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The Flag-bearer

from Boys And Girls Bookshelf - STORIES BY FAVORITE AMERICAN WRITERS





BY CAROLYN SHERWIN BAILEY


The primary class had a very beautiful American flag, and some child
was going to carry it from the schoolroom across the park and into the
Town Hall on the holiday. All the primary children would march after
the flag, and they were going to sing "America" and "The Star Spangled
Banner." It would be a wonderful day and each child wanted to carry the
flag.

No one was sure who would be chosen as flag-bearer, but their teacher
had said the week before: "It will be the child who loves his country
the most who will carry the Stars and Stripes. Try and do something for
your country during the week."

So the children had been very busy ever since doing all sorts of things
that would show how they loved their country.

Marjory had been knitting for soldiers. Her grandmother had given her
a pair of pretty yellow needles and a ball of soft gray yarn and had
started a scarf. But the stitches would drop, and there was still
enough snow for sliding on the hill back of Marjory's house. Her
knitting was not much further along on Saturday than on Monday.

"I will show how much I love my country," Hubert said, and he asked his
mother to take the gilt buttons from his great-grandfather's soldier
coat that hung in the attic and sew them on his reefer. Then he showed
the bright buttons to all the other children, and they thought that
Hubert looked very fine indeed.

"I shall wear them when I carry the flag next week," Hubert told them.

But the children thought that perhaps Roger would be chosen as
flag-bearer because he bought such a large flag with the money in his
bank, and put it up on the flagpole in his front yard. Roger's father
helped him raise the flag on a rope so that he could pull it down at
night, but once the Stars and Stripes were flying Roger forgot all
about them. His flag stayed out in the wind and sleet, and its bright
colors faded and the stripes were torn.

After all, the children decided, it would be Edward who would carry the
flag. Edward had a dog named Trusty, and he decided to train him to be
a Red Cross dog. He put a white band with a red cross on it around
Trusty and harnessed him to a little express wagon to carry bundles.
Trusty had never worn a harness in his life, or been fastened to
anything. He tried to get away from the wagon, but Edward strapped the
harness more tightly. The straps hurt Trusty, and it hurt his feelings
to be made to drag the cart; but Edward drove him to and from the
drug-store and the grocery and the butcher's, carrying the parcels that
Edward had always brought alone before.

The other children, too, all tried to do unusual things to win
themselves the place of flag-bearer. They played their drums in the
street and made soldier caps and wooden swords and drilled. The little
girls dressed up and played army nurse with their dolls. The boys
bought toy soldiers and horns at the toy shop. There was a great deal
of noise everywhere.

Then it was the holiday, and everyone was greatly excited over what
was going to happen. Whoever had a red ribbon, or a blue necktie, or a
red-white-and-blue badge felt very proud indeed to wear it. Every child
sat as still as a mouse as the teacher spoke to them.

"Marjory showed me five rows that she had knitted for a soldier when I
went to her house a few days ago," she said. "I wonder how many rows
she has finished now?"

"Only five," Marjory said softly.

Hubert touched the buttons on his reefer and sat up very straight in
his place.

"I am wearing my great-grandfather's soldier buttons," he said.

"That ought to make you feel as brave as he was, when he earned the
right to wear them in battle," the teacher said; and Hubert suddenly
thought that gilt buttons had not made him into a soldier at all.

The other children began to think, too, as they looked up at the Stars
and Stripes at the end of the room. Edward remembered how the harness
had hurt Trusty, and the boy with the drum remembered how he had
awakened the baby from her nap. Roger thought of his torn flag, flapping
in the wind on the top of the flagpole. No one said anything until the
teacher looked at the end of the class and smiled, and said:

"Well, Peter!"

Peter smiled back, and tried to cover up the holes in his jacket
sleeves, and tucked his old shoes under the seat. Peter's father had
gone to be a soldier, and there were his mother, and the two babies,
and his grandfather who was blind, at home.

"What have you been doing all the week, Peter?" the teacher asked.

"Tending the babies so that mother could go to the factory and sew the
soldiers' uniforms," Peter said. "And leading grandfather out for a
walk when it was a sunny day."

"Peter's got a little flag hanging out of the window," one of the
children said, "and he's so careful of it. He takes it in every night
and puts it out again in the morning."

"He saluted the flag and took off his hat to it when the parade went by
the other day," said another child. Everyone loved merry, ragged Peter,
who could play so gayly when he had time for a game.

Just then they heard the band outside. It was playing, "The Red, White
and Blue," the music to which the children were to march with the flag.

"Who shall be our flag-bearer?" the teacher asked.

The children knew now. They were quite sure.

"Peter!" they said.

So Peter carried the Stars and Stripes across the park and into the
Town Hall, with all the primary children marching like soldiers behind.
The wind blew it around him like a cloak to cover up the holes in his
jacket sleeves and his old shoes. Wherever he looked he could see the
colors; the sky was as blue as the field in the flag, a few snow stars
lay on the ground and the first robin redbreast sang on a branch over
his head. And the children following Peter knew what the colors told
them to do for their country--to be brave, and good, and true at home.





Next: Johnny Chuck Finds The Best Thing In The World

Previous: Hansel And Grethel



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