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   Chapter 27 THE END OF THE TRAIL

Tom Slade with the Colors By Percy K. Fitzhugh Characters: 6069

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Yes, that was a great meeting-it was a peach of a meeting!

"You broke your word," accused Tom, as Roscoe elbowed his way in.

"I did nothing of the kind. I asked you to trust a soldier's honor. You know more about a soldier's honor now than you did before, don't you?"

"Good-night!" laughed Roy. "No more soldier's honor for you! Hey, Tomasso? You've had enough of it."

Indeed he had had altogether too much of it. But his embarrassment passed as the bulk of the crowd, not involved in this surprising turn of affairs, took its way homeward, leaving the scouts and a few others in the hall. And soon things worked around so that Roscoe saw Tom alone. Not altogether alone, either, for Margaret Ellison was with him. How Roy and Pee-wee chanced to miss this I do not know.

The girl said very little, but stared at him until at last he said, "Are you looking at that scar? It don't look good, but it'll go away, I guess."

"How did you get it?" she asked.

"He gave his place to another man," said Roscoe, "and was dumped into the ocean alone."

"A chunk of wood banged me in the forehead," said Tom simply.

"Tom, I want you to do me a favor," said Roscoe, while Margaret continued to gaze at him. "It's a terribly impolite thing to suggest, but if you'd be willing to walk over to East Bridgeboro with Margaret, I could go home and get my things together. I'm afraid I'll miss the only train. You come to my house afterward and go to the train with me. You don't mind, do you, Marge? He'll protect you from the lions and tigers."

If she minded she didn't show it.

"I-ain't dressed up," said Tom awkwardly.

"I'm so glad of that!" she said.

* * *

Never in his life had he walked with a girl anywhere near his own age, and he felt just as he had felt that gala day when he had chatted with her in Temple Camp office. And because he was flustered and knew of nothing in particular to say, he repeated just what he had said then-that he could see she liked Roscoe, and he added that he didn't blame her, for Roscoe was "so good-looking in his uniform-kind of."

To this she made no answer; but after a few minutes she said, "Will you take me through Barrel Alley where you used to live?"

So Tom took her through Barrel Alley, answering her questions about his experiences and telling of spies and torpedoings and his rescue and cruise to South America simply, almost dully, as if they were things which were not worth talking about.

When they came behind John Temple's big bank building, they stood on the barrel staves whence the alley derived its name and counted the floors and picked out the windows of Temple Camp office.

"You'll come in and see Mr. Burton in the morning, won't you?" she said.

"Maybe," said Tom.

The good scout trail, which had wound over half the earth, took them on down that poor, sordid alley, and he showed her the tenement where he had once lived.

"The day we got put out," he said simply, "the sheriff stood a beer can on my mother's picture."

"Oh!"

she said; "and then?"

"Nothing then," said Tom, "only I knocked him into the gutter. I got arrested."

They came out into the brighter light and clearer air of Main Street, and now the good scout trail, which indeed had not disappointed him, led them toward the quiet river and the willows and the hilly banks and across the bridge, from which he showed her the troop's cabin boat (soon to be plastered with Liberty Loan posters), and into the rural quiet of East Bridgeboro.

"I said it was a trail," said Tom.

"Yes?"

"I mean everything you do-kind of. It's just a trail. You don't know where it'll take you."

"It's just brought you back to the same place, hasn't it?" she said.

"But it won't stop," said Tom. "It don't make any difference, anyway, as long as you hit the right one. Once I thought it was kind of a crazy notion about everything you do being a trail. But now I know different. And if you do the wrong thing, you get on the wrong trail, that's all. Maybe you don't understand exactly what I mean."

"I do understand."

"It's brought me right back to where I'm talking to you again the same as on Registration Day. So you see it's a good trail. I got a kind of an idea that there can be a trail in your brain-like.-Often I think of things like that that I can't make other people understand-not even Roy sometimes.-I guess maybe girls understand better."

"Maybe," she said. "Do you see I'm wearing the little badge you gave me yet?"

They strolled on, following the trail, and neither spoke for a few minutes.

"In the end you don't get misjudged," said Tom simply, "because if you get on the right trail it'll bring you to the right place. If you've got the right on your side, you got to win."

"And that's why we'll win the war," she said.

"A feller that maybe got drowned told me about a little girl in London that got blown up while she was studying her lessons. And when I heard that I knew we'd win."

"Uncle Sam's like you, Tom," she laughed. "When he makes up his mind to do a thing.... Do you remember how you told me you had a good muscle? Uncle Sam's got a good muscle, don't you think?"

"I was thinking something like that when I looked at Roscoe to-night," he said. "We got to trust to Uncle Sam."

"The whole world is trusting to Uncle Sam now."

"He's got the muscle," said Tom.

"Yes."

The trail led through a fragrant avenue of evergreens now, through a solitude where Tom had often hiked, and presently they turned into the path which formed the short cut to the girl's home. Across the river, on the top of the bank building, they could see the Stars and Stripes waving in the small field of brightness thrown by the searchlight. And all else was darkness.

So, chatting idly, but all the while, coming to know each other better, they passed the log on which Tom and Roscoe had sat and talked, and strolled on through the dark, silent grove, where the lions and tigers were, and where the lonely screech-owl still hooted his dismal song.

THE END

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