson.
"Not that I deprecate the arts of peace, Penfield. By no means! It is by those arts that nations have grown great. But, in my humble judgment, sir, as a citizen and a soldier, the only way to preserve peace, and to ensure greatness, is to be at all times ready for war. We must instil the martial spirit into our young men, we must rouse their fighting blood, we must teach them the art of war, so that if the flag is ever insulted or assailed they will be ready to protect it with their bodies and their blood. Learn to fight; to fight honorably, bravely, skillfully, and—to fight—hard."
"Father Richard Butler!"
It was Aunt Millicent who spoke. She had come on them from the hall unawares, and had overheard the final words of the colonel's adjuration.
"Father Richard Butler," she repeated, "what heresy is this you are teaching to Pen?"
He made a brave but hopeless effort to justify his course.
"I am teaching him," he replied, "the duty that devolves upon every patriotic citizen."
"Patriotic fiddlesticks!" she exclaimed. "I have no patience with such blood-thirsty doctrines. And, Pen, listen! If I ever hear of your fighting with anybody, at any time, you'll have your aunt Millicent to deal with, I promise you that. Now come to supper, both of you."
It was not until nearly the close of the afternoon session on the following day that Miss Grey referred to the unfortunate incident of the day before. She expressed her keen regret, and her sense of humiliation, over the occurrence that had marred the program, and requested Elmer Cuddeback, Aleck Sands and Penfield Butler to remain after school that she might confer with them concerning some proper form of apology to Colonel Butler. But when she had the three boys alone with her, and referred to the shameful discourtesy with which the donor of the flag had been treated, tears came into her eyes, and her voice trembled to the point of breaking. No one could have helped feeling sorry for her; especially the three boys who were most concerned.
"I don't think," said Pen, consolingly, "that grandfather minded it very much. He doesn't talk as if he did."
"Let us hope," she replied, "that he was not too greatly shocked, or too deeply disgusted. Elmer, your conduct was wholly inexcusable, and I'm going to punish you. But, Pen, you and Aleck are the leaders, and I want this disgraceful feud between you up-town and down-town boys to stop. I want you both to promise me that this will be the end of it."
She looked from one to the other appealingly, but, for a moment, neither boy replied. Then Aleck spoke up.
"Our fellows," he said, "feel pretty sore over the way I was treated yesterday; and I don't believe they'd be willing to give up till they get even somehow."
To which Pen responded:
"They're welcome to try to get even if they want to. Were ready for 'em."
Miss Grey threw up her hands in despair.
"Oh boys! boys!" she exclaimed. "Why will you be so foolish and obstinate? What kind of men do you suppose you'll make if you spend your school-days quarreling and fighting with each other?"
"Well, I don't know," replied Pen. "My grandfather thinks it isn't such a bad idea for boys to try their mettle on each other, so long as they fight fair. He thinks they'll make better soldiers sometime. And he says the country is going to need soldiers after awhile."
She looked up in surprise.
"But I don't want my boys to become soldiers," she protested. "I don't want war. I don't believe in it. I hate it."
She had reason to hate war, for her own father had been wounded at Chancellorsville, and she remembered her mother's long years of privation and sorrow. Again her lip trembled and her eyes filled with tears. There was an awkward pause; for each boy sympathized with her and would have been willing to help her had a way been opened that would not involve too much of sacrifice. Elmer Cuddeback, even in the face of his forthcoming punishment, was still the most tenderhearted of the three, and he struggled to her relief.
"Can't—can't we make some sort o' compromise?" he suggested.
But Pen, too, had been thinking, and an idea had occurred to him. And before any reply could be made to Elmer's suggestion he offered his own solution to the difficulty.
"I'll tell you what I'll do, Miss Grey," he said, "and what I'll get our fellows to do. We'll have one, big snowball fight. And the side that gets licked 'll stay licked till school's out next spring. And there won't be any more scrapping all winter. We'll do that, won't we, Elmer?"
"Sure we will," responded Elmer confidently.
Aleck did not reply. Miss Grey thought deeply for a full minute. Perhaps, after all, Pen's proposition pointed to the best way out of the difficulty. Indeed, it was the only way along which there now seemed to be any light. She turned to Aleck.
"Well," she asked, "what do you think of it?"
"Why, I don't know," he replied. "I'd like to talk with some of our fellows about it first."
He was always cautious, conservative, slow to act unless the emergency called for action.
"No," replied Pen. "I won't wait. It's a fair offer, and you'll take it now or let it alone."
"Then," said Aleck, doggedly, "I'll take it, and you'll be sorry you ever made it."
Lest active hostilities should break out at once, Miss Grey interrupted:
"Now, boys, I don't approve of it. I don't approve of it at all. I think young men like you should be in better business than pelting each other, even with snowballs. But, as it appears to be the only way out of the difficulty, and in the hope that it will put an end to this ridiculous feud, I'm willing that you should go ahead and try it. Do it and have it over with as soon as possible, and don't let me know when it's going to happen, or anything about it, until you're all through."
It was with deep misgivings concerning the success of the plan that she dismissed the boys; and more than once during the next few days she was on the point of withdrawing her permission for the fight to take place. Many times afterwards she regretted keenly that she had not done so.
When Pen told his grandfather that a snowball fight had been decided upon as the method of settling the controversy between the Hilltops and the Riverbeds, and that Miss Grey had given her permission to that effect, the old gentleman chuckled gleefully.
"A very wise young woman," he said; "very wise indeed. When will the sanguinary conflict take place?"
"Why," replied Pen, "the first day the snow melts good."
"I see. I suppose you will lead the forces of Chestnut Hill?"
"I expect to; yes, sir."
"And our young friend, Master Sands, will marshal the troops of the Valley?"
"Yes, sir; I suppose so."
"You will have to look out for that young man, Penfield. He strikes me as being very much of a strategist."
"I'm not afraid of him."
"Don't be over-confident. Over-confidence has lost many a battle."
"Well, we'll lick 'em anyway. We've got to."
"That's the proper spirit. Determination, persistence, bravery, hard-fighting—Hush! Here comes your aunt Millicent."
Colonel Butler was as bold as a lion in the presence of every one save his daughter. Against her determination his resolution melted like April snow. She loved him devotedly, she cared for him tenderly, but she ruled him with a rod of iron. In only one matter did his stubborn will hold out effectually against hers. No persuasion, no demand on her part, could induce him to change his attitude towards Pen's mother. He chose to consider his daughter-in-law absolutely and permanently outside of his family, and outside of his consideration, and there the matter had rested for a decade, and was likely to rest so long as he drew breath.
That night, after Pen had retired to his room, there came a gentle knock at his open door. His grandfather stood there, holding in his hand a small volume of Upton's military tactics which he had used in the Civil War.
"I thought this book might be of some service to you, Penfield," he explained. "It will give you a good idea of the proper methods to be used in handling large or small bodies of troops."
"Thank you, grandfather," said Pen, taking the book. "I'll study it. I'm sure it'll help me."
"Nevertheless," continued the colonel, "there must be courage and persistency as well as tactics, if battles are to be won. You understand?"
The old man turned away, but turned back again.
"A—Penfield," he said, "when you are absent from your room will you kindly have the book in such a locality that your Aunt Millicent will not readily discover it?"
The winter weather at Chestnut Hill was not favorable for war. The mercury lingered in the neighborhood of zero day after day. Snow fell, drifted, settled; but did not melt. It was plain that ammunition could not be made of such material. So the battle was delayed. But the opposing forces nevertheless utilized the time. There were secret drills. There were open discussions. Plans of campaign were regularly adopted, and as regularly discarded. Yet both sides were constantly ready.
A strange result of the situation was that there had not been better feeling between the factions for many months. Good-natured boasts there were, indeed. But of malice, meanness, open resentment, there was nothing. Every one was willing to waive opportunities for skirmishing, in anticipation of the one big battle.
It was well along in February before the weather moderated. Then, one night, it grew warm. The next morning gray fog lay over all the snow-fields. Rivulets of water ran in the gutters, and little pools formed in low places everywhere. War time had at last come. Evidently nature intended this to be the battle day. It was Saturday and there was no session of the school.
The commander of the Hilltops called his forces together early, and a plan of battle was definitely formed. Messengers, carrying a flag of truce, communicated with the Riverbeds, and it was agreed that the fight should take place that afternoon on the vacant plot in the rear of the school building. It was thought best by the Hilltops, however, to reconnoiter in force, and to prepare the field for the conflict. So, sixteen strong, they went forth to the place selected for the fray. They saw nothing of the enemy; the lot was still vacant. They began immediately to throw up breast-works. They rolled huge snowballs down the slightly sloping ground to the spot selected for a fort. These snowballs were so big that, by the time they reached their destination, it took at least a half dozen boys to put each one into place. They squared them up, and laid them carefully in a curved line ten blocks long and three blocks high, with the requisite embrasures. Then they prepared their ammunition. They made snowballs by the score, and piled them in convenient heaps inside the barricade. By the time this work was finished it was noon. Then, leaving a sufficient force to guard the fortifications, the remainder of the troops sallied forth to luncheon, among them the leader of the Hilltops. At the luncheon table Pen took advantage of the temporary absence of his aunt to inform his grandfather, in a stage-whisper, that the long anticipated fight was scheduled for that afternoon.
"And," he added, "we've got the biggest snow fort you ever saw, and dead loads of snowballs inside."
The colonel smiled and his eyes twinkled.
"Good!" he whispered back. "Smite them hip and thigh. Hold the fort! 'Stand: the ground's your own, my braves!'"
"We're ready for anything."
"Bravo! Beware of the enemy's strategy, and fight hard. Fight as if—ah! your Aunt Millicent's coming."
At one o'clock the first division returned and relieved the garrison; and at two every soldier was back and in his place. The breast-works were strengthened, more ammunition was made, and heaps of raw material for making still more were conveniently placed. But the enemy did not put in an appearance. A half hour went by, and another half hour, and the head of the first hostile soldier was yet to be seen approaching above the crest of the hill. Crowds of small boys, non-combatants, were lined up against the school-house, awaiting, with anxiety and awe, the coming battle. Out in the road a group of girls, partisans of the Hilltops, was assembled to cheer their friends on to victory. Men, passing by on foot and with teams, stopped to inquire concerning the war-like preparations, and some of them, on whose hands it may be that time was hanging heavily, stood around awaiting the outbreak of hostilities.
Still the enemy was nowhere in sight. A squad, under command of Lieutenant Cuddeback, was sent out to the road to reconnoiter. They returned and reported that they had been to the brow of the hill, but had failed to discover any hostile troops. Was it possible that the Riverbeds had weakened, backed out, decided, like the cowards that they were, not to fight, after all? It was in the midst of an animated discussion over this possibility that the defenders of the fort were startled by piercing yells from the neighborhood of the stone fence that bounded the school-house lot in the rear. Looking in that direction they were thunderstruck to see the enemy's soldiers pouring over the wall and advancing vigorously toward them. With rare strategy the Riverbeds, instead of approaching by the front, had come up the hill on the back road, crept along under cover of barns and fences until the school-house lot was reached, and now, with terrific shouts, were crossing the stone-wall to hurl themselves impetuously on the foe.
For a moment consternation reigned within the fort. The surprise was overwhelming. Pen was the first one, as he should have been, to recover his wits. He remembered his grandfather's warning against the enemy's strategy.
"It's a trick!" he shouted. "Don't let 'em scare you! Load up and at 'em!"
Every boy seized his complement of snowballs, and, led by their captain, the Hilltops started out, on double-quick, to meet the enemy.
The next moment the air was filled with flying missiles. They were fired at close range, and few, from either side, failed to find their mark.
The battle was swift and fierce. An onslaught from the Riverbeds' left, drove the right wing of the Hilltops back into the shadow of the fort. But the center held its ground and fought furiously. Then the broken right wing, supplied with fresh ammunition from the reserve piles, rallied, forced the invaders back, turned their flank, and fell on them from the rear. The Riverbeds, with ammunition all but exhausted, were hard beset. They fought bravely and persistently but they could not stand up before the terrific rain of missiles that was poured in on them. They yielded, they retreated, but they went with their faces to the foe. There was only one avenue of escape, and that was down by the side of the school-house to the public road. It was inch by inch that they withdrew. No army ever beat a more stubborn or masterly retreat. In the face of certain defeat, at scarcely arm's length from their shouting and exultant foe, they fought like heroes.
Pen Butler was in the thickest and hottest of the fray. He urged his troops to the assault, and was not afraid to lead them. The militant blood of his ancestors burned in his veins, and, if truth must be told, it trickled in little streams down his face from a battered nose and a cut lip received at a close quarter's struggle with the enemy.
The small boys by the school-house, seeing the line of battle approaching them, beat a retreat to a less hazardous position. The girls in the road clung to each other and looked on, fascinated and awe-stricken at the furious fight, forgetting to wave a single handkerchief, or emit a single cheer. The men on the side-path clapped their hands and yelled encouragement to one or other of the contending forces, in accordance with their sympathies.
The first of the retreating troops, still contesting stubbornly the foe's advance, reached the corner of the school-house nearest the public road. By some chance the entrance door of the building was ajar. A soldier's quick eye discovered it. Here was shelter, protection, a chance to recuperate and reform. He shouted the good news to his comrades, pushed the door open and entered. By twos and threes, and then in larger groups, they followed him until the very last man of them was safe inside, and the door was slammed shut and locked in the faces of the foe. Under the impetus of the charge the victorious troops broke against the barrier, but it held firm. That it did so hold was one of the providential occurrences of the day. So, at last, the Hilltops were foiled and baffled. Their victory was not complete. Pen stood on the top step at the entrance, his face smeared with blood, and angrily declared his determination, by one means or another, to hunt the enemy out from their place of shelter, and drive them down the hill into their own riverbed, where they belonged. But, in spite of his extravagant declaration, nothing could be done without a breach of the law. Doors and windows must not be broken. Temporarily, at least, the enemy was safe.
After a consultation among the Hilltops it was decided to take up a position across the road from the school-house, and await the emergence of the foe. But the foe appeared to be in no haste to emerge. It was warm inside. They were safe from attack. They could take their ease and wait. And they did. The minutes passed. A half hour went by. A drizzling rain had set in, and the young soldiers at the roadside were getting uncomfortably wet. The small boys, who had looked on, departed by twos and threes. The girls, after cheering the heroes of the fight, also sought shelter. The men, who had been interested spectators while the battle was on, drifted away. It isn't encouraging to stand out in the rain, doing nothing but stamping wet feet, and wait for a beaten foe to come out. Enthusiasm for a cause is apt to wane when one has to stand, shivering, in rain-soaked clothes, and wait for something to occur. And enthusiasm did wane. A majority of the boys wanted to call it a victory and go home. But Pen would not listen to such a proposal.
"They've run into the school-house," he said, "like whipped dogs, and locked the door; and now, if we go home, they'll come out and boast that we were afraid to meet 'em again. They'll say that we slunk away before the fight was half over. I won't let 'em say that. I'll stay here all night but what I'll give 'em the final drubbing."
But his comrades were not equally determined. The war spirit seemed to have died out in their breasts, and, try as he would, Pen was not able to restore it.
Yet, even as he argued, the school-house door opened and the besieged army marched forth. They marched forth, indeed, but this time they had an American flag at the head of their column. It was carried by, and folded and draped around the body of, Alexander Sands. It was the flag that Colonel Butler had given to the school. Whose idea it was to use it thus has never been disclosed. But surely no more effective means could have been adopted to cover an orderly retreat. The Hilltop forces stared at the spectacle in amazement and stood silent in their tracks. Pen was the first to recover his senses. If he had been angry when the enemy came upon them unawares from the stone-wall, he was furious now.
"It's another trick!" he cried, "a mean, contemptible trick! They think the flag'll save 'em but it won't! Come on! We'll show 'em!"
He started toward the advancing column, firing his first snowball as he went; a snowball that flattened and spattered against the flag-covered breast of Aleck Sands. But his soldiers did not follow him. No leader, however magnetic, could have induced them to assault a body of troops marching under the protecting folds of the American flag. They revered the colors, and they stood fast in their places. Pen leaped the ditch, and, finding himself alone, stopped to look back.
"What's the matter?" he cried. "Are you all afraid?"
"It's the flag," answered Elmer Cuddeback, "and I won't fight anybody that carries it."
"Nor I," said Jimmie Morrissey.
"Nor I;" "Nor I," echoed one after another.
Then, indeed, Pen's temper went to fever heat. He faced his own troops and denounced them.
"Traitors!" he yelled. "Cowards! every one of you! To be scared by a mere piece of bunting! Babies! Go home and have your mothers put you to bed! I'll fight 'em single-handed!"
He was as good as his word. He plunged toward the head of the column, which had already reached the middle of the public road.
"Don't you dare to touch the flag!" cried Aleck.
"And don't you dare to tell me what I shall not touch," retorted Pen. "Drop it, or I'll tear it off of you."
But Aleck only drew the folds more tightly about him and braced himself for the onset. He clutched the staff with one hand; and the other hand, duly clenched, he thrust into his adversary's face. For a moment Pen was staggered by the blow, then he gathered himself together and leaped upon his opponent. The fight was on: fast and furious. The followers of each leader, appalled at the fierceness of the combat, stood as though frozen in their places. The flag, clutched by both fighters, was in danger of being torn from end to end. Then came the clinch. Gripping, writhing, twisting, tangled in the colors, the lithe young bodies wavered to their fall. And when they fell the flag fell with them, into the grime and slush of the road. In an instant Pen was on his feet again, but Aleck did not rise. He pulled himself slowly to his elbow and looked around him as though half-dazed.
That Pen was the victor there was no doubt. His face streaked with blood and distorted with passion, he stood there and glared triumphantly on friend and foe alike. That he was standing on the flag mattered little to him in that moment. He was like one crazed. Some one shouted to him:
"Get off the flag! You're standing on it!"
"What's that to you?" he yelled back. "I'll stand where I like!"
"It's the flag of your country. Get off of it!"
"What do I care for my country or for you. I've won this fight, single-handed, in spite of any flag, or any country, or any coward here, and I'll stand where I choose!"
He stood fast in his place and glared defiantly about him, and in all the company there was not one who dared approach him.
But it was only for a moment. Some impulse moved him to look down. Under his heels the white stars on their blue field were being ground into the mire. A sudden revulsion of feeling swept over him, a sense of horror at his own conduct. His arms fell to his sides. His face paled till the blood splashes on it stood out startlingly distinct. He moved slowly and carefully backward till the folds of the banner were no longer under his feet. He cast one fleeting glance at his worsted adversary who was still half-lying, half-sitting, with the flag under his elbows, then, his passion quenched, shame and remorse over his unpatriotic conduct filling his heart, without another word he turned his back on his companions, thrust his bleeding hands into his pockets, and started up the road, toward home; his one thought being to leave as quickly and quietly as possible the scene of his disgrace. No one followed him, no one called after him; he went alone. He was hatless and ragged. His rain-soaked garments clung to him with an indescribable chill. The fire of his anger had burned itself out, and had left in its place the ashes of despondency and despair. Yet, even in that hour of depression and self-accusation, he did not dream of the far-reaching consequences of this one unpremeditated act of inexcusable folly of which he had just been guilty. He bent down and gathered some wet snow into his hands and bathed his face, and sopped it half dry with his handkerchief, already soaked. Then, not caring, in his condition, to show himself on the main street of the village, he crossed over to the lane that skirted the out-lots, and went thence by a circuitous and little traveled route, to Bannerhall.
In the meantime, back in the road by the school-house, Aleck Sands had picked himself up, still a little dazed, but not seriously hurt, and soldiers who had recently faced each other in battle came with unanimity to the rescue of the flag. Hilltops and Riverbeds alike, all differences and enmities forgotten in this new crisis, they joined in gathering up the wet and muddy folds, and in bearing them to the warmth and shelter of the school-house. Here they washed out the stains, and stretched the banner out to dry, and at dusk, exhausted and sobered by the events of the day, with serious faces and apprehensive hearts, they went to their several homes.
When Pen reached home on that afternoon after the battle of Chestnut Hill, he found that his Aunt Millicent was out, and that his grandfather had not yet returned from Lowbridge, the county seat, fourteen miles away. He had therefore an opportunity, unseen and unquestioned, to change his wet clothing for dry, and to bathe and anoint and otherwise care for his cuts and bruises. When it was all done he went down to the library and lighted the gas, and found a book and tried to read. But the words he read were meaningless. Try as he would he could not keep his mind on the printed page. Nor was it so much the snowball fight that occupied his thoughts. He was not now exulting at any victory he had obtained over his foes. He was not even dwelling on the strategy and trickery displayed by Aleck Sands and his followers in seeking protection under the folds of the flag; strategy and trickery which had led so swiftly and sharply to his own undoing. It was his conduct in that last, fierce moment of the fight that was blazoned constantly before his eyes with ever increasing strength of accusation. To think that he, Penfield Butler, grandson of the owner of Bannerhall, had permitted himself, in a moment of passion, no matter what the provocation, to grind his country's flag into the slush under his heels; the very flag given by his grandfather to the school of which he was himself a member. How should he ever square himself with Colonel Richard Butler? How should he ever make it right with Miss Grey? How should he ever satisfy his own accusing conscience? Excuses for his conduct were plenty enough indeed; his excitement, his provocation, his freedom from malice; he marshalled them in orderly array; but, under the cold logic of events, one by one they crumbled and fell away. More and more heavily, more and more depressingly the enormity of his offense weighed upon him as he considered it, and what the outcome of it all would be he did not even dare to conjecture.